Emily Jean Flack
An artist with a remarkable ability to blend traditional folk music with a contemporary tone and lyrical landscape, Canadian-born vocalist, musician and songwriter Emily Jean Flack has translated her soul-elevating experience living, studying and creating in Ireland into a truly special and compelling debut collection of music.
Now dividing her time between Dorchester, Ontario and Limerick, Ireland, Flack is set to release her first EP, Throwing Shapes in January 2019– music that is exceptionally melodic, with superlative musicianship thanks to a cadre of excellent players, but which is imbued and enfolded by Flack’s soul-stirring voice and emotionally unfettered lyrics. The first single from the EP will be released in September 2018.
Produced by Belfast native Peter Wallace, and mixed by three time Grammy Award winning producer/mixer David Botrill, Throwing Shapes also featured guest performances by true stars in the firmament of Irish folk music, whistle and flute player Brian Finnegan from the band Flook and guitarist Marty Barry.
While the spirit of the Emerald Isle permeates the album, Flack used the inspiration and freedom she experienced living in such a culturally rich part of the world to allow her more prevalent influences – jazz, pop, Americana and contemporary singer/songwriter shine through. Citing such diverse names as James Taylor, Ella Fitzgerald, Keith Urban, Alison Krauss, Adele and Celine Dion as artists from whom she drew inspiration, the album is best described as progressive folk, an interpretation that allows for a very wide audience of music lovers.
“Although I come from a traditional instrumental folk background, I’ve always listened to so many other styles of music. And my own music has always been more personal, more modern and more contemporary. Being in Ireland is wonderful in the sense that it’s so culturally rich, but there is a ferocity and sense of independence within the music. It’s not cute or quaint. It’s quite raw and organic. Ireland has offered me an environment to openly make the music that moves me,” Flack said.
Flack grew up in a very musical family. She is the daughter of Denise Flack, who is one of the talented siblings in the ground-breaking Celtic-pop band Leahy – one of the bands who led that genre’s wildly popular resurgence in the 1990s. Like many in her family, music, traditional dance and playing instruments was simply a way of life, regardless of whether becoming a professional entertainer was ever in the cards.
The foundation of Emily Flack’s discipline and creative rigour as an artist came from those early years, performing as a dancer or accompanist/background singer alongside her family in Leahy.
While Flack’s undeniable passion for music may have been stirred, fostered and founded on her upbringing, it was just that – a foundation. One from which she is just beginning to build and explore her own inspirations, her own style and more significantly, her own voice as a songwriter.
Through her late teens, she was still interested in broadening her musical horizons, taking music and songwriting workshops, but still wasn’t planning on it as her profession. In fact, she spent a number of years studying to be a teacher in Toronto before veering into a more serious study of traditional Celtic folk music at its source, the University of Limerick in Ireland.
“I thought about becoming a music teacher, but then literally two years ago, after getting my BA in the humanities I felt that I wanted to really focus on music, which meant going to Ireland and getting my Masters in Traditional Irish Music, with a specialization in song,” she said, adding that some of the people she worked with as mentors during her studies encouraged her to write and record – now.
“The university brought in a lot of great Irish musicians, like John Doyle and Karen Casey. The first day I met Karen and we were talking about what we were going to work on together she just came right out and said, ‘you need to record. Period.’ And here I am. So, this was the right time, because the music was finally ready, and I had the right people around me. When I was 19 I thought maybe I wanted to be a songwriter but hadn’t found my voice. I am much clearer now in what I want from my music and from my approach.”
That approach is essentially entails pouring out her heart, soul and spirit into both music and lyrics. Even though one might hear the tinges of the old-school traditional Celtic folk, which is unsurprising considering the album was recorded in Ireland, with Flack backed by Northern Irish musicians, and having the album produced and mixed by experienced Irish studio mavens, the words and melodies are powerfully introspective, revelatory and expressed with very modern, progressive sensibilities.
“Writing is definitely emotional. Upon writing a song, I actually start to understand what I am feeling or what I was feeling at the time. So, it’s cathartic in that way. It’s me really being me; it’s my outlet. Writing helps me understand my thoughts and feelings, which is a very contemporary way of writing I think,” Flack explained.
“My music is really driven by melody and rhythm, and then apply the lyrics later. It usually happens when I am sitting down at the piano and playing around and then all of a sudden, it’s like a lightbulb goes on, and there’s a spark of creative energy. What usually happens is that the process kind of runs away on its own, so I just let it flow.”
The album’s first single, Another Year Gone by, is a darkly sweet expression of longing for someone who has gone – and who may not be coming back. “This was a bit of an experiment, and musically was almost accidentally influenced by the traditional songs I was working on for my Masters,” she said. “It’s about love again. I am saying why oh why do you cry. It’s about waiting on love … and loving and hoping he will come home.”
The title track is an ebullient and joyful expression of life through the metaphor of dance. Throwing Shapes is a term used in Ireland and the U.K. in the manner North Americans would say going out to boogie down or dance the night away.
“I always wanted to write a song about being a dancer, because I love dancing. Dancing really means just letting yourself go. There’s a sense of abandon and losing yourself, but in a good way. And that’s kind of what making music means to me – letting go and feeling deeply. And I also felt it was a good name for the EP, because we’re all throwing shapes to a certain degree. We’re living our lives and hopefully dancing while we’re doing it. It’s about taking hold of what we’ve got to give. It’s a journey song, and a movement song, and it really gives you a sense of where I am at in my life and as a songwriter,” Flack explained.
A very real and raw ballad Tread Softly is a heartfelt song of unrequired love, that is still so powerfully emotive for Flack that she speaks softly when talking about it.
“I am saying be careful with my heart. I still love you and you don’t know. It is something that comes across when we never realize how much we might make another person feel, which is beautiful, but can also seem sad on both sides. I look at it in a positive way – the capacity that I might have to make another person feel so deeply is pretty profound,” she said.
At her core as a human being, and as a songwriter, performer and recording artist, Emily Jean Flack lives and breathes music. She is unabashed in declaring it more than her passion or vocation but her reason for being on this earth – and we as listeners are the better for it, because if the songs on the Throwing Shapes EP are any indication, there are many more beautiful, lyrically deep and melodically memorable songs to impact hearts, minds and spirits yet to come.
“I just love music. I mean this genuinely when I say I don’t do it because I want to get something out of it. Yes, its what I grew up with, but I learned very quickly it would be a very hard life if I didn’t have it”.