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It's In The Details 

Tackling trauma through song with Emily Scott Robinson

There's a certain power in the softness of "Traveling Mercies," the latest album from country-folk artist Emily Scott Robinson. Her voice is elegant, telling a variety of vivid stories as we weave between the 12 tracks. It's a playback of mini movies Robinson has either experienced or been inspired by on her journey through life.

Emily Scott Robinson performs a house concert Saturday as part of the Songwriter Series. - SUBMITTED
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  • Emily Scott Robinson performs a house concert Saturday as part of the Songwriter Series.

While traveling for her tour the weekend after her album released, Robinson told the Source what makes "Traveling Mercies" so meaningful to her and how women are thriving and inspiring through music in 2019.

Source Weekly: Congrats on "Traveling Mercies" coming out! It sounds great! What makes this record special to you?

Emily Scott Robinson: I think what makes "Traveling Mercies" special is the storytelling. I tell a lot of stories about women— powerful, honest, raw and real women. Some of these songs are hard and dark, and others are full of hope and playfulness and the transformative power of love. Listened to completely, "Traveling Mercies" covers the whole spectrum of human experience.

SW: The imagery in your songwriting is very strong and connective. Is that something you think about when writing?

ESR: Yes, imagery is very important to me because specificity is what makes a story or song relatable. I spend a lot of time envisioning and writing out sensory details to set the scenes for my songs. There's a saying I've heard called "the universality of detail," meaning, the more grounded in real physical detail a song is, the more real it will feel to the listener. The listener has to be able to picture the scene in a song, as if it were a movie.

SW: "The Dress" is very personal and emotional. What was it like writing that song and what compelled you to speak about it through your music?

ESR: "The Dress" is based on my own life. I was date raped when I was 22 and it was an experience that darkened my view of the world. It was the first seriously traumatic thing to happen to me—what a blessing that I was protected from serious trauma for 22 years—but it made danger and darkness very real to me. It was the hardest song to write on the record, both because of the heaviness of the material, and because it's hard to tell your own story objectively. There were many layers to the story I told myself about my rape, and it took years of healing and time to feel safe enough to strip those layers back and return to the truth.

I knew that one day I would find a way to write about what happened to me. I wanted other survivors to know that they weren't crazy for feeling so alone, so numb, so confused, and so undone by what had happened to them. I wrote this song to accompany my fellow survivors in their own healing.

SW: This year at the Grammys we saw tributes for Dolly Parton and Diana Ross, and Kacey Musgraves won Album of the Year. What does it mean for you to see women shine like that?

ESR: It's amazing and I'm eating up absolutely every second of it! This is an incredible time to be a woman making music. I am proud of and inspired by all the incredible women using their powerful voices, creating fearlessly, taking risks and speaking out in the music industry.

SW: Do you remember the first moment you found out you could sing?

ESR: Yes! I was 16 years old and I'd spent all fall listening to Joni Mitchell's "Blue" record and teaching myself "A Case of You." I decided to sign up for a coffee shop night at my high school to perform it, and that's the first time I realized I could hold an audience's attention and sing. It definitely felt a little like a drug.

SW: What's something you would tell young girls chasing down a dream?

ESR: Always listen to your deepest instincts. You don't have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable in your own skin. If it's not a "hell yes!" then it's a "hell no!" Speak up for what matters and be the deepest, wildest, truest version of yourself. That's what the world needs, and that's what you need

Songwriter Series house concerts w/ Emily Scott Robinson
Sat., March 2. Potluck 4pm, music 5pm
songwriter-series.org/upcoming-concerts/
Must RSVP, donation suggested

About The Author

Isaac Biehl

Isaac is living proof that "Iowa Nice" is actually a thing. A journalism graduate from Iowa State University, he regularly writes about music, the outdoors and the arts/culture scene. Isaac loves the Trail Blazers, backpacking and a good IPA. He plans to one day win Survivor. Your move, Jeff Probst...
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