Emily Nott has been working on her debut record Time Before for quite some time, and she is finally ready to share it with the world. She took the time out of her busy schedule as part of several musical projects to sit down with us at Cafe Mustache, where her album release party will take place this Saturday, May 11th at 9PM for a $10 cover charge. She took us through balancing work and a creative life and how the two can mingle harmoniously, and the mingling of city life with the world of folk music. It was a great conversation that we are overjoyed to share. Make sure to check out Time Before and get to Cafe Mustache to hear the excellent tunes that fill an incredible record.
EN: Emily Nott
CCS: Kyle Land
WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO CHICAGO?
EN: I moved to Chicago five years ago with a partner at the time and fell in love with the city and stayed. I got involved with youth development and after school programming. I just loved it so much, and I fell in love with the fact that Chicago is many different places in one. There are so many people that are caring and incredible. And I love pigeons.
WHO DOESN’T LOVE PIGEONS?
EN: That’s what I say! I’ve been late to so many meetings because I was following a pigeon.
WHERE’D YOU MOVE HERE FROM?
EN: Michigan. I was born in Kalamazoo.
WHAT DRAWS YOU TO FOLK MUSIC? IN PARTICULAR, FOLK BALLADS?
EN: The biggest pull for me was growing up with it. My Dad was a folk musician, and some of my brightest and most rooted memories are making music with him. He and I do a set every year at a folk festival back in Michigan: a father/daughter set. So he really planted the seed. And then in college I did a program where I got to go study ballad singing with Michael and Carrie Kline, and that is really where it was cemented for me. I had heard ballad singing before, but when I went and sang with Michael and Carrie, I was completely transported. Michael has one of those resonate bass voices that just puts you right in the middle of a field full of crickets. He can just pick you up and take you away. So they watered it. My dad planted the seed, and they watered it. Since then I’ve been pursuing that and loving it.
YOU ARE RELEASING YOUR DEBUT FULL LENGTH TIME BEFORE ON MAY 10TH . . .
EN: Say it again! I’m so excited! It’s been so much work, and it’s finally here!
SPEAKING OF ALL THE WORK, CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH A BIT OF THE PROCESS- FROM HOW LONG YOU’VE BEEN WRITING THE ALBUM, TO THE RECORDING PROCESS, TO MARKETING, AND SO ON?
EN: I’ve been writing for three years. A big moment of change in my life that yielded most of the songs on the album. The most recent song was written around a year ago. And it was also a process of building the collaborators that I wanted to work with like Jeremy Ward on the cello- he is such a gift in my life; and Jess McIntosh- my best friend, on fiddle. Sara Leginsky and Aaron Smith brought incredible musical talents to the project, and Bill Harris put the whole thing together so beautifully. Honestly it’s not sexy, but a lot of spreadsheets.
SPREADSHEETS HAVE TAKEN OVER OUR LIVES.
EN: I know! Nobody tells you how many spreadsheets there’s going to be in adult life. We spent a lot of time rehearsing to make sure I could bring to fruition something that felt how I wanted it to be in here [touches head,] and in here [touches chest,] you know- and put that out in the world. And I’m really, really grateful to the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events for the individual grant program. A grant through that program was really how this was able to happen. Without their support it wouldn’t have been able to be the album I would have wanted it to be. So, supporting the musicians that were working with me was important, and then there is things like the marketing, that you don’t think about but when you get there, you realize, “Oh, you have to do that too!” We’re finally wrapping up the loose ends and looking forward to the release. Just getting ready to put it all out there, these are very personal, heartfelt songs. That is part of it, too- building up the courage to put that out in the world, which was a journey for sure. My friend Jess really helped me through that, to see that it’s ok to share these songs with the world- they don’t just have to be for you.
YOU’RE INVOLVED IN QUITE A FEW MUSICAL PROJECTS. BETWEEN JOYBIRD, OLD LAZARUS’ HARP, YOUR SOLO STUFF, AND SEVERAL OTHERS, DO YOU FIND IT DIFFICULT TO BALANCE YOUR CREATIVE LIFE WITH YOUR OUTSIDE LIFE?
EN: For me, they give each other a lot of balance. My work with After School Matters is a great source of joy and creativity for me, and then the music world is also a great source of joy and creativity. There are definitely days where one or the other is a little harder, but most days neither of them feel like work. They feel like they give to me more than they take, and I think it helps to have different projects going as well. My solo stuff, Joybird, has been such a joy to be a part of, and Glass Mountain, because there is different energies in all those spaces. And then Old Lazarus’ Harp, which is the ragtag late-night group of roustabouts. There is such different energy from each group that I can clamp on to one and feel refreshed by it, and I take a lot of that energy back into my daytime life, too, working with young people or adults who work with young people because it helps recharge me. Making creative space for myself helps me give in so many different ways. If I was a hundred percent giving all the time and not generating, I wouldn’t have the recharging that is provided by the creation of music. So far [knocks on table,] it’s been a balance; they have really balanced each other.
THAT’S EXCELLENT, NOT EVERYONE IS SO LUCKY.
THERE IS A STRIPPED-DOWN BEAUTY TO THE WORK THAT YOU’RE DOING THAT HARKENS BACK TO A SIMPLER TIME. YOUR SONG, “HOW MANY RINGS” EVEN TACKLES THIS SUBJECT. HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR SOUND FITS INTO AN URBAN ENVIRONMENT?
EN: I think a lot of beauty exists in contrast. I love this city. I love the loud trains, people everywhere, technology, all of that; but I also think that the way that I understand and navigate that is shaped by a grounding in folk and traditional music. Growing up in the country, where you could always see the stars. Growing up with a poet and storyteller in a musical family. I think the contrast doesn’t have to be declarative. It doesn’t have to say, “I miss this,” or, “this was...” or, “this should be.” It can just be, “look at this beauty next to this beauty.” Look at how they touch each other, you know.
EN: I think that’s how it is for me, because being involved in education in the city puts me in contact with lots of different people and spaces and dynamic interactions. I don’t think that disagrees with some of the simplicity that happens in my creative life. I think it is simple, that’s what draws me to that kind of music, it’s just very straightforward and earnest. There is nothing simpler than an unaccompanied ballad singer just singing their heart out. It helps me to understand and navigate the complex areas of life, and I hope it does that for others as well.
ARE ALL THE SONGS ON TIME BEFORE ORIGINALS, THERE SEEMED TO BE A FEW THAT SOUNDED LIKE STANDARDS?
EN: All of them are originals except for the fourth track, “Turtle Dove,” which I learned when I was studying with Michael and Carrie Kline. The rest are originals, but they are definitely influenced by the traditional music I make in other settings.
ARE YOU A LYRICS OR TUNES FIRST SONGWRITER?
EN: I wish I had a good answer for this because I really don’t know. I can never think of a time when I just sat down and wrote words, so I think it comes at the same time for me. For example with “How Many Rings,” that melody and that idea came at the same time for me. With me it’s very emotional, something comes into me and through me, and it has to come out now. It never takes me more than a day to write a song because it’s just there and has to come out.
DO YOU WRITE THEM DOWN?
EN: I usually use the voice memo app. See- I’m not a technophobe! That helps me because if you lose the melody, the words are kind of useless.
CHICAGO IS A VERY DIVERSE AND LARGE MUSIC SCENE. ARE THERE ANY ARTISTS YOU FEEL ARE BEING OVERLOOKED?
EN: I really like Marian Runk’s songwriting. I think she is a monster songwriter. Her words are just incredible, and her poetry and storytelling. I wish more people knew about her- she’s really something.
Another one people should listen to is Patrick Ahlberg. He does a lot of traditional Scandinavian fiddle tunes rearranged for acoustic guitar, with all crazy different tunings. He is amazing- I don’t understand how he exists in the world.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE VENUE TO PLAY OR SEE A SHOW AT?
EN: They are one and the same for me, and that is The Hideout. That place is just magic. The first time I went there was A Day In The Country a few years ago and I remember thinking, “what is this place that exists here?” That little sign that says, “There Is Still Kindness And Goodness.” I know that it’s true because The Hideout is there. Every show I see or play there is just a magical time. It’s got a great spook to it. I hope we can all rally around it and keep it there.