Today we're going to hear from artist, musician, composer, and producer EW, who's known for her varied use of classical and modern instrumentation. Her work reaches pop and chamber music and explores concepts around human relation to the natural world rooted in a love for both. Her short films and projections weave imagery of contemporary dense, extreme weather and effects of climate crisis, alongside protest footage from the AIDS coalition to unleash power, an international grassroots political group working to end the AIDS pandemic.
Emily's latest album, This World is Too___ For You, was released last March and has been hailed by NPR as breathtaking, mind-blowing, and visionary. I sat down with Emily before one of her performances for a conversation about art and the future.
EW: Hi, my name is EW, and this is always the hardest thing to do, but I'll try to describe my work a little, which is grows, I hope, always growing but always with the center around music and moving interdisciplinary into video art and always influenced by literature and poetry and critique and history.
JW: That's perfect.
JW: And what are some of your favorite instruments to play or musical endeavors?
EW: so I am a violinist by training and have been playing violin my whole life so I kind of often enter music through that lens, but you know, I'm a producer so I'm always trying to find ways to encounter sounds, and whether that's by finding the right people to play the thing really well, or by me kind of trying to find a way into different instruments or, you know, I'm interested in synthesizers and drum machines and…But I love acoustic instruments as well. So I kind of like to blend those.
JW: Nice. Tell us what are some of your intentions for the future, both for yourself and then maybe as an artist and a community member.
EW: A personal intention for myself and my work is to remain curious, and not to be cynical. And I guess that kind of bleeds out a bit into my intentions around how I want to approach being a member of a community and an activist, you know, to educate myself and…but to be a force for curiosity and, you know, wanting to be...Well, you know, we were talking about something last night, which is the ability to experience wonder, and I think my way into wonder is often through experiencing other people's art but it can also be of course, through the natural world. That's like the best starting place, I think.
JW: And what are you working on these days? Any fun projects going on?
EW: well, I put out a record that took a lot of time to make, to conceive of and to create and took like two years so it came out in March. And so it's almost like you cut...You have to really come down from something like that, especially after taking it on the road. And so my way of coming down from that was to gently hold each of the songs in hand by making these really minimalistic recordings of them, so shrinking them from this much more grand arrangement into either an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar and a voice, no other instrumentation.
So I spent my summer doing that, and perhaps also to avoid the, project that I'm staring at now, which is ambitious in a different way. Though, I think it will also involve collaborators. The initial concepts are around creating songs and essays, which are in conversation with one another. And some of the concepts are quite daunting. And there's like some darkness to them because they're examining how climate change crisis is related to AIDS crisis and the movements that came up around AIDS crisis , and just like looking at how we can learn one from the other. And so those ideas are of course, they're hard ideas to think about on a daily basis, but…So that's what I'm looking at now.
JW: Wow. And so you imagine there will be maybe something like an album with a book?
EW: I think so, I think so.
JW: Nice. That's really exciting.
EW: And also daunting, just from a practical standpoint of having to be a writer...
JW: Outside of writing lyrics.
EW: Privately, I've always written but, you know, privately, so...
JW: an essay feels more formal, for sure.
EW: Sure. Absolutely. But it kind of started because I…There was an event that happened where an activist took his own life in protest of environmental injustice, and I was so struck by the act itself, but also by the lack of response to it. And so I had never written an essay before in like a formal way, but it was almost like I had to do it, not for anything other than just the act of sitting down and organizing my thoughts. So that's kind of how the whole thing began.
JW: Wow, so that was kind of the genesis of the project?
JW: Amazing. And what were some of the themes of your previous album, the one that came out in March?
EW: well, so that album is a lot about human beings relationship to the natural world. It's about facing your own apathy around the world in which you inhabit and take from and trying to reverse that. And and also a willingness to have to look around instead of to isolate, and kind of this idea of community and needing one another. It's the only way out of this problem, you know, of climate crisis and a lot of other problems frankly, as well, soo…
JW: definitely. Do you find yourself thinking about the future when you're making your work?
EW: absolutely. I mean, particularly this album, like, again, it's a scary thing to live inside for a while. I have a song called Eulogy For The Lucky, which is kind of this idea of the earth shaking us off of herself, and what will be lost in that and just sort of sorrow around that. But I think there's a lot of songs that are about looking at one’s self and really seeing your place in the problem, you know, especially as an American consumer.
EW: And how all the systems you know, that benefit us also are cutting us as well.
JW: Is there anything you'd like to share with our listeners about your identity that might have informed your perspective on the future? So sometimes people are thinking of things like class or race, disability, size, sexuality, religion, things like that.
EW: I mean, I can't help but come through a queer lens, much of my work and much the way I see the world, but also a queer lens of a person who was raised in a Christian household, who has a queer father who didn't come out until much later in life. Those things really inform my perspective, my worldview, of course, and can't get away from them.
JW: Definitely, for better or for worse.
EW: For better or worse,
JW: Could you tell us about some ideal futures, some best outcomes?
EW: I mean, it's sometimes hard for me to picture frankly, but I think it is a world in which we have a much more symbiotic relation to the natural world. And you know, I think that does involve a willingness to live more closely, which sometimes is at odds with my desires as a kind of loner type person. But I don't know, I think I could get used to it, if it meant survival.
JW: as long as there is like a bullet train into the forest or something, you could go out in nature [Laughter]
EW: I mean, I would just…I would like for us to imitate the thing that knows what to do, which is the natural world, more closely. And I feel like as speaking generally or quite detached from that way of being and obviously, all of the anti-capitalists things that need to happen, I don't need to repeat. You know, you should go to elizabethwarren.com, sort of suss it out.
JW: There, our recommended resource for further reading is www.elizabethwarren.com. Thank you. What role do you think art plays in the creation of that future?
EW: Imagination, I think is a big part of it. Imagination, accountability, I think those are two, for at least the work that I make, I think that's part of it. And the visualization of the past, and then that bleeds over into that imagined future, I think as well.
JW: Tell us about your creative routine or process.
EW: Well, when it's working well, it involves a fair amount of reading. A fair amount of nonfiction, I would say, although, I do love novels, and they're kind of more of an escape rather than a way in, but all of those things are part of the process, if that makes sense.
EW: And so, you know, I…And I like to be in my body so I'll go from a run or a swim. I've recently gotten into rock climbing. And so if I can get into my body and out of my head a little bit, and then it allows me to enter other people's work. I find like, entering other forms of art is always a spark for me, in unexpected ways. It's like there's so much there for us, you know, it's just opening ourselves to it. And getting outside of a habit, not being open to it, you know, I think that's part of the routine is creating a way in.
And then then you kind of just can…Through that, it's a way into the work itself, making the work itself. It's such a strange, you know, walking into the space, wherever it may be of writing the music, there's always a barrier that you have to kind of cross and then when you do you can really, really lose yourself in this way, and also meet yourself, you know, it's quite profound and it's difficult to describe, I don’t think. I only know how to set up the experiment, not how to conduct it, if that makes sense. So the conduction is just being inside of it. And of course, you have to rely on skills you've picked up along the way. You know, whether it be the technique of playing an instrument or software or whatever, and those are just like, there for you. So you've got to nourish those as well so that they will be there for you in the moment of oblivion, you know, but that's how I get in.
JW: I feel the same way completely. I'm primarily a poet. And so I'm finding my way into a poem is like that where you finally you're like, “What am I doing?” And then, at one moment, it's like, “Oh, here we are.”
EW: And then you're just weightless, totally.
JW: Is there anything you've learned about making music that you apply in other areas of your life?
EW: I try to think about that in terms of trusting the preparation in life. Certain things you know work, even if you don't feel like doing them or they're difficult to get into, like, just trusting like, if I open this book or if I enter this talk or whatever, then like, that's the way in. And so I tried to trust certain boundaries that you set. I think in art, it's easier than it is in your personal life.
JW: Unfortunately, I found that to be true.
JW: Do you have any certain audience in mind when you're making your work or, like a certain market that you find really, really connects with your work? Market’s [inaudible 15:28] audience?
EW: I mean, I definitely want thinkers, you know, to like, get in there with me, people who are interested in ideas, you know, that's the audience that I wish to try in the most, I guess,
JW: And do you have any special certain moment from a feedback from experience like that or something that are really connected with your art?
EW: there's this poet named Mary Ruefle, who it's more that I'm connected to her art does. She's written a few books of poetry, but she wrote this book called Madness, Rack and Honey, that's a book of lectures but loosely, I mean, they could be spoken, but the ideas are... It's just so brilliant. And I wrote her a letter to tell her how much that book meant to the record and send her the record and we've begun a small correspondence. And she is just so lovely, her way of communicating. She's like, from another planet or something. But she sent me a book and put a drawing of something from the record cover inside. And another thing that she wrote to me was that, “Musicians are lucky because they get to use the word play and the rest of the artists have to keep it a secret.” So, that kind of interaction, I mean, that's once in a lifetime, I guess.
EW: That's the ultimate, right? Someone you admire, getting to engage with them around work. It's amazing.
JW: That's a beautiful observation, the freedom of play, being able to claim that. This is more of a fun question about the future.
JW: If you could invent any new object or tool or structure or system, what would it be?
EW: Oh, man, I mean, I guess, maybe at I would want to remove a good tool that could remove distractions, particularly those of like a digital nature. So a way to like, close yourself to that itch, you know, and really be inside of something else experiential. That's my invention.
JW: Cool. What advice would you have for emerging artists?
EW: Read, listen, and just stay curious and trust that... I think, at least my experience has been just this, I'm just carving out a world for myself the best I can, you know, and that is the goal is the ability to continue to carve out the world, that there's not some, like reaching a plateau is the end, you know? And that's what keeps you up, that's what keeps the work interesting is the ability to keep growing. So, that's the goal, you know, it's a continual.
JW: And when should we expect your album and essay collection?
m,. Probably 2021.
JW: That's a perfect timeline.
EW: under our President Elizabeth Warren, right?
JW: Oh my goodness. Yes. What a celebratory. Maybe you can play the inaugural.
EW: Right. I was there for the protest, so perfect for the inaugural as well.
JW: Well, thanks for your time.
EW: Thank you for your really thoughtful questions. I've enjoyed chatting with you.
JW: Of course. Have a beautiful rest of your weekend. I can't wait to see you play later.
EW: Thank you. Thank you so much.
If you'd like to see and hear more of Emily's work, go to www.emilywellsmusic.com.
This episode was co-sponsored by the Arcosanti Urban Laboratory. Thank you to our production assistants, Natalie Nelson and Jillian Barthold, and to our sound engineer, Mat Larimer.
Future Prairie Artist Nim Wunnan, Author of #howtopaint
Future Prairie artists Helen Spencer Wallace and Addison Lane on their "Brain Shrine"
Musician and creative coder Helen Spencer Wallace discusses memory, vulnerability, resilience, healing, and how she made her interactive sculpture, the Brain Shrine. Listen to the whole episode on iTunes or Soundcloud: Future Prairie Radio S2E1: Brain Shrine with Helen Spencer Wallace ▶️🎶⏳
We recently completed our residency at Portland Parks & Rec. This was an excellent opportunity to have ample space to get together and work on collaborations. We want to thank Nick Fish for his support of affordable arts space and all of the RACC and PP&R staff for assisting us with this initiative. Our artists are grateful to have had that free studio space to make and share work. We were the first cohort to go through the program, and we look forward to seeing other arts groups make use of the space later this year.
Meghan Hole, a Seattle-based graphic designer, volunteered to help us with a rebranding project and designed a whole suite of assets for us for free! Soon we'll have a fancy new logo in all shapes and sizes, a color palette that suits our style, and a few fun merch options available for sale in our shop.
We curated work for and performed at Pride at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in the middle of June! I was worried the outdoor stage would be a challenging environment for some of our performers, especially the poets, but they rocked it. We had dozens of passerby's stop in their tracks and settle in. I think we provided a neat juxtaposition to the hustle and bustle of the festival — a literary escape, if you will. Local drag performer Shenekah Telles gave a lecture on the history and culture of drag, and they shared stories about their experiences performing and experimenting with makeup and fashion in drag. Then we had poetry performances by Rhiannon Flowers, Nastashia Minto, Tucker Garcia, Anna Suarez, and me, and musical performances by [trine], Dreadlight, and Maiah Wynne.
The following week, we hosted our biggest variety show EVER on the evening of the summer solstice. Our theme for the evening was "becoming", and our audience enjoyed musical performances by Lucy & La Mer, Crystal Cortez, Cristina Cano, Merilou Salazar, POLARTROPICA, and [trine], a drag performance by Sarah Jo and Anna Swanson, video installations by Laura Camila Medina and Caroline McAuliffe, a jewelry showcase by Teresa Huynh, and spoken word performances by Anna Suarez, Maryam Imam Gabriel, Selam Habteab, Noah Schultz, and Marissa Seiler. We were lucky enough to get Annie Dang and Christina Provencio to photograph the event, and Libby Landauer provided graphic design services. The show had American Sign Language interpreters thanks to funding from Regional Arts & Culture Council and facilitation by CymaSpace. You can see the videos of the show here.
One of our new mini-plays was featured at the Risk/Reward performance art festival at the Imago Theatre the last weekend of June, with some nice press coverage from KBOO.
We are out in the field all summer talking to marginalized artists about the future. We're recording them for episodes of Season II of Future Prairie Radio, our podcast. If you know someone who would make a great podcast guest, feel free to send them our way. We could use $150 or so to get these podcast episodes transcripted, so they are available to the Deaf and hard of hearing community. As a reminder, we're a 501c3 arts organization, which means you can make tax-deductible donations; if you want to kick off Season II with a $25-$50 donation to help fund our podcast episode transcription project, feel free to Square Cash, PayPal, or Venmo @FuturePrairie.
A few shows coming up:
We hope to see you around at one or all of these performances. Let us know what else you'd like to see from our collective of queer and marginalized artists. We would love to hear from you. Thanks for your continued support!
All my best,
Joni Renee Whitworth
In conjunction with PRIDE Month, Multnomah Arts Center is exhibiting a juried multimedia show called “PRIDE” showcasing art created by artists in the LGBTQIA+ Community of Portland and the area. The exhibit begins June 7. An opening reception will be held on Friday, June 7, 6-9pm. The show runs through July 2 and closes at 5pm on that day. Some of our Future Prairie artists are featured in this show, including Julia Laxer, Anna Suarez, Tiana Garoogian, and Joni Renee Whitworth.
All LGBTQIA+ artists will be sharing their perspectives on aspects of their lives – coming out, confronting bias, surmounting challenges, finding love, and celebrating queerness. The show includes drawings, paintings, mixed media and collage, digital media, zines, jewelry, kiln-formed glass, photography, sculpture, poetry, prose and video from 29 artists representing a wide range of perspectives and reflections on life in the LGBTQIA+ community. Please come on down to SW and check it out!
We've been enjoying recognition as a 501c3 arts organization, which means you can now make tax-deductible donations to Future Prairie. If you want to kick us off with a $25-$50 donation to help fund our summer programming, you can Venmo @FuturePrairie.
We have four shows coming up:
We hope to see you around at one of these. Thank you for your support!
We hosted a big show to mark the beginning of spring, with musical performances by me, Vivian Cecylia Tylińska, and Allegra Jongeward, live painting by Jasmine Co, Kathleen Boudwin, and Megan Krzmarzick, comics by Sabine Rear, poetry by Chris Gonzalez, Julia Laxer, and Olivia Marovich, dance by Jaleesa Johnston, photography by Sam Reynolds, and a guest lecture by Roseanna Zanna Colabella. We had American Sign Language interpreters thanks to a grant from CymaSpace. Our show is now more inclusive of the Deaf and hard of hearing community.
We were recently awarded studio space from Portland Parks & Rec. Having a studio space to make and share work has been incredibly helpful. If you know an artist who could benefit from this resource, please send them to us. We want to share this opportunity with our community.