By Cynthia Gross
New Zealand-born, D.C.-based activist, youth empowerment coach, author and award-winning musician Emma G is an extraordinary survivor who serves as living proof that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Despite her lifelong health battles – with hydrocephalus (she’s had 10 brain surgeries and 24 surgeries in total), depression and suicide, drug addiction, and sexual assault – she has emerged as one of the strongest voices and forces in the DMV scene.
Emma G has been featured in the Washington Post, CBC, PBS, Radio New Zealand, Washingtonian Magazine, The Daily Show, and more. Her messages of courage and empowerment, undergirded by her lived experiences, carry a powerful message of hope and healing, reminding audiences everywhere that they can make it despite the odds stacked against them.
Alchemical Records connected with Emma G to discuss her new film “BORN IN CRISIS” and associated single “FAITH IN YOU,” how to stay grounded, and what she misses about New Zealand while in the States. Read to find out Emma G’s most important artist tool, the one thing she cannot live without in the studio. “FAITH IN YOU” from the “BORN IN CRISIS” soundtrack drops July 9.
What’s one thing you miss about New Zealand when you’re in the States?
A: Honestly? I miss people’s innate trust in one another. I love living in the States – how big and varied and beautiful and diverse it is here, but I wish people were more open and loving toward each other. There’s a lot of fear, mistrust, and greed here. That’s why I live here, to be honest. Because I want my messages of love, empowerment, community and trust to actually reach the ears of those who need to be reminded how magical and beautiful the world is.
Who are your biggest influences?
A: Ooh, that’s a complex question. Musically, my influences vary greatly from Julie London to Joe Cocker to Nina Simone and Muddy Waters (thanks mum!). But also: No Doubt, The Spice Girls, Boston, Iron Maiden, P!nk, Lacuna Coil, Adele, Amanda Palmer and Lady Gaga. These days, influences expand far beyond music, however, to include artivists who are using their platforms to fight for justice, equity and love. So people like Michelle Obama (and Barack, I guess haha), Trevor Noah, Oprah and Beyonce need to also be acknowledged.
Oh! And my mum – did I mention my mum? She’s definitely my biggest lifelong influence!
What’s something you believed earlier in your career but think about differently now?
A: One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned rather recently is that “my mess is my message.” I used to run away from really leaning into my differences and embracing – quite literally – my scars. Remember, I grew up in a time that social media was just becoming a thing, so I’ve definitely felt the pressure of needing to show my highlight reel. I’ve started to realize, however, the power, strength and importance of leading with serious vulnerability and authenticity. There is absolutely no shame in your story and in truth. Music is my love language, and how can I expect to love and be loved if I don’t show up authentically?
Which song from “BORN IN CRISIS” would you recommend to someone who has not yet seen the film?
A: Ahhh, great question. The lead single is a song called “FAITH IN YOU,” and it’s one of my top three tracks from the album, but if you haven’t seen the film? I think “FROM THE ASHES” is probably the best track to start from – it totally encapsulates the message of the film: “Chaos has a habit of testing who you are / Submissive or a savage, timid or a star.”
What’s something that surprised you about creating the film?
A: How bloody talented my team is! Gene Sizemore, the filmmaker, is an absolute boss – and Tyler Hueffmeier, who assisted in filming, is equally amazing – let alone the magic of Flightboy Music, my producer. No, seriously. I knew all of that already. I think the most surprising thing has been the feedback the film has gotten. I’m hyper aware that this film could easily be conceived as a vanity project, which has never been my intention, and I’m so grateful that the feedback I’m getting from people has been that they’ve all been able to relate in some way. Because “BORN IN CRISIS” tackles so many issues, so many people have written me beautiful messages telling me their stories, and how my story helped them feel less alone.
What’s your most important artist tool – something you can’t live without in the studio?
A: Does room temperature water count? Hydration is happiness, after all. If not, then I’d probably say my phone. It allows me to edit lyrics on the fly if I need to, film or livestream behind the scenes footage, or simply tune out between takes so that I can relax my body. I have a fantastic meditation app on my phone, which is so good when it comes to helping my body and voice relax in the studio.
In “BORN IN CRISIS” you note, “We tend to get creativity educated out of ourselves.” How do you empower your students to reignite their creativity?
A: I run my clients through a number of fun, out of the box, and downright weird exercises to reignite creativity, but the number one strategy is establishing trust. Unfortunately, many of our educational systems are based around test scores and regurgitation of information. We don’t focus on working with students in their learning processes – or recognizing and embracing their superpowers while they work on honing and growing their less-than-superpowers. This often leaves learners feeling unsafe, and when you don’t feel safe, it’s difficult to express yourself, so (and this goes back to my training in ako), it’s important for my clients that I lead every exercise we do together by example.
There’s an intriguing tension of faith and fear at the core of your new single “FAITH IN YOU.” Can you tell us how you channeled these parallel sentiments while making the song?
A: That intriguing tension you’re referring to is only intriguing because we can all relate to it. As I allude to in one of the other tracks on my “BORN IN CRISIS” album, a song called “THE WOLF I FEED,” there are two wolves inside all of us – one of fear, hurt, anger and sadness – the other of love, compassion, hope and happiness. “FAITH IN YOU” is exactly that battle, but with hope, faith and intense love for the person I’m singing to at its core.
You’re the epitome of an overcomer. What’s your secret for staying grounded?
A: I think when you’ve looked death in the eye so many times, you have no choice but to be grounded. When you’ve lost as many people as I have, you have no choice but to stay grounded. Nothing in life is guaranteed. Everything we have is a blessing – every day that we wake up is a blessing. It’s up to us how we choose to use that blessing, but I will forever be grateful for the blessings.
Watch Emma G’s “BORN IN CRISIS” below and stay tuned for the film’s soundtrack, which drops later this summer.
Maryland-based singer-songwriter Cynthia Gross seeks to inspire an awakening to all we are and all we can become. With a passion for language in all of its forms and more than a decade of experience as a professional ghostwriter, she is a light seeker who understands the power of each individual’s voice to create positive, meaningful change.
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