The vulnerability found in Emily Keener’s music traces back to a distinctly Midwest upbringing, characterized by the canopied forests that surrounded her home. It’s here Keener pensively grappled with the rigid qualities of rustbelt spiritualism. And where she experienced the literal and figurative isolation as a homeschooled country-dweller.
In this rural area southwest of Cleveland she grew up watching her dad strumming the guitar that would eventually be hers. Studying seasoned writers and the songs that made up the soundtrack of her family life, she developed a deep reverence for the craft. By age 12 Keener was writing and performing music professionally, often playing at wineries and bars under her mother’s guidance.
It’s been nine years since Keener got her start as a professional musician. Through those years she opened for numerous established artists including Jessica Lea Mayfield and Leigh Nash. In 2013, she released her debut album. This followed with the 2015 EP, East of the Sun, recorded with the regional Ohio band, The Womacks. Her latest album, Breakfast, earned her No Depression’s 2017 Singer/Songwriter Award.
On her upcoming album, I Do Not Have To Be Good, Keener colors her plaintive and introspective lyricism with a frailty that longs for connection and understanding. Her vocals smolder in a delicate spiral, ebbing and flowing in melodies that wash in and out like deep, entrancing waves. Gone is the homegrown good girl rootsiness found on the previous releases.
Keener finds her voice on I Do Not Have To Be Good, one that is authentic and true. On East of the Sun and Breakfast, Keener’s voice was cloaked behind the musical mentors and production team who influenced the rootsy folk sheen. “I was learning from people I really admired, and those early experiences left me with a deeper understanding of how to use the studio as an instrument and breathe life into recordings. It paved the way for me to call the shots and make creative decisions with confidence.” On the upcoming album due out in May 2020, she subtly sheds her Americana roots and embraces atmospheric moody indie folk, equally tender and powerful as it unfolds. Taking almost complete creative control throughout the recording process, the only fingerprint is Keener’s own. This is her; raw, exposed, very honest in her emotional depth. When Keener began working on the new album with Dalton Brand at WaveBurner Recording, she consciously broke away from the belief in perfection and purity as being necessary, or even possible. She says, “Despite a loving family, my personal experience with a Christian upbringing led me to develop deep self-censoring, self-doubt, and the belief that I must always present as kind and good regardless of how I feel.” The album is a call to free censored desires and doubted truths.
“I’ve spent most of my life creating music and I’m starting to see it deepen and grow along with me. The changes and shifts in my sound feel like a journey home.”