Greetings! I, Lilly Vanek, am here with the triumphant return of New Music Tuesday, where we introduce you to the best new music out of Brooklyn every week. I’m attempting to fill the boots of the illustrious Kelly McClure (no pressure or anything). So I was stoked to get to write about Bushwick-based classically trained violinist/vocalist turned one-woman band Emily Wells, whose new album, Promise, dropped Friday. She plays all the instruments herself, and even released her fifth and latest record on her very own label, Thesis and Instinct records. She is also just a generally rad person.
Emily Wells is based out of Bushwick via Texas, and she blends classically inspired string sounds with hypnotic beats, haunting vocals, and a healthy dose of rootsy harmony. One of her previous albums was written when she and her father, also a classically trained musician, were both coming out. He actually plays the French horn on the ethereal “Don’t Use Me Up,” one of my personal favorite tracks off Promise. The closest thing to that type of father-daughter bonding that I’ve experienced is that time my dad and I did the Tequila dance together after too much Czechoslovakian liquor at Christmas time.
I got to see Wells at a private show, because I’m a fancy music writer now (apparently). It was at NeueHouse, a posh co-working space off Park Avenue in Gramercy, and it was a LOT swankier than I was expecting (I do write for Brokelyn, after all). But Emily Wells was there, and her faded black David Bowie tee shirt sang out to my well-loved Doc Martens, and I felt significantly less out of place. “Don’t Use Me Up” was playing in my head the whole time she was setting up, and I got to ask her about it.
“It’s a song that relates drunkenness to baptism,” she tells me. “People find salvation in a lot of different ways. It’s also a love letter to my younger self: take care of yourself, girl. Don’t use me up.”
When Wells performs, she sets up an entire band’s worth of instruments around her — and plays them all herself. Violin, vocals, keyboards, loop and effects pedals, and a personalized drum set with the kick drum flipped around so she can play it standing up, facing the audience. I asked about the drum configuration, because I’d never seen anyone do that before, but apparently she had.
“I actually got that idea from some dude at a backyard show in LA,” she said. “I played sitting down before, and it kind of limited what I could do with other instruments.”
The one-woman-band thing came out of necessity: “I’m kind of a loner by nature, and I liked the challenge of creating all these sounds myself.”
Wells would “rather give my art directly to the fans than have it go through some middle man somewhere.”
Promise is out via Wells’ very own label, Thesis & Instinct Records. The label came into being out of the same self reliance that birthed her “band.”
“I started my own label because, when you’re an artist, you don’t own much, and I don’t like the idea of someone else owning my work. I’ve built a fan base over the years,” she said. “And I’d rather give my art directly to the fans than have it go through some middle man somewhere.”
And, that music is available on both digital download and physical copy, including vinyl: “People love collecting physical artifacts, and I wanted my record to be one of those. It feels good to put out a record.”
Do yourself a favor and listen to Promise here, and if you’re like the half of Brooklyn that actually owns a record player, buy it on vinyl here. Do yourself another favor and catch Emily Wells at the Bowery Ballroom this Thursday (Feb. 4), where she’ll be joined by a string quartet among other surprises.