By Christian Thompson
Emma Rowley’s life has always been enriched by music.
As a child, she discovered her earliest passion in musical theater. Shows like “The Sound of Music” and “Oliver” inspired her to pursue her own place on stage.
“I remember telling my parents over and over again, ‘I want to be one of the kids in those shows,’” Rowley said.
Her persistent interest convinced her parents to bring her to New York City for open-calls, in the hopes of landing a role on some of theater’s grandest stages. At age 12, her dreams were realized when she was cast in a Broadway revival of “Gypsy.”
“I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything in the world,” Rowley said. “It proved to me that even the wildest of dreams can come true.”
Two years later, Rowley was cast in her second Broadway performance, “Bye Bye Birdie.” While it could have been easy to consider that an artistic peak, Rowley’s trajectory was merely beginning.
“I picked up a guitar for the first time when I was about thirteen and immediately started writing songs,” she said. “I’d always loved writing stories and poems so songwriting came to me naturally.”
Rowley’s major influence during this period in her life was Taylor Swift, at the time a child herself, who was bringing an exciting, fresh take to the country music table.
The same drive that led Rowley to her early Broadway successes served her well in her songwriting pursuits. She recorded and released her first self-titled EP entirely on her own from the confines of her bedroom.
Listening back to these songs, with their understated production values and innocent themes, makes Rowley “cringe,” she said. But there’s an undeniable charm to every song, and Rowley’s impressive songwriting abilities were demonstrated from the very beginning.
As Rowley matured, her artistic interests expanded to include elements of classic rock and pop punk. She says artists like David Bowie and Paramore were particularly influential when she recorded her follow-up EP, 2012’s Summer, which was recorded with the help of Nashville producer Dan Hagen.
She said that she would send Hagen songs that contained certain elements or sounds that she wanted to explore in her own songs.
“My own style of writing wasn’t very rock and my voice didn’t have any edge but we did find a way to incorporate some of my favorite rock influences into the production,” Rowley said. “It was exactly the sound I was hoping to achieve.”
After high school, she pursed Nashville full-time and enrolled in Belmont University’s music program. She said her four years there expanded her knowledge about lyrics, melody, and her voice, and allowed her to fully develop the pop sound that she was seeking.
Since graduating from Belmont, she’s released a steady stream of singles, each one further exploring the realms of dream pop, shoegaze, and electronica. Songs like “Running with the Dogs” demonstrate the same songwriting and performance skills that her earliest songs possessed, albeit with a fiercer, more confident attitude.
Rowley’s talents make her one of the most promising artists in Loudoun County, and definitely one to keep an eye on. On Saturday, July 14, she’ll perform at 868 Estate Vineyard’s Jazz Under the Stars event near Hillsboro. Admission is free and food, wine, and other refreshments will be available.