Preparation, practice, and planning has this budding artist on the fast-track to stardom
I’ve known Emily and her family for many years now. I can recall sitting down to dinner with them about five or six years ago wondering who would be next in this incredibly talented family to make their next move in the industry. It came as no surprise that in the background, Emily was growing her love of music as a singer-songwriter.
Emily grew up in Knoxville, but, she tells me, it wasn’t until she entered high school at Webb where she began to understand who she was. “That’s kind of where I first developed my identity among my peers as the singer or musical one in the class, the creative one,” she says. And it’s not surprising why. With an entertainer as a father—the legendary producer Travis Wyrick—music was ingrained into her life. “As little kids, there were these bands that would come in, track for three-to-four weeks or a whole month, so they were kind of like family at the time,” she says. “To me, they were the coolest people…We always took them in as a family when they were recording.”
It seems though that her excitement was about more than simply the glamour of the music. These people represented something different for Emily, and she had them at her fingertips in her formative years. “I always looked up to them because I thought it was so cool the way that they express their individuality,” she says. “That was good for me at a young age to see.”
It came to life when Emily prepared for her first talent show in first-grade. The song choice? Kelly Clarkson’s “Because of You.” “I remember saying, ‘This is my huge break!’ This talent show and getting to be on stage.” So she worked extra hard to prepare, and who was there to help guide her but Travis—and Rob Beckley from the band Pillar, one of the bands Travis had in the studio all the time. “Rob was helping me with the dramatics, like what to do with stage presence,” Emily recounts.
“I just remember being in my room with my dad and Rob trying to coach me and talk me out of my nerves…That process while it seemed like the biggest thing at the time—and it probably to everyone else wasn’t—it was for me because I fell in love with that whole process of preparing, collaborating with other creatives, taking advice from people, going through all the nervousness before, kind of blacking out during, and then afterwards just feeling proud of yourself. I guess that was for me my big break—recognizing what I love to do most.”
There is nothing quite like the feeling of being on stage, and even at a young age, Emily could feel its power for her. “I wouldn’t have known the word back then, but it’s extremely vulnerable, and I think the vulnerability is a window for all the other things that make you feel,” she says. “It creates a platform for bonding with others, for human connection.”
Fast forward a few years and Emily found herself in the studio with her dad asking to record some songs she knew. But it felt different, she says. “That’s when he started taking it more seriously with me because maybe he heard potential in my voice, and my voice had matured and I gained control at that point.”
Travis has been a big part of Emily’s development as a musician. Also musically inclined, Travis worked his way up to the level of producer he is today. And it opened doors for Emily to see inside the music. “I do remember my first house when I was little. He had a little studio built in the basement. I don’t know what it took him to get to that point because by the time I was able to process it, I was like, my dad is a successful music producer. That’s what he is and what I’ve always known him to be.”
She recalls him bringing her with him to the Dove Awards—the Gospel Music Association’s annual award show—and sitting next to Billy Ray Cyrus and Miley Cyrus. “I thought, wow that’s her dad, and this is my dad,” she says. Not long after, the successful Hannah Montana show that launched Miley’s career aired for the first time. “I felt like it was within reach at that point for me because I had met her and to me she was just like another girl I’d met at school but then she turned around and became who she is now. I said, that’s what I want to do. How do I get to do that?”
This foreshadowed what was to come for Emily, but first she needed to try her hand at sports. Basketball became her number one focus through high school. “I think I liked that I was good at something and the routine because you know, with music there’s really no routine. It’s not always clear.” No truer words could be spoken.
Watching her brothers—Blake and Charlie—influenced this love of sports. “That was our way of bonding as a family,” she says. “Basketball and sports kind of became our weekends.” All three of them played basketball, soccer and baseball—yes, even Emily played baseball. “People when I used to play would say, ‘Oh, but softball, right?’ And I’d say, ‘No. I play baseball.’ I was the only girl on the team.”
Emily realizes during our interview that there must have been some similarity to why she loved sports. “Now that I’m thinking about it, you prepare, you practice, you plan, you anticipate and then you get those nerves right before and people come to watch, and then you got to perform. And then afterwards you win or you lose, and you’re either proud of yourself or you find a way to improve for the next time. Then you’re hungry for the next game,” she says. “It’s a little bit of the same system.”
Music always remained in the back of her mind though. She had one foot in the court and the other in the studio. Well before she even began with sports, she took piano lessons with a neighborhood piano teacher, which she continued for a year until the teacher moved away. “I never took lessons again after that, but I’m super thankful for that because it helped teach me the basics of the chords, and from there I just discovered my own way around the piano.”
Emily began creating her own short piano compositions and eventually memorized a compilation of “all the little excerpts of piano songs that I’d written over the years, compiled into a three-minute” song. And she started writing her own lyrics, too, as an outlet for her feelings. “I think at that point it was a way of avoiding direct vulnerability, but at this point it is the most vulnerable thing because my songs, the lyrics, are pretty personal and pretty emotionally deep. It’s like basically sharing my diary with everyone,” she says.
“When I perform my original music, it’s the most vulnerable thing. But it’s also the most rewarding thing, after the fact when people can relate or when people can heal,” Emily says. “It makes the fear behind vulnerability smaller and more within reach.”
Emily credits so much of her success and growth to her family’s support—Travis, her brothers, and of course, her mom, Betsy, there for the “breakdowns or self-doubt conversations,” she says. “She helps me stay grounded to who I am and what I know and not get caught up in a lot of things that don’t matter.”
All of this support played the exact role it needed to for Emily, and she notes that it never went unnoticed how critical that was to her journey as an artist. “I’m thankful that my parents let me choose what I’m passionate about and nurtured that over the years, never forcing it on me. They never told me I couldn’t do it,” she says, adding later, “They just let me be me.”
Instead of feeling pressure from her supportive family, Emily says she finds encouragement and focus. Singing the national anthem at Thompson-Boling Arena last year, she felt a stronger connection to her dad. “I was back in the little downstairs basement area warming up and my dad said, ‘You know, this is really cool to watch you perform in Thompson-Boling Arena, somewhere that I’ve played before.’ I’m really thankful he said that because it helps me think well, what else has he done and why can’t I do it, too? I mean, they’re very different. He was opening for Bon Jovi at Thompson-Boling Arena, and I was singing the National Anthem, but still, I can say my dad and I both performed at Thompson-Boling arena. Who gets to say that, you know? Maybe other than Billy Ray and Miley.”
You can tell listening to Emily that there was something about this performance that was special for her. It seemed to solidify her decision to pursue music full time as a career. She pursued the business administration program at Auburn University earning her Bachelor’s degree. It wasn’t until after she graduated that she agreed to perform the National Anthem—a question she had been asked multiple times over the years during college. “It was so empowering just saying yes to doing that,” she says. “For the first time, I started thinking long term of my life, as I was looking into a job within my degree, and it always felt kind of sad, like I was settling.”
But that day at the arena reignited her spark. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine had just begun and there was a patriotic feeling as she stood there singing. “People were like, ‘I teared up,’ or ‘I got chills,’ and I don’t think it was because of my voice alone, but because of the magic of music and how a song can make people feel that way,” Emily recalls. “I thought, I’ve got to be the outlet for that.”
Emily admits she is a spiritual person, and there was something bigger than herself at play here, she thought. “I was thinking, God, this is where you’re shining your light, and as long as this is what you want for me, if you keep shining this light down this road, I’m gonna take it,” she says. “That was when I decided that if he’s on my team, let’s see where this goes.”
We all know where it went. Since last year, Emily’s presence as a musician in our community has increased tenfold. She has played at venues across the region—small shops, private events, more well-known venues too, all growing her voice and place as a singer-songwriter.
I can speak from experience that being a musician is a grind, just like any other gig. There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes and as Emily says, “There’s no clear syllabus to follow.” But for musicians, the grind is worth it.
And one other thing to note? Relationships. Emily says this past year has taught her just how important those are, and that came to fruition this very year when she found herself in a studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, recording where some of the greatest artists have recorded—Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Leonard Skinner, Rolling Stones. Inspired by some younger local artists who had played there with the help of John Macready —“Demographic doesn’t really matter when it comes to who inspires you,” Emily says—an opportunity opened for her to play there. It was eye opening.
“It was like a spiritual, musical awakening,” she gushes. “It really sparked my whole admiration for music.” Joining her that day were seasoned musicians—session musician and songwriter Spooner Oldham, familiar faces Julius Blue and Vince Ilagan, and David Hood, the base player for so many Muscle Shoals sessions.
“There were two different feelings I had. In one sense, I was like, ‘Who am I to go to Muscle Shoals and have the Swampers play on my songs? I’m not good enough. These songs aren’t complex enough.’ And that was kind of where my mom has come in to help me change my mindset, saying, ‘Okay, you could think like that. Or you could just let the day be and then at the end of the day, be like, ‘Wow, I’m proud of myself.’”
You can guess which Emily chose. “In that moment, I looked around and was so thankful and proud and full of love in my whole body for this moment right now,” she recalls feeling.
Up next for Emily? She continues writing original music, getting ready to release her album, and performing as often as she can across East Tennessee. “The more I say yes, the more I feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose or getting closer to what I love to do most—and that’s perform and connect to people.”
Follow her journey by visiting emilywyrick.com.