Emily Wood is a pop/folk artist from Winnipeg, Manitoba that has just released her first EP, entitled Ad Astra. She started playing and writing music relatively recently, but you would never guess that by listening to her album. At the age of 25 years old, she made a list of things that she had to try as a way to do something about her anxiety disorder that had taken over her life. One of the items on her list was to write her own music. So she went out and bought a cheap ukulele and started learning how to play. Soon she was writing her own material and, just a few years later, she is now making a name for herself as a musician and a voice for mental health. She has been very open to talking about how she was able to learn to control her anxiety and use her fears as a form of motivation to accomplish the things that she never thought she could.
Recently, while scrolling through my social networking feeds, her name came up when a mutual friend posted some of her lyrics from the song “Polaris”. They were so moving, I thought I had better check out her music and find out more about her. As I was doing research I realized two things: one is that she is amazingly talented and her music is absolutely brilliant, and second, she is such a compassionate and caring person. When I reached out to Emily, she graciously agreed to talk to us about her music, Ad Astra, and her battle with anxiety.
You just released your first EP as Emily and the Moon, Ad Astra, which is amazing. How has the reception to the album been since releasing it?
Thank you so much, I’m so glad you like the EP! I was REALLY surprised that so many people wanted a copy, and that I found myself signing copies, taking them to radio stations and shops, and shipping some off to other countries… it’s all been very surreal! I launched the video for The Triad and the Harvest Moon, the second single, along with the album, and so many people helped make that happen – I’m so incredibly grateful. People have been incredible and so kind in their response to Ad Astra, and it’s been really cool hearing feedback on what songs ended up being people’s favourites. Some of the tracks I thought might have had less potential seem to be the more popular ones!
Polaris was your first single off of Ad Astra, and is a very beautiful song that talks about life and trying to remember what is most important…or at least that is what I got from it. You had actually posted a blog on your site explaining the lyrics in depth. Do you find that explaining where a song and it’s lyrics come from helps build a closer bond with your fans, or is it more about personal expression for you?
I’d like to say both, but primarily I do it for personal expression. I love storytelling – I’ve always written, whether blogs, short stories, working on novels, or writing songs, so when something like a song is constructed with a story that can only be told in three or four minutes, I like to elaborate a little to explain where it came from. I like hearing what people take away from the songs and if the intended message actually came across – it’s very cool to hear multiple takes on something you wrote one way, but ended up meaning different things to different people.
The second video is for the song “The Triad and the Harvest Moon”, which is a very upbeat folk song that has inquisitive lyrics. The video, itself follows you while you are exploring the woods where you end up playing with a backing band. What is the concept behind the video and how would you say it ties into the song itself?
Triad was the very first song I ever wrote back when I had a tiny little $20 ukulele and knew all of four chords and just wanted to see if I could make something! It’s come a long way since how it first sounded, but I absolutely love what my producer (Dave Swiecicki, who also directed and shot the video) and everyone else involved in the track transformed it into. The concept for this video was Dave’s – a journey through the forest, finding a mysterious old trunk full of trinkets, books, and my baritone uke, and venturing on with a map and compass following the sounds coming from the heart of the forest, where I find the rest of the band. I didn’t plan the storyboard for this one myself, but being part of filming for a couple of months, I look at it now and like to see it almost reflective of my journey to creating music – beginning alone, literally lost in the woods, and hearing the music calling me and making my way there. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years but had been too scared, so I think the video kind of parallels that in a way.
In all honesty, the reasons are probably threefold. One, I feel like I lost a lot of time during my 20s due to not dealing with my anxiety properly. I didn’t know how. I just knew I was sad and scared of everything, and I had all these dreams and loved to create, but it was like my own inner thoughts convinced me they were no good, that nobody would care, or that I’d be judged negatively. So I just didn’t. Once I started dealing with it properly however – seeing therapists, going through CBT anxiety programs, beginning medication – I felt freer, and like I was finally capable of taking those risks in following the dreams I’d had for so long. One reason is definitely making up for lost time. Another is the awareness that our time is a gift, and it is finite. I don’t want to waste it because tomorrow is never guaranteed. I want to create, to document, to inspire, to learn, to grow, and to make things that maybe might be of some good in the world… I want to leave something behind for having been here, and I want those things to be meaningful. Thirdly, I try to always keep busy to honestly – avoid going back to the dark places where I over think, think of worst case scenarios, or convince myself that the things I worry about are real. I don’t know if anxiety will ever be gone fully from my life, and when life gets tough sometimes, some old thought patterns come back, so I try to distract myself from that happening.
And speaking of your past battles, of which you have been amazingly open about, what would you say helped you out the most when it came to overcoming your anxiety?
A mixture of things. Getting to the lowest point you could possibly get to was probably one thing, and realizing the only person with the power to actually change anything wasn’t going to be anyone other than me putting in the work… but also my counselor. I’d seen a few, who weren’t all that helpful, but this one was phenomenal. I instantly felt like we were old friends, I felt understood, cared about, and heard – and because of that I was open to do all the homework, all the rewiring of thoughts, and all the learning – even learning that something I’d previously been afraid of (time alone) could be seen as as a gift to embrace instead of something to fear, really changed a lot for me, and allowed me to see that I had the tools right here to start creating the life I wished I were living.
As mentioned, you have a lot of creative outlets. Which would you say is your favorite outlet to go to when you need a release from stress or anxiety?
Music for sure. Or photo editing. I’ll jot down thoughts and string together sentences and they’ll usually emerge either as a song, or a concept for a photo shoot. Photo editing is great – I do a lot of photography and I’m always trying to get better, and as well as traditional shots, I like to create fantasy type images – it’s something you can get lost in, tell stories with, and make something really special. Although I’ve only done it once so far, I also find I really like co-writing songs – working with someone else to make a whole thing comprised of two different minds is something pretty magical.
Do you think it is important for people to have outlets like music, art, or writing to deal with the everyday struggles in life?
I think if it’s something they’re passionate about then absolutely. Absolutely. But not everyone is going to be artistically inclined, or find merit in lyrics, melodies, art, or beautiful words. Sometimes people like to have different outlets – working out or playing sports, for example. Just because that’s not something that appeals to me personally isn’t to say it doesn’t have the same positive effects for them. I just really like to turn that negative energy into creating something that wasn’t there before. In part as a sort of therapy to get through tough times, but also to record that particular time in life. We’re all stories in the end. It’s good to capture every moment and weave a diverse tale that’s true to life, when it’s good as well as when it’s bad.
You had posted in a blog about two months ago that a contest that you had entered, but did not win, caused some old insecurities to come back. Yet you were able to overcome these feelings and realize that you may have not won that contest, but have succeeded in what you have tried to accomplish. Do you feel that anxiety and insecurities will always be something you will have to deal with in life?
Perhaps, but I also feel it’s a continual journey, and I’m thankful for them because they make me realize how I DON’T want to live – and how I don’t want others to live. I don’t want to think of anyone else crying themselves to sleep at night or thinking nobody would miss them if they were gone. I still have insecurities; we all do. But they can be a fuel, quite simply: Do you like feeling this way? No? Then what are you going to do about it? They can be the catalyst for an action plan to always be committed to becoming more. Becoming better. For you and for everyone around you.
What would you like to say to those out there that may be dealing with similar anxieties?
See my previous answer. And, also, that if ever anyone needs someone to reach out to, to listen, to care… please get in touch.
Can you give us a song or two that we need to add to our playlist featuring songs that are hand picked by those we interview as inspiring to you?
Dry The River – New Ceremony. Lyrics: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/drytheriver/newceremony.html
I think it’s one of the most stirring songs I’ve ever heard (I truly feel breathless after the end of most of this band’s songs!), and I take the lyrics to be almost those of a friend talking to someone in a situation similar to mine when I was in the depths of anxiety. “It’s anybody’s guess how the angel of doubt came down and crept into your bed” – because I didn’t always have self-doubt as a child – “Shine a little light, don’t wrestle with the night, don’t think about the future now” seems a half chorus to come from one person, while the second half “I know it’s gotta stop love, but I don’t know how” seems to come from the other, even if sung by the same voice. It’s almost like the rational brain conversing with the irrationalities of anxiety and insecurity, and it’s a brilliant piece of music. I could list MANY, but that’ll be my suggestion for today!
Thank you so much for having me.
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Never give up, never give in. You are needed, you are important.