Smile Politely: The thing that strikes me first is your age. On your Bandcamp it says you’re an “18-year-old” singer-songwriter, is that still correct or out of date?
Emily Otnes: I’m 19, I haven’t updated it.
SP: Still very young, wow. When you go out and play do you get a lot of reactions based on your age, on how strong your compositions are for your age?
Otnes: I used to more when I was younger because not many people my age were involved in the music scene. Now that I’m older there are so many great acts here, so many talented people—and I’m very lucky to have worked with many of them—and a lot of people my age are in the music scene, which is nice.
SP: Tell me about what goes in to your writing process. Is it all you? I know you’ve been playing with a full band, do you write their parts as well?
Otnes: I just started playing with my band, The Weekdays, we’re kind of a work in progress…we’ve just started collaborating more. It used to be I would just say, ‘Guys, this is what I want you to do in this measure,’ and they would do it. They’ve really helped me solidify my style, so I think our stuff will be surprising because it will be a big change.
SP: Are you working specifically with them and letting them write their own parts with the new material?
Otnes: I still write the core of the songs, I’ll come to them with a song that’s 80 percent done and we jam until we get what feels right. Now we have a lot more freedom with what we can do instrumentally, since we have so many different instruments. But my songwriting style hasn’t changed individually, when I bring the band the songs, that’s when they change.
SP: When you sit down and start writing a song are you on piano or guitar?
Otnes: Either or, it just depends on what’s available at the moment. I live in an apartment now, so I’ve got limited space. I used to have a piano at my house, but I’ve got a keyboard now. Lately I’ve been writing a lot on piano, but I’d say my work is half-and-half.
SP: Going through your Bandcamp I listened to a lot of demos and your EP, and I was wondering what you’re working on now.
Otnes: This summer I’ve been recording. I was going to an LP, but for the sake of time and money I think I’m just going to do an EP, especially since I’m approaching a different style and I might want to record more with the band than by myself. It’s going to be called “Barefeet” and it’s a mix of retro-60s jazz mixed with traditional pop and folk structures.
Otnes shared a brand new song, released during the week of Pygmalion. It’s posted below, titled “Don’t Call Me Darlin.'”
SP: Did you record most of that by yourself or with the band?
Otnes: I did the back tracks, guitar and vocal, by myself with Carl Lund. He was a sound guy at the Canopy and now he just kind of does his own thing. Some of the band members will be on the album as well, but they’ll do their tracks later.
SP: Where did you record at?
Otnes: Ryan Groff, from Elsinore, at his studio.
SP: How was that experience?
Otnes: His studio is really nice and Ryan is really welcoming and helpful. It was really beneficial to work in that kind of space. My first album I recorded in a garage, so it was a little different.
SP: What are you goals as a musician?
Otnes: Right now I’m learning to have fun with it. When I was younger I could only write sad songs, but you can only do that for so long until you realize music is a form of entertainment. Now I’m trying to find a medium between new and high-school Emily. As far as my career, I’ll do music my whole life for sure and if I can make a career out of it that would be ideal.
SP: Are you a music student at the U of I?
Otnes: I started out as a music student in flute, but now I’m in Spanish and communication.
SP: Oh, I didn’t realize you played flute as well. Do you have any other musical talents I might not realize?
Otnes: Principally I am a piano player and floutist. Guitar is not my main instrument but I’m trying to play it more and incorporate it more into my music. Vocals, I’d say, is my favorite, though. I love singing the best and even sang some back-up for Jack Antony and the Desperados this summer.