Music » Local Music

Emily Rose, and Kept Rising

Why singer-songwriter Emily Rose is a loveable oddball


Emily Rose is a jewel in Detroit’s rock scene. Just don’t compare her to Jewel.
  • Emily Rose is a jewel in Detroit’s rock scene. Just don’t compare her to Jewel.

You know that thing where you hear a line of lyric or poetry by Jim Morrison and think to yourself, “Sir, you may have been a compelling frontman but you were completely full of shit?” The Lizard King indeed — for fuck’s sake. Morrison was obviously high out of his mind pretty much throughout his adult life, but even in his more sober moments he was fond of being weird for the sake of being weird. Emily Rose isn’t like that. She’s just plain weird. Beautifully, gloriously, out of her fucking mind.

During the course of our conversation, Rose discusses her affinity with butterflies and moths, her ability to get a crowd’s attention by inadvertently making mirrors smash (like a kind of hippie Carrie), and her distaste for Jewel’s recent material. We also discussed introducing monkey puppets into her set, but more on that later.

Again though, Rose isn’t trying to push herself into the outer limits of normalcy for the sake of creating a Zappa-like persona. This isn’t some hipster attempt at surrealism-meets-folk. No, Rose seems to simply think a little differently from everyone else.

She’s a nervy interviewee, but more compelling in conversation than she herself understands. She thinks very carefully about the first few words of each sentence, then lets herself off of her leash and goes for it. What follows is usually immense fun.

Rose first started making music when she was about 15 and, listening to a lot of Violent Femmes and Ani DiFranco, describes her sound as an “honest experience.”

“You could call it folk,” she says. “I guess that’s what you would call it. I used to do more first-person narrative songs, and now it’s kind of a fragmented narrative. As I’ve grown as a person, so have the songs. I have one foot in fact and one foot in fiction. I do story songs.”

We suggested to Rose that she has this in common with Eminem (aka Slim Shady, aka Marshall Mathers, etc.).

“Oh, well, then it’s all been worth it,” she replies, with a wry smile. “I used to write from the perspective of being a butterfly, and then I realized that I related more to moths. When I told a friend that, he said that a moth is like a Detroit butterfly.”

We can see that. A moth is much like a Detroit butterfly. A moth is less colorful, maybe, but sturdier, chunkier — and willing to do just about anything to survive.

For our subject — our delicate musician — we could throw a dozen metaphors conceptually centered on metamorphosis and they’d all sound hackneyed, but you get the idea.

Naturally, Rose gets tagged with the old “female singer-songwriter” label at every given opportunity, mostly because it’s true. She is both of those things. Rose doesn’t mind it anyway, even if she gets lumped in with people like Jewel. “I think it’s an honor,” she says. “I mean, I really like Jewel’s first album and I still listen to it. ‘Pieces of You’ and ‘Painters,’ I don’t know what went wrong. I never really got into Dido. I know she had a soothing voice but I don’t think I’d put her in the female singer-songwriter category; I’d put her in the nighttime, new age category. I might be thinking of Enya though.”

Oh, don’t do that.

One has to wonder if it’s tough being an acoustic artist in Detroit, a region that screams out for music with fire and brimstone. Whatever the genre, belt it out. “It’s not tough,” Rose says. “I think the acoustic folk scene in the Detroit area is heavily supported. I’ve had a great career so far and it’s thanks to everyone around here who has helped me.”

Speaking of the local scene, a couple of enterprising souls (Lee Majors and Josh Woodcock) have been busy putting together a follow-up to the 2001 compilation the Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit, the brainchild of one Jack White. That album featured the likes of the Paybacks, the Dirtbombs, the Hentchmen, the Von Bondies, the Detroit Cobras, Bantam Rooster and, of course, the White Stripes.

Fast-forward 12 years and the Pathetic Sounds of Detroit offers another glimpse into the local scene. This time, we get the Ill Itches, the Boy Wonders, the Ashleys, White Shag, the Handgrenades, Hit Society — and Emily Rose.

As it was the first go-round, the album is far from complete. Many will complain about those who are included and those who aren’t. The album offers a sneaky peak over the wall and into Detroit’s messy but awesome musical garden. Don’t overanalyze it.

“It’s in response to the compilation album Jack White did a few years ago,” Rose says. “I was asked by Lee Majors and Josh Woodcock to come do a track for that. We ended up putting my song, which is the only acoustic one on the album, we ended up closing the record with it. I think it’s a really neat project, really cool.”

On the subject of cool, Rose was once able to get a crowd eating out of the palm of her hand by causing a mirror to break. Sort of. “One of the best and worst shows I ever played was one show,” she says. “I played a gig in Richmond, Va., a couple of years ago when I was on tour, and it was the loudest bar. I was invisible, you know? In the middle of my performance, the mirror behind the bar fell and shattered into a million pieces. Everyone just shut the heck up, and then they paid attention to the rest of my set. It was like ‘victory.’ I don’t know what summoned it. I feel like every show I play is the best one. I can hardly remember them after they’re done. Every show’s the best one — until the next one.”

On Saturday, Rose will perform at the Songbirds Festival at PJ’s Lager House in Corktown on a bill with Alison Lewis, Bricktown Station, the Blueflowers, the Thornbills and the Drunken Tornadoes. Rose is excited.

“I’ve started reciting my poetry onstage in the middle of my set,” she says. “That’s quite a stretch for me. This started last week. I have to put the guitar down to give the poem the full attention that it deserves, but I also however have no idea what to do with my hands. So it is a work in progress.”

We suggest to Rose that she could wear a monkey puppet while reciting poetry. Either that, or make shadow animals on the wall. Take your pick, Rose.

After the Songbirds show, Rose will be writing like a crazy person (so to speak). “I’m planning on writing this year because I have more to get out,” she says, adding, “I’m not sure if it’ll be insect-based, although there have been a lot of June bugs on my porch lately.”


Emily Rose performs at the Songbirds Festival on Saturday, June 29, at PJ’s Lager House, 1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668; doors at 8 p.m.; cover is $8.


Brett Callwood writes City Slang.  Send comments to him at [email protected]

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