This interview took place prior to the release of Emily Henry’s “How It Feels.” You can listen to it here.
Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Emily Henry. Together we discussed their love of reading, their Twitch channel, their newest single “How It Feels”, and so much more!
1. Mustard is grateful to have you join them at Music Shelf. How are you doing today?
Thank you so much for having me! I’m doing great, working on lots of music stuff – “good busy”, as they say!
2. Growing up you loved reading, fantasy, and storytelling. What were some of your favorite books growing up?
Oh boy, there were so many books. Just like a wild number of books. I loved the novels of Anne McCaffrey, who wrote a lot about dragons and also music, which as a fantastical child who loved to sing I really vibed with. I also adored Wendy & Richard Pini’s Elfquest graphic novel series, a magical epic about different tribes of elves. Both authors wrote in my favorite subgenre, space fantasy. I also loved the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman and the Abhorsen seriesby Garth Nix.
3. As a kid what did your ideal fantasy world look like? As an adult now, would you still like to visit this world?
If there was magic, cool forests, and maybe a palace, I was absolutely into it as a kid. The fictional world I probably spent the most time in was the world of Two Moons from Elfquest, which has all three things!The graphic novel covers a wide range of Two Moons history, so I’d probably pick a time period a few hundred years after we’re introduced to the main characters, at which time humans seem to have recently figured out how fire works. Many years later, when they start building beautiful castles in the middle of the forests and living in harmony with the magical elves, I would love to visit.
4. You performed throughout your high school and college tenure. Would you say theatre helped prepare you for your career as a musician?
Definitely! I think doing live theatre makes you more comfortable with mistakes and with making the best of the unexpected. Being able to stay in the right headspace and throw your emotions to the back of the room whether or not you just hit the right guitar chord is such a valuable skill!
5. Is there a song or album that had a significant impact on you growing up?
I love Patty Griffin and I’ve spent so much time listening to her album Flaming Red. It was the first album I listened to that made me realize artists could do different things – in her case, she’s known for her folk and gospel, but Flaming Red is a more folk-rock album. It unlocked that possibility for myself as a writer, which I’ll always be grateful for.
6. Who (or what) influences you?
It’s maybe no surprise that Patty Griffin is a huge influence on my songwriting! I’m also just in general very inspired by creators who stay in touch with their vulnerability and their softness, which I think is not only more relatable than an elaborate persona, but also more valuable in that that’s how you make real human connections. I love the writings of Tara Brach and Brene Brown on this topic.
7. In 2020 you joined Twitch and have since created a supportive online community. For those who have not seen a livestream of yours, how would you describe it?
I like to describe music livestreams on Twitch as less like a formal concert where you sit in your seat and listen, and more like a giant living room hang where somebody (me) is holding a guitar. My viewers request songs and I play them, but in between songs we also chat about movies and books, pets, whether or not everybody’s had enough water today, and all the various indescribable inside jokes that a group of friends hanging out together create. It’s lively, silly, and sweet. The community we’ve cultivated on my channel cares a lot about mutual support, kindness, and of course supporting independent music! It’s the best place in the world, in my opinion, and an incredibly welcoming place for curious newcomers to drop by, hint hint.
8. You go live on Twitch Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Can anyone join? Do you have a name for your community?
Watching the stream is always free, and anyone is welcome! The name for our community is – and I swear I did not come up with this on my own – Emily’s Armily!
9. 2016 saw the release of your debut EP “Matchsticks” which excavates emotions found within stories. Could you share more about the process of putting this EP together?
“Matchsticks” came together really organically. My dear friend Andrew Gaddy offered to produce it in his home studio, and both his background in indie pop and my longtime love of folk music influenced the songs I chose for the album. I wanted a moody folk-pop feeling that would speak to both of our instincts, something we could really get creative with. It was my first time recording a top-to-bottom album and I was so nervous. Andrew used to break the tension by singing his own renditions of the songs where he had changed all the lyrics to “meow meow”. In case you need tips on how to feel more comfortable in the studio, that one really helps.
10. If you could light anything with a matchstick, what would it be? What is the significance of what you light?
Ooh, I love this question! If I could light anything with a matchstick, it would be my inner self. I think a lot about the long-term human project of getting to know ourselves, and how hard and delicate that process is. I’m happy to feel my way around in the dark, so to speak, via meditation and therapy and all the usual and very powerfully effective ways we come to understand ourselves – but wouldn’t it be lovely to light it up and meet ourselves all at once, bright as day?
11. Five years later you followed up “Matchsticks” with “The New World” which explores what it means to be human. How would you describe the human experience?
Oh boy! This is one of those questions that makes me feel like I should have chosen a different major in college. From my utterly unqualified position of “just some person wandering around Earth, same as you”, I would say the human experience is feeling every emotion that humans have always felt, and always feeling like you are the first and only human to feel it. The level-up is connecting over that shared experience.
12. How would you define human nature?
AHHHH. Give me a few years to study up!!! I think the idea of human nature is often used as a “gotcha” with a heavy overtone of inertia, like, “Well, those people did terrible things, but isn’t that just human nature?” As though to identify something as human nature is to identify it as unchangeable. And I do think human nature contains terrible things, but I think it contains beautiful things too, and I think not only is it not unchangeable but it contains infinite possibility.
13. Your upcoming single “How It Feels” was inspired by HBO Max’s “Our Flag Means Death.” Could you share more about what this program means to you?
Okay, whew, I will not alienate any philosophers with this one, probably. I write a lot of songs inspired by the books I read and the movies and shows I watch, but “How It Feels” was probably the fastest turnaround I’ve ever had from watching a show to exiting the recording studio with a finished song in my hands. “Our Flag Means Death” is funny and well-written and has a great soundtrack, but I think the reason it resonated with me and others so strongly is its extremely refreshing approach to diversity, and its wonderful central romance. I can’t remember the last time I saw a show with so many different kinds of diversity included with so little fanfare. None of it is shoehorned in. It’s diverse the way real life is diverse, meaning it just is. And the romance between the main characters absolutely swept me off my feet and had me screaming into a pillow. And the entire thing is a workplace comedy about semi-historical pirates! What a show!
14. What can fans expect from “How It Feels?”
I hope that listeners feel optimistic and bubbly when they hear “How It Feels” – the same way I felt about the romance in “Our Flag Means Death”! The song was written from a place of pure joy and I wanted the recording to reflect that. It’s a pop-rock confection and I hope it makes you dance around!
15. What is next for Emily Henry?
I’ll keep writing songs about TV shows I love, I’ll tell you that much for free! In between fresh new songs I would like to do more touring, learn more about production, and of course keep streaming three times a week on Twitch.tv while I do it.
16. Where can readers listen to your music?
“How It Feels” and my albums are available on all streaming platforms, and physical copies of my albums as well as vinyl and merch can be found at my website.