Though Emily Coulston is only in grade 12 at Edmonton’s Scona High School, she spent the September 25 lunch hour making her way to the University of Alberta Students’ Union Building, to do something well out of the high school norm . At noon, she was performing as part of the SU’s Singer Songwriter Series, where the city’s most talented young artists play in front of the bustling lunch-time crowd. For an hour, Coulston played a variety of original and cover songs, quickly grabbing the attention of students focused on midterms prep. The Wanderer Online caught up with this talented artist, whose music has already taken her to destinations as far as Nashville, Tennessee.
1. Take us back to the start: when did you first start singing and playing the guitar? What made you start?
I remember being 4 or 5 years old, and watching “The Little Mermaid” with my family. I distinctly remember standing up in front of the TV and singing all of Arielle’s songs. I would repeat a line after she would sing it. I had actions and movements too – all while my family was sitting there, trying to watch the movie. I was always singing. I was always around a lot of music growing up. My dad was always singing and I watched a lot of musicals and memorized the songs. Singing just started as something that was so much fun; I couldn’t not do it.
I started playing guitar when I was 8 years old. I’ve been playing piano since I was 3, but guitar seemed “cooler” than piano at the time. So, when I was 8 I got this tiny little made-for-an-eight-year-old nylon string guitar. My sister taught me three chords, and after that I just taught myself.
2. What keeps you playing over the years?
I really started to get more serious about playing guitar all of the time when I was 12. That’s when I would learn how to play my favourite songs, how to strum properly, finger picking and all that. When I got a Capo, it was like I was opened to a whole new world! I would spend hours every day just playing songs.
Simultaneously, I was ‘dating’ this boy, in the 6th Grade, and I knew we were going to break up. We were both going to different junior high schools and I just knew we weren’t going to stay together. Even though we were 12, I really did like him!
One day, I came home after school and picked up my guitar and just thought, ‘Why don’t I try writing a song about this?’ And I wrote my first song.
That was kind of just it for me. Writing and singing and playing guitar isn’t something that I just forget to do, or feel like I can put down for a while. It’s the way I figure out my emotions and situations. It’s like the more I do it, the more I love it.
3. You’re still in high school, but it seems like music’s taking you to so many places that aren’t typical for your average high school student. What’s a month like in your shoes?
It depends on the month! In December and in the summer are when I try to go to Nashville. It’s winter and summer break for school, so it’s ideal to go then. In a typical month, I’ll spend about 120 hours of it in school. The rest of the time is often a balancing act between writing, performing, homework and just being with my friends.
4. Once high school finishes up, what do you plan on doing with music?
The fact that I’m graduating this year seems absolutely insane! I can’t believe it. My plan for after high school has always been to spend a year in Nashville. Everyone I know is deciding on which university or college to go to. For me, I just feel like university will always be there. The window of opportunity in Nashville is much smaller. I just feel like although university might be exciting and fun, I wouldn’t regret not going the first year out of high school. What I would regret is never taking that risk to really explore what I can do with my music. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and it’s my one and only plan.
5. So The Wanderer first saw you while you played in front of a university crowd in the University of Alberta’s busiest building. Take us through that experience.
That was so much fun! There were so many people, I was shocked. Performing around Edmonton, you get to play in front of a lot of different crowds. It was a great experience to be able to see which songs worked and which didn’t. Everyone was so wonderful and supportive towards me, even though it was the first time I’d ever played there. I thought that was incredibly nice, and I can’t wait to be back there.
6. Favourite artist and favourite song?
My favourite song changes all the time. I’ll usually have a song or two that I’ll listen to repeatedly over the course of a day. Right now I have two. One of them is “Dry Your Eyes” by The Streets. He’s a recent discovery of mine. The song is so honest and simple. It’s one of those songs that you can play at any moment of the day: I just love it.
The other one is “Anything Can Happen” by Ellie Goulding. I just got her album yesterday and I’m so in love with it! This song makes me so happy. It reminds me of the first time I went to Nashville and being in that kind of atmosphere. Everything there is about music, and I started to see all the possibilities. That’s what I relate to when I hear the line, “Since we find out that anything can happen, anything can happen.”
I also love “Forever and For Always” by Shania Twain. I’ll always love that song.
7. And what about your favourite lyrics?
Favourite lyrics are something that could change so quickly for me! I’ll listen to a song I’ve heard a thousand times, and then catch a line that I never paid attention to before, but it’s brilliant!
My favourite lyric of the moment is probably in the song “Wrong Side of Love” by Augustana. It’s,
“You’ll be the one to break my heart in two, and I’ll be the one to take a hit for you.”
We’ve shared one of Emily’s songs below, but for more covers and originals, check out her Facebook page here. The Wanderer wishes her luck in what appears to be a promising future in Nashville!
Photography by Skye Oleson-Cormack.