Emily Warren on Writing For Little Mix, Melanie Martinez: ‘As Long as It’s an Honest Expression, It Will Fit’
Emily Warren won a Grammy before she even released her debut song. The award, of course, was for her songwriting work on The Chainsmokers' chart-topping smash "Don't Let Me Down," which took home a gramophone award at the 2017 Grammy Awards in February.
While her name might not be well-known (yet) among the greater listening public, Warren is a superstar amid the music industry, having penned hits for Noah Cyrus, Alessia Cara, Dua Lipa, Shawn Mendes, Jessie J, Little Mix, Melanie Martinez... and the list goes on. At only 24 years old, the singer-songwriter has stacked up nearly two billion streams, as well as a guest stint performing on Saturday Night Live alongside The Chainsmokers—and with her own blossoming artist career on the horizon, her trajectory shows no sign of receding.
Citing Ella Fitzgerald, Regina Spektor and John Mayer as just a handful of her personal influences, Warren makes her solo artist debut on "Hurt By You", a smokey mid-tempo ballad fusing Motown soul, R&B and alt-pop to create a wholly cathartic, emotional anthem for the broken-hearted. Released on May 5, the song quickly landed on both the U.S. Viral and Global Viral charts on Spotify, signalling Warren's rising star.
In celebration of her new single, we spoke with the emergent pop artist about penning tunes for some of music's biggest names, transforming pain into art and why sometimes it can be therapeutic to give into her "emo" side.
"Hurt By You" is so relatable. Do you think it's important to release bad relationship baggage before starting a new relationship? Or is that emotional baggage just something we have to learn to live with?
I'm so happy to hear that you found it relatable! That's the best. I don't know if it's possible to fully let go of bad relationship baggage when you start a new relationship, but I think it's those experiences that shape you and help you make better, more informed decisions moving forward. I do think that if you can find a way to use your past to help you, rather than to hold you back, you've hit the jackpot. People are all different—just because one person does something to you doesn't mean that everyone else will do the same.
Do you think pain is unavoidable when it comes to love?
I think relationships should, for the most part, have a positive effect on your life, but the possibility of pain is definitely unavoidable. Falling in love with someone means opening yourself up to them, and doing that makes you extremely vulnerable. The more vulnerable you are, the easier it is to get hurt. But finding someone you trust and being vulnerable in front of them is a beautiful thing, and a great feeling to experience in life.
"Hurt By You" has a little bit of a Motown vibe, and I can hear just a pinch of Amy Winehouse, too. When you were sitting down to craft how you wanted this to sound, what were some musical references you pulled from?
That's an amazing compliment, thank you! I try not to get too specific or give any kind of brief when I sit down to work. I chose people who I click with creatively and personally, and try to encourage everyone to do their thing. The only reference I did give was that I wanted it to have lots of organic instruments and old school hip hop drums and so we listened to some Sam Cooke and Ella Fitzgerald for the instrumentation and Lauryn Hill for the drums.
Making your artist debut (outside of being a superstar songwriter), what's the most nerve-wracking thing about stepping out solo?
Honestly, I made a point of waiting to put any of my own music out until I knew exactly what I wanted it to be, so the whole thing feels like more fun than it is nerve-wracking. I am really proud, personally, of the music and if other people dig it too, that's a bonus!
Is it difficult to decide which songs you should keep or give to other artists? Is there a song you've written that you wish you'd kept for yourself?
If I am in the room writing with an artist we are 100% writing their story, so I don't really ever get personally attached to those ones. There have been a handful of songs I originally wrote for pitch that were about my own personal story and experiences, so we ended up holding on to those and I will put those out on my album as well!
When you're writing for another artist, what are some things you take into consideration to make the track "fit" for them?
I think part of what makes it possible for me to write with artists across different genres is that the way I like to write is by having a long, in-depth conversation about whatever that particular artist is going through, and turning their story into a song. I never really come in with a concept in mind or an agenda, so the song will always be personal and unique to them and their story. As long as it's honest and an expression of them, it will "fit," in my opinion.
"Soap" by Melanie Martinez is actually one of my favorite songs ever. (And lyrically, I relate to it so much!) Can you share the story behind that track and working with Melanie?
Ah, thank you so much! That was a fun one. Melanie is an absolute pleasure to work with and a good friend of mine. She's got such a clear vision and is so intentional with everything she creates that it makes working with her a really fun and exciting process. Melanie was having some problems with a boy at the time, debating whether or not to tell him that she had feelings for him, and playing out the consequences of rejection. We came up with the idea of washing your mouth out with soap as a metaphor that also fit within the theme of her album. Then with the bubble drop... we just couldn't resist.
I also really love Little Mix's "No More Sad Songs." It's really cathartic! How did that collaboration come about? And what are some of your favorite actual "sad songs"?
Thank you! I actually LOVE sad songs. "Jealous" by Labrinth, "The End of the World" by Skeeter Davis, "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Bonnie Raitt... Heartbreak is the saddest thing in the world and it's therapeutic sometimes to be Emo-ly Warren and write the saddest song I can write. But I actually went to the Van Gogh museum when I was in Amsterdam last summer and read about how Van Gogh was painting his most vibrant and cheery paintings when he was in his lowest state of depression and had checked himself into a mental institute. He said that he did this not because it was an expression of how he felt, but rather he was painting something that would comfort him and make him feel better. It really got me thinking about how that can apply to songs, and at some point I wrote down in my notes, "no more sad songs." I brought it to a session with my homies The Electric and Tash Phillips, and we turned it into a song!
What's next for you?
I'm on tour with The Chainsmokers until mid-June, and then I'll be putting out a couple more singles and then an album!
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