Emily Turner is a singer, song writer, and multi-instrumentalist based out of Applegate, Oregon. Spanning across genres from Americana, folk, indie, jazz, reggae, hip hop, electronica and funk, her broad experience infuses a wide array of feels into her compositions. Her instrument of choice is upright bass, which she uses primarily in her band Free Creatures, but she also performs solo using just her voice.
Can you remember the first time you picked up an instrument? Was the bass the immediate choice or did you grow into that?
Cornet was my first instrument… I was gifted a cornet for Christmas at age ten, and I vividly remember picking it up for the first time… I opened the case, a little confused at first because I didn’t have any idea it was coming, then remember feeling overwhelmed with a mix of excitement and intimidation… It felt so complex and cold in my hands, and I couldn’t even imagine how to work the thing. Really, I just felt thrilled to even try, just to experience the joy and pride my father spoke of when describing his experience playing as a young man. And I did learn to play it well in school, enjoying the band experience until High School, when I dropped out in favor of spending time on sports and schoolwork. Being a musician as an adult wasn’t something I had considered as an option when I planned for my future; it’s not that I didn’t have supportive parents, but more that it wasn’t common to see people playing live at that age in Anchorage Alaska. I basically thought you had to be super special in LA or on MTV, or nothing at all.
I kind of fell into playing an upright bass while I was in college in Ashland, Oregon… a friend happened to have an extra one and offered to leave it at my apartment for a while so I could play around with it, for fun. He taught me a few basics and left it there with me, which was the greatest gift I could have been given. The upright bass was so exciting to hold, I never wanted to put it down. I loved feeling the deep notes shake through my stomach and feel so close to my heart. Having Youtube available as a resource only expedited my progress. I was able to play by ear and learn by playing along with songs that I knew and loved, songs of many styles including bluegrass, pop, hip hop and reggae. A couple friendly jam sessions later, and I found myself part of a bluegrass band, playing local gigs almost every weekend. I haven’t put it down since!
How many instruments do you now play? Which is your favorite?
I technically play four; Upright bass, ukulele, cornet/trumpet, and sing. (I count singing as an instrument!) and although I love the medicinal qualities of playing a sweet, soothing ukulele, upright bass continues to reign as my favorite. I get to be bold and hold down the groove… It’s my happy place.
Since you’re in an industry with a lot of men, is there anything you’ve learned that you can share about how to handle negotiations or your personal brand development?
I’d say I’ve learned to communicate more directly, and with a more intent presence behind my vocal tone. By which I mean, dropping the pitch of my voice a touch, perhaps include a little more bass in there, and using less words whenever possible, with eye contact. There has been a lot of progress in my experience over the last 12 years. I’ve learned to not be afraid to speak confidently while asking for what I want and deserve. I’m very grateful to have been working mostly with men that are respectful and patient, and most importantly, willing to communicate with me as an equal.
Lets talk about your style. How does your choice of clothing affect your performance? What is your performance dressing like?
I definitely have to sacrifice on style choices in favor of functionality, a lot more than I’d like. I always try to dress for my body type and accentuate my figure, although somewhat conservatively.
For example, wide brimmed hats hit the neck and scroll of my bass, often pushing the hat off my head. Or, if I have no pockets, say on a skirt or dress, then it is more difficult to attach my wireless in-ear monitors receiver. I have a larger chest, so I like to make sure I don’t feel too exposed or prone for a slip, especially because I dance around a lot as I play. High heels also can be treacherous, so I often opt for platforms to get lift without compromising balance. I’m always looking for ways to class it up while staying comfortable enough to dance and sing.
When you perform at social events, what is the must-have attribute of your dress?
It has to accentuate, and flatter, my figure! Especially because I end up on camera in lots of different angles at every event; I like to feel confident about the media afterwards. That’s what I loved the one33social dress I wore at our show in NYC; it hugged my ribs and waist with enough room for my hips and thighs to move, and it framed my décolletage so wonderfully. And, as I danced around, it stayed in place, allowing me to relax and focus on performing, rather than on my outfit.
Your music is moody yet incorporates a broad array of musical interests. What do you hope people will take away from your song library?
The greatest intention behind my music is one of healing and supportive upliftment. I want everyone to feel welcome to it, in knowing that everything within was placed there just for them to feel a little happier after having heard it. We often use our own healing and lightened hearts as a guiding compass for what to include, and that hasn’t lead us astray. I know we can’t please everyone, but I now know, for a fact, that it is pleasing many people, and that means the world to me.
Do you have a favorite song that you’ve written? Are you always the vocalist for your music or do you have a dream artist you would like to work with?
It is difficult to choose, but lately I have been appreciating the song ‘Inviting You In’ by my band Free Creatures. The lyrics and tone of my verses are perhaps the most direct and effective musical communication that I’ve written thus far. We often play it first in the set, and I use it to set the tone and energy for the rest of the performance; both within myself and in the rest of the room. I like to imagine it almost like casting a spell by stating my intention and verbally welcoming the listeners in with both clarity and imagination.
I sing along with Marv Ellis in the band… we trade verses equally, or back each other up on each others’ songs. It’s been a very fruitful working relationship, as well as a super supportive romantic one. We’re very lucky! Other artists that I’d dream to work with would include Norah Jones, Fat Freddy’s Drop, or The Gorillaz. I love to dream…
What’s the shortest amount of time it has taken you to write a song and which was it?
The fastest I’ve ever written a song was in about an hour. It was for a Mother’s Day gift for my Mom, admittedly, the morning of, it’s called “Mother’s Love”
I’d sent her flowers already, but felt it insufficient. As I was walking the dogs at our farm that morning reflecting on her endless grace and patience with me, these lyrics just began pouring through. I had three well balanced, clever verses and a chorus that pushed my heart strings before I made it back to the house, and a complete voice memo recording off to her before noon. It was easy to draw upon inspiration when thinking of her, along with other amazing mothers in my life like my sister and many dear friends.
Can you describe your songwriting process?
I’ve found song writing inspiration to ebb and flow through time according to season and my mood, and my techniques seem to adapt accordingly. I go through definite phases of introspection, in which I focus on writing lyrics in form of poetry or free thought journaling, mostly on my iphone notes app so that I can search through later by using key words.
Then there are phases that are more musically driven. If there is a time when a new melody or chord progression comes up in a band practice or a writing session, I can search my notes according to the emotions that are inspired by the musicality of what’s been written, and see if they can be applied. Or sometimes I will assess a new piece of music and then brain storm words that reflect the way the music makes me feel. I might then take to a thesaurus to find different ways of expounding on these feelings, searching for things that go together, or rhyme. Things seem to begin to fall into place as I apply syllable to rhythm and space. Feeling and emotion are so important in the whole process, because that’s the basis of the whole exchange! If we perform without feeling what we’re singing about, it can come across as stale and vacant.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to any aspiring singer-songwriter?
If this is what you REALLY want, keep showing up for yourself day in and day out, and treat it professionally. Treat it as professionally as you would a high-stakes, full time job, of any kind. Meaning, if you set a schedule for yourself to practice, show up on time, for the whole time. Respond to people as fast and efficiently as you can. Communicate directly and respectfully, just as if you were speaking to a board of directors, or a group of surgeons. Be mindful of expenses and income.
If you treat your experience professionally, it will become a profession eventually!
Even if it isn’t how you imagined it would be, it could become a doorway that opens to a career that you love. I get lots of side projects in web development and graphic design because of my work for my band and the network we’ve built.
How do you manage a work-life balance with your fiancé as a band member?
Several tactics, but most importantly, patience and communication. Followed closely by respecting and prioritizing alone time!
Where / how can people either see you play live or download your music?
We just finished our national tour and are heading back out for perform more in spring 2023. Until then, they can access all the music online, either from our website
My solo album is available on Spotify. Listen Now