Emily Wolfe Interview – The Blowback

This interview has been edited for clarity and flow.

On Monday October 23, 2023, from my home in British Columbia, I hopped on Zoom and connected with Texas, to interview Emily Wolfe, who’s third album, The Blowback, dropped three days earlier. We talked about the album, what the inspirations were behind it, how finishing her first album Emily Wolfe opened the flood gates, her signature Epiphone Sheraton, her favourites, and more. You can read on below, or check out the video above.

And don’t forget to check out Emily’s music after you’re done here.

 Jade Dempsey: How are you?

Emily Wolfe: Good. How are you? 

Good…So you just got back off a tour?

Yeah…[laughs]yeah, I’ve been touring a lot, this past fall. So it’s been a lot, but I’m back home for a couple of weeks.

I believe it’s a couple weeks [on tour] again, and then sleep until the new year?

Yeah, I just got a couple weeks and go back out, and then…the next tour is in March, after that. 

This next run, you’re opening for someone, am I right?

Yeah, Black Joe Lewis.

When it comes to opening, is that the same size venue? Or is it a bigger venue than you’ve been headlining as?

It kind of depends. I think this one will be about the same size rooms…Joe and I are both from Austin so it will be kinda fun to tour with a fellow Austinite.

The Gaslight Anthem and Tool were your others this year?

Yeah. Those were huge venues. Tool was an arena, and then we’ll do arenas in Europe in March with Gaslight. So that will be fun.

Yeah, that would be fun. What’s your favourite type of venue size to play?

Arenas, for sure, yeah. As big as possible.

I’m not a musician, but I’d rather play to 30,000 strangers, than 30 people I know.

Yeah, for sure. Me too.

When you learn a song to cover. Where do you start?

I think I just listen to it tons of times in a row, and then grasp what feeling they’re trying to convey, and put my own spin on it I guess, and I pick up a guitar and see if I can add my own kind of flavour to it. So yeah, I guess it starts with guitar, pretty much.

Is that what most of your songs start with?

Yeah, I’d say so. Guitar or drums. 

Speaking of your guitar. Your beautiful signature [Epiphone Sheraton] guitar I’m jealous of. What’s the process of getting a signature? 

I’d been working with Gibson for years, and developed a really cool relationship with my rep there, named Cody. And he flew me out to NAMM, the gear conference in Anaheim, California. And had me play in front of all the Epiphone people during one of the showcases. And that’s kinda where it all started. They noticed that the Sheraton is what I play, and it’s kind of a rare thing to play that…big of a guitar, I guess. And so they thought it’d be cool to…lift up an emerging artist, instead of giving it to another person who’s already made it a signature guitar. So at that time it was really cool ‘cause they just kinda approached me about it and really, I was stoked to do it, so yeah it’s awesome.

Photo: Whitney Hensley
Photo: Whitney Hensley

Was your original Sheraton the only guitar you played?

Yeah for sure. It was the only one.

Was it your first electric?

The first electric I bought with my own money, yes. Other ones were like Christmas gifts and knockoff Strats and Ibanez kinda lower end models. But then in College I made the jump and worked some and saved up and bought the Sheraton.

Are you like me, that when you get a guitar, it’s a guitar for life? You’re not really interested in getting a guitar where you’re maybe like I’ll sell it in a year?

Yeah, for sure. I don’t know why but I have a loyalty to certain ones. Like, I have one…it was like the first one I opened from the batch I got after the prototype was made, the black one, it’s like my number one, and I don’t know why but…I was just like, this is the one, this is the number one, and I put a sticker on it, and now it’s like if I don’t play that particular one, I feel kinda off [laughs]. Like my backup is the exact same guitar, but it’s different. And I feel really loyal to it, for some reason. So yeah, I’m the same way.

This entire floor could be up in flames and I’m going for my Epiphone Les Paul…Before we move on from gear, I have to thank you. It was your 2021 Rig Rundown, where you said I have small hands so I use a small pick. Had you not said that you have small hands I wouldn’t’ve tried a small pick. It was a revelation. Can’t go back now.

I know. It’s so hard to go back. I tried to go back to bigger ones, just for no reason, and a soon as I picked it up, I was like ‘I cannot do this’. It’s the small ones forever.

Though I do have to say, that with your original Sheraton how have you worn away the finish? I was expecting you to say that you played with a razor blade.

[Laughs]…oh my gosh. You know, I think it’s like a lot of it is this motion (strumming gesture). It rubs off for some reason, and then around the bridge…I end up playing with the side of my hand, ‘cause I’ll roll the volume knob off really frequently. And I also like, kind of punch it during my shows, to get the feedback without strumming. So I’ll hold a chord and then like hit it with this part of my hand (outside of palm/forearm) and I’ll end up after shows with huge bruises. But it’s like the adrenaline during a show for me is so intense, that I don’t feel it, until like hours later. So I literally beat it up.

Other than a few bad dings, I’ve barely put a scratch in the poly finish on mine.

…it’s bad…I should probably be less aggressive, but it’s just too fun. I dunno, I like to beat the hell out of it, on stage.

Photo: Whitney Hensley

Getting into the album The Blowback. This is your third album in four years. Once you made your first album, did the flood gates just kind of open, now that you’d had one under you belt?

Yeah, for sure. It kind of….I don’t know, it’s kind of weird, because if I write one song, then I’m reminded that I can finish an album, you know? ‘Cause everything kinda floods out after that…’Cause the thought of “oh my gosh, I have to write a whole album” is really daunting…But you know, if I get nervous, I’ll look back and be like “I did this two times before. I can do it, I can do it again.” So yeah, it was cool to be able to finish it, and so quickly too. I dunno, all the songs just kind came out, really pretty quickly, for this new one.

You had an EP (Roulette) in 2015, and your first full album (Emily Wolfe) was in 2019. Was that kind of the thing, that you didn’t have a full album under your belt, to give you that boost?

Yeah, yeah. Then also, let me see what else…Man 2015 is so hard for me to remember…Yeah, I think I was still kind of getting my sea-legs…and trying to, you know, open the door to a career in music. So yeah, I just didn’t have enough material when I put that EP out.

You have another EP, Mechanical Hands, it only shows up on Amazon but you can’t listen to it. Was that taken down? 

So, yeah. People ask me this all the time…Here’s what happened…In 2016 I met a big manager in Los Angeles. And he was like, ”I’m going to sign you on”, and he promised me the world, and he was like “you need to delete all your old material, because it’s not your best work”. And so I did. Because I thought he was right, because I was in my early 20’s and stupid and didn’t know what I was doing. So all of my old material is gone, because yes, it’s deleted, because he said I should delete it.

I mean I still have it as a Drop Box link of my whole catalogue and all of it. I wish I hadn’t deleted it, ‘cause I have a ton of music.

And then like…Mechanical Hands, Night and Day. There’s another EP…There’s a full length album I did in college, that’s acoustic; that was deleted as well…because he told me to delete it…but I still have it all. One day I’ll release a box set. It being online is a mistake by the distributers, that forgot to delete it from all these other platforms. If you can listen to it, by all means go for it. If you want it, I’ll send it to you, you can have it [chuckles]. If anybody wants it, they can email my tour manager and I’ll send it to them for free.

Were you always solo? Or did you ever play in bands?

No, I was always solo. Except…well I did…I had like a little college band with my roommate. But we only played in like, open mics and coffee shops, and stuff. But after college, I just kinda went out solo, and hired other players to play with me…

I don’t know why, but it was really important for me to kind of have my music under my own name, and write music…and to have it be mine…I want to play in a band though. It would be fun to play drums in a band, one day.

What was your bands name?

The City Sounds. Which people loved…I don’t even know.

How’d you come up with that?

We went to a band name generator online [laughs] and then that popped up.

Yeah that would be cool. I’m at the point where I’m thinking about a band, but it’s so overwhelming, I don’t know where to start.

Yeah, it’s one of those crazy things…it’s all just trial and error. Which is scary when you think about it…but if you just jump in, it always just works out somehow. 

It was never a longing for me, until I realized the next step in my guitar playing was to play with other people. I’m a photographer so when I went to shoot shows, suddenly I realized…damn I want to be up there. Which had never really happened before. I don’t know what to do with these emotions.

Yeah. It means your dream is alive. Totally do it. ‘Cause whenever I go to shows, I’m just like, if the band doesn’t blow me away. I’m like “I want to be up there. I can do that.” But if the band is so insanely good. Like Sarah Jaffe is amazing. She’s an artist who lives in New York, but is from Texas, and whenever I go to her shows, I can really enjoy it. And same with Tool, watching them play, I was just like in awe of it. Then you know, some shows you go to, and you’re like “I can do this a lot better, I wish that was me, right now” [laughs] But yeah, I feel you.

Before going into The Blowback. I’m going to switch over to Outlier for a sec. “No Man” is really the ‘Outlier’ of the rest of the  album…sorry. It feels more like something from your first album (Emily Wolfe), was that a hold over from that album?

I actually wrote that song for my first record, and then the producer Michael Shuman, who I loved working with, said “send me everything you’ve ever written in your life”. So I was like, okay. So I sent him a drop box of everything, and that song was in it. It was really blues driven and really like stomp clap, and not electronic at all. And he was like “what if you put some Nine Inch Nails beats on it” and I was like “sick, lets do it.” And he sent me some beats, and then we kind of formed that song together, and I thought it was really interesting and cool. So yeah, he had a big part in making it sound the way it does…And I just wanted to try something a little different…Just to see what would happen. Yeah. Really. It’s a fun song, and it’s got some interesting sounds…But it’s interesting you say that, because that song I had written for my first record but it was on the second. 

I almost feel this album does that in the same way a little bit. The first three songs have more of the upbeat Outlier kinda stuff, then it gets a bit darker from there. Can you talk a bit about this album?

I wanted to essentially make the record two EP’s as one LP. So like side A when you listen to the vinyl it’s all really punchy and aggressive, and there’s a lot of rage in it. And then the side B is the more softer kind of songs, and have a lot to do with heartbreak, as in things I went through, but not related to love. It was very like, betrayal, by someone that I used to know. And being a gay woman in a conservative state. So “Hopeless In Panorama” I wrote in a hotel room in Oregon. That was a time I felt really isolated being in the LGBTQ community. Then with Republican politics in America being so insanely against my community. And so that song is like a love letter to the queer community.

The “Rock Bottom On A Highwire” was written from the perspective of a former friend, and their failing relationship…My goal with that song is for her to hear it and realize that she doesn’t have to be in that relationship. So [smiles]…it’s kind of a subliminal thing for this one person. But when I listen to it I think it my help some other people.

Then there’s “Second of Relief” which is on the second side, which is about my journey as a musician coming out of the pandemic, and how music stopped and live shows stopped, and I couldn’t get any relief, because I’m a sober person as well. So I couldn’t have any…there wasn’t anything for me to escape life from. So I just had to live it and sit in it, and I couldn’t drink or smoke or whatever, to like get away from everything. I just wanted relief. So I wrote that song out of that.

So yeah, the vibe of the last half of the record is very different from the first intentionally, ‘cause I wanted it to be two different kind of things, ‘cause I like to change it up that way. For people, I think a whole album of the same energy is too much. So I wanted to flip it.

What were some of your inspirations going into this album?

Hmm…A lot of 90’s rock. Like Nirvana and Veruca Salt…and a lot of…like the angst, and dissonant kind of chords, that come with 90’s rock. That was a big thing. Alanis Morrisette was a big thing for me…and then just like, really fuzzy guitars.

Yeah, I definitely got the 90’s vibe. There were a few songs, that reminded me of something, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. 

What’s your approach when you start an album?

Well I guess my approach is to kind of get everything out, that I can. So it’s like I essentially have word vomit and then melody vomit, into like a voice memo on my phone. And then when I sit down and have the feeling that I can write a song in that moment…It’s like a specific feeling that I have to have. Like okay I feel like there’s something coming, like I can sit down right now and get something out, and that something would make sense. So I’ll go back to my whole list of everything I’ve written down and recorded, and take pieces, and if anything inspires me, then a song will usually spark from that. So yeah…I think it’s just over time, anything that I hear that’s inspiring, like a word or a phrase…or a riff or something; I’ll record it, or write it down, and then reference back to that stuff. So yeah, that’s kinda where I start, and it just builds. And once one or two songs are done, usually the remainder of the album follows pretty quickly. It’s kind of like the creative doors are open, now lets finish this.

How do you balance the personal aspects of a song with fictional aspects? Or do just let all the personal stuff come out?

Yeah, I just let it all come out. I feel like that kinda the point of art, is for people to relate to each other. And usually people go through the same exact emotions, at one point or another…
I’ve written songs that were fictional…and I don’t love them as much as the super non-fiction ones, if that makes sense…So I try my best to write super personal, non-fiction lyrics.

Do you have any songs that a fan has come up to you and taken a completely different meaning from the song, from what was your experience?

Yeah. I’ve got a song called “White Collar Whiskey”, that I wrote about a reception job I had, with a construction company, and how much I hated it…And then that song was in a show called The Vampire Diaries, and it has nothing to do with vampires. But a lot of people who liked that show come up to me and will reference it, and talk about their vampire characters, and it’s just not at all what I had in mind for that song. But it’s cool. I mean that’s the thing about putting music out. Like once it’s out it belongs to everybody. They can do whatever they want, use it however they want, emotionally speaking. So yeah. It’s kinda funny, but it’s interesting to see what people take from it.

You produced this album yourself. What was it like balancing the musician and producer side, and finding that objectivity of being the producer?

It was a fun challenge, because I really had to remove myself from being the artist, when I was being the producer, and then remove myself from being the producer when I was being the artist…And it was kind of a weird dance to navigate…So what I did was kind of a weird approach. So I demoed out every song on this record in my room (like in here). Like everything. The drums, all the guitars, all the vocals; so everything was pretty much done—in a demo format—before I went into the studio. And so in order for me to remove myself as the artist and only play the producer role in certain points, I took those demos and played them over the speakers and in the headphones, in the studio, so my musicians could hear the demos. Like this is the song, just play along to this. So I could sit in the engineering room where the console is, and make sure the right takes were happening. So I was hearing everything at one time, to get the sense of what else needed to be recorded in a more professional format from what I have here. Which is you know…pretty shitty outboard gear, and not great preamps and all this stuff…but yeah, it was a lot of fun though. It was really cool. Because at the end it felt like those two personas kind of merged into one, and by the end of it, I was like, okay, I can do this dual job as one person. It was like an emergence of the next phase of my career, I guess.

Is there a person you go to when a songs finished for their opinion on how is sounds?

My bass player. ‘Cause he’s super super critical. Really amazing at music. But also really sensitive…Like he’ll tell me the hard truth, but in a way that’s kind [laughs] and doesn’t hurt my feelings…And he’s a jazz studies major so he knows all the weird kind of chord progressions tricks and stuff like that. So when a songs finished I’ll say “check this out” and I can always tell if he’s into it or not, cause he’ll be like “THIS IS FUCKING CRAZY GOOD!!!!!!” with a ton of exclamation points. Or like “this is tight, this is cool”, so it’s like oh okay, this one has more work I need to do. But yeah, it’s always him. He’s like my best friend, and have been working with him for eight years. And he’s been grinding on the road with me, for this whole time…yeah, he’s great.

You can tell me it sucks, as long as you tell me how to fix it.

[laughs] Yeah, that’s a good point.

How did you two meet?

We met through my former bass player. My former bass player moved on and he recommended Evan for gig; and that was it. I mean I liked his playing so much, and we just hit it off as friends immediately. So yeah, he filled in for a gig, and then I hired him full time.

Photo: Whitney Hensley

What do you look for when you’re hiring a musician?

The hang. So much of it is the hang, you know? And really great musicality. Which isn’t easy to find. A lot of times really amazing musicians can be really tough to hangout with…but the opposite can be true, so it’s tough to find the person that has both of those things. Because when I tour, I mean…most of it is travelling with the band. And there’s an hour and fifteen minutes every night where it’s music. But most of it is hanging out. And sense of humour is important to me…and I think it kinda like “are you chill enough to be in a van with me for twelve hours at a time [laughs] then go play music. I’ve found that in Evan and Johnny, my new drummer. He’s been playing with me about a year, and he’s just the best.

Lots of musicians you talk to, it’s all about the hang. It needs to be a core of it. Which makes sense. I couldn’t imagine doing it with people that are just like, business partners. Even shooting bands, it’s so much fun when they’re clearly buds.

Yeah, for sure…I think that’s a big reason why I enjoy being a solo artist. Because all the business side stuff is all me. I pay my band, and they don’t see the kind of day to day grind that I do for my business. And I like it that way. I would much rather them just have fun playing music and getting paid for it, instead of being bogged down with all the stuff I have to do. Like keeping up with invoices and travel and hotels, and paying for everything I do pay for. It’s a lot. But if we keep the business stuff kind of out of it, we can focus on the fun stuff. Which in turn makes them play way better too.

Do you plan on staying independent?

Well I do have a label. I am on Crows Feet Records, which is a great little small label…I’ve got a live album that I have to do for this label. Then after that I don’t really know what I’ll do. It would be cool to start my own label though. Because I really do enjoy being independent, in a lot of things. The autonomy of getting to make my own decisions is so important to me. Especially in such a weird industry—where it seems like it changes every day—and nobody really knows what they’re doing [laughs]. That’s what it seems like at least. But yeah, I don’t know. I feel like I will try my best to avoid big label stuff…’cause I do know from relationships that I have with other musicians that are on bigger labels, that they can’t deal with it. Like all of their decision making is not theirs, it’s the labels. So I do feel really lucky to be on Crows Feet. It’s a smaller label and they’ve been really supportive. They kind of really let me make all the creative decisions, which is really rare and amazing.

Yeah. Especially nowadays you’re writing for TikTok with these labels. I watching a thing with Tenille Townes, where she said she has to actively try not to write for the algorithm. 

Wow. Yeah. I bet that’s tough…TikTok is so wild to me…I don’t know how people do it. It’s a mystery to me…But I could see that being a challenge, ‘cause it is so like, okay, the end goal is to go viral on TikTok. So it’s like I have to write a song that’s going to go viral on TikTok…I don’t know. For me, I rather write something that’s going to stand the test of time. Like if TikTok ends, or gets banned, or something like that, is it like “is my song going to still be around?” I think it’s interesting, how TikTok and social media has affected the music industry so much. I’ve even noticed that a lot of songs are shorter. I guess that people think that audiences attention spans are dwindling, I don’t know, maybe that’s it? But I refuse to think that [chuckles]…There’s still people out there who want full length records, with three and half to five minute songs. But I also understand that people are so busy that if they want their entertainment through TikTok [swiping gesture] it’s like one second videos, and you keep scrolling.

I’ve never been on TikTok.

It’s not great. It’s a cesspool…it’s insane.

At least you got one album listener here. I can usually tell you the first song and last song on an album, or if I’ve learned it on guitar. Other than that…

Song names are tough. Tough to remember. But melodies, yeah, easy to remember, I’d say, for me at least.

Emily wolfe's Favourites & Firsts
Photo: Brent Goldman

“Sleeping Bag” by ZZ Top

Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age

Queens of the Stone Age

Play? The 8×10 in Baltimore
Watch? Stubbs Outdoors, in Austin

Favourite city to have a day off in?
Chattanooga, Tennessee

TV Show?
Vanderpump Rules
East of Eden


First Concert:
Watched? The Format
Played? The Spider House 

Wrapping up here. Where can people find you?

You can find me on all the social platforms…I am on TikTok, unfortunately.


Absolutely not. I’m either doing weird stuff, or music stuff. But Instagram is where I mainly live in terms of online suff. And my website emilywolfemusic.com, that has all my tour dates. So yeah, that’s pretty much it.

Well I’ll let you get back to your afternoon. You got to come up to Canada, at some point. You’ve toured enough. Just throw in a Canadian leg. Or at least Vancouver. 

Yeah, I really want to go up there. I’ve been wanting to go for a while. So we’ll make it happen soon.

Thanks again to Emily. You can check her out here

Leave a comment on who you’d like to see me interview. And check out Backline Beat on Youtube. Thanks.

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                                                      — Jade Dempsey