This morning, we’re excited to sit down with singer/songwriter Emi Sunshine, who hails from East Tennessee. Emi has seen success from an early age, having a Jimmie Rodgers cover go viral at only 9 years old. At 15 she has performed at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry over a dozen times, and has released six studio albums to date.
Gil: Emi, tell us a little bit about your origin story. How did you get into music, and what made you choose this path over others?
My grandmothers taught me to sing harmony by singing different parts to me before I could talk, and I responded by humming along so they knew I had good pitch. When I was 6, I was in an all-ages talent show and won… that set me on my way. From there I formed my family band and at 9 had a video go viral of me singing a Jimmie Rodgers tune! I’ve just kept moving ever since.
Gil: Which part of your musical career do you enjoy the most – live performance, songwriting, recording, or something else?
Writing! But really, all of it! There are different aspects to every part! I think I’m going to love producing!
Gil: What about writing do you love so much? Tell us about your writing method, and what you do to get in the creative groove.
Sure! I write a few different ways. I love to write while traveling by car, but not on the tour bus, because it’s too rowdy, with the whole family. In a car, my mom and I write well. I also like to write in hotels, especially if they are unique. Sometimes I like to take a few days and do a B&B, too. Snacks, essential oils and instruments help me stay in a creative groove. Also, soft blankets and comfy couches! I like to surround myself with unique things while I’m writing—stuffed animals, antique dolls and various oddities! I’m a little eclectic, my co-writers say!
Gil: You’ve played the Opry multiple times. What did your first time playing there feel like?
I was confident but nervous— just a little, because I respect it so!!! Standing where so many heroes stood, was such an honor. It really is my favorite venue ever.
Gil: Speaking about performing, tell us a little about your current rig. What instruments are you playing right now? Any favorites?
I love my new Fender Mustang! I’m gravitating to it! I have a Martin D-16 and a Martin Tenor I love! My custom Kala Ukes are my go-to’s! I have a Super Tenor that’s out of this world! I’m about to come out with my own signature series Kala so I’m really excited for that! Plus, I’m loving my banjolele!
Gil: What are some of your favorite musical inspirations, whether musicians or specific
albums? How’ve they had an influence on your own music?
Well, I have to say Buddy Miller is huge in my world. It’s all the little things that have made me grow. Songs are like fertilizer—they expand my world! Patty Loveless and Rhonda Vincent taught me I can do this. Patty Griffin early on, and Dolly, Loretta, and now I’m just pulling from everywhere! Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell, Tom Waits, Queen, Merle Haggard— these people inspire me to have my own voice and write my own story!
Gil: Queen is always a solid pick. You released an album earlier this year called Family Wars. Tell us a bit about that and how it’s different than your past albums?
“Family Wars” is the best thing I’ve put out! It was produced by Tony Brown and me! I wrote or co-wrote everything on it! It’s a good representation of where I am going. He is just a master at producing. Plus, the songs were all my picks. Also, this album is more conflict-oriented than my previous ones. Most of the songs on “Family Wars” have something to do with different kinds of conflicts—political, violent or personal.
Gil: Who are some of the people playing on this album?
Justin Moses played on it. He was the 2018 IBMA Dobro Player of the Year, but he plays several instruments. He is a hometown friend of our family and has been on every one of my albums. He’s my go to guy! On accordion, we had Jeff Taylor, who is with The Time Jumpers. Kyle Jacobs plays keyboard on the song “Meanwhile In America,” which he co-wrote. The rest was all my family. My brother John played mandolin and guitar! My Uncle Bobby played drums and my dad is on bass. I played ukulele and guitar.
Gil: So what’s next for you?
Touring! Really buckling down and woodshedding my instruments! Recording and writing! Oh, and running Emi’s Closet, my new boutique in my hometown of Madisonville, Tennessee!
Gil: What made you want to open a clothing boutique?
Well, it’s more than clothing; it is unique items, too! It’s also my office. I wanted to have a place with good Internet because our home is very rural, with no Internet service, so I needed a place to work. Mom, too. Together, we found a spot in downtown Madisonville, Tennessee, and I love it! I find items all along my travels and buy things for the boutique that I think are interesting. It’s fun!
Gil: Thanks for talking with us, Emi, and best of luck with your new album. Merry Christmas!