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Emma Stevens – A Real Guildford Talent – Will She Be Famous?

Published on: 2 Jun, 2013
Updated on: 5 Jul, 2015
Emma Stevens, a Guildford girl with talent

Emma Stevens, a Guildford girl with talent – Photo Bianca Tuckwell

Have you heard of Emma Stevens? No? Well she is one of the most promising up and coming local musicians who has recently been play-listed for an unusually lengthy period on Radio 2 and featured in a Terry Wogan show.

She also appeared regularly appears at several local venues including, Bar des Arts and the Boiler Room and is certainly one to watch.

Here in the first of a two-part interview with Martin Giles of The Guildford Dragon NEWS she talks about her Guildford upbringing and her time at The Academy of Contemporary music in Rodboro Buildings.

You can hear Emma by viewing the her video clip of her recently released single “Once” below.

You are a Guildford girl. Tell me about your experience growing up in Guildford?

I grew up in Christmas Hill, Shalford, just outside the town. I lived there until I was 17, so consider it my home village. I have had many the opportunities to move away from Guildford but I can’t, I just love it too much: the cobbled High Street, the castle, my friends and community.

I went to Shalford First School, then St Theresa’s in Effingham and then St Peter’s in Merrow which I left in around 2000. I studied music there at GCSE but it was way before then that I realised music was what I wanted to do.

When I was about two I used to watch my Mum playing Spanish acoustic guitar and I just completely gravitated towards it, it was just in me from being in my mother’s womb, I think. I just loved music, my mum said I would just come alive when it was on.

Emma as the Scarecrow in a school production of The wizard of Oz

Emma as the Scarecrow in a school production of The wizard of Oz

I do have one little sister but she is not so much into music. Her talent is writing, directing and performance. I attended the stage school at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre and had orchestra and piano lessons at Charterhouse that all kind of started when I was around 10 or 11. Most of my musical tuition took place outside of school.

I was the scarecrow in a school production of the Wizard of Oz. I was so excited to be cast and they said that my training outside of school had come to the fore.

Our standard family holiday was to Cornwall and that’s how I grew to love the ocean – oh I mean sea, I have spent too much time in California! And my Mum took my sister and me to Florida, including Disney World, when I was 22 we went to Memphis see a band that we all loved; Dave Matthew’s Band. We did the Graceland thing and went to BB King’s Blues Club. It was incredible, a really buzzing place. I really cherish that memory, we had an amazing time together.

When did you first feel a vocation to be a musician?

I started fantasising about performing songs and people singing my songs from when I was 12 or 13. I started writing them at that age.

Emma in pink with her Mum, Dad and little sister Ellen in the garden of their Shalford home ready for an Alice in Wonderland Party

Emma in pink with her Mum, Dad and little sister Ellen in the garden of their Shalford home ready for an Alice in Wonderland Party

I found that sight reading wasn’t my forte so I knew that I wasn’t going to be a classical player. I would ask my piano teacher to play me a piece of music and then I would play it back. So I played by ear, which didn’t bode well for a classical career.

I don’t know why it is that playing by ear that it works like that for me and other musicians I know, whereas others are better at reading the music. I think both ways are totally valid. Anyway, for me it is the way I have found to be natural.

I first thought I am really going to do this after some time spent building up my confidence. After school I spent a long time singing backing vocals when I was 15-17, I was doing gigs then fitting it in with my studies.

My parents knew what would be best for me in the long run. I was not overly rebellious and my mum was quite strict but she got that I was an artsy, musical type. I think she saw a bit of herself in me. She was a bit of a hippy and always encouraged me to be free to discover myself and be expressive.

She died of cancer last year but she remains a motivator and an inspiration. Two songs I have written this last year: Dreaming Trees and Sunflower are about her.

Emma as a young girls at Christmas time with her proud Mum who sadly died last year.

Emma as a young girls at Christmas time with her proud Mum who sadly died last year (2012).

I am very proud of my Mum. She was a teacher at St Nicolas Infant School so will have touched the lives of many Guildford families. They have a stained glass window at the school in memory of her.

Which musicians inspired you?

Gosh, this is the hardest question, there are so many.

I was brought up listening to lots and lots of different genres and different artists, there was John Williams with his classical guitar playing, James Taylor, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits and my “learn to drive” tape was Brian Adam’s “Waking up the Neighbours”.

Then I put my rock hat on an was listening to slightly heavier music and enjoying exploring my guitar skills, like “Extreme”.  Then there is The Corrs, Cutting Corners album. I took that out of my collection just the other day when we were driving up to a gig and we only had a CD player. I find it really inspirational: I love how the vocal harmonies work and the songwriting is amazing.

Emma listens to classical music too. Here she is as a seven year old with her cello.

Emma listens to classical music too. Here she is as a seven year old with her cello.

I then started becoming more and more into country music: The Dixie Chicks, Sheryl Crow and Braid Paisley all played significant roles.

Now I listen to a lot of Jason Mraz for his happy sunshine melodies and fantastic song-writing. In my songs I incorporate a lot of vocal harmonies. People call them ‘Emmyers’ (a great friend and world famous guitarist Michael Spriggs in Nashville came up with the term, a mixture of Emma and Enya) because they are a sort of trade mark for me.

And I love classical music too. Debussy, Tchaikovsky… I make time to listen to a whole range of music. And in my childhood it was always on in the house, radio especially.

Recently, I have been listening a lot to Radio 2. I have been biased because they play-listed me. That was fantastic. I am on lots of play-lists around the country which is an incredible thing to think that I have only had my first official single out for a couple of months.

I have recently been on the local station Eagle Extra, where I performed live.

What about your time at ACM (Academy of Contemporary Music)? Is it all really drugs, sex and rock and roll there?

It would depend on the student. I certainly wasn’t into all that when I was there, well, maybe the rock and roll.

I knew what I wanted and that was to learn as much as I could about learning the guitar because because I wanted to incorporate that into my song-writing. That was a key reason that I was there to allow me to write a better songs and also to network.

Emma Stevens trying out a banjo, just one of the six stringed instruments she plays

Emma Stevens trying out a banjo, just one of the six stringed instruments she plays.

My favourite part was each Monday we were given a new song to learn then we would go and rehearse it in bands: then on Friday we would perform it to our fellow students. Every week it was a new song. That was such an important part of my performance skills because there is no one harder to play for than a hundred people who know exactly what you should be doing. It really set me up very well for doing my own thing and it was one of the best lessons I learnt, along with the technical side of things.

There is a huge mix of students. I was in a class of boys, I was the only girl. They were great and treated me really well but I didn’t want any special treatment and I didn’t want it to change how they were. I loved my time at the ACM. I had two years there and it really, really helped develop me as a musician.

For those considering applying to go I would say get to grips, if you are not already, with a bit of music theory, so you are not completely in the deep end with it. It is no good just turning up being able to play a couple of songs. The academy take their selection policy seriously. You have to be dedicated and know what you want to make the best of it.

Emma's ACM Student ID

Emma’s ACM Student ID

I came out with a Diploma in Guitar and Contemporary Performance but you can stay on a do a degree. I feel blessed that it helped me find two of my best friends Sam Whiting (guitar) and Belinda Webb (drums) – who currently play in part of my backing band.

There were students from all over the world there but I was able to live at home while studying there and I loved it. It was great to have the luxury of having my family around me. I was happy. As I said before I could have moved away from Guildford to study etc but I just don’t want to.

You can see Emma at Bar des Arts next Wednesday 5th May (2013) at 7.30pm and here is the video of her recent release, “Once“:

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