When I met up with Emma McGrath in the summer she had just received a Women in Music grant from the PRS Foundation. We spoke about her track Butterfly, from her EP Silent Minds, and life as an 18-year-old artist.
Can you tell me a bit about the story behind your track Butterfly?
I went to a school that was half boarding school, half day school. I didn’t board. There was this kid in my year that turned up and she didn’t speak much English. She hung out with my group of friends and I thought, ‘she doesn’t have anyone, let her sit with us for lunch, it’s not a big deal.’ It’s basically about people not being able to sympathise with other people. My EP is called Silent Minds – people who talk a lot but they don’t really say anything.
What was it about that girl inspired you?
I don’t think I felt like I quite fit in either. I sympathise with her situation. I can’t believe anyone else couldn’t sympathise with her situation. You turn up in a random country, you don’t know anyone, your family lives a few thousand miles away, you don’t speak the language, you’re in a school. Oh my days. Imagine that? Freaking terrifying. I suppose I tried to make her feel like she fitted in. How could someone not understand that situation?
How did you first get into music?
There was a guitar club at school and I joined it when I was about nine. I played guitar all the time.
You also sing…
I think guitar playing and singing goes hand in hand. The same with songwriting – you play guitar, you write songs. I’m also awful at talking to people so I put it in songs.
What do you most enjoy about making music?
Probably playing live and spending time with my best mates. Writing songs can be pretty lonely if that’s all you do. Going on the road with my best mates and having fun travelling.
I have a keys player, Hannah, and a drummer, Alfie. I met him at the first gig I ever did and we’ve played together ever since. He’s like my big brother and I love him, he’s great.
What was your first gig?
It was an open mic at a local pub. His band were the house band.
Do you write all of your music?
I write a lot of it but I do co-writing as well ’cause it’s fun – learning different ways of writing.
You’ve already accomplished quite a lot for a young artist. You’ve had BBC Radio 2 airplay and were awarded the PRS Foundation Women In Music fund. How have you found the music industry so far?
I think it’s great. It all makes sense. The people in it are really nice. I feel lucky that I’m female because I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t. I’m lucky that I have people around me that get what I’m trying to do and support me. I’ve got a great manager and I’ve got a great publisher (Primary Wave).
You said you felt lucky that you are female. What makes you say that?
Everything now is about being a woman. I’ve never gone through life thinking, ‘oh, a man can do that, so a woman can’t do that.’ I’ve never experienced any discrimination because I’m a female in the industry.
How has the PRS Foundation Women In Music fund helped your career?
It paid for some of the recording for my first EP. The PRS guys are really great. They’ve been with me since I was 15 and I won the Lyndsey de Paul Prize. I think that award is significant because she was creating a career at a time when it probably wasn’t as easy as it is now to be a female in the music industry.
How would you like to see your career progress?
I want to be able to make music, be happy, live comfortably and hopefully inspire some people to know that they can be who they want to be and not have to be put in a box.
What or who has been the biggest influence on your music?
I’ve always written songs to tell people things that I can’t say. I wouldn’t say I have bad social anxiety anymore. When I was a kid, I couldn’t talk to anyone, so I used to write songs and it used to help me make sense of my own feelings. I write about my mum. I write about people that annoy me. I write about being confused about life. It’s confusing as f**k.
Do you have any role models?
I respect the people that I work with everyday. I think it takes a lot to do certain jobs and my manager Alex, every time he phones me, he’s always happy, he’s always in a good mood and I don’t even know how that’s possible. It makes you feel good. It makes you think ‘yeah, I can do this!’
Musician-wise Brandi Carlile because she looks like she’s got her life together. Her music is incredible – every single one of her songs – it’s like, ‘oh my goodness, I wish I could write songs like that.’ She just seems like an amazing person and even just her family and the twins she tours with – it seems like the perfect situation. My life goal is to be able to support the people that I love, take my best mates on tour and have a laugh. Be able to do what I love with the people that I love. That looks like what she is doing.