Emily Wells Has Her Hands in a Bit of Everything
Published: Friday, May 11, 2012
Updated: Monday, May 14, 2012 14:05
Emily Wells is a very passionate and very talented woman. A powerhouse all on her own, she plays keyboards, violin, drums, cello and even directed her own music video. Surrounded by her gear, she commands the stage, alone, as her seductive voice echoes through the room.
She did just about everything on her latest album, Mama, which she recorded in a Topanga Canyon horse ranch outside of Los Angeles. Wells even produced it independently.
While being onstage is easy and rewarding for Wells, touring certainly isn’t. Traveling in a crammed hatchback without AC, her 60-pound pit bull, who acts as her body guard, rides shotgun as they battle the heat. It’s all worth it for Wells once she’s on the stage and sharing her music with an attentive crowd.
How’s the tour?
It’s great. I like touring. It’s a hot day and my air conditioner broke and my dog is panting. Other than that we’re doing pretty good.
Oh, I wondered what that sound was.
Yeah, that’s my dog. She’s like, “Oh my God, I’m so hot.” And her side has the sun on it so I don’t know what to do. I need an umbrella! She’s probably the best touring companion you could hope for.
So does touring alone mean you have to unload all your gear yourself?
Yeah, I would have to say it’s one of the biggest drawbacks of touring by yourself. The venue usually has someone to help you if you’re nice but the hotels that’s the place where there’s no pity. You have to load the cart and go for it. That’s why I like staying at the cheap hotels where your door walks out to your car, and you can just throw things – no cart needed. But then you’re staying at a dodgy, scary hotel with no amenities.
There’s romance I think to those kinds of places that you don’t find in a typical Holiday Inn or whatever. There’s something about staying at some sort of cowboy-esque place that could be gross. That’s the best part of traveling with a pit bull who is kind of enormous. She’s definitely in the 60 pound range, sweet as pie, but I think she’d kick some ass for me if need be. It’s nice.
You play so many instruments. How did you find yourself learning to play them all?
It’s been a slow process. I didn’t set out to learn how to play a bunch of [instruments,] but as a teenager somebody lent me a four-track and I thought it was the most amazing thing. So how do you think you’re going to fill up four tracks? You want to have different sounds so you’ve got to start picking up different instruments. I think what’s driven me to do things is the part of me that’s a producer, more than the part of me that’s a songwriter and a musician. I like to articulate ideas and play around with sound in a way that you can’t if you [only play one instrument.]
How do you produce your own work?
At the core of it, the songs have to be good. From there, there are all these places you can take it. How do you want to feel while you’re listening to? You can really change a song by what you add to it. It’s fun for me. I like being in the studio messing around and stumbling on things. That kind of thing really gets me going.
For Mama you went to record it a cabin, right?
It was great. I have always kind of found a way to have a secluded recording studio in the past but this was the best of both worlds. I was near Los Angeles, just 20 minutes away, so I could visit my friends and they could visit me. They would often arrive with food or booze or whatever. I liked it because I wasn’t completely in seclusion, but I could go four days without seeing anyone. I could also play the drums at 3 o’clock in the morning and have some piece.
You seem pretty independent. I was looking at your new (self-directed) video for “Passenger,” and I thought it was so cool how you did all the stop motion by yourself.
I think it’s not so much that I set out to be a person that does everything, but I just get into things and give a lot of time to them, or obsess over them and then it’s like, oh I guess I made this thing. It’s funny. Although, this touring along thing – I don’t know about that.
What’s your favorite part of everything you get to do?
I think performing, for me, is really where it’s at the most. It can go either way. If you’re having a performance where people are engaged and with you, and you can feel that connection happening – it’s really hard to touch that with anything else. But if you’re having a performance where people are talking and not present, it’s a nightmare. It can be the best and the worst, and you have a lot of self-doubt in that moment. It’s part of the battle when you’re trying to give a good performance.
This tour has been amazing. Every city has been so welcoming and, whether it’s a huge crowd or a tiny crowd, I felt like I’ve connected with them and that’s what makes it my favorite.
PortlandCello Project w/Emily Wells,Crescent Ballroom, May 13, 8 p.m., $12-$18