A Cleveland native who grew up listening to classic rock, country singer-guitarist Emily Hackett originally thought she’d play the flute. Inspired by Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, she even took lessons.
Then, she came to her senses. After all, Tull’s eccentric Anderson isn’t easy to emulate.
“Flute was actually my very first instrument,” she says via phone from her Nashville home. She performs with Maddie Indre at 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 13, at the Beachland Ballroom
. “That was solely because I would listen to Jethro Tull. I was a year or two years into playing flute when I realized I couldn’t play flute and sing at the same time unless I had a band behind me, and I didn’t have a band behind me, so I picked up the guitar.”
At that time, she says she wrote exclusively about “every crush or boyfriend I had.”
“I didn’t know how seriously I could take it,” she says. “It was always just a hobby. I discovered Nashville when I was in high school. I fell in love with the city and the history of songwriters and realized it was something I could pursue. I moved here in 2008 to go to school at Belmont.”
After graduating, she tried performing around town but opted instead to work as publicist instead of pursuing singing and songwriting full-time.
“I moved to Nashville after falling in love with the city and the idea that there were so many creators in one place and that something that seemed like a far-fetched dream could actually become a reality,” she says. “My journey was more complicated. You’re up against all the other people, and I freaked out a little bit. I dove into the business side of things pretty heavily until one day, I got home and realized I would still rather be on the other side of the camera instead of the one behind-the-scenes telling people what to say or not say. I realized that was a door closing. I went back to Plan A.”
She entered a songwriting competition sponsored by the local department store and won. As a result, she got to tour with some rather significant country acts.
“I was thrown into going on these different tour dates with these major artists,” she says. “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I took it as a sign of the universe providing a window into what it could look like. It was such a ‘yes’ moment to me. I put all my fears of not being able to do it aside. I went back to Ground Zero.”
At that time, she cut her 2015 album The Raw EP
. She says the songs reflect her state of mind.
“I recorded those songs in the most real way possible,” she says. “That was how I performed them for a long time. I went on the road with an upright bass player and guitar player. I did everything stripped down.”
After The Raw EP
, however, Hackett moved in a different musical direction and found herself once again wanting to draw from the classical rock of her childhood.
“I loved everything we did with The Raw EP
, but there was also a side of me that left every show feeling like something was missing,” she says. “After a show in Nashville, I had a friend in the audience who came up to me afterward and said, ‘I hear it. I hear what you’re doing. If you give me a chance, I think I can produce your record.’ We became fast friends. He took my songs and added electric guitars and day-dreamed with me. We added in the rock ’n’ roll that I grew up on.”
“Nostalgia,” the first single they cut together, mixes rock and pop. Hackett speaks/sings over rattling drums and a buzzing bass riff. It became the lead song on last year’s By the Sun
, and the rock/pop approach carries over onto this year’s By the Moon
. The music industry has taken notice too. Hackett was named one of CMT's Next Women in Country (a program that helped launch the careers of artists such as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini).
“By the Sun
was open and honest and that continued onto By the Moon
, but that second EP took me to a more vulnerable place. It’s like, ‘Now that I’ve introduced myself to you, let’s get real, so I can tell you about the mistakes I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned.’”
Infidelity inspired one of the By the Moon
’s standout tracks, “Easy,” a tune that finds Hackett really belting out her vocals over an infectious guitar riff. It could be a Shania Twain tune if a Shania Twain tune had more substance to it.
“When I wrote that song, I was well into my current relationship [with husband Mikey Reaves],” she says. “I had come out of a pretty dark place before that. I had been with a guy for several years that I had convinced myself was somebody that I could spent the rest of my life with. The reality of that just wasn’t true. You get to certain places in your life where you’re unsure of your journey and you lean into a relationship because it’s comfortable and you think it’ll save you. It turns out that that’s not true. I had to learn the hard way.”
Hackett says she has a new batch of songs ready to go and plans to begin doing some recording this month.
“It’s been fun picking out the new songs,” she says. “I’m thrilled to put those out into the world. They’re more about where I am now. They might sound more pop than they have in the past. It’s all still me. I never do something just to do something new. It’s just a different direction and we’re playing around with different sounds. I’m excited. Many of the new artists have done a good job of being a dripping faucet of new music. there’s no long waiting process. You get to do that with the big artists like Coldplays and Beyonces. But as a new artist, you have to keep giving them stuff. The two EPs was to show the world that I’m here and here to stay. Now, I want to keep growing.”
Emily Hackett, Maddie Indre, 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $12 ADV, $14 DOS, beachlandballroom.com
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.