East Tennessee-born singer-songwriter EmiSunshine broadens her already pliable musical boundaries on her Kickstarter-funded and self-released solo debut, Diamonds (out Feb. 4).
The 17-year-old singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has spent most of her life following a family tradition of adding a fresh spin to folk, bluegrass and country music, often with her band EmiSunshine and the Rain. With Diamonds, a well-rounded artist reminds us that being born into roots music doesn't mean she developed her performance style and preferences in a vacuum.
"I feel like I get put into specific categories sometimes, and it's very limiting," EmiSunshine told Wide Open Country. "I like to be able to show people what I can really do instead of showing them the same thing over and over again."
The first sign that the former American Idol contestant had broken her own mold came last October when she shared a claymation music video for "Dandelion," a cannibal-themed song that crosses a happy medley with dark (if not slightly unsettling) humor.
"I came up with this storyline, and then I showed it to [frequent songwriting collaborator Fish Fisher] and said, 'Hey, this could be a really cool song,'" EmiSunshine recalled. "I was actually on stage when I said, 'I'm going to write a cannibal song someday.' My mom was in the crowd and was like, 'No, we're not going to do that.' Fish was just like, 'We're going to write it. It's fine.' We sat down and started writing the song, and I had the whole plot for the whole thing out.
"By the end of it, we lost a verse, and we didn't know how we lost it [off the cell phone of EmiSunshine's mother and one of the song's co-writers, Alisha Hamilton]," EmiSunshine continued. "It was just gone. We were so angry about it. We got back out there and said, 'Okay, we're going to write one more verse.' The verse ended up being better than the [lost] one... It's the last verse we replaced, and it ended up being more cheeky, in a way. It fit the song better."
Fresher cuts on Diamonds range from "Tiny Star," a funky album closer that's inspired by EmiSunshine's 2020 collaboration with Bootsy Collins, to the punk rock rager "Dead Men Don't Catcall."
"It starts from a young age," EmiSunshine added about the latter. "I think that it's just awful how we are treated, and I think that constant change is needed and constant improvement. Women writing songs like that continue to shove it in people's faces and make them understand because sometimes it's just overlooked."
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The main difference between Diamonds and past releases has more to do with new musical connections and outside-the-box arrangements than song topics.
"This basically happened over COVID, and so [family band EmiSunshine and The Rain] couldn't be together and do a lot of things that we normally do," explained EmiSunshine's father and regular collaborator, Randall Hamilton. "When she would write, we would have quite a bit of input into the arrangements and things like that. This time, there was hardly any of that. It was mainly me and Fish Fisher and Will Wright from Knoxville and Emily that came together and really developed the sound of it. She was working totally outside of her comfort zone, and that's totally what makes it more of a solo album."
Straying from the norm positioned EmiSunshine to work with a string section and a tuba player for the first time.
"These songs were all written for a different point of view," Randall added. "They weren't written for the instrumentation and the way that we normally do things. It's a big departure in that way."
Expect more curveballs from EmiSunshine. She mentioned a Darrell Scott co-write that should appear on a future release, and there's a children's album on the way, with new recordings of songs she wrote at age 5 or 6.
"I want to be able to share those songs with different kids and show them how I got started and that it's really just a process of growing with your own art and continuing to make a profit off of it and making a life for yourself out of it," EmiSunshine said. "I think it's possible for anybody to get in this business if you have the heart for it and passion."
1. "After You're Gone"
2. "No One's Gonna Change Me"
4. "Cheshire Grin"
5. "Miss Anna"
7. "Teo and Tedora"
9. "Judgement Day"
10. "Dead Men Don't Catcall"
11. "New Way"
13. "Tiny Star"
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