Emily Wells: Symphony No. 1 In The Barrel of a Gun

Emily Wells performed at Andy Rubin’s Cyclops Books on North Avenue in Baltimore a few weeks ago. She is a musician who’s redefining virtuosity as it relates to the concept of solo performance. She uses analog and MIDI technology to create loops and repeating layers of sound. She performs, records it, and then layers the sounds, one on top of the next, to create lush pop symphonies and trance Inducing hip-hop influenced music. If you close your eyes you’d think you were hearing a whole orchestra, a seasoned one at that. In spite of the table full of blinking boxes, a ten foot radius of twisting wires, and what seemed to be a small cage of microphone stands and musical equipment, her live shows are relaxed, warm and intimate.

Photo and story by Philip Laubner.

Emily just moved to New York from LA where people warned her about the cold. She was undaunted. Head wrapped in large furry Russian ushanka hat, she mentioned this to a crowd who’d just braved a wind chill of 10° above zero and everyone laughed. Since Emily moved to New York she’s been to Baltimore more than any other east coast city. Her first visit was for the Station North Fall Festival in October. I’m not alone when I say I hope this trend continues.

Emily Wells: Symphony No. 3

The Story Feat Count Bass D

I asked Emily how she started looping and performing solo, she explained, “It’s certainly evolved over time, picking up instruments. I scored short films and I had been a violinist but wasn’t able to utilize it out of the studio. I had this loop pedal for years, but I hadn’t really given it much of a chance because it was frustrating; it wasn’t immediately accessible. When I was messing around in the studio and wrote symphony number one; I was like: oh, this is how I can bring the studio to the stage in a way that I’ve never been able to conceive of without a ton of musicians. That became my focus (the loop pedal) and now it’s kind of grown: some out of necessity, some out of fun, some out of curiosity for the different sounds. I decided to give myself to the pedal in the same way that I would if I were to learn any other classical instrument: a lot of practice, a lot of attention to detail, and a lot of that muscle memory element of learning how to play an instrument well.”

Emily Wells: Symphony No. 9 & the Sunshine

In 2011 Emily will release a new record with her side project Pillow Fight. The project is a collaboration with famed Hip-Hop DJ and producer Dan the Automater.

She’ll also release a record of her own material and she plans to tour with both her regular trio from LA and Pillow Fight. When she tours she usually brings her band,The Emily Wells Trio. That’s Sam Halterman on drums and Joey Reina on bass.

I asked Emily about novelty, if she ever worried that her act, the one-woman band would become one, she said: “I thought a lot about that and I don’t want to be a science fair project, I want to create all different kinds of show experiences.” This is good news as Baltimore can’t wait to experience all the different facets of Emily Wells.

There’s a real communal feel at Emily’s shows. It’s, at times, like being in a soul church during a revival. I asked her about it, she said: “I’ve been feeling that a lot lately, it’s almost like dirty gospel music.” She wants people to be involved with the music in more ways than one. During her solo-set at Cyclops she said: “I love it when people dance to my songs, it happens very rarely, people usually just look at me with their mouth open when I play, but tonight could be the night we could change all of that.” Her banter drew laughs more than once during the night. It is danceable music, but it’s also a wonder to see it all created live and sometimes I guess the mind overrules the body.

Opening act, singer-songwriter, Madeline Shapiro sings: “All my goals are totally attainable.” and it feels honest. There’s a sincerity to her positive folk songs, (music that she describes as: “fantastical sometimes and realistic sometimes”) that’s endearing.

Madeline Shapiro normally fronts the Baltimore band the Dead Whale Ramblers. For her set at Cyclops, she chose to perform as a duo with Rambler’s violin player Allison Guitard, which was a good choice for back up as the plaintive counter melodies of her violin perfectly implied the raucous gypsy feel that runs throughout Madeline’s music.

Right before Emily Wells went on, the audience was thoroughly entertained by The McTell Brothers, 14 year-old singing, guitar playing fraternal twins from Virginia. They’ve consistently impressed crowds all over the region with their hard-driving blues and rock music and have quickly become Baltimore favorites.

Andy Rubin, who runs Cyclops Books on North Avenue, hosted the evening’s show and he also manages the McTell Brothers. The brothers real names are Brian and Jeff Brown-Hill. I asked Brian what 2010 meant for the group, he said: “Andy has opened our eyes to the Baltimore scene.” He went on to say “people joke that we should just get an apartment here.” That sounds like a good idea to us Brian.