Live Music Is Better: Emily Otis

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I am so excited to finally be sharing my very first music interview. A very wise musical person I know always says “yes, live music is better” and it so is! I have been to many shows over the years, and while most of the time I go for the music, other times I go for the friends (oops, just being honest), but live music really is better. So for my first interview I knew exactly who to talk to, Emily Otis. I met Emily sometime at the beginning of this year, and since then I have heard her play many times. Not only is Emily a sweetheart, she also has a beautiful voice, and is a great lyricist. And for the sake of this blog, she wears really cute clothes, and has some of the best bangs. I asked Emily a few question about her music, what music inspires her, and of course her favorite beauty products.

For starters and unrelated to music, what is your favorite color, animal, and beauty product? Colors; greens, burnt orange, black, midnight blue, periwinkle, ochre. Animals; elephant, moth, wolf. Beauty products; water, sunscreen, fruit, EOS lip balm, and sleep.

How would you describe your music? Dark corner stuff. Midnight rain with the windows open – calm until you drop your 4th glass of whiskey and it shatters all over the dirty linoleum floor.

What instruments do you play? How did you learn to play them; school, self-taught, etc.? Acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo, electric bass, dashboard (percussion), piano, and electric organ. Not in that order and not very well. I played flute in band at elementary school but the only instrument I had enough patience for lessons was the acoustic guitar. I took about a year’s worth of lessons from my friend Tim Hanten at Rondinelli’s in Dubuque.

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When did you first start writing your own music, and if it is, how is it different than what you are writing now? Initially I was making mix tapes and doing fake interviews with my little brother where we impersonated characters. From that I just started writing these terrible parodies of pop songs and creating wonky music videos from them. Eventually I started writing actual songs once I started playing the guitar. How are they different? At the time I was really into bands like APC, SOAD, Garbage, Pearl Jam and other alternative rock so generally speaking I was attempting to mimic their sounds. These bands are still influential to my music that I write now but I’m not at all interested in making someone else’s music.

Who are your biggest musical influences? Being sponge – like is important not only in a dry environment but also when it comes to learning new things. I think that everything that I’ve ever seen, experienced, or listened to has the ability to shape how I think about music. Musician wise there’s Leonard Cohen, Otis Redding, Isaac Brock, Eddie Vedder, Beck, Tom Waits, Bjork, Mississippi John Hurt, Howlin’ Wolf, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, Michael Jackson, Django Reinhardt, Debussy, Thom Yorke, Connor Oberst, Alanis Morissette, Peter Gabriel, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Jack White, Daniel Rossen, Annie Clark, and another 8 million people.

Who are your favorite local musicians? I think the Iowa music scene is where it’s at! Former Thieves, Envy Corps, Gloom Balloon, Holy White Hounds, Land of Blood and Sunshine, Curt Oren, House of Large Sizes, Brooks Strauss, Har Di Har, Peas and Carrot, Twins, Dylan Sires & Neighbors, Bob Bucko Jr, Lover’s Speed, So Happy To Be Here, John June Year, Comfort Kings..pretty much everybody except Slipknot.

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What are your musical goals for yourself? I make music to make music and that satisfies me. I’d also be pretty sweet to get to travel, get under the influence of other people’s minds, and play alongside my music icons. To a degree these things have already happened which is awesome.

The night of Sommer’s birthday party you played on stage, as well as sitting on a swing set with just a couple friends around.. Do you prefer one setting over the other and why? I think both have something to offer. Being short I often feel like I’m in the crowd even when I’m in front of everyone. I don’t really have a preference but I do think that my music sounds better in a more intimate setting. I used to play on the street a few years back; my brother and I. It was the most fun because I would just be sitting on a curb singing and people could choose to sit and listen or pass by. I think the stage can be rather constricting in that there is this kind of wall between the performer and the audience; I want to connect with people through music.

Do you get nervous before you play? Do you have any tips or tricks you use to help yourself feel less nervous, like picturing everyone naked? YES every time. I usually drink some tea or whiskey beforehand. I just try not to think about it that much.

Tell us your craziest, or most fun experience so far with music! Playing for drunk people on the streets was probably one of the most interesting times. People would sit down and tell me their life stories, one guy gave me his shirt and told me to find him in Arizona. Often times people would ask to play either Nathan’s or my guitar; my only rule being they had to sit first. Music and art are about community so anytime I make a connection that’s when I know I’m doing something right. Aside from the streets, I have a great time every time I play a show and get to mingle with other musicians and of course the people who come to shows. Playing at the Octopus’ one year anniversary show, at my dear friend Sommer’s birthday party, for the College Hill Music Festival and playing at the totally rad 220 East venue in Waterloo all together is tops.

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Anything else you want to add? There’s no such thing as talent; it’s all a matter of how much of your time you’re willing to devote to the things that matter to you – that and practicing. Also, more people need to come to more shows; period.

Thank you so much Emily! I hope that you all enjoyed my first music interview. But more so I hope that you hop on over to Emily’s bandcamp and download new EP, and be sure to like her Facebook page! You can see her play live at Sidecar Coffee on August 29th.

Sweet Hannah Pea


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