Emily Rockarts, a Toronto musician and Bachelor of Music grad, wasted no time starting her singer/songwriter career after graduation. To date, she’s released her first EP, titled Mapmaker, wrapped up her first cross-Canadian tour, and is hard at work on her first full-length album. We got in touch with Emily via email and asked her about her influences, her creative process and what she’s learned about the music business since graduating from Humber.
What was it like going on a cross-Canada tour? What were some standout moments for you on the tour?
It was incredible. It was my first time making the drive from Toronto to Vancouver. The whole country is truly breathtaking and it’s amazing how each province differs from the next, from the prairies to the mountains to the ocean. We met so many interesting people and musicians and had a fantastic time. There were some very lengthy drives, but it was worth every second. Some stand out moments include playing our first festivals, the GO NORTH Music Festival in Sault Ste. Marie, and the Revelstoke Summer Street Fest in British Columbia where we got to play with a mountain backdrop.
What did you learn about the music industry while on this tour?
Everything takes longer than you think it will! I started booking this tour in December of 2016, and still, I wish I had more time to put everything together in terms of promotion and planning. I’ve already started looking ahead at next summer!
What is your process when writing a song?
Usually, it starts with the subject matter. I’ll hear a story, or have an experience and that is the root of the idea. Then I sit down at the piano and start playing until I find a chord progression that I think works, then start to improvise melodies and lyrics based on the subject. Then I slowly chip away until the song is done, and bring it to my bandmates to arrange as a group. The band is integral to finishing the songs, and I’m really lucky to be working with such incredible musicians.
What draws you to create story-based songs?
I think that when I first started writing, it was easier for me to draw on the experiences of others rather than my own. I heard a radio documentary on the CBC and wrote “Whale Song.” I read about the NASA New Horizons mission and wrote “Flyby.” I’ve started to try and open up and draw on my own feelings and experiences now, to be more vulnerable as an artist. The latest single, and our first music video, “Inventor” is about creation, science versus art, and the struggle of pursuing dreams when on paper sometimes it might not make sense.
What are some foundational albums and artists for you?
Some of my favourite records include I Speak Because I Can by Laura Marling, Heigh Ho by Blake Mills, What Was That by Bernice, and anything by Feist. Playing music in high school, Feist was a major influence on me. It was cool to see someone from Toronto doing so well and making music that I loved. I think she was my first exposure into the (amazing!) Toronto music scene.
How did you first meet the other members of your band? How did that collaboration start?
I met all my bandmates while here at Humber: Dan Rougeau (guitar), Søren Nissen (bass), and Ian Wright (drums). I didn’t put this project together until about a year after I had graduated, though. It started with one gig and has since grown into three tours!
How did your education at Humber prepare you for your current music career?
I absolutely loved my time at Humber, and feel that it built up my skills as a musician and freelancer so that I was prepared to enter the Toronto music scene post-graduation. Some of my favourite classes were songwriting, music business, and aesthetics of recorded sound. I think the aesthetics course especially forever changed how I listen to music. Probably the most valuable preparation was meeting all of my amazing peers and getting the opportunity to play so many different kinds of music, and have so many great friendships come out of the program.
How do you balance a day job with a career as a musician?
Working part-time, freelancing and working on my craft is often a bit of a balancing act. I really enjoy the variety of work that I do and feel that it supports my work in both a financial but also creative way. It’s nice that every day is different.
What’s next for you?
I’m now getting ready to record my first full-length album this winter, hopefully for release in spring 2019. Writing songs, making demos, playing shows, and starting to book our next tour for the summer.
Emily Rockarts with bandmates, Dan Rougeau (guitar), Søren Nissen (bass), and Ian Wright (drums). Photo Credit: Brendan Mariani