“I like playing shows, but I feel more comfortable in the studio,” says local singer-songwriter Emily Easterly. For the record, the auburn-tressed musician looks like she’d be perfectly at home just about anywhere. During Easterly’s stage shows, she rocks on guitar and piano and sings in rounded, almost-pouting low notes and a soaring upper register that she whips and snaps with perfect control. Her one-sheet (like her new album, Get Bothered) oozes confidence, announcing that this is “What a redhead should sound like.”
But, unlike many musicians who find themselves in a studio only after years of band practices and house shows, Easterly’s first recording experience set the bar high. Her debut album, Assembling Emily, included collaborations with Alan Weatherhead (of Sparklehorse) and Johnny Hickman (of Cracker). That EP was made at Sound of Music in Richmond, Va., where Easterly interned during summers while she was in high school. “I was literally making coffee and cleaning bathrooms,” she says. But it was still a dream job for the musician, who had already started making her own four-track recordings. Plus, she met artists like the late Sparklehorse front man, Mark Linkous (the song “Horses Running,” on Get Bothered, is about his death).
In her senior year, Easterly got to do a senior project. It was a no-brainer — Assembling Emily was born. The following year, she went back to Sound of Music to work on Cole. “So I completely lucked out and got to work with these great people,” she remembers.
Her next studio experiences were, perhaps, less star-studded, but no less rewarding. For Bothered, Easterly returned to Brooklyn (where she lived before Asheville) and Galuminum Foil, the studio of her producer friend Chris Cubeta. It was Cubeta who also worked on Easterly’s 2007 LP, Heart Comma Heart; together he and Easterly played nearly all of the instruments on Bothered.
“We went song-by-song and decided what each song lent itself to,” says Easterly. Some, like opening track “Decent Animal,” with its spooky piano intro and thick drum, are polished. The title track abandons pop-sheen in favor of garage-y, lo-fi rock. There, the bass is menacing and the drums are a tart slap between each staccato recitation of the chorus. “Wrecking Ball” lands somewhere between those two extremes, percussion-wise. The drums sounds like they’re being played in a cave, but Easterly’s vocal swan-dives over a sonic field of crunchy guitars and galvanic keys.
There is consistency, too: A salient edge, a biting darkness and the kind of nervy songwriting that is at once catchy and surprising. “I want people to interpret it however they want,” says Easterly. She didn’t write the album with the idea of a narrative, but instead, due to the short format of the EP, chose her six strongest songs and let them speak for themselves.
They have a lot to say.
The looseness of the recording structure allowed the musician to take risks — she plays drums on a couple of tracks, including “Get Bothered,” which she actually started writing as a percussion groove. Easterly says that drums are a new thing for her: She got a kit as a birthday present when she and husband/collaborator J Seger (they co-write as VA/MD) moved from Brooklyn to Asheville. “New York is so space-constrained,” she says. “Now that I’m in a place where I don’t have to worry about being loud, I’ve been practicing.”
Easterly and Seger had good friends in New York but were both ready for a change. They knew Asheville artist-musician couple Nathanael and Kim Roney (Kim is in Easterly’s current live band, along with Seger on bass and drummer Andy Woodward of Kovacs and the Polar Bear), and so chose WNC. “Our New York friends were shocked,” says Easterly. “But I can always go back up there to do gigs and record.” Which, obviously, she makes happen.
But the new locale has benefitted the singer-songwriter. “People are really supportive in Asheville, and are generally interested in new things and supporting the community,” she says. That’s one reason why she’ll play drums live, at her album release show, with opener (and Xpress editor) Jaye Bartell. “I feel like I never would have done that in New York,” Easterly says.
— Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Emily Easterly album release show, with Jaye Bartell
where: The Lab
when: Saturday, Sept. 28 (9:30 p.m., $5 includes CD. http://lexavebrew.com)