Alaska Music Spotlight: Emma Hill
Thursday April 10, 2014. Emma Hill and Bryan Daste joined us for a Live In-Studio session on KNBA to promote their new material and upcoming shows.
We've pasted the recent article from the Anchorage Press.
By Rosey Robards, Anchorage Press
Emma Hill realizes there’s a good thing here.
Maybe it was summer 2011, when she came back to Anchorage from Portland to play some shows and visit family. The thought of moving back had rolled around in her head. But she was nervous.
“Evan (Phillips) and I were talking and I blurted out, ‘Hey I don’t want anyone to be mad about this but I think that I need to move back to Alaska,’” Hill recalled.
She’d just come off a national tour, booked by the Anchorage-based Monolith Agency. Hill, who plays folk/americana music with hints of country, was the first artist the agency’s Phillips and Marc Bourdon worked with. At that point, they were booking her pretty heavily down in the states.
Without hesitation, Phillips told her it was a great idea. He was thinking the same thing.
“And this huge weight just lifted off my shoulders,” Hill said.
Phillips saw potential for Hill to live in Anchorage and be a touring musician. Though he knew others might disagree, in his eyes it was possible, practical even.
“I could sense that she wasn’t into playing the rat race,” Phillips said. “I said, ‘Why don’t you come back to Alaska? You’re an Alaskan, people love you here, you get inspiration here. Come back here.’”
Hill had been spending so much of her time with school at Portland State University and touring the rest of the U.S. that she didn’t feel connected to Portland. She had a few close contacts but eventually her heart was just screaming for Alaska.
“That wears on you. You spend five years in an area and then you start looking around and notice you don’t have that many roots to lean back on as far as community,” she said.
So Hill made moves to be closer to family and friends. She’s originally from Sleetmute, and went to high school in Palmer. She went south, collected her things and made the trip up the Alcan to her new home base in Anchorage. By December that year, the hardworking songwriter had released a 7-track EP called Alaska Dear, I’m Comin’ Home.
As she started writing and performing songs on last spring’s release, The Black and Wretched Blue, she had some doubts about the decision. The album was about loss and trying to discover home.
“Am I going to stick it out? Am I going to stay in Alaska? Is this a good decision? I think it was a good decision?” Hill recalls thinking.
This new album she’s working on, Denali, comes from a different place. It’s sure, comfortable and settled. It comes from the state of connectedness that Hill is currently privileged with. A collective of Anchorage musicians and music fans have wrapped her in their arms. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a fan of what people are accomplishing in this city.
“I want to be a part of it. I want my name associated with it and I want to be able to look back and say, ‘I was there to witness a lot of awesome camaraderie,’” Hill said.
She says when your life revolves around music, you need to be surrounded by inspiring things and people. Hill said she needs nights where she can go to a really good show that has nothing to do with her music. She’s finding that here.
“It’s like, ‘I’m going to enjoy the crap out of this night and I’m going to go home and write a good song,’” Hill said.
Fans who make it out for upcoming shows can pick up a limited-edition, screen-printed poster by artist Laura Lauterbach that comes with a download code for Hill’s three new songs.
This release, like the full album she’ll release in the fall, is a combination of new stuff and older songs that have been revised over time. “Bright Eyes” was written right after Hill returned to Alaska. For one reason or another, she held off on recording it. She’s also releasing a song about lasting love, titled “An Epic.” And not to draw hard lines between this song and Hill’s personal love story, but she has been in the longest relationship of her adult life. She’s dating multi-instrumentalist Eric Neet of local rock bands The Sweeteners and Dabarko. And finally, “Denali,” is a newer, driving song. The kind of music that makes you want to turn up the stereo and enjoy the scenery.
“It’s just the idea that I can go all these places but I’m never going to take Alaska for granted,” Hill said. “It still takes my breath away; it still puts me in awe.”
This month, Hill will be performing with co-producer and bandmate Bryan Daste of Portland. Daste has been a steady friend and collaborator. Hill met him when she was 19 and needed some demos for her MySpace page. She found a cheap studio on Craigslist called The Magic Closet, and Daste was her engineer.
“I remember being impressed with her songwriting and her voice, especially at such a young age,” Daste said.
Daste is co-producing this new album with Phillips and mixing engineer James Glaves. Hill admires Daste for his technical skill, the emotion he puts into the music and, she says, he’s good at making friends.
“Bryan is the type of guy you’re just so lucky to have in your corner,” Hill said.
The two tour often, in and outside of Alaska, and have developed what they describe as an unspoken bond or mind meld.
“I guess you would call it a little bit of a telepathy,” Daste laughed. “I can tell where she’s about to go and she can read me really well.”
It’s a connection crowds respond to.
“After every show we have someone come up who either assumes we are married or that we are brother and sister,” Hill said. “To anyone who asks if we’re brother and sister, we say, ‘Yes.’”
Hill’s signature show is an intimate house concert, preferably about 40 people, usually a good spread in the kitchen. The kind of show where you can hear a pin drop. There’s just something about that scene that makes the most sense to her.
“It is really a great way to charge your batteries; there’s a connection on a whole other level that you just can’t achieve in a bar,” she said.
Phillips works to book these types of shows for Hill and Daste.
“It’s not uncommon for them, either with the stories they tell or the songs they play, to make people in the audience laugh, or cry, or both,” Phillips said. “To get the full experience from them is to see them in an intimate, listening audience.”
The duo is playing a two-week series of shows in coffee shops, bars and friends’ homes from Fairbanks to Homer, April 1 and 14. View a full tour schedule at monolithagency.com.