'Still Standing Tall'
Emilia does anything other than what she’s told!
Emilia is a first generation American, born and raised in the swampland that is New Orleans, recently finding refuge in the beautiful city of Seattle. With her, Emilia brings the need to sweat in a packed club moving to groovy bass lines and deep rhythms till the sun comes up.
In the past year, while getting her own album underway, Emilia has had the opportunity to record a kirtan with Krishna Das, Walter Becker, and Rick Allen and, in Seattle, work and record with Michael Shrieve, Shawn Smith, and KJ Sawka.
Presently Emilia is eagerly awaiting the response to her new EP Burning In The Sun, with the soon-to-come world wide release of her debut full-length album sure to turn heads upon its release.
If you think it’s tough being a musician, try being a musician who was born and raised in New Orleans. With the city falling apart around you and parents who were raised in another country, it may seem impossible to pursue what you really love.
However, Emilia breaks against all odds and tells us about her experience in the haunted city of New Orleans, the teamwork and friendship with her colleagues, and why Europe rocks the house better than America.
Wow, it’s hard enough being an upcoming musician but you also had to deal with the whole fiasco down in New Orleans. This is a lot to handle for anyone, especially a first generation American! Tell me about your experiences growing up in America "Well I spent most of my life in a typical Latin American household. Well “typical” in New Orleans—which meant food that makes you wanna slap your mama, and music that keeps you dancing even in your sleep. As soon as I turned 14, I spent all my time and money listening to music and spending all my days on Decatur Street in the French Quarter. The whole city is haunted; it’s full of soul. It’s what I miss the most when I'm away. Most cities have no soul; they feel empty to me after growing up in Nawlins [New Orleans]. I love walking through the quarter at night, and along the Mississippi. There’s always a lonely sax playing in the distance, and the city is always sticky from the hot humidity. I remember one night about 15 of us were going out to the Quarter, and as soon as we park all the electricity goes out. So we decided to set up camp along the river walk, and hung out with this real cool homeless man. We stayed up drinking with him ‘til 8 am and he thanked us. It seemed some not-so-friendly gutter punks had visited him earlier and threatened his life, and he said the spirits told him angels were coming to protect him through the night. That was a great night."
That sounds magical! Where are your parents from originally and did they (do they) support you in your musical career? "My father is from Guatemala, moved here as a young teen. My mom is from Honduras and grew up in Chicago before moving to Nawlins. They've both been really supportive of me. My dad is more old fashioned and doesn't understand my choices as much, but I understand why considering what a hard life he’s lived. He doesn't want me to suffer the way he has. That said, he loves me so much and is always there for me. My mom has an unbelievable amount of faith in me. And no matter how odd I’ve been she’s always proud and bragging. I've traveled all over—alone—and she knew I’d be fine. I’ve put other careers aside and focused on music, and she knows I'm gonna be famous, she is pretty intuitive, ‘ya know? Trust me, I know I'm lucky."
At what point in your career were you when the New Orleans fiasco occurred? How did that affect your musical career and what made you stick with music through it all? "I had already been signed to 5 Points Records, waiting to see when TJ Rehmi and I would write and record my first solo album. Anyway I was not doing much musically but writing while I was waiting. So after Katrina passed and the levees broke, many friends and I ran out of money within days and couldn't go home. I lost my business, my supplies, my home, all my things—my family and friends were spread all over trying to get a foothold anywhere. The worst part of it was having my mom and sister look at me for help but I couldn't do anything. I was a failure, my family needed me and I was in the same boat they were. David (5 points), Rob (Real World), and TJ Rehmi contacted me and I'm sure noticed what a mess I was. And my manager Brent was in Seattle and doing everything he could do to help. So after I knew my family was okay, I decided to focus on the only thing I had left, music. And boy do I still have a lot to say about the mess back home. I moved to Seattle a month after the hurricane hit and started doing anything I could musically. In January I went to England to record with TJ Rehmi."
Wow, that sounds like quite an experience. Why would you go to England? Do you think you'll be going back to England to produce records or will you stay in the U.S.? "I hope to do more in England. I really feel that my style of music would do very well in Europe. And a year before Katrina hit I had decided I wanted to move to Spain anyway. I'm a huge fan of siestas."
Oh, me too. Why do you think I freelance? [laughs] Why did you decide to be a musician? "I have so much to say. If I hear one more whiny CD I'm gonna scream. I think it is an honor to reach a wide audience. And I believe it is an obligation to anyone given this gift to use our podium wisely. Be a positive impact. Also, I have no idea what else I would do, to be honest. The only reason I waited so long was because I didn't think it was something I could do. I was terrified of getting on stage and people not liking me. But when I realized it was fear holding me back I had to do it. Now I love being on stage, I was meant to be there."
Does your hardship make it easier to write songs? Do you need to feel a certain way to write a certain song? "I definitely feel more inspired during hardships. There’s more reflection during these times. But I can feel great and inspired too. I just need to be present in my life to write. Take it all in and experience the moment."
What happens when you don't feel like playing? Does that ever happen? Do you ever go bouts where you just don't feel like playing? What happens then? "It’s happened during recordings, when I have to be creative and write something great on the spot. I just put it down for a second, get some coffee or something and try to come at it from a different angle. You know the saying fake it ‘til you make it? Well I keep at it until I'm into it, and it always works."
How did you meet your team - KJ, Kent, and Michael? "Well Michael is part of our close-knit tribe in Nawlins. When I first decided to start my own band, Mike was there helping me write and working with me. He is such an amazing musician. He came right up to Seattle when I asked him to be part of this project. KJ Sawka and Kent I’d seen in New Orleans years before. Sawka was in a band Siamese at the time and blew all of us away; he is a human drum n’ bass machine. So I came up to Seattle months before Katrina hit, Brent hooked me up with Sawka and Kent to try writing some music. Within half and hour we had a song written, in 2 days we had 2 songs written and recorded. We clicked and we've become good friends since I’ve moved down here."
Are you happy with the way things are going now? "Incredibly happy. Everyone involved is giving 200 percent and it shows. Our live shows are off the hook and we already have a great following in the 3 shows we've played so far."
What are your future plans? "Play more and tour soon. In my perfect world we'll be touring Europe next year."
If you could re-record any '80s song (possibly even cheesy!) which one would it be and why?! "'Land of Confusion' ... I love the video for it!"
Finally, Exclusive Magazine loves Penguins ... do you?! "Are you kidding? Who doesn't?!"
Interviewed by Brian J. Hong
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Emilia's new CD, just answer this easy question: In her touring band, Emilia now has drumming madman KJ Sawka, Kent Halvorsen bangin on Keys, and which guitar genius pushing the sweet sounds on stage with her?!
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great AUTOGRAPHED CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before December 1st with your answer and the subject title 'CONTEST: EMILIA SIGNED CDs' to: email@example.com
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