Songwriting from the Soul

14 min read
Hailing from the Golden Heart City and currently based out of LA, Emily Anderson is coming home and bringing her wide stylistic palette, trunk full of instruments, and music friends with her. While some may be more familiar with her piano ballads and folk tunes, her 2022 album, Salt & Water, saw her venturing into a bold new sonic landscape with lush pop-rock songs that could buoy a downtrodden heart and comfortably snuggle into a Top 40 playlist.

Phil Hokenson: First off, I just want to say I really enjoyed your last album, Salt & Water.

Emily Anderson: Thank you so much!

PH: I’ve been listening to it a lot in the last week, so my 3-year-old has been singing “Toxic Positivity” around the house the past couple days. I thought that was pretty cool; you’ve got enough of an earworm that a 3-year-old got hooked on it pretty quick!

EA: Amazing! Well, it does have some 3-year-old energy in it…

PH: [laughing] As someone born and raised in and still heavily connected to Fairbanks, a modestly sized city surrounded by Alaska wilderness, how has it been living in LA?

EA: It’s been very different. I really like it here more than I expected to, to be perfectly honest, but a big reason is because I have been able to stay so connected with my hometown and with Alaska, which means so much to me. I feel like the things that I’m building here can even further help supplement and support the music scene that’s happening in Alaska, which has always been my dream, so it’s really fun to see those worlds colliding more and more. When I was going to school in Boston—going to school for music—I just had this dream of all of my music friends being able to come to Alaska and we would put on some sort of festival or have just a bunch of shows. It’s my dream to share my home state, that I love so much, with the people that I love, and to be able to do that and still live here and be fostering the connections here just means a lot to me.

PH: That is exciting! And to be bringing back other great musicians is very cool. Many great Alaska musicians do leave the state to pursue opportunities, which seems like it would be both exciting and daunting. You’ve already had a number of successes with your latest album and some of the soundtrack work you’ve done, but is it also a challenging environment to be in with all these musicians coming to this one place to make it?

EA: Yes. It is really challenging and can be very overwhelming, I would say. Being a self-employed person in general is overwhelming and being self-employed in music, where there are so many things that are out of your control that you have to be constantly adjusting and planning for, is a lot no matter where you live. But LA is also very busy and there’s lots of people, there’s lots of energy, so for collaborating and for recording and just meeting people when you’re going to a show, it’s great. It definitely has its pros and cons because no place is perfect and there are always going to be pros and cons no matter where you live, but I feel really lucky to be here. I feel like LA is a difficult place to be in very different ways to Alaska but equally; very different challenges, but both present their own challenges.

PH: I think that makes a lot of sense. Despite you being so far away, it’s really cool that you maintain the connection to Fairbanks and have supported neat things up here like the Summer Arts Festival. Do you have any further Alaska plans for this year?

EA: Yes, I’m going to be coming up and teaching from the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival in July and I’m really excited about that. Two of the other faculty are friends from LA and so that’s been really exciting to be able to bring them back and one of them is a friend from music school, so again my dreams of bringing everyone to Alaska are coming true. [laughs] So I’m very excited to be part of that. I love Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival and I think that mission is really special to me. They do a lot more for the community, so I’m happy to be a part of that.

PH: Very cool! One of the things I really like about your music is how sincerely and directly you take on emotions from grief to pure joy. It makes your music really relatable. Is giving voice to those kinds of universal feelings something that you’ve sought to do in your songwriting?

EA: I think it’s something that I have to do because songwriting originates from a place of having to work through my own emotions and there’s really no other way that I could do that effectively and authentically and still be myself. Songwriting is so much of a tool for my own reflection and self-work and I just feel really lucky and grateful that it can resonate with other people.

PH: Your music had leaned more towards piano ballad and folk arrangements previously, but your last album had some big bold pop rock tracks. What brought you to that sonic territory?

EA: I was really inspired by my friends. I’m really inspired by my friend Sarah Tudzin of the illuminati hotties and my friend Chuck Moore of Cartalk. I was just really enthralled and delighted by the music that they were making and I still take so much inspiration from my friends and the people that I get to collaborate with and cowrite with, so a lot of that was just like ‘I feel like it would be really fun to work with this person’ or ‘I think it would be really fun if this metal band I’m friends with was the band on some of the tracks on the album.’

PH: [laughs] That’s cool.

EA: So yeah, Howling Giant, my friends from Nashville, that actually were just sleeping on our floor last week, played on “Faker” and “Sunshine”. We did those sessions over Zoom which is crazy and amazing. My friend Kim is a sound engineer and so she was able to have us do a live recording session over Zoom and it was awesome. A lot of it is just natural friend connections and collaborating with people I really respect and am excited about what they’re making.

PH: That is amazing. There’s no problem with latency or anything like that when you’re miles away?

EA: It didn’t really matter because they were all together, so latency didn’t really matter because they weren’t experiencing latency and, despite what we were experiencing, it still sounded in time.

PH: You mentioned Sarah Tudzin and I noticed you’ve been working with her for a while. How has that been? What kind of impact has that had on your music?

EA: I just love her brain. I think she’s so creative and authentic and has great ideas and she is always taking something and elevating it to a level that I would never come up with by myself. That’s what collaboration should be—it should be like you’re both elevating the other person and, ultimately, the end product, the art. Also, I’ve known Sarah since we were from 20, so it’s been really exciting and amazing to see where her career has taken her and she just deserves all the success in the world because I just think the world of her and she is so talented and so hard-working and so consistent. She’s just the best, so I feel really lucky to, first of all, just know her and to be her friend first and foremost, and then to get to work with her creatively is just such a treat.

PH: That’s awesome. Also, it’s very cool that you’re coming up here with Alex Lahey. How did that plan come about?

EA: It came about about over brunch. We were both celebrating the wedding of a mutual friend – of Sarah actually. There was a pre-wedding brunch but we were both hanging out and chatting and it was so funny because just like the day prior to that Kevin Worrell the organizer of “Parlor in the Round” had asked me ‘is there anyone in LA that you could think who would want to come up for a “Parlor in the Round” may next year?’ and I was like ‘yeah, I’ll definitely think about that. It would be really fun. I’ll get back to you.’ And then Alex and I were just chatting and talking about Alaska and I was talking about how much I love Alaska, per the usual. And she was like ‘yeah, I would love to go. I’ve always wanted to go to Alaska.’ So I asked her, ‘would you want to play a show there?’ And she said of course she would, so I didn’t promise anything, but I told her I might be able to help make that happen… so then a bunch of stars aligned and now it’s happening and I can’t believe it.

PH: It is awesome. Alex also mentioned “Parlor in the Round” and I wasn’t familiar, but assumed it was an Anchorage thing.

EA: “Parlor in the Round” is an Anchorage songwriting series and they’ve had so many amazing artists for their concert series. They’ve had Joan Osborne, Peter Mulvey, Matt the Electrician, Alaska heavy hitters like Medium Build, Quinn Christofferson, Emma Hill. It’s a really amazing concert series that has been growing and they started taking it on tour—they just did one in Seattle, which is really cool. They record it and have a podcast. It’s been really cool to see that grow. That’s the reason we were able to get Alex Lahey up to Fairbanks and she had one more date available, so I said, hey, we’re gonna do two Fairbanks shows. One is going to be a “Parlor in the Round” show… we’re playing “Parlor in the Round” in Anchorage, Talkeetna, and then ending in Fairbanks, so the first [Fairbanks] show is going to be Saturday [April 20] at the Palace Theater and that’s going to feature Sara DeTemple, who is a Fairbanks fiddle player/songwriter extraordinaire. She plays with Blackwater Railroad and has her own band, Fireweed Fiddle. She’s just incredible. I’m so excited. “Parlor in the Round” is an in the round style show for the first half and it has some fun, cool twists and turns, where we cover another one of the artist’s songs and then you get to hear the original of that cover, which is really cool and fun. And then the 2nd half is fueled by the audience’s suggestions, so the audience will come in and write ideas or song prompts on little cards and then they submit the cards to Kevin, the host, and then Kevin will distribute those cards to the performers and they will make up a song on the spot. There’s also a portion of the intermission in which all the songwriters will write the song based on as many cards as they can and then that’s the finale. It’s a lot of fun, it’s a lot of hilarity and chaos, so that’s going to be the Parlor show and for the Pub show, we’re going to be able to play some more music, so that’s going to be with some members of my band and Alex Lahey is doing a set and she’s going to blow our socks off.

PH: OK, that’s awesome. Thank you for that explanation. I had no idea what that was! You’ve had some really great collaborative songs with another awesome Fairbanks artist, Joshua LaBuda, and his band, Once & Future. How did that come about and do you foresee any other collaborations with him?

EA: Absolutely, yeah, I love making music with Josh. He’s actually going to be playing on the Pub show with me… He’s playing guitar and singing with me, so that’s going to be really fun. I don’t remember how exactly it started. I’ve always really liked Joshua’s music and songwriting and I don’t even remember. This is a bad answer. Sorry, Phil. He started playing in my band and then I recorded some background vocal from afar. It was in that closet over there. [points behind her] And we’ve done some videos together. I love collaborating with him, so we’ll definitely do some things in the future.

PH: So there’s many great artists here and throughout Alaska. I always think it’s really neat how Fairbanks, an area with only about give or take 100,000 people really I think punches above its weight culturally and musically. What’s one thing that you wish more people knew about your hometown?

EA: I wish they knew that. I wish they knew that Fairbanks has so much talent, there’s so much creativity, the audiences in Fairbanks are just grade A, incredible listening audiences. There’s a respect for live music in Fairbanks that I think is really special and really unique. There’s also a resurgence that’s happening in the Alaska—and specifically the Fairbanks—music scene too, especially all ages spaces. Like Bad Mother is hosting some really awesome shows and there are some young bands coming out now that are emerging from the pandemic. That was such a hard time to be a teenager, a hard time to be collaborating and making music and it’s just so exciting that young people—and people of all ages—are making art and collaborating. I just think Fairbanks is such a hidden gem for that reason. And that’s why I want everyone to come here!

PH: Agreed. Thank you for doing that work and getting people up here and thank you for the music that you make.

EA: It’s my dream.

PH: Looking forward to the shows!

EA: I’m excited because they’re going to be really different shows, so if you come to both of them you’re going to hear different songs, it’s going to be a totally different experience.

Picture of Phil Hokenson

Phil Hokenson

Phil has loved the music of Fairbanks since the Army brought him here in 2007. He co-hosted a show on KSUA 91.5 FM called "Atlas Rocked" with his brother, Nate, that won a national Radio Star award for best music show in the spring of 2013, and has written about rock music for KSUA's blog, the UAF SunStar,, and in New York's Hudson Valley.

Picture of Phil Hokenson

Phil Hokenson

Phil has loved the music of Fairbanks since the Army brought him here in 2007. He co-hosted a show on KSUA 91.5 FM called "Atlas Rocked" with his brother, Nate, that won a national Radio Star award for best music show in the spring of 2013, and has written about rock music for KSUA's blog, the UAF SunStar,, and in New York's Hudson Valley.