STORY WRITTEN BY JOE SZCZECHOWSKI
For Digital First Media
By most measures, Athens, Georgia-based singer-songwriter Emily Hearn would be considered a successful indie artist. She has released two EPs and two full-length albums, including her latest, the critically acclaimed “Hourglass.” She tours nationwide performing her music with her husband and bandmate Michael Harrison. Her songs have been featured in dozens of television shows, including “Switched At Birth” and “Jane The Virgin.” And her very first music video featured comedian Bill Murray.
However, the just turned 25-year-old Hearn admits, “It wasn’t a predictable road to get to where I am today.”
Hearn opens for Tyrone Wells this Saturday, May 2 at Philadelphia’s World Café Live. Dominic Balli also performs. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $14 – $16 and are available at Ticketfly.com.
While music was always a part of her life, Hearn says she didn’t seriously consider a career in music until she was in college.
“I took piano lessons in middle school,” Hearn said in a recent interview. “I wasn’t very good at reading music, but I figured out that I was pretty good playing by ear. I ended up quitting piano lessons and started teaching myself pop songs from the radio on the piano. When I was a senior in high school I taught myself how to play guitar, and that’s when I started writing songs.”
Hearn went to college at the University of Georgia in Athens. “I went to college thinking that I wanted to be in journalism,” she says. “I’ve always loved to write stories, and I always wanted to write a book.”
A painful romantic breakup inspired Hearn to add music to her writing.
“I needed to vent and get it all out,” Hearn says. “I started writing heart break songs, but then I fell in love with writing all different types of songs.”
Hearn says she was coerced into her first public performance at an end-of-the-semester blowout party for a few hundred friends. Shortly thereafter she began playing small venues in Athens before broadening out to other clubs and colleges in the region.
Hearn made her recording debut in 2010 with the independently released “Paper Heart” EP. A year later she released her first full-length album, “Red Balloon.” Hearn says she’s comfortable being an independent artist.
“I’ve never pursued a label per se, but I definitely had my eye on this manager named Josh Terry that I had met,” she says. “When I released ‘Paper Heart,’ he came out to my show, and we kept in touch after that. When I was finishing my album ‘Red Balloon,’ we started working together and I’ve been working with him for the past two-and-a-half years. I’ve found that being an independent artist and having an awesome manager is better for me than being signed to a label.”
Her independent status hasn’t stopped Hearn from making a major label splash in other aspects of her career. Her very first music video (for the song “Rooftop”) featured an extended cameo by comedian Bill Murray.
“Bill Murray lives in Charleston, South Carolina,” Hearn explains. “My aunt lives in Mount Pleasant, which is just outside Charleston. I’ve visited her my whole life. I love Charleston. It’s one of my favorite places.
“One of the first people who ever believed in me and was willing to take a chance on my music is a guy named Mark Bryan, who played guitar for Hootie & the Blowfish and who also lives in Charleston. He helped me get hooked up with this company that was accepting submissions to win a free music video. He helped me submit my song, and it was picked. All I knew is I was going down to Charleston and we were going to record a music video. Mark happens to be friends with Bill Murray and he let him know that we were going to be shooting the video and invited him to stop by. They left my CD on a dog house that was on his front porch and they got a text back from him that said, “Woof-woof.”
Murray not only showed up for the shoot, he ended up playing a significant role in the video.
Hearn’s new album, “Hourglass,” which was released in March marks several firsts for the young artist. Filled with songs that examine the passage of time with a wisdom beyond Hearn’s years, it’s the young songwriter’s first themed album. It’s also the first collection on which Hearn worked with other artists as co-writers. One of those artists is Michael Harrison, her husband of two-and-a-half years.
Hearn says that she and Harrison hit it off both romantically and artistically right from the start. “We got set up on a blind date on Valentine’s Day,” she says. “I knew that he was in a band and he knew that I played my own music. On our first date we really hit it off and there was no music involved. But on our second sort of date I met his whole band and his producer, and all of his friends and family – and we ended up playing some music together and kind of clicked from the beginning. He’s a better musician than I am. He teaches me a lot of stuff.”
Some might question the dynamics of working and traveling full-time with one’s significant other, Hearn says that the arrangement works perfectly for her and Harrison.
“Luckily we’re both the type of people who love spending a lot of time together,” she says. “We actually love that we get to tour together and see the whole country and play our songs. For us that’s the fun part. Working together has always been very natural because I’m very creative and for the longest time I forced myself into that administrative role of the business, but it was never natural for me. That’s kind of his tendency. He’s very focused and organized and really good at managing our whole business.”
Ironically, Harrison never considered himself a songwriter before working with his wife.
“In his old band, Michael didn’t write or sing at all,” Hearn says. “For the longest time he resisted writing, but on this album I feel that the songs are so much better because he decided to start writing. His ideas mixed with my ideas are something that I like so much more than I liked my songs before.”
Hearn’s sound might best be described as country-flavored indie-pop – think Christina Perri or early Taylor Swift. On “Hourglass” the songs range from bright tunes about falling in love to more serious subjects dealing with the passage of time.
“I was able to dig a little deeper and write about some different, and I think, important subjects,” Hearn says. “These songs vary from the giddiest, most exciting love, to the heaviest, most heart-wrenching life moments. It signifies seeing time pass and not being able to stop it. Some of the things that happen as a result are incredible, and other things are devastating. But it’s all part of growing up.”