Emily Blue may be one of Chicago’s most prolific music artists. Which is impressive. But what makes it even more surprising is the fact she just moved to the city.
She graduated this summer from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with an English degree, but she also carried with her years of experience playing in Chicago.
“I’m not interested in doing anything else but music and being an artist,” she said, determined.
She fronts the indie rock band Tara Terra — who just debuted their new record, Where’s Your Light, two weeks ago at the Empty Bottle — and she’s well-acquainted with engaging with Chicago’s music communities.
Lately, she’s been hosting a few Audiotree sessions, working on music videos, working as a stylist, working with the harpist and producer Yomí, and, finally, releasing her own solo material.
In anticipation of her show at Martyr’s this Friday, she spoke with Third Coast Review.
Third Coast Review: You’re part of so many projects. When you’re not with Tara Terra, how do you write and record as your own solo project?
Emily Blue: I record my solo stuff just anywhere, depending on the project and the person, but usually with my friend Max in Logan.
TCR: How do you balance it all?
Blue: I balance it by having priorities by understanding my priorities. Everything has to fall into place because everything important is important, and everything secondary is secondary. Sometimes it means I don’t get breaks and I can get exhausted!
TCR: What is it like to work in a band environment — a collaborative context — and then shift to focus to your other projects?
Blue: We recorded a whole album at Audiotree and since then we’ve been dealing with our personal lives. It’s hard when you have a bunch of minds on a project with people who care about it!
But also with a band it can be difficult because you might want to only focus on the band when other people juggle other interests. But I’m a bit of an anomaly in that I’m obsessed with music to the point where it’s over almost everything else in life! It’s been my way to survive, and I care a lot about it. I don’t expect anyone to be like me, but I also have met people here with the same mentality.
I want to make as much music as I possibly can, take every project as far as I can, and connect with as many people as much as possible.
TCR: When did you begin recording your own music?
Blue: I started playing completely by myself when I was 15 at dive bars around town. I wasn’t a good singer but I was competent at writing songs — which, becoming a stronger songwriter, has been my motivation. I released my own solo record at 16 but have since taken it down [laughs].
TCR: But that still takes a lot of courage to put something out into the world!
Blue: I think so too! And I think anyone who makes art becomes more visible. Especially with the internet when your art can circulate and everyone who finds it has an opinion about it.
TCR: What is the process like when you record with your solo work, as opposed to going to a studio with a band?
Blue: With the band, we rely on our live energy. I do think we are very cohesive because we are tied to our instruments and that the energy is growing naturally from playing live.
With my solo project, everything is completely programmed or a hybrid with playing live instruments. When I record with Max, for example, I’ll play something on guitar and he’ll bring it to life in the production in an unexpected way.
TCR: It almost sounds like the method in your solo work is more like a collage instead of painting on a canvas.
Blue: I came into college studying classical flute, which helped me understand how music is pieced together. With that and the band, it helped me understand how to use sound and how to make it a song.
TCR: What’s been a challenge with working as a solo artist rather than the band?
Blue: Confidence. When you have three other people playing with you validates the music. It says “this is worth my time.” Just having a band validates the songwriting and the project itself. But when you completely alone, you can pick any idea and you don’t know how to measure its worth — there’s no one saying, “that’s right.”
TCR: What’s the story of you entering the world of music?
Blue: I’m an only child. Which was difficult because you’re heavily criticized and attended to. At least for me, it was difficult to express myself in the privacy of my own brain. I had to create a space for myself, a way to gain a sense of self, and music for me is a way to have a voice.
I played the piano when I was younger. Then I joined orchestra and I started singing.
TCR: What music were you listening to when you were starting out?
Blue: I always think of Regina Specktor because that was the first music that a friend passed onto me. Because I played piano, I think I connected it. But also the Begin The Hope record is a record when you listen to it more you also unpack it more. But I could also pick out what she was doing and imitate it myself. I almost took it like an instruction manual to play piano and singing at the same time.
TCR: You said at one point you’re a perfectionist. How do you go manage perfectionism?
Blue: My poetry teacher shared with us the quote, “A poem is never finished; it is only abandoned.” And songwriting to me is a craft, and so it’s about crafting it until it’s as accurate as possible. Songwriting is really satisfying to me because I know when a song to me, almost like solving a math equation. It’s like emotional math — it’s like, “I have communicated that feeling and I resolved it somehow.”
TCR: What else is on the horizon for you?
Blue: Tara Terra will be playing in Chicago this summer, I’m excited that Yomí and I are releasing a music video, and I’ll be self-producing a mixtape this summer.
Emily Blue will be performing at Martyrs’ this Friday with Matthew Santos and Christopher the Conquered. The doors open at 8 pm, the event is 21+, and the cover is $15.