Emi and her dad Randall Hamilton (AKA Big Diddy) formed the trio with one of Emi and her mom Alisha Hamilton's go-to songwriting collaborators, Fish Fisher.
The trio's named after a popular song from Emi's 2017 album Ragged Dreams. Its debut set of songs, Room 18 (out April 30), bears the name of "Strong Armed Robbery's" sequel.
"I first started working with Fish when I was very young, and it's the first song we wrote together," Emi says of "Strong Armed Robbery." "So it felt very fitting to have this song named 'Room 18' as a continuation of a whole story that's going on."
"Room 18," which Fisher describes as "the first sequel I ever wrote," offers closure for part one's restless spirit, Jessie Marie, through a story about murder, revenge and a haunted hotel.
"With it being such a good story, you just felt like there was more to tell," Fisher says. "So we kind of wanted to look in modern times at where that kind of story would pick up. 'Room 18' is the hotel room that she had trapped this murderer in, so we wanted to pick up the story from there and take it from a new perspective and a modern perspective."
COVID-19 halting touring in March 2020 freed Emi up for creative ventures ranging from her Idol journey to the formation of a new band.
"If there's anything that you can do during the pandemic, it's write songs in your own home," Randall says. "That's what we did and collaborate back and forth with Fish. When it became safe to socially distance here [in Madisonville, Tennessee], Fish started coming back around and we started finishing these tunes up."
A new batch of songs written with Fisher paved the way for the Strong Armed Robbers: a trio that divvies up vocal duties more so than Emi's family band, The Rain.
"We got probably about five or six songs in before we realized there really was some definition to what was happening," Fisher says. "We were cutting a lot of songs that weren't just centralized around Emi's voice to where Diddy was singing and I was singing parts. Me and Emi have always had a stage trick where I'll sing half and she sings half of certain parts of songs and we trade on and off. We were capturing that in the studio, and it just kind of occurred to us that it is a band. So the band happened to us. We didn't happen to it."
The collective of family and friends' debut album also features debut single '"Judgement Day" plus a new version of the song that inspired the group's name and such still-unheard numbers as the infectiously fun "The Devil Ain't Lazy."
"There's people on this thing from Toledo, all the way there down to Knoxville," Randall adds. "We've got a lot of different players on it. I think there's 21 different players that have something on here for us. So it's not just a collaboration between the three or four of us."
Randall, the bassist for the Rain, left his comfort zone to embrace the trio's vocal-swapping formula.
"All three of us are singing on it, and so this is something new for me," he explains. "I haven't taken lead on a song on an album or anything in years. Emi encouraged me to be on there and sing, and you know what? I don't hate it."
The album sticks to neither a single singer nor a single style. Alternating sounds represent the best of Americana, from heavy-hitting and harmonious rockabilly ("Mary Christmas") to old-time, bluesy country music ("Churches and Bars").
Sixteen-year-old Emi has been in the public eye from a young age, with pre-Idol career highlights including a 2014 appearance on Today and more than a dozen appearances on the Grand Ole Opry stage in Nashville.