Emily Yanek:
forever young

Don't let Emily Yanek's youth fool you.

While many of her peers might still be hanging on every move made by the latest crop of teen idols, 18-year-old Emily is yearning for the simpler sounds of the '70s.

"It's not necessarily about not liking modern music," she said. "It's a matter of something touching you or not."

And the simple truths found in the songs of the 1970s singer-songwriter era have touched Emily since she was a child.

"The simple things really do say so much," she said.

"Every generation goes through certain things, and they write about it. It's a snapshot of the times," Emily explained.

"Besides, I'm a very emotion-based person. For me, music is all about feeling. I think you miss a little bit of that in today's music," she said. "I go back to the era where music was a life statement of the artists, and signature sounds were born."

Emily is among the featured performers at the LAUNCH music festival and conference this weekend in Lancaster, Pa., where she hopes to attract a new following for her persistent, passionate sound.

Emily hails from Boiling Springs, Pa., although she is known to haunt the Harrisburg area, as well as Hartford, Conn. She's currently working on her first CD, Watching the Highway.

The disc, she said, is "an album about watching things from the sidelines, waiting to have the chance to join. But even when you do join, sometimes it's still not right."

It's a feeling Emily identifies with, and something she wants to share.

"I wasn't an athletic kid," she said. "I tried sports, but that didn't work out. And every kid has to do something with their time."

For Emily, that "something" was theater, especially after a Missoula children's troupe passed through and gave her 9-year-old self a chance to perform. "I was a wolf," she recalled. "It was a Red Riding Hood thing."

The experience sparked for Emily, and for the next half-dozen years, she was serious about stagecraft. "That was what I was going to do for the rest of my life," she insisted. "It's amazing how you can be so sure -- and be so wrong."

But even then, music was part of her focus, Emily said. For a while, she found her inspiration on Broadway.

"I was a show-tune girl all the way," she said. "Andrew Lloyd Webber was my hero."

Although her attention eventually drifted to other fare, the influence of stage musicals remained strong in Emily's writing.

"I want every note to be catchy," she said. "I want to be humming it later."

Ragtime, too, informed much of her early development, she said. In fact, Scott Joplin helped influence her decision to play piano in a day when most singer-songwriters make a beeline for the guitar.

Her plans solidified at age 15, when she was driving with her father and the Jackson Browne song "Sky Blue & Black" came on the radio. "It was so perfect," she said. "And that's when I knew for sure I was going to be a musician." Now, she said, "I'm always writing. Even if I tired, I couldn't stop."

Although strong lyrics are vital to Emily's original material, "melody always comes first," she said. "Sometimes I'll have a title or a couple of lines bouncing around in my head -- but I've always been melody-driven."

Songs can come to her over a half-hour at the keyboard, or they might take a few months of tinkering before they're ready, she said. "Sometimes, something goes through you and it's there. It just is. It's whatever the song wants to do. You have to let it flow."

Much of her music is about the missing pieces in her life, Emily said. "A lot of my lyrics are about people who are lost, either physically or in a relationship," she explained. "But things change in life, and that's what I'm writing about for now."

Initially a solo act, touring mostly in the Pennsylvania-New York-Washington, D.C. region, Emily recently started working with a band. She currently fronts a bassist and drummer -- a lineup favored by Elton John in his early years -- and she plans to debut the new lineup at LAUNCH.

"I absolutely love it," she said. "It's a different sort of energy."

Her years on stage have instilled in her a love for performance, she said. "I'm all about the live show. If you mess up in the studio, you just do it again. But when you're live, you've got one shot to get that moment right. And that's where I thrive.

"You can stay at home and play in your room for eight hours, but that's nothing like three minutes of playing live," she added. "It can be magical when everything lines up."

A recent three-year graduate of the music program at Capital Area School for the Arts in Harrisburg, Emily doesn't believe her age is a benefit or detriment to her music. "I don't think my age to has anything to do with it," she said. "My age doesn't mean that much to me. I don't want to be pigeonholed. What matters ... is whether I write things that people can relate to."

Besides, she said, "I'm not really good at anything else. I've got this one opportunity to tell people what I'm about."

[ visit Emily Yanek's website ]

interview by
Tom Knapp

23 April 2011

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