There’s not one person other than you who can make or break your career. Starting out I was too naïve to understand that if a person isn’t powerful or connected enough to shoot you to the top, then they aren’t powerful enough to stop you. I believed for a long time that I was stuck with one manager or the next, living in fear that if I left their rosters, I would be blacklisted from their network. That’s simply not the case. People are only as powerful in your life as you allow them to be.
As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Wolfe.
Austin, TX’s resident rocker, Emily Wolfe transcends the ranks of ordinary musicians. Her creative songwriting keeps her fans aglow thanks to her strong, powerful lead vocals and dominating guitar style. Wolfe has shared stages with the likes of Heart, The Pretenders, Peter Frampton and Billy Gibbons.
Emily Wolfe, a self-taught guitar player starting at the age of 5, has honed her craft over the past 22 years and continues to take her playing to the next level.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thanks for having me!
Music is something I’ve always done. It’s been a part of me since I first saw a guitar when I was five. I think the minute I saw a guitar, I knew my life’s purpose was to be a musician. Up until I started playing live shows in college, I wasn’t sure how I could actually make music my career, but I kept working hard and writing, playing live anywhere I could and eventually it became my main gig. It’s not an easy career path by any means, but it’s what I’m meant to do, so I keep going. I’d say, if anything, this path chose me and I can’t get away from it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
So many interesting things have happened during my career, including opening for Heart, Joan Jett, and the Pretenders, jamming a solo with Billy Gibbons and Peter Frampton, and rehearsing songs with a member of Queens of the Stone Age. However, the most interesting thing to happen to me since I started music has been partnering with Gibson and Epiphone. I walked into a Guitar Center one day and bought an Epiphone Sheraton right off the shelf and it’s been with me for an entire decade. I had no idea at the time that 10 years later, I would have another family in the people at Gibson/Epiphone and have my own signature guitar coming out that’s based on the same guitar I bought that day.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was first starting, I had a gig at Spider House Ballroom, a place in Austin, where I live. I was playing with my college roommate at the time and we both sat down and played acoustic guitar. The set went horribly and at the end we both accidentally walked off the stage with our guitars still plugged in, which was super embarrassing at the time but in retrospect, pretty funny. We dragged our guitar cables still plugged into our guitars right off stage, which caused two loud pops when the cables were ripped out of our amps, and one amp fell flat on its face. The audience gasped. From then on, I vowed to learn everything there was to know about gear and live set ups. I never wanted to make that mistake again in front of anyone.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now, I’m working on my next album with Michael Shuman from Queens of the Stone Age which is one of my favorite bands of all time. Since he’s in Los Angeles and I’m in Austin, we’ve had to send files back and forth and piece together demos. Surprisingly they’ve turned out well for quarantine demos. These new songs are turning out to be more pop leaning, but I’m digging how they’re coming out. I’ve always loved pop production anyway, so this direction makes sense for me.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Nancy Wilson, Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde are three amazing people I’ve interacted with in the past. Nancy told me to work hard, Joan was super nice, and Chrissie was tough as nails. She watched my entire soundcheck before I opened for The Pretenders at Moody Theater in Austin and gave me one of her guitar picks, which I still have. It’s an orange colored nylon pick.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
To thrive in this industry, you have to take care of yourself and surround yourself with people who truly have your best interests at heart. Protect your business and make sure to trust your gut. The times I have ignored my gut are the times that lead to a feeling of burning out. It’s important to take time to listen to your own voice when making tough decisions, but make sure to take advice from people you admire and trust. The people you allow into your life are a direct reflection of you. It’s also okay to break the rules, whatever those are. There are people who tell you to go one way, even when you feel your gut pulling you in the opposite direction. Always follow that pull even if it means possibly making others unhappy with your decision.
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.
Try to be active at least once a day. Play basketball — that’s what I do. My wife and I play one-on-one games in the evenings and it’s actually really fun. As for my mind, I can get caught up in what other people think of me, but I have to remind myself that the only opinions that matter are those of the people I care about, like my family and friends. It’s also important to remind yourself of what you can and can’t control. As for my heart, I play guitar. It makes me feel good and helps me forget about anything negative. It puts me in a place of Zen where time doesn’t really exist.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Starting out, I wish someone had told me how much rejection I would face in this industry, and how little I could control that. For the longest time, I had the people in suits tell me I was underdeveloped, I hadn’t written my best song yet, needed to change things about myself or my music. ut if someone had told me those opinions didn’t matter, I would have saved myself a lot of time and energy. I had to learn the hard way that the only opinions that truly matter are mine and those of the people I love.
- I wish someone had told me that the people who run the music industry are actually not the cool ones. I don’t need to impress them and I don’t need to compete for their attention. The industry today is made up of people who don’t want to work. They want to hop onto an artist’s career after the artist has done all the grunt work and make money off of that. A few years ago, a producer I worked with told me “we’re the cool kids, not them.” I’ve carried that with me ever since.
- I wish someone had told me at the start that for me, this industry would be one big ultimatum. I can’t speak for every musician, but in my case in particular, it’s either music or partying. I can’t have both at the same time. I had to choose between the life I was meant to live as a musician, or life as an addict. I’ve successfully chosen the first, but I would have saved a lot of time if I hadn’t had to figure that out the hard way.
- There’s not one person other than you who can make or break your career. Starting out I was too naïve to understand that if a person isn’t powerful or connected enough to shoot you to the top, then they aren’t powerful enough to stop you. I believed for a long time that I was stuck with one manager or the next, living in fear that if I left their rosters, I would be blacklisted from their network. That’s simply not the case. People are only as powerful in your life as you allow them to be.
- This is going to be a lifelong process, so appreciate every little thing. For the first couple years, I waited every day for some big break to find me. It was agonizing. I wish someone had told me that there is no such thing as a “big break” for an artist who’s trying to have a lifelong career. I want to be playing music until I’m too old to stand up, so why rush it? There are hundreds of music documentaries out there where massive artists like Tom Petty and Sting talk about how they miss the early days playing in small clubs, so it’s important to appreciate the grunt work. Appreciate the rude sound people, selling merch yourself in the back of a dark and dirty venue to the five people buying your T-shirt, appreciate how tired you are after 17 straight days of shows, appreciate your band and treat them as your family, appreciate every opportunity you get. It won’t always be this difficult and one day you will miss it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
In terms of my career, my favorite life lesson was taught to me by my first manager, whom I really never liked to be honest, but he taught me that the quicker you rise, the quicker you fall. In music, if you want a monster career you have to put in a monster amount of time and work. There’s no one big break, no one particular thing that’s going to make or break your career. There’s no magical moment where everything falls into place. Every move is a forward step to the next thing. It’s like climbing a mountain. If a musician skyrockets to the top without having experienced the hardships and the grunt work, they won’t be prepared to be that high up. I try to remind myself of this anytime I get down for not being number one on the charts or playing arenas every single night; not yet anyway. If I keep going at a steady pace though, I’ll eventually make it to the top of the mountain.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
One particular person who’s been with me every step of the way is my wife Brittany. She’s the most supportive person I’ve ever met. Back when I was flat broke and jobless, I kept getting opportunities to open for huge bands, or go overseas to play, but couldn’t afford to tour or travel. In the early days, she paid for travel, put together tours for me on her own, helped me release albums and sign a publishing contract, been a shoulder to cry on during really difficult times in my career, and been at every single show I’ve played. She’s an angel and I most definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without her. Aside from that, she’s just an incredible partner and all-around person. She not only lifts me up, but lifts everyone in her life up to be the best they can. It’s inspiring and amazing to watch. One day I’ll be able to pay her back for everything she’s invested in me and I can’t wait for that day.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I know it’s far-reaching but if I could somehow make success in the music industry based on talent and not money, or who you know, I think things would be a lot different in the world. It’s always been bizarre to me that the people who judge artistic talent rarely have any themselves. At the moment, this industry is upside down. If we can flip it right side up, I think other problems in the world might fix themselves.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I’d love to have lunch with Dave Grohl. He’s had such an amazing career and I’d love to just sit and learn from him. He’s been in massively successful bands as both a drummer and a front man. I believe I could learn a lot from him.
How can our readers follow you online? People can go to my website: emilywolfemusic.com
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!