Emily Wells has long been turning heads with her unique songcraft. The performer, producer and songwriter trades in a striking mix of classical instrumentation, folk rawness and hip-hop production anchored by her haunting combination of voice and violin. Her burgeoning reputation owes as much to her hypnotic live show where, working a looping pedal, Wells becomes a one-woman orchestra, playing live drums, guitars, analog synthesizers and beat machines as well. It’s that same blend of deft composition and hand-wrought quality that deeply colors each of Wells’ albums.
Born to a music minister in Amarillo, Texas, Wells began learning violin at 4 at a community college. The family later moved to Indianapolis, where she discovered Bob Dylan, Nina Simone and Biggie Smalls and gradually moved from the Suzuki method to songwriting, guitars and home recording. Releasing her own music from a young age, Wells learned to keep her work close, and toured independently while developing her palate and performance across the U.S. It was in a humble garage studio in Los Angeles that Wells’ recorded her 2008 breakthrough, The Symphonies: Dreams Memories & Parties, picking up praise from sources as varied as NPR and SPIN, who compared her to “a feral, streetwise Nina Simone.”
Three years later, Wells returns with Mama, a collection of songs as richly hued as ever, but imbued with a newfound warmth no doubt owing to the space it was conceived in. Wells rented a tiny cabin on a Topanga Canyon horse ranch and went to work, producing Mama and playing most of the instruments herself (with a little help from longtime touring companions, drummer Sam Halterman and bassist Joey Reina). She recorded the raw tracks to tape without punch-ins or loops, often in one take. In contrast to The Symphonies, these songs are less conceptual and experimental in both sound and content, and more traditional and universal in structure and the studies of love and grief. 2012 will find Wells touring behind Mama, her first release for Partisan Records, and preparing for the release of Pillowfight, her long whispered-about collaboration with legendary producer Dan The Automator.