Photos by: Nicholas Lea Bruno
By: Andrea Hey
Emily Afton is an Oakland-based musician from a small town down in Southern California. Her take on indie pop is like no other, mixing her charming Georgian roots with the deeper city sounds of San Diego and the Bay Area. After returning home from a brief tour with Third Eye Blind in the South and Midwest, Emily is now releasing a new track called “Someday.”
Emily’s sound has been described as “deep and smokey… emotive and honest songs from a place that feels lodged in the past, rooted in a dreamy barefoot era.” Her new song “Someday” has a hopeful sound with contemplative and dynamic lyrics about the past, present, and future.
Currently on her California “Someday” Tour, Emily recently played gigs at The Lost Church in San Francisco and The Night Light in Oakland.
TBB: Tell me a little about yourself. Where did you grow up, and how has that shaped your sound?
I grew up in Encinitas, a small beach town in San Diego County. I moved to Oakland five years ago for an internship, and have been playing music here and working with kids and nonprofits ever since. Growing up in San Diego was amazing and strange. Encinitas is heavily influenced by beach and surf culture, but my experience was a lot more surrounded by art and self-expression.
I started writing songs on the piano at home when I was a teenager, but it wasn’t until I moved to Oakland (working at a youth center) that I learned how to make beats and started discovering the synthesis that folk, pop, and electronic music can have. That’s the direction my sound has taken since then. I think the Bay Area is a really good place for music. Every new band I see makes me think about my sound, and I have met the most amazing people to work with who inspire me constantly.
TBB: Sounds like a cool spot to grow up. Who were some big influencers during that time?
My art teachers in high school influenced me a lot during a really impressionable age. They were the first adults I met who were artists. I remember conversations we had when I was like, 16 where they were encouraging me to embrace my weirdness and pursue an unconventional career if I wanted one. I still think about that sometimes when I think about the choice to do music as a career, as well as a friend’s mantra which aptly sums it up: “the role of the artist is not just to produce art, but to live (and hustle) creatively.” I was really inspired by songwriters like Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes in high school. But I would say my main musical influences were the fierce women like Bjork, Fiona Apple and Lauryn Hill. I think Lauryn’s influence definitely comes through in my singing a little bit. Also discovering “freak-folk” band CocoRosie was huge for me. I was 17 and was like “Yep… this is what I’ve been searching for my whole life.” They are still my favorite band today.
TBB: I’m glad you pursued that weirdness and are where you are as an artist today. So, I hear you just got back from tour with Third Eye Blind. That’s exciting! Tell me a little about it.
Yeah, it was really fun. We opened for Third Eye Blind in the South and Midwest for a week, playing for thousand-person theatres, and no one knew who the hell we were! It was awesome. It was my first tour, so every part of it felt extremely surreal to me.
Even the way I was invited to tour was surreal. We were playing a Sofar Sounds show, which was a secret show in San Francisco, and they don’t tell you the lineup until the last minute. When we arrived, Sofar announced we were opening for Third Eye Blind. It was a truly wild coincidence because my band had just been playing covers of their songs the night before, just messing around at band practice. We performed our set and Stephan Jenkins
None of us believed him, but it happened! I’m so glad it did, and that we got to take the opportunity so last minute. It was one of the best music experiences of my life.
TBB: That must’ve been such a rush, standing on stage for thousands of people after coincidentally meeting and being hand-picked by Stephan for tour! I’m sure you didn’t feel like you were Losing A Whole Year or moving in Slow Motion. Sorry, couldn’t help the word play — But really how do you feel now that tour’s over?
Haha no I didn’t feel Slow Motion at all… It went by way too fast! And my life is the same since I got back. Except… I guess it’s a little more Semi-Charmed now…
No, but seriously, I feel really inspired. We all came back star-struck by the experience and the “rockstar life” (which we don’t actually have but got to pretend we did for a week). It gave us something real and tangible to strive for. Their fans are so impacted by their concerts. There are many stories about their fans sobbing and screaming all of their words from the front row, which is something I’ll never forget because I got to experience it firsthand. I was watching that from backstage just nodding and being like, yep this is what I want to do with my life; create transcendent moments for people through music.
TBB: So, you’re releasing a new single, “Someday,” soon. The melodic vocals are captivating and hypnotizing, kind of like ‘falling down the rabbit hole’… Where did your inspiration come from?
I started writing “Someday” while driving my car to the Bay Area last summer for a show. I was living at home in San Diego because my mom had been diagnosed with a highly aggressive type of cancer that gave her a very short life expectancy. She had been in chemotherapy for a while but needed to have a bone marrow transplant, which is a very intense, high-risk procedure that involves replacing all her cells with a donor’s cells. It was a scary time that forced me to look at death for the first time.
This song is that moment in time captured. Now when I play it live, it’s so meaningful because it’s been over a year and my mom’s recovery has been kind of miraculous.
“Someday” is about reincarnation, and how we don’t have a choice; we are inevitably part of this life cycle on earth. And it can be read as sort of existential because the song is asking us (humans) “Who do you think you are, that you are not going to die?” But to me it feels hopeful because it’s also about being in love with your life. And really it’s all the same; whether you look at life existentially or hopefully, we are all going to die. It’s all part of the human experience and questioning it can feel like falling down the rabbit hole. But it’s a beautiful rabbit hole! (haha or something like that.. )
Below is Emily’s new song “Someday,” and all The Bay Bridged readers have exclusive access to this early release.
Don’t miss Emily’s upcoming show on December 16 at El Rio.
Guides, Mark Nelsen, Emily Afton
Dec 16, 8pm, $5-7