TJ Spotlight: Emily Herring

By Courtney S. Lennon

Houston, Texas native, Emily Herring is on a walk in San Marcos, Texas, where she currently lives. San Marcos, is about 30 miles southwest of Austin, where Herring has established herself as a singer-songwriter on the scene, often playing at the famous White Horse Tavern. She is currently taking a break from her day job as a mechanic, to do a month-and-a-half long tour in support of her recent release, Gliding (Eight 30 Records). A 2015 Ameripolitan Award nominee for her album, Your Mistake and a Carl T. Sprague Award winner at the Texas Music Awards, her mix of honky tonk and western swing, carries on the tradition of artist like Dale Watson, Radney Foster, Loretta Lynn and Lefty Frizzell. Herring recently scored a record deal with the independent, Austin-based label, Eight 30 Records, which was founded by authors Jenni Finlay (Kent Finlay, Dreamer) and Brian T. Atkinson (I’ll Be Here in The Morning: The Songwriting Legacy of Townes Van Zandt).

“Our label’s all about promoting great songwriters and storytellers, especially those under the radar,” says Atkinson. “We’ve known for years that Emily is one of our very best local songwriters and jumped when we saw a chance to put out her new record.

At the age of three-years-old, Herring wanted to play guitar. Though her mom took piano lessons as a child, she bought Herring her first guitar at seven-years-old, because she thought it would be a good activity. While Herring spent her early days living on the edge of Houston, her family moved outside of Spring, Texas, which was a different experience from the urban environment she was used to. The area was was a mix of suburban and country people.

“When I hit high school, country music was not on my mind,” she says. “But after my parents got divorced, my mom and I listened to it quite a bit of it. I guess that’s what you do when you get divorced in Texas,” she laughs. “At the time, it was the Garth Brooks era, not at all inspiring.”

At 13, Herring purchased her first country record at Walmart, Radney Foster’s solo debut, Del Rio, TX 1959. Though she still stayed away from country music a bit, the record hit her so much that she listened to it all through high school and into college. From there, she immersed herself in country and rockabilly. Gliding, was actually born out of her experience in the studio, watching Foster re-record Del Rio, TX, 1959, as at the time, the original was out of print. Herring wound up there, as part of producer Steve Fishell’s program, The Music Producers Institute, where students can buy a pass for a weekend lesson on how to record and produce an album. After the session, Herring said, “This is my mission in life. I want to make this happen for me.”

But driving home that night, she had a life changing experience. “I was doing something stupid, I have a track record of doing stupid things,” she laughs. “I was texting and driving down the windy Long Horn Skyway, trying to send out a fast text that said ‘I love you too.’ I caught myself at the last minute from hitting the edge of that turn and I thought ‘Oh god, this is a stupid thing to do.”

Not long after that experience, she put out her last album, Your Mistake. From there, she was determined to work hard and began making demos to send out to Fishell, in the hopes that she could record with him.

Herring’s approach to songwriting, isn’t the norm. She writes most of her lyrics first. So songs start out with an idea, or a line and then the music comes together with the lyrics. Inspiration comes from conversations, overhearing things and movies. Two of the standout tracks are the ones Herring is most proud of. “Last of The Houston Honky Tonk Heroes” and “Balmorhea” showcase her dynamic songwriting and vocal abilities.

When she was ready, Herring emailed her demos to Fishell. Then, she packed up her guitar and hit the road with her mom, to play a gig in Luckenbach, Texas. “A half hour later, Steve called me and I said ‘Oh my god!’ I hit my mom and said, ‘It’s the guy!’ Steve said, ‘If you think you can make this happen, I think I would like to do it.’ It was a dream.”

During the Gliding sessions, Herring’s her mother, was present for much of the recording sessions and she bonded with Steve Fishell, the three of them became great friends. Her mother was there for the recording of a song that was written about her, “Right Behind Her.” With a warm, tenor twang, Herring sings:

Well I walked out of bed this morning without sleeping one hour. It’d be a pain if it were rare but to rest ain’t within my power. If my mother were to die lord, I fear that I’d be right behind her. My heart’s full of promises my body just can’t honor. So I pray all night that I can make it all come together, lord. If my mother were to die lord I fear that I’d be right behind. I’d be reaching those hands out to God let him know I surrender. There ain’t no moving on when my heart is just an ember.

Sadly, while mastering Gliding, tragedy struck. Herring’s mother, who was also her best friend, passed away suddenly. “It was complete surprise,” says Herring. “She hadn’t been feeling well. She had viral infection. The doctors had just changed her antibiotics. The day that I was mastering the record, I was texting with her a little bit, but not too much. We were going to have plans for her birthday and we had to delay them because she wasn’t feeling well. I got home, after that and had dinner at my girlfriend’s house. Then, I got a phone call from my mom’s boyfriend, he said ‘Your mom is in a really bad place, I have the EMTs coming out.’ I said ‘Just tell me what hospital. Tell me where to go.’ He called 20 minutes later and said ‘She’s gone, that’s it.’ It was not at all how you expect your life to go.”

“It’s was really hard, losing her. But, things are going well for me right now. Still, I’ll have an innocent moment once in awhile and think ‘I’ll call mom.’ Then, I realize I can’t.”


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Courtney S. Lennon

Courtney S. Lennon

Kin to legendary songwriter, Stephen Foster, Courtney is a strong voice in the roots community. A native of Buffalo, NY, she began her writing career at the Arts Desk of The University at Buffalo Spectrum. She is the Founder and Editor of TJ Music Magazine, which she started after moving to Los Angeles in 2010. Courtney has contributed toLone Star Music Magazine, Texas Music Magazine and No Depression. She has written cover stories on Ryan Bingham, Guy Clark, Terry Allen, Rodney Crowell, and Dale Watson, among others. She is the author of the forthcoming novel, "Where Dreams Never Die." For more info, visit: www.courtneyslennon.com
Courtney S. Lennon

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