Some of you may remember a couple weeks ago when I reviewed New York artist Emily McNally’s EP, “Small Town.” It was an amazing group of songs from an extremely talented artist. You can imagine how stoked I was, however, when I was given the opportunity to chat with Miss McNally. I enjoyed her EP so much that I couldn’t wait to talk with her. Thankfully, I was not disappointed.
CC: What made you want to get into music?
EM: Gosh, can I even remember? I’ve been taking music lessons since I was about four years old, and I’ve continued on my whole life. I always wanted to pursue it as a career—it’s always seemed like the one thing I’m truly meant to do. When I got to the point in high school when I needed to start looking for colleges and thinking seriously about career paths, I had a period of doubt, because lots of people are uneducated about all the multitude of careers one can have in the arts. They try to encourage you to have a “real job” or a “backup plan.” Luckily, I had someone a grade above me who I really looked up to who was pursuing a career in the arts, and he encouraged me to do the same. So here I am!
CC: Where do you think you would be right now had you not taken the path you’re currently on?
EM: Very unhappy, that’s for sure! I can’t even imagine my life without music and being in the city. It’s such an integral part of who I am and it has shaped who I’ve become in so many ways. The only other career path that I’ve seriously wanted for a significant amount of time was to be a wizard, and unfortunately, that didn’t work out! At the beginning of junior year in high school, I watched a lot of crime shows and considered going to school for forensic science. But I realized I didn’t want to sit in a lab all day—I just wanted to be on CSI or Law and Order. So then I turned back to music, which is where I’ve always known I was going to end up.
CC: I read your EP “Small Town” was inspired by your hometown. What was growing up there like?
EM: It was! I wrote all of my songs on that EP in my hometown about situations that happened to me during my time in high school. My hometown was nice, but it’s a lot different than living in NYC! There wasn’t really too much to do, but I spent a lot of time at the library as a kid, and as I got older, my friends and I would go to the movies a lot. I think in a way, growing up there sort of forced me to be creative and have a big imagination because otherwise your options were very limited. I was lucky enough my high school had a good arts program. Choir and the school musicals were where I made most of my friends, and I was always singing in my church choir. I like going back and visiting sometimes to see how and if things have changed, but I don’t think I could ever move back permanently after experiencing life in the city.
CC: Another thing I found out was your favorite color is purple. Can you tell me why this is?
EM: It is! I wrote my very first song about how much I loved purple when I was six years old. I think the chorus went “Swing me up/Swing me down/Swing me all around town/I’m wearing purple.” It’s always been my favorite. I think it’s very soothing, but also strong and vibrant. And according to color psychology, purple is a great color for inspiring creativity and imagination, which are certainly traits I value highly in my day-to-day life!
CC: Out of all your past performances, which one was your favorite and why?
EM: This is a tough one! I gotta go with my first gig at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village. It was my first real gig since moving to NYC, and to perform in such a historical, unique venue for the first time was so exciting. Another very memorable one though was when I was a finalist in NYU’s Ultra Violet Live talent competition and I got to perform in Skirball Center, [an] 800+ venue, to a sold-out crowd and celebrity judges. I’ll never forget that night.
CC: As a fellow writer, could you tell me about your song-writing process? How long does it take and what are some methods you use to think up song ideas?
EM: It definitely varies from song-to-song. It can be as short as an hour (which is how long it took me to write “Watercolor Tattoos”) to as long as a year (which is how long it took me to finish “Snowfall”). Those are both extremes—usually I’d say a song takes about two weeks to a month to get to a truly finalized stage. My process also varies a lot. There are two main ways I tend to write songs: “words first” or “chords first.”
“Words first” is my most common way recently. Lyrics will come to me in a burst and I’ll scrawl them in the margins of my notebooks or on any scrap paper I can find. Lots of times I’ll end up taking a verse from one song I’ve written and put it together with a chorus from another song. While I’m writing lyrics, I usually have a slight sense of what the rhythm or the feel of the song is going to be like, and then I try out different chord progressions or melodies until something feels right.
The other way involves playing around on my guitar or keyboard. I’ll find a melodic pattern or chord progression that is unique, and I’ll just repeat it a million times until it works its way into a song!
CC: I read on your website that you did a lot in high school—performing in musicals, going to football games, traveling to Disney, etc. Tell me about your favorite experience from back then.
EM: My most treasured tiny moment from high school is actually something I wrote my song “Perfect” about. It was during our senior trip to Disney World—five days in the parks with basically free reign, hanging out with a group of my best friends in the world at the time. One day, we went to Magic Kingdom, and it was almost time for the nighttime parade to start. At the last minute, we decided we weren’t going to watch the parade, and we were going to ride Big Thunder Mountain again since there wouldn’t be such a long line at that time. So we literally sprinted through the streets of Magic Kingdom to get to Big Thunder Mountain, and there were already crowds of people all along the streets waiting for the parade, so running down those streets, it felt like we were famous. It was so much fun.
CC: What future releases should we be on the lookout for?
EM: I’m currently in the process of recording a second EP! Hopefully, you should get a single released towards the beginning of the summer, and the entire EP released towards the end of summer! You can follow my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/emilymcnally) to be the first to get updates on specific dates and sneak peeks!
CC: What is your favorite song you’ve written? Why is that one your favorite?
EM: Right now, I’m really in love with a song I’ve just written called “Maybe.” It’s one of the songs that I’ve written that feels most honest and authentic to my style and self. It’s about looking back on how far I’ve come as a person, how much I’ve grown, and about looking forward to the future with hope. Of course, nothing about the future is certain—hence the title—but it’s an optimistic song. It constantly gets stuck in my own head and I can’t wait to release it!
CC: All right, one last question: looking at your Facebook page, I saw a video where you wearing a Captain America shirt. I actually have that same one at home. Are you a fan of the Marvel movies? Assuming you are, do you have a favorite character?
EM: Woah, that’s so funny! What a coincidence! I am a big Marvel fan, definitely. I just saw Deadpool a few weeks ago and absolutely loved it. It’s so hard for me to pick a favorite character—I really love Pepper Potts and Peggy Carter, but if I had to pick a favorite superhero, it’d probably be Spider-Man or Black Widow!