“My mother used to wake me up every morning before school singing ‘You Are My Sunshine,’” 21-year-old singer-songwriter Emily Roth reminisces. “My sister always sang with me, and we would write songs together as kids and attempt to learn new instruments together. My grandparents always played music and encouraged my karaoke fun as a child, and my godparents to this day are my biggest fans.”
Born in Knoxville, Tenn., Roth has spent most of her young life with her mother and sister in Wilmington. Nevertheless, her father, who still lives in Knoxville, also has been a proud proponent of her musical dreams. In fact, he was instrumental in more ways than one.
“He bought me my first guitar after [I] attempt[ed] to teach myself for six months on an old guitar my parents got in Germany when I was about 12 years old,” she details.
Make no bones about it: Roth wanted to be a star and has since sought out any and every opportunity to “jump in front of whoever would listen.” She’d mimic her favorite song-and-dance number, “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow,” from Shirley Temple, or take cues from Bruce Springsteen “lullabies,” often sung by her dad.
“I’ve just always [sang/performed] since I could speak,” she continues. When her parents discovered how serious she was, they signed her up for lessons by local musician Justin Fox. Roth learned a lot theoretically about music but even more so about the community at large Fox and other musicians immerse themselves into weekly.
“Aside from my family, Wilmington has a lot of good people here,” Roth tells, “and a ton of super talented artists often come together as a community and are always willing to help each other out.”
While attending Cape Fear Community College for her associate in arts degree, Roth also continues her music education on the scene. She will take to the Duck and Dive Pub Thursday night.
For most artists it’s hard to label their work or style as any one thing; Roth is no different. Influences run the gamut and genres manifest in her work in various ways. She’s prone to modern jazz and dirty blues, a la Amy Winehouse. She’s also attracted to stories from country music legends like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.
“I love the styles and power behind Stevie Nicks and Grace Potter,” she tells of her rock influences. “I try to take a little inspiration from each, put them together in every aspect of the artist I am, and make it my own. . . . I feel I have somehow tied all of it together to create my sound and style.”
Songwriting to Roth is like keeping a diary. As scary as it is to share such inner thoughts publicly, her most private feelings help create music people react to most. As well, songwriting’s cathartic nature provides her stress relief.
“Many times, [songwriting] has allowed me to understand underlying feelings I may be putting aside or not really trying to recognize until it is right there in front of me, with lyrics on a page,” Roth details. “I see it, and I am faced with forcing myself to recognize my feelings until it makes sense and I feel like, ‘Yes, this is me.’”
Roth’s plugging around town her newest tune, “Waiting On Mr. Right.” Simple but catchy, like most of her songs, it offers up chronological lyrics and a clear picture to listeners. While her work thus far reflects a similar writing style, each song represents an attempt to enhance a story, feeling or moment.
“Another good example is a song I wrote, ‘The New Years Song,’” she offers. “I like the simplicity of the name because the song itself is very detailed of my entire New Year’s Eve one year. I was young, I found everything about that time very exciting—so exciting I wrote that song in approximately 3 minutes.”
Not unlike “The New Years Song,” Roth’s penning often seems spur-of-the-moment, but in that moment is when it must happen. “I literally have had to tell my family or friends to call me later because I felt like I was on such a roll with a song and didn’t want to be distracted from it,” she clarifies. “It just completely takes over me, and it’s all I can think about until I finish.”
While Roth is fond of watching people connect, dance and sing to her own music, it’s just as fun and exciting to offer crowds some favorite covers as well. One of the first covers she altered with her own style was at 13 years old; she played “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison at Duck and Dive.
“At first I thought my echo and reverb was turned up way too high,” she recalls, “until I looked up and noticed everyone in the bar was singing with me. That was one of the coolest feelings ever. Now, that’s my goal with my original music as well. . . . As for recording, it is something I have wanted to do for quite a while; I’m pretty confident in the material I have. It’s something I hope I can do in the near future for sure!”