Emma Oliver has been waiting for this moment. So have her 440,000 closest friends and followers.
Today the self-taught Texas singer-songwriter and TikTok personality debuts her first original song, “Sad Sometimes,” via American Songwriter. The track is a moody electro-pop collaboration between Oliver and the production duo loyalties, with Oliver’s lush, soulful vocals taking center stage as she delivers a simple but important message: It’s okay to be sad sometimes.
“We got together for a weekend to write some songs and see what would come out of it, and ‘Sad Sometimes’ just kind of birthed itself through all the stuff we were talking about,” Oliver tells American Songwriter in an interview featured below. “We originally were writing from the perspective of a love song. But as time went on it changed to being this inner-self thing for me.”
“There’s a bunch of shitty things happening in the world, and there’s a lot of people who are dealing with their own things—as with myself,” she continues. “I find myself getting sad most days, but my way of dealing with it is sitting with it, seeing what’s bothering me, seeing what’s going on, and basically just embracing it and then fixing it. The song reflects on that.”
Oliver grew up in Waxahachie, TX, but cut her teeth in Dallas’ live music scene as a teenager.
“My family has said that I’ve been singing since basically birth,” says Oliver. “But I got into it professionally when I was about 13 or 14. I would listen to songs on YouTube and I would train myself that way. I would just mimic different things until I could get it. Then I moved onto playing some little open mics and little shows.”
We caught up with Oliver by phone last week about her debut single and her favorite artists to listen to when she’s feeling down. She also opened up about collaborating with loyalties’ Dan Stringer and Michael Kanne, balancing her sad and goofy sides, and building a TikTok following by being herself. Check out the full interview and listen to “Sad Sometimes” below.
American Songwriter: Can you tell us a little bit about “Sad Sometimes” and walk us through your songwriting process?
Emma Oliver: I recently started working with loyalties. We got together for a weekend to write some songs and see what would come out of it, and “Sad Sometimes” just kind of birthed itself through all the stuff we were talking about. We originally were writing from the perspective of a love song. But as time went on it changed to being this inner-self thing for me.
There’s a bunch of shitty things happening in the world, and there’s a lot of people who are dealing with their own things—as with myself. I find myself getting sad most days, but my way of dealing with it is sitting with it, seeing what’s bothering me, seeing what’s going on, and basically just embracing it and then fixing it. The song reflects on that. I’m telling people to let you be sad. I just want to be sad sometimes.
How’d you get connected to loyalties? What was it like to work with them?
Michael hit me up, and we’ve been friends for a couple years. I met him a long time ago, when he was with Northern National. He recently hit me up about doing a track, and I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” We hit it off that way, and I enjoyed working with them so much that I’m going to continue working with them. Michael’s in Texas and his partner Dan is Brooklyn.
Are you the type of person who listens to sad music when you’re feeling down?
Yes, I’ll listen to sad music when I’m in that place—I think it’s reviving for me. It definitely makes me feel a lot better, because I can relate to certain songs in certain ways. Also I like to listen to sad music in general, all day all the time.
Do you have a wallowing-in-sadness playlist, or do you listen to whatever feels right in the moment?
I don’t have a set playlist, but when I’m feeling those feelings I love to listen to Sasha Sloan and JP Saxe and Julia Michaels.
What is about their work that draws you in?
It’s their lyrics. The way that they write is just so captivating even though it’s just this hole of things that you can’t control. I think they write very well, emotion-wise. Those are three of my big inspirations, lyrically.
You’ve covered songs by artists like Sam Smith, Chris Stapleton, and Miguel, and now you’re sharing your first original. Are you planning to release other originals soon?
Yes, we’re working on another song right now. It’s called “I’m Sorry I Miss You.” We’re hoping to release a lot of tracks this year, then hopefully by next year get a project out as well. This track is a co-list, but the project and the rest of the singles will be on me.
I read that you taught yourself how to play piano and guitar. Are those still your primary instruments? Have you picked up anything else?
No, those are my primary ones. I don’t know how to read any music, I don’t know how to read scales, I don’t know how to read notes or anything like that. I just sat down one day and was like, “I’m gonna learn this!” I’ve never taken any lessons. I’ve never had any vocal lessons either.
How long have you been training, vocally?
My family has said that I’ve been singing since basically birth. But I got into it professionally when I was about 13 or 14. I would listen to songs on YouTube and I would train myself that way. I would just mimic different things until I could get it. Then I moved onto playing some little open mics and little shows.
Music as a career started when I was 17. I played an open mic at a little coffee shop and I only played one song and the manager found me right when I came off stage and asked me if I wanted to play an actual show there. So that was when I knew I wanted to do it for the rest of my life.
What was that venue?
It was called Drugstore Cowboy. It’s closed now, but it was a really great place for people to express themselves. I was blessed I found it.
Was that in the Dallas area?
Yes, in Deep Ellum.
Where’s your hometown of Waxahachie?
It’s 30 miles south of Dallas. In Waxahachie there’s not much of a scene at all. I would commute to Dallas and do my thing there.
What else have you been doing for the last few months?
Right when the [COVID-19] pandemic started I started posting videos on TikTok. I had been posting for a while but I got really into, ‘cause you’re at home and you’re bored. I just started posting these goofy videos and it pretty much took me to 435,000 followers!
So I’ve been doing that, and it is incredible—stressful at times, but really, really cool. Basically TikTok is a place for me to be myself. I know that people listen to my music and they think I’m this very sad individual—which I can be—but on TikTok people can actually see my actual personality that only my close friends and family get to see. I just decided to put it out there and people really enjoyed it.
Do you see making TikTok videos and making music as similar in any ways?
It’s similar, but different. I use TikTok as a platform to boost my music as well. I kind of went with a strategy of ‘I’m gonna post these goofy videos and let people see who I really am,’ then once those took off I started posting little snippets of singing videos along the way. I just threw them in there. Soon after that people started gravitating to my music as well.
“Sad Sometimes” is out July 10.