There are no fine lines in Emma White’s country. Seamlessly melding pop and R & B is something she can’t quite shake from her unique brew. And why should she? It’s been her natural progression since 2014 debut Gypsy through 2019 EP The Actress, that still twists genres around her soulful lyrics and delicate, melodic weave on new single “Can I Call You Then.”
Revealing White’s slow crooned country, “Can I Call You Then” emphatically documents the unraveling of an unhealthy relationship, and the constant reminder of someone’s ex. “I guess some traumatic things happened to him during that relationship, but I felt like he kept seeing me as her, and I was being punished for things that she would do,” says White. “I was like, ‘I don’t do that. I wouldn’t do that,’” says White. “The line ‘Call me when you can hang up all your hang ups,’ is just trying to emphasize the idea that in order to move on, or to begin a new relationship, you really have to come to it with a fresh perspective.”
Written in 2018 with Emily Earle, who co-wrote another track on the upcoming EP, and Andy Skib, co-writer and co-producer, “Can I Call You Then” was originally slotted for The Actress, but White felt there was something missing production-wise. That’s when she called in Skib. Her producer socially distanced in one room with White recording vocals in another, it was finally time to revisit the track. “Once we went into lockdown, I realized I was overthinking the whole thing, but became very clear to me what I needed to do with this song.”White tells American Songwriter. “I’m more concept- and melody-driven and Emily’s very lyric-driven, so each of us complement each other that way.”
Now a decade into her career, White reveals that she had an earlier release in 2010 that she ended up removing from the streams. Her first crack at genre-bending country, White worked with a country producer as well as a hip hop producer—even recording one track with a rapper. Everything just felt authentic to White, so she decided to release it together. “I took it down, and I wish I hadn’t,” she says. “It’s not that I didn’t like it.”
In some respects, White is still finding where she fits in, in country. After years of getting turned down, she eventually took her first step in creative control by starting Whitehouse Records. “It was frustrating because I never heard any feedback on the songs,” says White. “I never heard ‘they’re not good enough, or you should work on this.’ It was always gender specific if it was a no. Three years had passed of hearing that, so I started looking for a business partner and just tried to see if there was somebody outside of this current community that believes in this.”
The name, a tribute to her family—White’s mother was a songwriter—White sees the label as another backbone within the industry for female artists. She’s currently the only artist on Whitehouse, which White co-owns with Nashville entrepreneur Jennifer Coyle, but this is something that will shift over time. For White, inclusion is key, and it’s not necessarily a male versus female thing.
“The definition of feminism is equality for women and men, so I really want to bring others into it with a focus on females, but I don’t want to rule out signing men,” says White. “I want it to be about equality and not about one or the other, because that was the problem for me. I don’t want to create that problem for men, but I know that there needs to be an emphasis on women.”
Right now, White is making sure she has all her boxes checked for the EP, and “Can I Call You Then.” In the meantime, she’s live streaming performances on Facebook. “It’s a weird world, but I feel like you can still do music, and people want music,” says White. “It’s good company for me, because I live alone, so if I have a concert, I get to engage with people.”
Still isolated, White says she’s working on new music, even writing via Zoom, and is planning on putting out an album later this year, or by 2021. In the meantime, she’s just releasing song by song before the EP and still finding her groove, her place in the bigger picture.
“My whole career, people have said ‘pick one’ (genre), and it’s just funny because I’ve never been able to not be myself on all these projects,” says White. “I’m still trying to find this blend of country, but I want to do it my own way.”