INTERVIEW: Emily Estefan Talks About First Album, What Got Her Here, and What's To Come
  • WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 05, 2016

  • Posted by: Ben Feit

It's no secret that we loved "Reigns (Every Night)", the second official single from Emily Estefan. The singer-songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist is on her way to releasing her debut album Take Whatever You Want in 2017, through her label Alien Shrimp and distributor Sony RED. With two singles out, the aforementioned "Reigns" and the earlier release "F#ck To Be," Estefan is creating some well-deserved buzz. We took some time to get the scoop on Emily's musical background, her creative process, and where she's headed in 2017 and beyond. Check it out below.



BEN FEIT: You've said that your upcoming album tells a musical tale about a girl who grew up listening to a lot of different music. Can you tell me about how you found and developed your own sound and style in the midst of all that different music?

EMILY ESTEFAN: Yeah, so I guess how the process happens for me is, I listen to a lot of music. And I listened to a lot of music growing up and I've been privileged enough to sit on the sides of a lot of stages and hear and feel the vibration of the music right in front of me. And when it comes to how it ends up in my music, it's a very subconscious thing. I could be pinpointing - I could be like I need this specific-sounding Rhodes [electric piano] on this track because this is what it calls for. But Im not actively thinking, 'oh yeah, this is that Rhodes sound from Songs in the Key of Life.' I think listening to music is the best way that I find what sticks in my voice, I never actively try to copy a sound or anything, it just comes out kind of like a blur. And when it's over, Im like 'oh well, thats weird.' Yeah, it kind of happens like that.

BF: I promise not to ask too much about your parents, but I'm curious to know if there are specific parts of your music where you hear them and see that they've had a direct influence.

EE: What has rubbed off on me from them the most is the legitimacy of arranging and showmanship and the richness of music, like what you can really achieve when it's real and you approach it from a different aspect. For example, my parents did a lot of programming drums in the 80s that was some new shit going on, but they put some live horns over it, they had flautists and pianists playing over it. So it was kind of like 'fuck the rules, lets explore' and you know, my mom always says 'never edit yourself.' So it creates a different sound, it definitely makes people either turned on or turned off to your music. It's hard to be somewhere in between, you kind of either love it or hate it. It's just instilled in me those values of you know, never edit yourself, fuck the system, do what's in your heart, and if you want to experiment go for it. As long as it's true to yourself, that's what matters. So I try to apply that.

BF: So you played all the instruments, for the most part, on the upcoming album, right?

EE: I played everything except the horns, which I arranged, I just can't play horns, unfortunately.

BF: What's your process like with that? Like which part of a song usually comes first and then how does it get built up from there when it's just you doing it all?

EE: It really depends. It's different every time. A lot of the time it stems from a melody and I'll do a voice note of it, and it sounds like absolute trash, and I'm like 'what the -.' Either that, or sometimes I'll just sit and make a beat, and everything will go from there. And I end up re-recording some of the original ideas, but it has the essence of where it was coming from. Sometimes it will just be a lyric idea, or a concept idea, it's different every single time. But the constant that runs through it is that I'm always alone. For this project, it's like getting into the deepest, darkest, personalities inside of me. But for me to do that, I have to be alone. At least with the creation process, because then I overdub stuff, and I mean obviously I didn't mix it and master it. Once the main creative part is out, then I let it out of my hands and let people help me polish it. But that initial process is very, very, you know, private for me.

BF: So then when you get into it, who else is involved on the musical side with the studio process and everything?

EE: We have a studio down here in Miami that I'm very blessed to be able to have access to. I recorded it all, for the most part, in my apartment which really says a lot about the power you have at your fingertips. Yes, I'm blessed, I have a state-of-the-art studio available, but the album was recorded in my apartment. The only thing that we overdubbed is, I re-recorded a couple of the drums because I had background noise in them. And the horns, I put MIDI horns on just as a template, and then we had live guys come in, because that's something that bugs me, MIDI horns really bug me. So yeah, I have two horn guys who are going to play with me live and they laid down the stacks on my album. And then I was so lucky to have Eric Schilling mix it for me and Bob Ludwig master it. Eric did my parents' first stuff, so it's surreal for him and for me too, you know, he knew my mom when she was pregnant with me. He's one of the greats, so I'm really lucky.

BF: I heard you explain that there are multiple meanings in "Reigns" that can change with a change in the listener's perspective. Personally, I think the track's sound is really infectious. Do you ever think there's a conflict between making a song sound catchy and having meaningful lyrical content? And if so, how do you balance that, or do you think about it at all?

EE: I never really think about the hook, that's not really how my process goes. A lot of my songs don't really have a hook in my eyes. And then people will be like, 'this part of your song is stuck in my head' and Im like 'really?' It's always shocking to me, but again the way I grew up, the kind of music - you know, a good hook will really grab somebody. But I think the way I write lyrically, I write with an objective but I like to flip everything around it in a warped way. So for example, something I really like to do and I have a lot of fun with, is you start a song and you have a hook or the crux of the song, and then in the second verse or as you develop it you change the surrounding lyrics but you keep the same hook, and then its like 'wait, what?' That's something I did with Reigns. It's one of the more subtle ones, but I think when the video comes out next week [itll be clear]. This is why Im glad the song came out before the video. Originally I was like 'I want everybody to see my intentions,' but I like the fact that people are interpreting it however they want and then when they see my intention they're going to be like 'what the fuck.' It's not at all what anybody's guessing.

BF: So you graduated from Berklee with a Contemporary Writing & Production degree and a minor in Philosophy. How did that minor come about and how does it come through in your music or your creative process in general?

EE: Yeah, I mean, I took a philosophy class my first semester of college, because I've always been interested in it. I like to stretch my mind and think about weird stuff, conceptual things, and learn about all these people who were really going out of their way for their craft. Because now, there's a lot of horrible things going on in the world, but people are moving in a more open-minded direction, or at least more aware of artistry and more open. Even just for womens' rights and gay rights and all of that. It's always hard, and there's always racism and hate. But it is, based on where it was, so much better. So I was really fascinated by learning about these men and women that put themselves on the line for their ideals. So first I was fascinated by that, then when I started reading about all these cats I was like 'ah, this shit is awesome.' It got me thinking about the world in a different way, it got me thinking about intentions behind every single thing I put down. So yeah, it definitely creeps into my music and my life every day.

BF: I was going to ask you just about musical influences, but now that I think about it, do you also have influences that arent musicians or songwriters?

EE: Yeah, as philosophers go, I read a lot of Zera Yacob. He's an African philosopher that really had a lot of amazing ideas, and through a very interesting lens. Philosophy, without a doubt, always has some aspect of religion somewhere in it. And his beliefs really spun me out of control, in terms of where my mind could go. And musically, oh my God. I mean I love Stevie Wonder, I love Celia Cruz, obviously I love my parents, Billie Holiday, Earth, Wind & Fire. I just love to find new stuff and listen to music. You know, Michael. I cant even begin. And now, nowadays, there's Alan Stone, who's doing amazing things, there's Hiatus Kaiyote, I love Esperanza Spalding, there's a lot. Erykah Badu, I just saw her in concert, she's a badass.

BF: What made you decide to create your own record label (Alien Shrimp Records) instead of being signed to another?

EE: So, when I started making music, I realized it was a very lonely process. And I wanted to own it all, because I didn't see a reason not to. I worked my ass off to study, I put my blood, sweat, and tears - literally, at times - into that music. And I didn't see a need to relinquish any ownership, it didn't make any sense to me, it was my intellectual property. I knew it was going to be harder. But in the old days, when I was growing up, if you werent signed nobody's hearing your shit. And nowadays it's tough because it's not a hard thing to actually start a label, it's that you have to get it moving, you have to get it legitimate, you have to get respect behind it, and then you have to get a distributor to believe in you. So it definitely took a longer time, this album has been done for coming up on three or four years. And it's been a while, I already have two other albums done. I have a project with one of my best friends from college, we have a group called To Jasper, and we do a little bit more experimental stuff. We have a project done, and I have my second solo project done already. It's just that it took so long to do it this way, but it was the right way, and I am really happy about that. So Sony RED believed in Alien Shrimp and they signed my label instead of me, and I could not be happier about that.

BF: That's incredible that you have two other whole projects done.

EE: It's been a while. And for me, projects and stuff, when I get in the mindset of it it's like everything blurs together. The days start to blur together, you don't know what time it is. You go in the studio, you get up like 6 a.m. you're like 'I don't care, let's go back.' It's such an infectious feeling to be inspired, and what I mean by that is not just like 'oh, I think this is good shit, I think this is great.' I think it's honestly getting to express what's inside of you in a tangible way. That's so attractive to me as a lifestyle that everything else just falls away.

BF: What's your vision for the debut album as a whole? Is there an overall feeling you want to create with it?

EE: I would say that its a really important time in my life, and I was doing a lot of discovering of myself and a lot about the world. And I think it honestly captures an energy of a time that I can never go back to. I can never recreate it, and luckily it's recorded. Now, I didn't sing until I was 18. And the first song on the album is a ballad, and I wrote it, and everybodys like 'who fucked you up? This is like a really depressing love song.' And I actually wrote it to myself, because my old self was a coward. I was afraid to sing alone, I felt like there were two people inside of me fighting, not to sound insane but that's how I felt. So I wrote this song from my new self to my old self, and I just gave myself permission to do my thing. That's the first song on the album, and the rest of it is just a tale of this new girl walking around life like she's out for the first time, just figuring it out. That's pretty much the album, and the way that the songs are paced are really important. They each mean something extremely important to me, and they're placed thoughtfully.

BF: So you grew up around Miami. Miami to Boston (for Berklee) is a big change, does your music and your creative process change from one place to another?

EE: I think not so much the place but the headspace, and being in Boston definitely changed my headspace. Because once you're working its like a black hole, you could be wherever, as long as you have the tools you need, it's good. But for example, the last two songs on the album are the only ones that actually werent recorded in Boston. I recorded them at our beach house, in a town with a population of like 3 people. And it's one of those places that you can really feel the fact that there's nobody around you. So I feel like it was kind of the furthest corners that I went to in my brain. And it also makes sense because that's where that period of time ends. But yeah, being in Boston I guess, the funniest thing is since it was so cold and I hated it, I just didn't want to go outside. So it accelerated the process by like six times.

BF: To look forward a little bit, do you have any collaborations in the works? And are there people you hope to collaborate with in the near future?

EE: Yeah, I mean, To Jasper, we're already done with our first project, and I'm really excited for that. Because it's completely different, but it's just as honest. Collaborating with people for me, it really has to be a very specific person because we have to be on the same page. Other than that, I love to find honest musicians, and if Alien Shrimp can be a home to that kind of stuff - in the future, because that's going to take a while - of course I have dreams about putting people I believe in under one roof. I think that would be amazing. And not for any purpose of fame or glory, but just for the fact that we can combine all that energy in one home and just make music for the sake of it.

BF: What's a long-term career goal you have? Is there something you picture in your head where you'll be like, 'look how far I've come' or 'look how much I've done?'

EE: I think, I can't think of a milestone because I try not to think about those things. I try to think about why I make the music in the first place and that's what makes it important. But, I would have to say, if I made it to the end of my life and I could look back and say I never lost the magic of music. I always say I went to school and I sacrificed a lot of the magic for tools to be able to make the magic better for somebody else by learning the craft. And I feel like if I looked back at the end of my life and I said there was never a moment where I was disappointed by music, I would feel really accomplished. I'm sure its not going to happen, but that's my goal right now, to always keep in mind that it's a beautiful thing to wake up and your job is to work on your craft. I think so many people don't ever get to do that and that's their passion.

Listen to "Reigns (Every Night)" above and look out for the music video coming soon.
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