Emily Shirley’s brand of thoughtful songwriter pop/rock is as finely tuned and brightly colored as the graphic design projects she works on for her day gig. Her latest release, Courage Up, is a genre-bending hybrid of indie-pop melodies woven over thoughtful, grounded lyrics. The 2018 follow up to 2015’s Duotone album continues Shirley’s presence as a vibrant writer who has come into her own in the Austin, Texas scene.
A Connecticut native, Emily was steeped in church choir, musical theater, and Debbie Gibson at a young age. Classically trained on piano and a veteran of high school and college semi-pro acapella choirs, she found her place as a vocalist and writer when she joined the Boston based band Amun Ra as the lead singer, touring their soulful pop songwriting with breakbeats and electronica to clubs across the Northeast. They released 2 full length albums in her 6 years with them.
In 2006, Emily moved to Austin, Texas and realigned her musical existence. Starting over in a new city without a band as well as juggling her graphic design business and being a mom, “I had to carve out my solo space and find a way to let music work with my lifestyle,” she notes. She fell in love with the piano again and began writing and gigging; she released her EP Tiny Truths in 2010, produced by Daniel Barrett (Ruthie Foster, Susan Gibson). Reviewsic described the EP’s sound as “executed with the same old-meets-new-quirkiness of Feist.”
In 2013 she stepped back into the full band setting, joining Austin favorite The Belle Sounds on piano, synth, and vocals. She's toured Texas and the West Coast with The Belle Sounds, performing in esteemed venues like the ACL Moody Theater in Austin and The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. In 2017 Shirley also joined The Big Fix, a harmony driven indie rock band founded by Nathan Harlan.
Most recently, Emily released a series of singles that culminated in the release of her latest EP, Courage Up, produced by Mark Hallman (Carole King, Ani DiFranco) and engineered by Andre Moran at The Congress House Studio in Austin, now available as a limited edition disc. She put together a band that performs in and around the Austin area in support of the new record. While featuring Shirley’s signature earworm melodies and indie-pop arrangements, the subject matter of the songs take on a darker tone than her previous work. Shirley tells life stories through song, revealing interesting characters and settings in a way that the listener still finds relatable. “Dolores” is an exploration into the point of view of an accused killer’s mother (inspired by Netflix’s Making a Murderer documentary series). “Build Me a Boat” addresses abuse in a relationship, while “Over the Fence” perfectly encapsulates the bittersweet innocence of a first friendship. Emily Shirley’s artistic point of view and skillful sonic experimentation make for a varied and stirring repertoire. “My formative years are still happening,” she jokes when describing her musical life, the honest response of a musician and creator always on the lookout for the next spark.