Emily Weisband has made a name for herself in Nashville as one of the most in-demand cross-genre songwriters, penning songs for Maddie & Tae, Sam Hunt, Keith Urban, BTS, and Lady A, among many others. She won a Grammy award in 2016 for composing “Thy Will” for Hillary Scott and The Scott Family. But even with those credentials, she says that she never dreamed she’d release material in her own right – as she did with her debut last year, Identity Crisis, and her new EP, Not Afraid to Say Goodbye (out on November 13).
“I had it in legal writing that I was never going to be an artist,” Weisband says, calling from Nashville. “In my publishing deal, it straight up said, ‘She will never be an artist.’” But, she says, she was actually fine with this. “I really stood by that. I wanted to be branded as a songwriter: ‘I’m here to serve you and your artistry. What can I do for you? How can I help?’ I felt so much purpose being in [writing] rooms with other artists, I never really saw a place for me in ‘artist land.’”
With this new EP, though, Weisband is once again showing that she’s making the transition from the writing room to performing artist just fine. Her new singles – “You’re Cool” and “The Way I Say Goodbye” – show her mastery of thoughtful lyrics and catchy pop melodies that are every bit as memorable as anything she’s written for other artists.
With those tracks, as well as the rest of the new EP, Weisband says, “I realized that the common thread between these songs was this overcoming of fear of letting go of things – all these songs represented this new empowerment that I’ve been stepping into about not being afraid to say goodbye to things that aren’t good for me or because I’m just holding onto something out of fear. That’s why the project is called Not Afraid to Say Goodbye: every song represents an aspect of letting go, which I love as a concept.”
Weisband says the idea for “You’re Cool” came to her after she introduced her current boyfriend to one of her friends last year – and when she asked her friend’s opinion of him, “She was like, ‘He’s cool, but he’s still a stranger.’ And I was like, ‘Dude, that’s sick! I’m writing that down!’ It was this moment for me where it was like, ‘It’s okay to not fully know about this person yet.’ It was this powerful moment for me to go, ‘He’s really cool and I’m enjoying getting to know him’ – that’s it. And embracing my permission to do that.
“I think we meet people and we go, ‘Is this The One?’” Weisband continues, “and then we put pressure on ourselves if we don’t know right away: ‘Does that mean it’s not right?’ If this person ends up not being right for me, I’ll let go of it. But I don’t have to yet, and that’s beautiful and cool and I’m excited to find out.” Weisband wrote the track with Alysa Vanderheym and Steph Jones, who are “Two of my favorite people ever,” she says.
“The Way I Say Goodbye,” written with Tofer Brown, was inspired by a former boyfriend. “I was talking to my friend about a breakup he had just gone through, and my break-up a few months before, and they were very similar. We really loved these people and they just weren’t sure about us. So there’s beauty in saying, ‘Okay, well, I’ve done all I can. I’ve given my all. If I really love you like I say I do, then I need to let you go. If you don’t feel how much I love you in being in a relationship with me, then I hope you feel it in the way that I let go of you.’
These are intensely personal songs for Weisband, so it’s appropriate that she’s recording them herself instead of handing them over to another artist – but recording her own work once seemed like something she would never get to do. Things changed in 2015, when she got three calls in one week from executives at different labels, all expressing admiration for her singing on demos and asking her to consider recording her own album. She politely turned them down, not wanting to violate her aforementioned publishing deal.
When she visited her publisher later that week, though, “The publisher said, ‘Hey, I got a call from Warner in L.A. – they want to talk to you about making a record.’ I was like, ‘Don’t worry, I know, they called me and I said no.’ He said, ‘Well, I think you should do it. We booked you a flight and you leave on Sunday.’ And I was like, ‘What?’”
Although she was thrilled about this unexpected opportunity, Weisband soon discovered that writing for herself was initially much harder than writing for others. She says she found herself thinking, “Do I have something to say? Don’t ask yourself if another artist would cut this. Just, do you like it? Is it true?”
In the end, Weisband says, “It took about a year, but I did write a song that was like, ‘I don’t want anybody else to sing this.’ And nobody else would cut this song because it’s my song.” From there, the rest of the material on what became her debut release, Identity Crisis, flowed easier for her.
Since then, Weisband has become comfortable with her career as a recording artist in her own right. “To be honest, it is pretty easy for me to write for myself these days,” she says. “I’ve grown into that. It keeps me constantly creative about where to go next.”
This doesn’t mean that Weisband is turning her back on writing for others, however – she says she’s as committed to that as she always was, though she admits, “I have to be more intentional these days about saying, ‘You’re here to serve this person.’ But I still so enjoy it, and I’m very grateful for it.”
Being a songwriter – whether for herself or for others – is something Weisband seemed destined to become. She says she remembers writing songs in her head when she was only four or five years old as she was growing up in Virginia. She took what she considers her first “real” song when she was eleven years old: “It was called “Soul on Fire.” It was about Jesus,” she recalls, adding that she wrote it to please her father.
“My dad loves music. I just love him so much, and I wanted to bond with him,” Weisband says. When she played her father the song, “He cried. Getting my dad’s approval was such a big thing – knowing that something I created made my dad emotional, it became like an addicting experience for me. I was like, ‘Cool, I’m going to go try it again!’ And of course, they did not all make him cry,” she says with a laugh.
Still, Weisband kept working at her new craft with single-minded determination. “I’d write every single day after school for an hour. Even if I got one little melody or idea, whatever it was, I did it like clockwork. It just caught fire in me. It completely took over every dream I ever could have. It’s in my blood now.”
That same drive still serves her well today. “I’m just a really, really hard worker,” she says. “I show up every day. I rarely cancel writes. I go where I’m told. I have great people in my corner who are always putting me in situations to win.”
Now, even after all her success – and Not Afraid to Say Goodbye providing yet more evidence of her songwriting skills – Weisband is still modest: “It’s funny, I don’t feel like I’ve made it,” she says. “I don’t know that I’ll ever feel like I made it. I think I could be standing on a stage for my own music for ‘Song of the Year’ at the Grammys and still not think I made it. Something in me will be like, ‘What’s next?’”