Armed with a powerful voice, 17-year-old singer/songwriter Em Rossi displays a soul-based sound and story-telling ability extraordinary in one so young. Raised in a Bay Area home filled with love, laughter, art, music and travel, Em enjoyed the support of her tight-knit family of four. She shared a passion for music with her dad. Em’s dad, a talented amateur musician who also painted, drew and wrote in addition to being an innovative architect, was her spark plug. He encouraged his talented, but shy, daughter as she began to navigate a professional career. Em began recording in the studio at age 14. One year later, as she was finishing her first set of songs, he suddenly and unexpectedly passed away.
Far too soon, the girl who harmonized and riffed with her dad was now facing an unimaginable loss. Her tight family unit shattered in an instant. After many dark and difficult months, Em’s mom stepped up and encouraged, supported and began guiding her. With her dad’s spirit living inside her and her mom by her side, Em found the strength to begin again. She now fills her empty spaces with heartfelt lyrics and newfound emotion from a voice stronger and more forceful than ever before. The juggling of her teenage years as a singer/songwriter with a rigorous approach to high-scoring academics proved a powerful cathartic and a light at the end of the tunnel. Cutting an album in high school called for surreal levels of focus — Em’s particular mix of self-containment, constancy, discipline, expression, fun and focus.
Em’s jazzy, haunting vocals make listeners stop and feel. Producer Jim McGorman, known for his work with Avril Lavigne, Michelle Branch, Kate Voegele and Cassadee Pope, has been working with Em on her new self-titled debut album. Deep and soulful, the album is a complex and sophisticated first release. Em weaves a blend of retro soul with Coldplay pop. Her compelling sound is equal parts Adele, Fiona Apple and The Fray. Fearless chords of Motown, blues and jazz resonate on this album, enriched with a fusion of live horns and strings.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Em Rossi to discuss her musical roots, the process of finding her creative voice and what the future holds for this star on the rise!
Take us back to your earlier years. What are your first memories of music?
I have always remembered having music around my life when I was younger. My parents would have music playing in the house no matter the occasion. One of my earliest memories would have been watching my dad sing and play the guitar in the living room. Late nights and early mornings in our house were filled with his strums and low hums. He had this huge binder full of music to thousands of songs. There would be papers falling out everywhere.
Who were your biggest influences as a musician and performer?
My two biggest musical influences would definitely be Adele and Sara Bareilles. I came across Adele’s “19” album when I was an extremely shy and socially awkward teen. I would come home from school and sing in my dad’s office for hours. She radiated such confidence through her sultry and jazzy tones. She taught me to find confidence in my voice. Sara Bareilles opened me emotionally to music. She showed me a way of finding a relationship to songs even if there was nothing you could relate to at all. It was as if the music finally flowed to my heart.
They say a career in music isn’t a journey for the faint of heart. What made you take the plunge and pursue a career in music?
The journey into music is definitely not the easiest road to take. However, my family, friends and team will always have my back through thick and thin and encourage me to follow my passion. I think what made me take the plunge was wanting to prove to myself that I could do it. Because of music, I understand that our biggest dreams in life will normally be the things that terrify us the most. I never want to regret something I didn’t do because I was too scared to do it. I hope that myself and my music can be an inspiration to others who go through difficult times in their lives. The journey is not always easy but you have to keep pushing forward and follow your dreams.
Did you have mentors or people close to you who helped inspire you to pursue your dream?
My mom and brother are my two biggest supporters that I have in my life now. Spiritually and musically my biggest inspiration would be my dad. My dad unfortunately passed away unexpectedly from a congenital heart defect he was born with almost two years ago. Losing him completely altered the foundation of my life. He was the one to push me when I was scared or doubted myself. He would always put his hand on my shoulder having the right words to say. I wish to succeed in music not only for myself and my family, but because I know how bad he wanted this for me. Now that he is gone, I want to show him that I can take the steps myself now that he’s no longer here to give me the push forward.
You grew up in the Bay Area. So many great artists started out there. How has that area impacted you as an artist?
The Bay Area is such a beautiful place to be. I’m really lucky to have grown up here. There are so many talented artists sharing their craft and unique styles. It’s inspiring to see an area of people who are so grateful for the music around them. The Bay Area also has so many incredible places to escape to. My dad and I used to drive out to the coast early in the morning to go for walks on the weekend. We would have the entire beach to ourselves. It was the perfect environment to reflect.
You have such an incredible style and voice. What can you tell us about the process of finding your creative voice?
Finding my voice came when I began to feel comfortable with myself. I grew up training in Classical and Broadway music at the age of 8. When I got older, I felt like I was just copying the tones and style of other artists so I decided to go off and explore different genres. Those years singing in my dad’s office were where it was discovered. Taking the time to try new sounds and ways of singing formed the voice I have today.
What can you tell us about your typical songwriting process? How has it evolved since you began?
My songwriting process has remained around the same since I started. I’ll start with either a title, a lyric, or a thought that’s been on my mind. When I first began to write, I followed my dad’s writing style. He would keep journals as if it were a universal diary of thoughts and emotions towards life. I find that I’ll write as if it were a journal entry and then narrow it down from there.
Although songwriting can be personal, was it a difficult to go deeper and put yourself out there lyrically?
I usually don’t find it difficult to express myself. However, there are some subjects that I’ll have a hard time with. At just 17, there is so much more in life that I need to see and experience. Sometimes I’ll have feelings that I will struggle to put into words. I keep most of my writing universal so that everyone can find some attachment to it, but with that, I’m not afraid to show people who I am.
Where do you look for inspiration these days, both musically and personally?
In the past few years, I have experienced many difficult times that have challenged me. I find that I seek inspiration in what makes my family and I happy. There will always be good days and sad days, but I wish to find some fairly consistent level of happiness again. I would say that I reach for inspiration by trying to find balance and personal wellness nowadays.
You have been working alongside producer Jim McGorman to create new music. How did you two cross paths?
I crossed paths with Jim through my consultant, Evan Stein, from Experience Music Group. I had been in search of a new producer at the time and Evan sent my recent tracks to him. We received a call back around a month later.
What are some of the biggest things you have taken away from working alongside him as an artist?
Jim has been a major mentor to me during a time where I was trying to pick up the pieces. After my dad passed away, there was a span of time where I took a break from music. I was incredibly nervous to start back in a new studio with such a talented and experienced producer. He really helped me to narrow down a sound sonically, combining several elements and styles that I love. He is an amazing songwriter and the writing sessions we had together were incredibly eye opening. He highlighted the unique characteristics of myself as an artist. I am beyond grateful for our friendship.
Did you encounter any challenges along the way in creating these songs?
Creating these songs came out surprisingly natural and smooth. The lyrics and messages were easily expressed. However, it was difficult at times to narrow down a musical path. I love so many different sounds and genres that to combine them all into my own, unique style took some time. I am extremely happy with the way these songs came out.
When might we expect to see a full length release from you?
I have been releasing my music slowly. My new single “Earthquake” is out as well as the music video. We are simply taking it one day at a time.
Although your career is just beginning to blossom, how have you evolved as an artist to date?
I feel like a completely different person from a year ago. My performance, recording, and writing skills have definitely developed along with my confidence.
As an artist, so many things can be said about the current state of music. What excites about the music industry today?
What excites me about the industry today, is that there are so many unique artists sharing their own styles and creations. There are so many more outlets for artists to share their music.
Many young artists can look to you as an inspiration. What is the best lesson we can take away from your journey?
A career in the music business is a challenge. There are many different aspects besides the music to consider. One of the best things an artist can do is surround themselves with an experienced and supportive team.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.