We chat to Emily Burns all about sexuality, songwriting and her secret talent

BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS, IMAGE BY HOLLIE FERNANDO

Although she hasn’t released a full length album yet, you probably already know Emily Burns from a bunch of perfect pop tracks such as Girlfriend At The Time, Too Cool or Is It Just Me? 

She’s a certified one to watch here on the UK queer music scene, and not even lockdown has stopped her in her tracks. She’s released two great singles, Terrified and Press Pause, that authentically encapsulate the difficulties of the modern world. Her songs are everything we love about pop squeezed into an irresistible three minute package. 

Emily is honest, captivating, and on a mission to use her musical charm to explore themes such as sexuality, loneliness and feeling vulnerable, so of course we jumped at the chance to get to know her a bit better. 

She is so confident in who she is when we connect on our Zoom call, it’s utterly refreshing. We can’t wait to find out what life after lockdown holds for Emily. 

DIVA: Can you tell us a little about the new singles you’ve released during lockdown? 

EMILY BURNS: I wrote Press Pause well before this pandemic and it wasn’t ever something that I was intending to release. It was just a venting process for myself.  I was just feeling quite angry and upset that everywhere you turn, it just seems like there’s bad news. So I sat down and wrote Press Pause. I put a bit of it on my Instagram and got a really good reaction.

We had to finish it of remotely which was quite bizarre. We basically turned it around in three weeks which is the quickest release I’ve ever experienced before. 

What has the response been to the music you’ve released throughout the Covid-19 pandemic?  

I’ve definitely noticed over the lockdown period that I personally have connected more with my followers and the people who are listening to my music. I feel like I’ve had more time to actually engage with them in a way I haven’t before. 

I did about six weeks where I did a livestream every night which was a nice way of getting to know the people who kept coming back every night and chatting in the comments. I’ve actually noticed a few of those people have gone on and started building friendships themselves. It’s just such a nice thing to come out of such a stressful and painful time. 

What’s your normal process like for creating music? 

It’s very different. All my songs have to come from something that I’ve experienced or something that’s going on in my life at the moment. Or an experience from the past that I can draw on. It’s a very collaborative process, but I’ll always go into a songwriting session with an idea or a chorus or something. For example, I have a song called Girlfriend At The Time and the process was that I just came up with the, “I don’t ever want to be your girlfriend at the time” line and then took it to Jacob who I work with a lot. Then we sat down, put some chords around it, formed the melodies and the rest of it kind of just came together. I think writing lyrics  is probably the easiest part for me because it’s just like telling stories.

Please tell us about your plate-spinning career, it says on your Wikipedia page you’re a singer-songwriter and plate spinner. 

Let’s just get this straight. I’m not very good at plate spinning. But at the beginning of lockdown, I thought, what new skills can I learn? So I got some plate spinning equipment. I did some plate spinning on my Instagram live and I think someone who’d been watching my live streams has clearly accessed Wikipedia to make a small adjustment to my page. It was a lot worse before, it said: “Emily Burns, six foot singer-songwriter, plate spinner, fluent in Spanish with three children.” I was like, “yeah, we’ve got to change that.”

Who influences your sound? 

Growing up I was into R&B and pop music. I was madly into P!nk  growing up, as well as Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. All of those big pop female artists. I also had this mad obsession with Usher. His Confessions album was probably the album of my childhood. It tells a really strong story of love, a breakup, getting back together, the pain, the heartbreak. It’s just such a perfect album. I’m particularly obsessed with Harry Styles and Lizzo at the minute. 

Is it cathartic or quite painful being so open and vulnerable in your lyrics? 

I always say to people that me releasing my songs is pretty much like me just opening my diary and being like, “here you go, have a little read.” It’s the most honest and raw words from my heart. I just love that vulnerability. Maybe it sounds sadistic and weird but I really enjoy the feeling of just putting myself out there completely. Those are the songs that people end up connecting with more because they can relate to the experiences. 

I could put a song out that isn’t really from personal experience but it wouldn’t feel right singing it if it’s not about me.

What do you think the music industry will look like after Coronavirus? 

I think it will be different and I think there’ll be a lot of adjusting. I hope that after being locked down and stuck in our houses for so long, people will be more excited about live music than ever before. Obviously it’s going to take some time for people to feel comfortable going into venues and being around other people and we have to take it very cautiously and carefully. But I think live music will thrive at the end of this.

How have you been making the most of the digital opportunities available? 

We had to cancel my show at Dingwalls so we did a YouTube livestream instead, which was amazing. So many people joined and it was really cool because we did a sign up link to it. People could get their tickets so it felt like an event. I got loads of messages of people sending photos of them with drinks getting ready for the show. It just felt like a real gig, as close as it possibly could be. I probably received more messages of support after that than I have after any show ever. 

Have you always been comfortable in your sexuality and identity?

When I wrote my first ever songs, this was probably when I was like 13, I always used to use male pronouns. I listen now and I’m like, “Oh my God, what an idiot.” I couldn’t believe I ever did that because now it’s so important to me to just be completely open and honest. 

Which queer artists have you looked to for representation? 

I feel like artists like P!nk really paved the way for me. I know she’s not queer herself but going to her shows and concerts growing up I was surrounded by queer people and it was so amazing to see so many people just being their best selves. I’ve started noticing that often at my own shows there’s a lot of queer people there, which is amazing to see. 

It really feels like now more than ever, there’s a lot of queer music and queer artists coming through being themselves and it’s amazing. I feel like there’s a real strong community of queer musicians and I’m blessed to be a part of it.

What’s the first thing you’ll do when we’re out of lockdown? 

I’m going to hug my mum so hard. I’m pretty desperate to just go round and have a takeaway and a glass of wine while watching crap films.

Make sure you check out Emily’s live streams over on her Instagram every Wednesday evening. 🎵

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