Singer-songwriter Emily James’ latest EP Grey explores finding self-acceptance in the midst of uncertainty. The indie-pop tracks chronicle James’ personal journey towards self-love during a “very ‘grey’ time of her life,” as described in the press release for the EP.
Growing up in New York, James was always certain about music. “I grew up listening to a lot of different kinds of music like the Wicked soundtrack, Bruce Springsteen, or Bob Dylan,” James recalled. “I was always exposed to music because my parents are big music lovers, and I would always put on performances in the kitchen for everybody.”
James took up piano at age five and started writing her own music at just ten years old. Most of her songwriting at that time was more fragmented, but provided her the opportunity to experiment with the song structure and eventually develop her own personal style. “ I would play my songs for my parents and they were super supportive,” she fondly remembered. “While it might’ve not been the best song ever, their encouragement was the greatest thing they could have done for me. From there, I just kept writing and writing and playing it for my family and my writing kind of grew from there.”
By 16, James started working on her professional career and put out her first self-titled EP in collaboration with producers Jacquire King and Ian Fitchuk. Through that process, James was able to observe the way both producers worked and the ideas they came up with to make the EP better, allowing her the opportunity to grow as an artist and establish her voice through the production process.
“I’ve always had a lot of input because when I’m writing a song; I can hear how I want it to sound, so working with people who were really open to that and respected that encouraged me to speak my mind and clearly communicate that with the engineers or musicians when it came time for me producing things myself,” she explained. “I kind of got to a point where I heard things so clearly that I knew it’d be too hard to try to communicate that to somebody else. I may not have all the knowledge and experience but I’m just going to do what I can with the tools I have and see what I come up with. And once I kind of let go of judgment, it all kind of fell into place.”
Since her professional start, James has spent time between New York, Nashville, and Los Angeles, where she currently resides and worked on her latest EP. Her time in each of the cities allowed her to expand her sonic palette and tap into different songwriting styles. “While living in Nashville, I was definitely writing more in the singer-songwriter folky style,” she explained. “When I came out to LA, that has influenced me to dive into more of the indie-pop singer songwriter vibe. I used to feel like I needed to choose one over the other, and now I’ve become comfortable with the fact that I’m kind of a blend.”
The blend of influences are prevalent in both the sound and lyrics in her EP Grey. According to the press release around the latest project, James describes “feeling uncertain about how people felt about me, uncertain about the relationship I was in, and uncertain about how I felt about myself. For me, the color gray represents all of those emotions; not quite light, not quite dark, just some sort of messy blend between black and white.”
One of the songs on the EP that perfectly demonstrates the tone of Grey is “Past Tense”, a song that describes the push and pull of trying to leave a stagnant relationship. The combination of mid-tempo guitar line and poignant lyrics perfectly detail the doubts and fears she grappled with around leaving what was familiar behind. “It’s as if your mind keeps rewinding back to all of the good parts of the relationship, and wants to hold on to them, but then it will fast forward to where it envisions a future without that person. It’s the struggle of knowing what you need to do, but not feeling ready to do it,” she recounted.
Other tracks like “Think I’m Gonna Make It” center around self love and embracing independence post break-up, signifying the start of a new phase and the ray of light breaking through the gray.
For James, this latest EP allowed her to work through the in-between emotions that felt harder to understand. “I’m now finding myself moving out of that gray space and into a much more vibrant existence.”