Five Questions With… Emily Jean Flack
A member of the extended family that comprised Celtic music faves Leahy, this singer/songwriter is now creating her own brand of progressive folk. Here she discusses the house parties of her youth, her performance debut, and the positive impact of moving to Ireland.
By Jason Schneider
As a member of the extended family that comprised the popular Celtic-pop band Leahy, Emily Jean Flack grew up immersed in traditional Irish music and dance. With that as a foundation, she is set to launch her own singer/songwriter career with an all-original debut EP entitled Throwing Shapes due out in January. The first single, “Another Year Gone By,” is available now and showcases her pure, powerful voice within a modern folk setting.
Produced by Belfast native Peter Wallace, and mixed by three-time Grammy Award winner David Bottrill, Throwing Shapes also featured guest performances by two Irish folk stars, whistle and flute player Brian Finnegan from the band Flook and guitarist Marty Barry. While the spirit of the Emerald Isle permeates her material, Flack also incorporated other jazz, pop and Americana influences to create a sound she describes as progressive folk.
Now dividing her time between Dorchester, Ontario, and Limerick, Ireland, Flack’s undeniable passion for the sounds that have been with her for her entire life is now being channelled into new explorations and her own voice as a songwriter. Find out more at emilyjeanflack.com
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up?
It was always about the house parties—a mixture of family, friends, and complete strangers. We literally would play and dance all night, and I still recall the steady thump on the ground of feet tapping in unison. I was formed in a musical culture that I describe as guttural. You feel the music whether you’re playing or not. It’s rhythm. It’s melody. It’s stories. You would get lost in it all. As I make music now, I go back to that same experience—real, honest and driving music that makes you lose yourself just a bit.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
My first public performance was at an Irish Ceilidh near Peterborough, Ontario. I sang “Katie” by Mary Black, accompanied by my aunt on piano. No one really had heard me sing prior to the performance and so I suppose they were a little surprised. I was excited of course. Reflecting back, the performance was really connected to my mom. Still to this day I look up to her and her musicianship. For that performance, even though it was small, it felt enormous mostly for the fact that I felt I was in some small way carrying on in her footsteps. I was being like her. It felt good.
How would you describe your artistic evolution so far?
Slow and steady. I listened to a lot of different styles of music when I was a child. I find that as I continue to write and record, my tastes from before are revealing themselves now, each in their own unique way. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I would also say that while my appreciation of melody and rhythm were instilled through my exposure to traditional and folk music roots, it is my writing—mainly lyrics—that is developing and growing most rapidly. I’m finding ways to be creative while still being honest and communicable. And using songwriting as a way of hashing out the feelings and desires we carry. That’s a process I feel I am in the thick of right now, and likely will remain for as long as I am making music.
What songs on the EP are you particularly proud of and why?
The single, “Another Year Gone By,” was extremely reflective of my choice to move to Ireland and delve into a different style of song and performance. I wanted to tell a specific story with this song, and I suppose I found new approaches to writing through doing it. When we began recording the song, I felt that same freedom and drive to develop the story. Moreover, it was our work on this song that shaped the creative process for the rest of the EP—experimental and all based on feel.
Another song I’m proud of is “One Word.” I had begun writing this song a few years back but never finished it, although it was more like I couldn’t finish it! But after I brought it to my producer Pete Wallace, and the pianist Peter McCauley, we had the song finished and demoed by the end of the weekend. Singing this song live carries over that real effortless experience of making the music, especially in a co-writing environment.
What's been the most significant change in your life over the past year?
It happened more than a year ago when I chose to move from my home in Dorchester, Ontario to Limerick, Ireland, and make music professionally. The results of that change have only started to show themselves over the past year. Thinking about it now, I am sometimes overwhelmed that, unknowingly, I managed to land in a place that has provided me with not only the opportunity to study, but nurtured me in making my own music. Now it’s about realizing all the good that is happening, trying to keep up with it, work hard and be grateful.