For Los Angeles based Em Rossi, an extraordinary singer, a natural-born story-teller, the middle is the beginning, a means to an end. Five years on, Rossi has come to terms with her past, “After going through the loss of my dad, I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime of emotions. I’ve now been able to release those ties and create the new world I live in now. Basically…I feel happy again.”
This transition began in early 2018 with the release of “No Longer The Same.” Its swelling chorus, “I’ll see you some day, just know that I’m ok,” was a cathartic turning point, a final door to pass through, this one signaling a new beginning. “This new direction is simply myself. I will always carry the things that have happened in my life with me, however, I’m choosing to allow myself to move forward.”
Living in the present with eyes fully focused on the future is a formidable force. With 7 million views on YouTube and over 650,000 followers on Smule, the #1 singing app for which she’s one of the top Partner Artists, she has cultivated a loyal worldwide fan base that has helped her rise to #1 on the Trending charts in over a dozen countries (from Australia to Canada to France and Italy).
Her new chapter begins with the latest single “Got This Feeling,” a confident proclamation of someone with arms wide open. With shades of Troye Sivan, Dua Lipa, and Adele, it’s a captivating alt-pop sound that’s percolated in her head for years as she’s come into herself and represents the first in a series of singles to be released in the coming months.
Fashioning a new path means following one’s heart, knowing that anything is possible. Em Rossi is paving her own path in music. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this rising star for an exclusive inside look at her career. Along the way, Em offers up insight on the challenges she has faced as a young artist, her creative evolution and much more.
Covid-19 has been impacting all of us in different ways. How are you making out under these circumstances and what do you plan to do with this unexpected downtime?
I think, since it’s so rare that we experience times like these, it’s crazy to see how much of an impact something like this is having on every single aspect of our daily lives. I’m lucky that a large portion of my work right now is based online. I’m also staying at home with my mom and dog. I’m very fortunate to be in this position. It’s incredibly sad to see the effects this is having on people in more difficult circumstances.
I definitely wasn’t expecting to release my first major label single in the middle of a pandemic. This was something we had been planning for months. Since the song just came out, I honestly haven’t had any downtime. In the last month, Easter was the only legit day off I’ve had. My mom, brother, a close family friend, and I spent the day barbecuing and catching up at our house. It was nice to turn the music world off and listen to other people. I’m hoping to get a little bit more free time to read, draw, catch up on movies and shows, and be creative.
The last time we spoke was about 4 years ago. A lot has happened for you along the way. How do you feel you have grown as an artist over the past few years?
We spoke right around the time that I was just getting started! I was releasing my first singles while still going to high school. I’m not going to lie and say that it hasn’t been a long and extremely daunting journey but it’s made me so much stronger.
On a personal level, I think my biggest growth has been in building confidence and not being afraid to stand up for myself. I started pursuing music professionally six months after my dad passed away. I was about to turn 16 years old. Not only was I trying to comprehend my dad’s passing but also taking a massive leap into starting a music career. Since my mom and I were left to fend for ourselves as we stepped into this music world, there were a lot of people who doubted us and tried to force their opinions on to us. Honestly, that was the hardest thing. As you’re trying to pick up the pieces and move forward, you have this influx of people telling you, you are foolish and going to fail or what they think you are and should be. At the end of the day, I think the most important thing to remind yourself of is that this is your own life. It’s not the life of someone else. You are on your own path and timeline and just because it’s different from what’s normal doesn’t make it wrong. Your happiness and the ones who truly care for you are what matters most. If all you do is try to change yourself to please others you’ll never get the acknowledgement you’re looking for.
On a professional level, gaining more experience helped me to understand the type of artist I wanted to be. I also had to find the right circle of people to work with. For example, I always had a sense of what I wanted my sound to be but I had no one who could make it for me. Then I randomly got connected to Jordan Witzigreuter and met him at a coffee shop in Echo Park. We completely clicked and have been making music together for the last year and a half. We co-wrote “Got This Feeling”. Hearing the sound I was imagining through his productions gave me the sonic landscape I needed to understand the types of songs to write for Em Rossi.
You’ve accomplished so much as a young artist. What can you tell us about the challenges you’ve faced in balancing a career and a personal life?
My life is definitely not normal. My mom manages me full time and my brother is now out of the house. In the last four years my mom and I have moved twice to cities where we know no one. A lot of people I know say I’m a 35 year old adult trapped inside a 21 year old. I’d say the challenge again wasn’t with how I personally felt about my life but rather so many people telling me it’s not right. I’ve had grown men come up to me and tell me that I should quit music, get a normal job, and find myself a boyfriend because that’s apparently what all girls my age should be doing. My mom was left in tears one night after old family friends told her she’s failing me for being supportive of my music career and that she should move back to our hometown.
What I’m looking for in my life is different than the normal path. I want to be successful in music so I’m fully focused and doing whatever it takes to get there. I absolutely love working and creating with the people I meet through music. They are a small circle for me to confide in. I’m a very independent person. I love getting to be by myself. Both my mom and I feel like music has been the thing that has allowed us to move forward after our lives changed. We’ve turned our fears and emotions into energy to create a new world for ourselves that we can be happy in. It just so happens that music was the facilitator. I’m really proud of how far we’ve come.
It’s exciting, as a fan, to see you explore new territory and challenge yourself. What can you tell us about the songwriting process for your music? What’s changed and remained the same through the years?
I don’t think anything’s really changed with my writing process but rather that I’ve fine tuned it. When I’m in the studio I like to show up with a sonic direction and a solid song topic or tag line in my head. If there’s more people in the session, we’ll find our jobs for the day and collectively work on things together at the same time. I’ve always been a melody first writer. I find that separating melody from lyrics helps me get the best out of both without having my thoughts jumbled. When I’m at home, I’ll play around on the piano until I come with a chord progression, land on a melody I like, tweak it, figure out what I want to write about, and then start forming lyrics. If I have something that I’ve got a good feeling about, I’ll bring it to my producer to get a sense of how it sounds over production and we’ll finish the final bits of the song together.
What is currently inspiring you as a songwriter?
I’m really inspired right now about making a collective piece of music. I love brainstorming and fitting the types of songs that I want to write together. It gives me something to work towards rather than wonder what I should be making. I just wrote a song with two close music friends of mine where the overall song format was inspired by “Latch” by Disclosure ft. Sam Smith and “Circles” by Post Malone.
I think a lot of people might take for granted what you do to keep things moving forward. Can you talk a little bit about what goes into keeping a career like yours on the rails and moving in the right direction?
I definitely don’t think people realize just how much an artist has to actually do. I knew someone who thought that all I did was sing from time to time, have a couple of writing sessions, take a few cute photos for Instagram, and then just sit on my couch the rest of the day. To keep your career moving forward you have to wear multiple hats at all times. My mom and I started this entirely by ourselves. Her and I handle the business side together. I write or co-write all my songs, create and market all of my own content on social media, create or work closely on the treatments of any music videos, and draw up my own marketing strategies and ideas to take to and discuss with my team. I think the only way you’re going to get what you want in any industry is by working extremely hard for it. I didn’t have anyone to do these things for me so I had to learn how to do it myself. I edited the official music video for my last single “In The Middle”, which was made out of almost 10,000 photos taken of me dancing in a garage, on iMovie by myself. Even though I am now signed to Sony Music, that hasn’t changed the dynamics. It’s been incredibly inspiring to work with a team of people who are just as motivated as you are.
What do you consider the biggest challenges you’ve faced and overcome as a young artist?
I used to be incredibly nervous about performing. It was never that big of a thing for me until I started performing in Los Angeles. Looking back on it, I think what made me so terrified was all the things happening in my personal life as well as me not having the confidence to acknowledge myself as an actual artist. I used to feel like I was pretending to be one so I never thought I was good enough. Of course all of us artists will forever get nervous, but it was huge for me to get my internal control back.
A big help for me was performing the National Anthem. My mom started signing me up to sing for UCLA and USC games. In the beginning, I felt like I was going to have a heart attack. Then, it slowly started to change. It gave me a crowd of people to engage in. Rather than performing at small venues for nothing but a few music industry people with stern faces, I was singing in front of 13,000 people who were there to have a good time. I got a call from the LA Chargers asking me to sing for their opening game at StubHub Arena in front of 30,000 people. I was expecting to be wrapped up in nerves. However, I was actually the complete opposite. When I finished, I didn’t want to stop. As security ushered me along the sidelines, people were running down to the front of the bleachers to talk to me. There was a mother who was holding her two daughters. She turned to her little girl who had her blonde hair in two braids and said, “That’s the girl who was singing”. Her face completely lit up. I’ll never forget that moment.
You recently signed to Sony Music RCA Germany. What does that mean to you?
I think even now I’m still trying to process it. It was something I wasn’t expecting at all. You have your head down for so long grinding. You have this belief that it’s possible yet you also can’t believe it at all when it’s right there in front of you. It was huge for me to know that there are people within the industry who acknowledge me like that.
“Got A Feeling” is your latest single. Tell us a little about how the song came to be and why it resonates with you.
The song is a narration of the night my parents met in college. They both attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. It was right before summer break. They ran into each other in a stairway going to and from the bathroom at a bar. From there, the story continues to a rooftop pool at a hotel where one of my dad’s friends at the time worked at. There are so many amazing details that my parents told my brother and I about. I’d write a novel if I shared it all. It’s a true love story.
Since I have the ability to make music, I always felt like I needed to write this song for them. Their story needed to be shared. It’s so rare that you come across true love like that. I hope people can connect their own memories to it.
The video for “Got A Feeling” was shot in LA. Take us back to that shoot. What springs to mind when you think about the making of that video?
A 22-hour day and a lot of walking. We actually filmed two music videos that day. We shot the video for my second single mid day, finished around 7pm, I changed clothes, and then we started filming the “Got This Feeling” video at 8 PM. We didn’t wrap until about 1 AM. My mom and I then got in the car and drove back to our house in Orange County.
I wanted something that felt like New York City even though we weren’t in New York City. We filmed the entire video on an 8mm camera. It was literally a run and gun because we were running out of tape to film on. I kept saying to the crew that I wanted the video to end on a roof or someplace with height. Turns out that the parking structure next to the studio we filmed the first video at had open parking at the top. We had my mom drive our car to the top and turn on the high beams to film the climactic scenes there.
You are moving to a new era in your career. Where do you see yourself headed musically in the future — both short and long term?
I’m someone who really needs to focus on the task at hand rather than wonder what the rest of the race is going to be. I start to overthink and freak myself out. I do have general goals and things I’d like to do though. Overall, I want to make a cohesive album that I’m proud of, hopefully have people who love listening to it, grow that following, travel and perform through music, connect with people along the way, and continue doing all those things for a long time.
What are you listening to these days? Has anything special caught your ear recently?
I switch back and forth between music from artists and orchestral pieces from movie soundtracks and composers. I’m currently loving Dua Lipa and Harry Styles’ new albums as well as the soundtrack from the movie 1917 done by Thomas Newman.
As an artist, so many things can be said about the current state of music. You are on the front lines. What excites about the current climate?
I think it’s amazing that “mainstream” music is showing more diversity and variety. I think more listeners are wanting artists who are true to themselves rather than something they are not.
What’s the best way for fans to help support you in this day and age?
Download and stream my music, add “Got This Feeling” to their personal playlists, watch my music videos, follow me on social media, and get all of their friends, classmates, co-workers, family members, etc. who are interested to do the same. I don’t mean to sound vain but the most important thing is creating a community of people who are interested and supportive about what you love to do.
How do you consume music these days? Do you use streaming, buy physical copies?
I stream music but I’d love to get a record player someday and start collecting physical copies of some of my favorites. Artists work so hard for their music. I feel like being able to hold it in your hands is a reminder of that.
I’m big on learning for others and taking what we can from their experiences. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
Follow your gut, surround yourself with good people, have a plan, work hard, know who you are as an artist, and believe in yourself.
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.