Interview: Emma Shepard

Emma Shepard began documenting young adulthood in high school, skipping classes to pen piano-pop in the bedroom of her parents’ house. The resulting debut EP Twin Sized Bed laid bare moments of the bittersweet as elegantly as it did the grit. Graduating to Public Displays of Affection, her first full-length, Shepard takes on new complexity as a songwriter and orchestrations flourish where Bed’s simplicity left off. Shepard’s catalog is rife with sentimentality and the subtle quirk of predecessors like Regina Spektor, but, endearingly, never quite lets down its bite (“Take her up on the offer, I dare you” she implores on Twin Sized Bed’s title track). She celebrates Affection’s release Jan. 24 with a show at Akron’s Musica with Zach and Brite Winter alum Shisho.

Select interviews will be printed in the Premium Guide Book and CD samplers of  Brite artists are available as a Kickstarter reward. Get them both with the Music Lovers Pack and support Brite Winter on Kickstarter here. // Interview by Nikki Delamotte

“I’d like to say that in my adult life my writing process is different now but I usually just get mad at boys then yell and write at my piano.” – Emma Shepard

You grew up in a musically-inclined family. What was it like growing up in a house surrounded by music?

Wonderful and intimidating. My family is insanely talented and, even though they’re so supportive, it has always been really scary for me to play songs for them because I didn’t feel like my material was half as good as theirs. At the same time, it’s so nice writing something and having a house full of musicians giving me honest opinions and advice.

You recently released your debut full length, Public Displays of Affection. What influenced your songwriting over the year since your EP, Twin Sized Bed, and was your approach to Affection any different?

I wrote most of the songs off of Twin Sized Bed as a 16-year-old girl and it took two years for me to be able to record them. The two are very different because the things you worry about at 16 aren’t the same things you worry about at 19, even though there are only a few years in between. I wrote Twin Sized Bed in my childhood bedroom at my parent’s house and then I wrote Public Displays of Affection as an adult in my own apartment. At that point my life was full of different people, places, and worries and it influenced my writing and sound completely. I like to think of my sound on Affection as more mature and hopefully in my twenties I can look back on this album and say I’ve grown since.

Can you tell us more about your songwriting process?

I started writing songs a lot in high school and usually a boy would piss me off and then I would skip class, sit in the band practice rooms, and write some angry songs. I’d like to say that in my adult life my writing process is different now but I usually just get mad at boys then yell and write at my piano.

Affection has beautiful piano and orchestral-based tracks that recall artists like Regina Spektor — but there’s also great, subtle punk elements that makes it obvious why you list Hop Along in your influences. What do you listen to that always seems to make its way back into rotation?

Regina Spektor has definitely been a huge influence for me. I was born with a strong love for music but I never thought of it as what I wanted to do with my life until I heard Soviet Kitsch. Her music is very unusual, I think. She takes a lot of chances by breaking out of the typical verse/chorus/bridge formula and Hop Along does the same thing with a completely different sound. I want to make music that combines the softness of artists like Regina, the punk elements of groups like Hop Along, and the sassiness of Kate Nash. I’m also heavily influenced by Patrick Watson, Fiona Apple, and Daughter as of late. What I’m listening to definitely influences what my songs sound like. I think it’s good to try different styles before subscribing to one genre.

What’s your dream collaboration?

I want to collaborate with Ben Folds more than anyone. I picked up a copy of Songs For Silvermanwhen I was in middle school and it got me through a lot of those angsty transition phases that you go through in middle and high school. I actually met Ben Folds in 2009 and I almost threw up on him because I was so nervous so I guess I’m not sure how well actually collaborating with him would go, but it’s nice to dream.

You self-publish your own zine, All I Can Draw Are Stick People. Can you tell us a little about your art?

All I Can Draw Are Stick People is a collection of comics that I try to release bimonthly. I am really, really into web comics and I was heavily inspired by Gunshow Comic, Three Word Phrase, and a few others that I’ve been reading regularly for the past few years. The only thing holding me back from making my own comics was the fact that I couldn’t draw really at all. I ended up making them anyway and I’m actually getting a little better at drawing now. I think I’ve graduated from stick people and now I can kinda draw blobby dogs and ghosts.

Keep up with Emma Shepard on Facebook and stream her music on Bandcamp.