If you’re an avid reader of album and song credits, you might recognize Emily Warren’s name nestled in your favorite albums. The singer/songwriter has contributed to some of the hottest pop tracks out there today from The Chainsmokers, Dua Lipa (yes, she helped pen those “New Rules”), COIN, Charli XCX, & more! Now, it’s Warren’s turn for the spotlight and all we’re wondering is what took her so long?!
After releasing “Hurt By You” and “Something To Hold On To” in 2017, Emily’s recent single, “Poking Holes” looks to be a playlist favorite this year and the closer we get to the release of her debut album, the more we cannot contain our excitement.
We had the honor of asking Emily a few questions on life before music, her dream collaborations, what makes her tick, and more in this exclusive TDL interview.
You’ve had a pretty impressive musical upbringing in NYC, being accepted into the Clive Davis Institute then later offered a songwriter’s contract. As a writer myself, I’m so intrigued with your story and the people you’ve worked with thus far. What can you tell us about life before music and the journey to finding your voice through songwriting?
I honestly can’t remember life before music! I was exposed to music by my parents when I was a little baby. Instead of cartoons or Barney, my parents sat us down in front of recordings of operas and by the time we could walk and talk, they were taking us to musicals on Broadway and to the Met. My dad, who is a lawyer, is also quite musical and if he wasn’t playing guitar in the house for me and my brothers, he was jamming with his band Normal By Day made up of his childhood friends and we would come up and sing harmonies. I was encouraged to take music lessons while I was growing up as well, and a piano teacher I had named Jen Bloom was really the first person who exposed me to songwriting by playing me a song she had written at the end of a lesson. I remember my a-ha moment where it clicked: people write songs. The next day, after school (I was 11 years old), I came home and wrote my first song.
Did you intentionally start writing for other artists or did it just happen organically?
Not at all. In fact I used to say I would never write songs for other artists, because when I started writing it was purely as an outlet for my angsty teenage emotions, so writing for other people didn’t seem to make sense. It wasn’t until much later, when I actually tried collaborating with other people, that I realized that while songwriting is the umbrella concept, writing for yourself and writing with and for others are two very separate and equally fulfilling expressions of oneself. I’ve really grown to fall in love with writing for other artists – I get a lot of pleasure out of talking to people, understanding where they’re coming from, understanding what they’re dealing with, and helping them craft that into a song that will hopefully alleviate some of their anxieties, and in turn, alleviate those same anxieties in other people who hear it.
We’re seeing an exciting influx of female songwriters releasing their own material lately, from Julia Michaels, Bebe Rexha to Bibi Bourelly. Did you ever feel like you were being silenced, even though your songs were being well-received on the radio? I feel like there’s a whole world of women songwriters out there that aren’t getting the credit they deserve.
I’m not sure if I felt silenced, necessarily. Not putting my own music out for a few years was a choice I made myself for a few main reasons – for one thing, I really wanted to get my foot in the door as a writer. I felt like coming into the room and saying I was also an artist seemed to shift the focus away from the artist themself and I never want the person I’m working with to not feel like they are a priority. Another reason is, I had to spend 3 years writing with a million other people and working with other artists to really find myself. While I loved writing for myself and the band I had in high school, our sound was a little all over the place. My interest in so many different genres lead to our songs being a collection of too many different styles which lacked cohesion. After I’d written hundreds of songs I was able to look back and say, OK – this one sounds like me, this one is honest and authentic. The last reason is, which I believe is sort of the reason that so many writers are now coming forward with their own music, is that the industry is changing. At least from my perspective, 5 years ago you would have had to be a way more polished artist, with a specific look and style and brand etc. Music is shifting more towards authenticity, people want to see someone who is real, who they can relate to. It takes a lot of pressure off writers who want to put their music out. It is enough to have good songs, you don’t necessarily need the whole package.
You have an album coming out this year! What can you tell us about it? Will there be any collaborations or do you want to keep it strictly Emily?
YAY!! I’m super excited. It’s a snapshot of a moment in time for me – the last year of my life, and a collaboration with my friends. Writers and producers that I love and work with. At the moment there aren’t really any features or anything, although there are a few songs I’ve written with some friends who have amazing voices so may be leaving some of those on there. We shall seeee!
I’m sure everyone must be asking you about Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” and I hate to be one of them but I’m dying to know everything! What can you tell us about that writing session? Did you know it would blow up to be as big of a cultural phenomenon?
I wish I could say I knew, but you never do. So many factors have to line up perfectly for something like this to happen, and in this case it was the perfect storm from every angle. I wrote this song with my friends Caroline Ailin and Ian Kirkpatrick. Caroline was experiencing this situation at the time, where she was trying to keep herself away from a bad one, and we really wrote this song for that exact reason. A guide book to not falling back into bad patterns. This song would have been nothing without Dua’s vocal, without the video, and without the timing. Feminist leaning songs like this are rare in pop music, these topics are not typically addressed. I was told when I first starting writing pop music that I should never write a lyric in which I made it seem like the guy wasn’t gonna “get it.” So Dua taking a risk on a song with this message was brave in itself and obviously worked out in the best possible way. I think as writers of pop music we all have a responsibility to consider the messages we’re putting out into the world, and I’m just really proud of this song’s message and the feedback its been getting in terms of helping other women who are in this situation and need help remembering that they’re worth more than a booty call. It’s pretty much the most you can hope to accomplish as a writer, so I’m freaking out.
Your resume is already impressive but what do you wish you could add to it? Any dream collaborations?
I’m dying to work with Rihanna. I love how she takes so many creative risks. Everything she puts out sounds different than what you’d expect, and yet is still somehow true and unique to her. And her voice is amazing.
It’s no secret the music industry is tough and there are million things to make a person tick. What do you wish you could change about the industry and why?
To be honest, I wish songwriters were treated more fairly. To me, songs are the focal point of the music industry. Without songs, there are no artists, no albums, no tours, no merchandise, no music industry at all, and we get ripped off left and right due to archaic laws and unchallenged norms in how song deals are done. That’s something that is finally being addressed and talked about, particularly in the last few months, so hopefully we will have some changes in that regard in the not too distant future.
What artists do you feel are changing the game for pop music right now?
My friends The Chainsmokers are really exciting to watch and work with. It’s pretty mind blowing how forward-thinking they are in terms of sound, they are careful not to recreate and repeat things, and surprisingly unlike a lot of artists and labels, they’re not trying to align themselves with anyone else who’s popular and emulate someone else’s sound. They’re being honest, and I really respect that. I’ve learned a lot from watching them make those choices. I’m super excited about the songs we’ve done together that are coming out this year, I think a lot of the sonics and lyrics are brave and come from a place of vulnerability, and in my opinion, that’s the most rewarding kind of music to make.
What message do you hope your music brings to listeners everywhere?
We all know the feeling of hearing a song and wondering how it could be possible that this complete stranger knows exactly what’s happening in your life. I try to be as honest as possible in my music so that I can hopefully touch on a feeling that others are experiencing, and make them feel less alone. That’s the ultimate goal.
Give us your top five empowerment anthems at the moment!
“Somebody Special” by Nina Nesbitt
“Normal” by Sasha Sloan
“The Village” by Wrabel
“Supermodel” by SZA
“Not A Love Song” by bülow