In each song she delivers, Emma Rosenkranz shows a musical sophistication well beyond her 18 years, yet infuses every moment with a wide-eyed sense of wonder. On her 6-song debut release, First Sessions, that time-defying dynamic is especially evident in a track called “Still Thinking of You”—an intricate reimagining of the first song Emma ever wrote, when she was just ten-years-old. Originally penned after the death of her father (a self-taught pianist who instilled Emma with a deep love of music), the former bedroom recording has since evolved into an elegantly arranged piece of folk-pop that reveals the full depth of Emma’s artistry and graceful strength of her voice.
“It’s really important to me that this release includes lyrics from my first song, since it’s very much about my journey in becoming who I am now,” says the New York City-based singer/songwriter. “I feel like making these recordings was a huge step in my musical growth, but also in my growth as a person.”
Recorded at Kaleidoscope Sound in New Jersey and Dubway Studios in New York City and produced by Jeremy Beck and Steven Erdman, First Sessions finds Emma joining forces with a lineup of esteemed musicians that includes Grammy Award-winning bassist Phil Palombi and drummer Joe Strasser (known for his work with artists like Loudon Wainwright III). “It was such an amazing experience to go from making music in my bedroom to recording in this incredible studio with all these very experienced musicians,” says Emma. “I remember being in the vocal booth at one point and looking out at the band all in their own little rooms, and having the music come into my headphones and my heart just feeling so full. Even though it was physically isolating, I felt so connected to everyone.”
Along with the warm and wistful “Still Thinking of You,” First Sessions brings Emma’s luminous melodies and fine-spun lyrics to tracks like “Captive”—a stark yet soulful ballad that Emma began writing her freshman year of high school and left incomplete until last summer. “For a long time that song was just hanging above me,” Emma says. “It’s about first going into high school, and feeling so fearful and outside of myself. I think the reason I was able to finish it was that I finally felt secure enough.” And on the piano-driven and dreamlike “Moonlit Memories,” Emma offers up a bittersweet coming-of-age tale about a girl named Roxie: the main character from a picture book she started writing with her father as a little kid. “It’s about a girl who travels to the moon and who’s very lonely there,” Emma explains. “We never finished it, but I found some of the pages in a storage container and wanted to come back to that story. To me it’s about getting older, and accepting the whole process of becoming who you are.”
Growing up, Emma first discovered her musical side at the age of seven, when she and her father began playing Cat Stevens and Elton John songs together on their piano. After her father passed away, she channeled her longtime love of creating stories and poems into lyric-writing, and soon started self-recording. Eventually adding guitar to her repertoire, Emma also took any opportunity to share her music onstage, with her performances including everything from school events to an impromptu set at a small music venue in Wyoming when she was 16 (“It was during happy hour and it was Cowboy Night, so everybody had their cowboy hats on,” Emma recalls).
Through the years, Emma has eagerly embraced the unpredictable nature of musical inspiration. “Songs come to me at the strangest times, like at three in the morning, and I just have to stop everything and sit on my bedroom floor and pick up my guitar,” she says. “I think it’s that all these stories and feelings just build up in me, and then it hits a breaking point where everything needs to all come out.” And by faithfully following her creative instincts, Emma has achieved a level of unfettered honesty true to only the most affecting songwriters. “The more I grow up, the more I’m willing to be very vulnerable in my music,” says Emma. “I’m more confident and more open to write things I might’ve been too scared to share in the past, like I did with ‘Captive.’”
But while her lyrics explore such weighty matters as loss and loneliness and confusion, Emma ultimately imbues her songs with an ineffable hope, an element that lends her music a subtly uplifting power. “Music is a way for me to reckon with things that have happened in my life, but it’s also a way for me to create community,” says Emma, who’s now at work on her full-length debut. “When I write songs, it helps me to work through unanswered questions about myself and I hope others can connect to its message.”