Friday, April 23, 2010

Emily Rodgers

Emily Rodgers photo by Michael Macioce

Hey, in keeping with our recent acoustic kick, today we're featuring Emily Rodgers. And guess what? Instead of her being a local singer looking to break out of the City, she instead migrated to the 'Burgh to launch her career.

Rodgers lived in Georgia until she was five, and grew up in the Chicago suburb of Elkart, Indiana. She went off to Goshen, a nearby Mennonite college. Rodgers began by singing in the college coffeehouse, covering Gillian Welch and other folkie types, and moonlighted by spinning some disks for the Goshen college station, which had a playlist of classical music when the sun was up and folk music when it was down.

Her influences were R.E.M., Thalia Zedek, Nirvana, Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Company, Kristin Hersh, Emily Dickinson, and Sylvia Plath, a pretty eclectic collection of artists. But it's a group befitting a poet/singer/song writer like Rodgers.

She took creative writing as an undergrad, and now she attends Chatham University part time, aiming for an MFA in poetry and creative nonfiction (check out her blog Emily Rodgers Poems, though it hasn't been updated in awhile). It comes through in her music.

Her writing career took off when she arrived in Pittsburgh in 2003. Rodgers was aware of our town because of the Mennocorps (a Mennonite youth service gig) connection, and followed school buds Susanna Meyer and Hallie Pritt of Boca Chica to the Three Rivers.

There is a cadre of Goshen grads that call Pittsburgh home, including acoustic players Brad Yoder, Heather Kropf, and Keith Hershberger, and she fit right in. Moving in with the Boca girls in Highland Park, she settled into Steeltown's vibrant if somewhat underground singer-songwriter scene.

She then got an apartment of her own in Friendship, and the me-time led to an outburst of writing. Rodgers found places to play right away, like the Garfield Artworks and various Calliope open stages.

That led to her first record in 2005, a self-released EP titled "Emily Rodgers & Her Majesty's Stars." It was a fairly folkie effort, and hadn't quite tapped into her writing talents, but it gave her a solid foundation to build on. And hey, it was a good record; WYEP named it among the Top Releases of the Year.

Now she's fronting the Emily Rodgers Band, made up of herself (vocals, guitar), Erik Cirelli (guitar, lapsteel, and gigged with Liz Berlin and Lohio), Paul Smith (drums), and Allison Kacmar (bass).

Though Rodgers writes the songs, it is a close group with a lot of collaboration. Heck, she even married Cirelli last month; can't get much tighter than that. And that's not the only good thing happening with the band.

Her second release, "Bright Day," had its debut party on October 16th, 2009, at Brillobox in Lawrenceville. It's on Misra Records, a widely respected indie label. It was produced by Josh Antonuccio, who has worked with Southeast Engine and Lohio.

The sound is hard to pigeonhole; it's not exactly shoe gazer, jazz, folk, pop, alt-country, or any other easily described genre. "Bright Day," contrary to its title, is kinda dark and introspective, like a stripped down Neil Young. It's dedicated to her brother Daniel, who died four years ago at the age of 22, which may explain the darkside.

But it is great music when the reverb doesn't get in the way, described by The City Paper's Manny Theiner as "atmospheric." Rodgers herself thought it "ethereal." Whatever you call it, it is a grand showcase for her voice, the featured instrument of the record, and the lyrics she offers.

"Hurricane" is the first track released off the CD. It was recently featured on NPR's All Songs Considered segment.

They played at the South by Southwest in Austin last year, did an East Coast tour in November to support "Bright Day," and spent the early part of the year performing at midwest college venues. The tour schedule isn't overwhelming; Rodgers and the rest of the band like to leave time for real-life between their gigs.

But she does local shows at least monthly; the band was just at Howlers Coyote Cafe, a regular stop, and is about to do a free-to-the-public performance at Schenley Plaza on Friday.

They're part of WYEP-FM's "Live & Direct CD" Release event with Elizabeth & The Catapult. The Emily Rodgers Band will take the stage at 7 PM.

Other local upcoming shows are:

May 7 2010 @ 7:00P - Garfield Artworks
Jul 8 2010 @ 9:00P - Howler’s Coyote Cafe
Sep 8 2010 @ 9:00P - La Roche College

So if you're looking for a scene that gets inside your head instead of banging it, make sure you catch The Emily Rodgers Band.

Hurricane - Emily Rodgers

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