One of the breakout stars of alt-country over the past calendar year has been singer-songwriter Emily Scott Robinson. With a sharp pen and soft yet powerful vocal style, ESR, as she is sometimes known, made waves among critics with her first full-length project, Traveling Mercies. By her own account, she pegs herself as “halfway between country and folk”, a description that would likely not face much pushback from anyone familiar with her work. Traveling Mercies is a sparse, lively, and largely-acoustic project that thrives off of the strength of its songwriting and storytelling. It should be no surprise, then, that it became Robinson’s coming out party. Garnering acclaim from the likes of Rolling Stone, the past year or so has certainly been a whirlwind for Robinson.
“It’s been a really busy year and it is nice to get a break, although when you’re used to going full speed it’s a little hard to slow down and I find that I struggle to take time off, which is not something I ever thought I’d say about my job,” she says. “It’s funny because when I’m touring, every night I’m getting this constant affirmation that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and it’s this wonderful feedback on a nightly basis, and when I’m off tour and I’m just alone and writing, it feels a little more like I’m floundering in the dark.” She added, “it’s good for me to take time off playing shows, it’s really, really good. I’m able to get more creative and just make the space in my life to write and that is super important.”
So what is it like to hit that moment where your music breaks into the conversation? “It’s really surreal. It’s really surreal because you spend the first couple of years of your music career trying to convince people that even though they don’t know your name, they should know your name, and that you have something worth offering and that you have songs worth listening to. And you work so hard to try and convince people of that, and honestly just breaking into the genre and breaking in on a national level is a really hard thing to do because people like what they’re familiar with.”
She continued: “And so to get people to care enough to listen to you, you have to show that you’re something different and have something new to offer them, and so it’s almost like I’ve been working and driving and staring so hard at this thing that I wanted so badly. And I’ve seen other artists get it and I’ve been like, ‘why haven’t I gotten this yet?’, and I’ve had these feelings of like, impatience, deep impatience sometimes, at the process. And now that things that I’ve wanted are all coming true, I’m looking at it like, is this an optical illusion? Like if I look away for a second is this going to disappear? Like I’m having a hard time believing that this is real. So yeah, all the things that I worked for and asked for are happening and I have to look at them and go, ‘I am here on this list of top 40 albums not because I paid somebody, not because my publicist pitched me super hard, not because of this or that, but because my album deserves to be there.”
However, the acclaim came with its own emotional nuances. “And, you know, imposter syndrome is real, but it’s also debilitating and so when you feel that imposter syndrome, you have to go like, okay, I kind of have to talk to myself and go, ‘I know you feel like you don’t belong here, but you wouldn’t be here unless you did’, because that’s what other people tell me, and it’s something we all have to remind ourselves of once and a while. When we actually receive the recognition that is coming to us, that it’s not coming to us for no reason. Yeah, it’s been a really exciting year for me because Traveling Mercies came out in February and I honestly didn’t expect for it to have — I didn’t hope for as much as I received, which is that even after eight months, nine months of it being out in the world, journalists are still writing about it, people are still listening to it, it was included in several year-end lists that were pretty important.”
“And I, you know, I didn’t really expect that, so those things were rolling in and I’m just sitting over here in Eastern Europe, I’ve got a really terrible respiratory virus, sitting inside in my in-laws apartment, looking at the Rolling Stone list going, ‘this is so weird because I’m in pajamas and I’m on antibiotics and I’m so not in my headspace that I’m in when I’m working or on the road. And so it was just kind of a funny thing to be like, ‘it’s okay for you to be in your pajamas and taking a break from your work right now.'”
For anyone who has given Traveling Mercies a listen through, this passion is evident.
When asked for her greatest musical influences, Robinson came up with some not-so-surprising names given her sonic palate. “I would say that one of my biggest and most important influences is Patty Griffin. She’s very much I think in the folk genre, but I would say Patty Griffin, Dolly Parton, and Emmylou Harris are three of my biggest influences.”
The Griffin influence proved to be accurate, with Rolling Stone making a direct comparison between Griffin and Robinson in a profile. “I was like ‘oh my God, I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life’! Somebody at Rolling Stone put Patty Griffin in a sentence with my name! Yeah, Patty Griffin is — for me, like I know her whole catalogue. Some people are obsessed with collecting music and listening to music from so many different artists. But for me, I think I’d be comfortable just picking a couple artists and just listening to them if I had to for the rest of my life. It’s sort of like you get obsessed with one author and you want to read anything that they’ve ever written, and I never, I just never get tired of Patty Griffin.”
Robinson’s Griffin fandom goes back to her youth and proved influential. “I remember I saw her live when I was maybe nineteen at the North Carolina Arboretum, and it was a summer night, and she walked out on stage and the first song she played, she sat down and played this hymn, like this French hymn that her grandmother used to sing, and it was so quiet and all of her power on stage. She walked out, she didn’t say a word, she just sat down at the piano and started playing. And I had never witnessed something so — to me, in a live show — that was so powerful, so quietly powerful, as that. I think when I saw that — you know, when I was nineteen I had no idea I’d be doing what I’m doing, and I never, ever considered pursuing a career in music, that was not my dream, that was not my plan. I just loved paying guitar and singing, and I knew that I had some kind of ability to captivate people and to convey emotion when I sang.” She went on, “but that was it. I had no idea I would do this for a living. But when I look back, I see these moments where what I’m doing now would be reflected to me before I knew I was gonna do it. And I was just drawn to it, and transfixed by it, and just energized by it, by watching it happen, by watching women songwriters perform. So seeing Patty — I just love Patty, Patty’s my favorite.”
So how did ESR find her way to the country music realm? In some senses, it was what she grew up on. “It’s funny, my music, I really grew up embedded in a lot of folk music. So I listened to a lot of James Taylor. A lot of Joni Mitchell, and a lot of the great folk singers of the 60s and the 70s, Cat Stevens. And I also grew up listening to a little bit of country. Nanci Griffith is somebody who my mom loved listening to, so she’s always on our stereo at home. So I grew up with a lot of that, but I just always felt at home with a guitar and the sound of a guitar and a female voice and it’s funny — I never imagined that I would be a country songwriter. But some of my songs just come out country. I don’t quite know how to explain it. I didn’t grow up in the country, I grew up in the South, which is kind of its own history of storytelling and literature and poetry and the Appalachian traditions of music from where I come from. But I grew up like a pretty normal life in a midsize city, I didn’t grow up on a farm or anything, but I myself have always felt really drawn to small towns, to rural areas, to the country, to the history, to the past, to the stories we tell. And so the music just started coming out of me country, and I think the kind of country I am is definitely a throwback to the legacy of country songwriters that were really popular in the 20th century, especially this like, outlaw country and the tradition of storytelling.”
She added a thought on the classification of country music in its current form: “I mean, what was considered country in like the 60s and the 70s and even 80s is really considered folk now, it’s interesting. So yeah, I don’t know, its weird.”
Many professional musicians and performers speak of childhood ambition and a drive from birth to play music for a living. Robinson’s path did not adhere to this model, taking a winding, complex, and fulfilling journey to get her current position.
“I went to college and I got a degree in History and Spanish, and I worked in the social work field out of college. So I had a couple different jobs in the n0n-profit and social work world, some of which integrated my Spanish, I’m fluent in Spanish, and so probably the job that meant the most to me was that for several years I was an advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault at a resource center, and I worked mostly with Hispanic women who were immigrants. And I worked with them, supporting them through all sorts of things in their life and I worked a lot on immigration advocacy with them.”
Things did eventually turn her towards music. “And when I was in the midst of that job, I was experiencing some burnout about a year and a half into the job, and so I took a week off of work one summer and went to this songwriting camp in Colorado, at this place called Planet Bluegrass — they put on the bluegrass festival every year in Telluride, Colorado, they’re that organization — so they had this really cool thing, it’s called Song School. It’s just like a four or five day songwriting camp in August in Colorado. It was absolutely lovely. I had this old friend that kept saying to me, ‘you have to come to this, you have to come to this’, for years she was telling me about it and finally I was like, ‘I need a break from my job, I need to do something, I have no idea what this is going to hold for me but a spot opened up in the camp so I went. And that was the first time — this was in 2013, God, six years ago — it was the first time I ever met folk singers, folk and Americana musicians who were songwriters, who were making decent careers in music, who were accessible to me, who told me that I had a gift, and sort of showed me the way, showed me that it was possible to make a career in music without being a superstar. You know, you don’t have to be a superstar to tour, to make a living pay a mortgage, you know, to live a good life and live a happy life.”
“I had just never had an example of anyone close to me who was doing that, and it was like this light in me that had never been quite turned on, turned that week. And I got home and my husband was like, ‘man, I have never seen you this excited about anything before’, and I said ‘I think I want to work toward doing this for a living, like I think I might be able to do this, I think I could make a career as a musician.”
From there, there was really no looking back for the acclaimed singer-songwriter. “So from that point on it took about three years, I quit my full-time job about a year later, but then I went and traveled for a little while, and then when we moved back to the States I started a part-time job as a Spanish interpreter as a hospital, and at that point I was just excited to do it and I knew I would need to kind ween myself off of normal jobs, I couldn’t just leave my only source of income. So I eventually got a part-time job in 2015, and started doing music and starting making my first recordings, started building my first website, got my first press photos done, like just recording the first handful of songs I had, making a demo, going to some folk music conferences, just meeting people and you know, playing at bars, playing at open mics, just building. And in 2016 was when I quit that job, my last day job, and my husband and I moved full-time into our RV and started traveling around the country and I started touring. And at that time, I didn’t have an agent — I mean of course I didn’t have an agent, I was like just starting out — but I didn’t have an agent, I didn’t have management, I was just doing it all on my own, and it was totally fine and it was totally working, and I was learning everything I needed to learn at that point in order to be where I am now. And so for the next three years I’ve been building and doing this thing and it’s been great, and this past year was my first really big album release, my first really big press I’ve gotten. I got a great booking agent and now I’m on a level where I can sort of breathe and go ‘oh my God, I have a steady foundation now in this career’. And it’s not going anywhere, it’s not going to disappear if I look away for one second. I feel like I’m on steady footing and I can grow my career and my audience and do it in a sustainable way. And so it was really good!”
The realities of being a traveling professional musician is, of course, not the constant luxury some may perceive it as, a reality Robinson is acutely in tune with. “We live in a culture that really tries to convince us that we have to be on all the time and that’s what it takes to be worthy of attention or love or whatever it is, and so I do think it’s just so important for us to recognize — and I think it’s especially crucial for us as creators who are also running businesses, you know there’s the business and the art — that there are, just as in nature, there are seasons to things and there is life and death and those cycles are written into our lives as artists and there are periods where you just need to be like, yeah, I don’t have a million song ideas right now, I am just watching Netflix in my pajamas, I am off the road, I am not posting on Facebook or Twitter very much, and that is all healthy and it is all good. Because we can’t be producing all the time, we can’t be on all the time, or we will surely destroy ourselves.”
The one thing that stands out immediately from Robinson’s work is her distinct songwriting style. Creative in content with compelling stories to tell, Robinson’s work thrives on its lyricism. Of course, it wasn’t an instant process, but its one that has proven to be gratifying with time.
“It was definitely a big adventure to just go ‘I’m a beginner at this and I’m gonna probably suck at this at first’, and just to kind of trust this is worth doing. And I do have to say I’m really glad that I had this other life, these other perspectives, that I’ve worked these other jobs, because here’s the thing, I know what it feels like to work a job that I think I’m going to love on paper but in reality don’t love. And I know what it feels like to have a good paycheck and good benefits, and not to feel in my heart like it’s where I belong. So now that I’m doing music, I feel like I’m doing, on every level, what I’m called to do, what I’m gifted to do and what I’m called to do, which is what I’m doing now.”
Continuing, she added “I don’t confuse the hard days with like, a crisis of a career. Sure, do I have some random shit I have to wade through or sometimes have a professional relationship that doesn’t turn into what I wanted it to be, or do I burn out, like all the time. But I don’t confuse those low moments with like, ‘oh no I don’t know if I should be doing what I’m doing’. You know, I don’t think about quitting this job because I know what it really feels like to be in a job you’re not meant to do, and so I know the difference. I have that perspective of like, yeah, this moment can suck, but this job is really great, and I feel deeply satisfied and rewarded by the work that I’m doing. So yeah, I feel very lucky.”
On an album — and discography — stacked with distinct songwriting efforts, two tracks in particular have garnered wider recognition: title track “Traveling Mercies” and the raw “The Dress”. Commenting on the former, Robinson was elaborate.
“It’s interesting because the song on its head, on the surface, it’s not an overtly political song. But after [U.S. President Donald Trump] was elected, I was on tour through Texas — and this is in 2016 — I was playing a show at a Church, and we had time that afternoon to just relax before the show, and it was the last show of the tour and I was with some friends — actually, I think I have my timeline wrong, this was in January or February right before Trump came into office, and there were immediately like several travel bans put in place. And these people were stopped, these people who had family in the U.S., who were from the Middle East, it was essentially like a ban on people coming in from Muslim countries. And I was reading the news, and I was feeling deep desperation and deep sadness, because I have worked with a lot of people who were refugees and were fleeing violence, or for whom I could see the tenuous, the power that immigration status holds over people’s lives and how scary that is, and how devastating it can be when families are separated from each other.”
“I could just feel it on a visceral level. And I was so, I was just so sad, I was so sad, and I was on tour with a friend and we had some time in this Church before a show that evening and I went into like, it was like this little nurse’s mother room next to the sanctuary, and I went in there and just sat in the dark by myself and cried, and all this sadness and pain of other people just washing through me. And fear for them, and for their lives and for their families. And that same week I started to get this little mantra rolling through my head, traveling mercies, traveling mercies, and I wrote the verses maybe over the course of a month or two and reworked them a couple different times, and I really tried to distill them down them down to like a prayer. A prayer for safekeeping, a prayer for kindness, a prayer for the vulnerable place in us that we have no way to protect the people we love from going out in the world — you know, how vulnerable it can be for families who are part from each other.”
She continued by saying “I just, I wanted to see if I could convey a drop of that feeling, that I know refugees and immigrants experience when they’re separated from their families, to people in the United States who just simply don’t know what that feels like to have that level of powerlessness in the world. And I felt as if, maybe if I could make somebody feel what that feels like, that vulnerability, then maybe they would think a little bit differently about the immigration stuff. And I don’t know, but yeah, that’s where that song came from.”
Following the same path of somber and heart-wrenching tracks is the acclaimed “The Dress”, a hard-to-listen-to-account, ruthlessly intimate account of sexual assault.
“I was finishing this song, and sitting on this song, when the Me Too movement became really big and really vocal and really became a part of like, our culture, and that was a big cultural shift when people started to really talk about their experiences as survivors, men and women both, of sexual abuse and sexual assault. The song, “The Dress”, is about my own experience being date raped when I was in my early twenties, so that was about ten years ago. And I, it’s just so interesting, as I was watching the Me Too movement kind of play out in the news and on social media and in lots of essays people were writing, I was seeing that the primary emotion being expressed was one of anger, this righteous anger being unleashed.”
Robinson’s emotional process took a different path, and its a sentiment she wanted to put out to listeners. “And while I understood that feeling, and the anger is part of the healing process, I was thinking back to the memories of my year after my assault, and all I remember was confusion and depression and isolation, and I didn’t have anger. I didn’t have anger at first because I didn’t really understand what had happened to me. And I didn’t really — I felt so lost in this fog of trauma, and so I wanted to write a song that captured that feeling. Because there are so many women out there who hadn’t even had the ability to process their assault or their abuse to the point of anger yet. They still don’t even understand what happened to them. There are generations of women who still only blame themselves for it, or women who don’t call it rape. And you know, women who never told a soul.”
“So I wanted to reach those people, and I wanted anybody — it was sort of like writing a lifeline back to myself. I was like, If this song had existed back when I was twenty-two and I was confused, just starting to figure out what I had gone through, this would have made me feel less alone. And I wanted other stories to feel less alone and less crazy. Because everything I went through, I was like ‘oh my God, I feel so crazy’ and I felt so out of my mind, and out of my body, and then several years later when I went through some pretty intensive training and education about sexual assault for my job, I started to understand that what I went through was literally, I was like textbook PTSD. Like, by the book, checking off the things that an assault survivor goes through after their assault. And I remember being like, why didn’t I know this? Why didn’t I — I seriously thought that I was a mental case. But in fact I was incredibly normal and I just wanted other people to like, have a life rafter of a song to hear go, ‘oh my God, so I’m not crazy?’ And that’s what I wrote it for. So I wanted to capture that feeling, and then put it out there. And it was a really, really hard song to write, it’s an uncomfortable one for me to listen to, I don’t — I always skip it whenever I’m listening to the record, because I don’t really like listening to it, cause it’s very — it’s like a gut punch. But I have so many people who have reached out to me to thank me for it and so I think, okay, whatever it cost me energetically to record it and to sing it, it’s worth it me so that it can do its work in the world, you know?”
The songwriting process is something that Robinson is familiar with, and it often doesn’t come with a set structure in place. “You know, I have like, I just get these ideas that come to me, and they’re usually either a chorus, like a line of a chorus, or a title that will just appear to me in the world. Sometimes somebody will say something and I’ll be like ‘oh my gosh that sounds like a song’. And so usually I would say I get inspiration from out in the world, and then just from stories. I would say honestly a lot of songs that make it out of the gate for me are, I get external inspiration for. I write some about my internal process, you know my inner life, but a lot of my songs are story-based and I just like, I will usually write lyrics first and so I have this weird collection of like orphan song titles and orphan melodies because nothing usually comes at the same time. So I’ve got like, a bunch of random melodies that I’ve recorded in my iPhone recorder that just sound, like, nice, but that don’t have lyrics yet, and then a lot of song titles written down in my notes app that I also think sound nice but don’t have any music or words.”
“Now, at this point in my life, I’m just trying to develop a little more structure around my songwriting, and just like, I don’t know, be a little more cohesive and finish them to whatever means they come to, whether it’s a song that ends up getting played in the world, or a song that only lives on my phone, which is fine with me. But yeah, I do not have like an incredibly tight process to my songwriting, but I will say that some of my songs, they tend to go one of two ways. I either write and finish a song within like, two or three days, done within a week with final edits and everything, and I just know it’s done. Or, I’m working on a song, and I write it, but I don’t come back over the course of months or even several years, and continue to write it. So like, “The Dress” took me several years, “Overalls” took me a year or two, and songs like “Ghost In Every Town”, “Borrowed Rooms and Old Wood Floors”, “Pie Song”, those all came really quickly. I mean, I think I must have finished those — those are like two to three day type songs.”
“I will say that much to my chagrin, I often get a lot of song ideas while I’m on tour, which just feels so overwhelming to me cause I’m like traveling, and playing shows, and I don’t have time to write down songs. Like, inspiration often doesn’t come when it’s — like I’ll say this, if I say ‘I’m gonna sit down and write today’, and I have like a coffee and an empty notebook, my best songs do not come when I do that. They never come when I’m planning to have time for that. That’s when I usually write like, my filler songs, where I’ll write a song and finish it and go ‘okay, that was an experience’, and I’ll just forget about, that song will never exist outside of that day.”
Whatever the formula may be, it’s one that seems to be working for Robinson. From “Run”, to the aforementioned “The Dress”, to tracks like “Thirst” from her impressive debut collection Magnolia Queen, the songwriting is what sets Robinson apart from an increasingly busy alt-country scene.
Despite the quality and acclaim of Robinson’s work, it has yet to reach an audience on mainstream country radio, a fact that will surprise approximately no one familiar with the quality of output on the mainstream radio waves recently. For many independent artists, this has necessitated a building of a fanbase outside of traditional infrastructure; ESR, for her part, is no different.
“That has been the great democratization of the music industry that has happened in the past twenty years, with the advent of the internet. We can sell music directly to our fans, we don’t need gatekeepers the way that we used to. And so the music industry has been — sorry, the record labels, the former gatekeepers, have been bleeding out their money. And I think this has been a tremendous opportunity for artists to come in and build up their fanbases on a grassroots level and make a great living without needing, like you said, country radio to make them famous. I just think it’s interesting, because streaming is also a really important part of the conversation, because I think streaming, to me, has more power right now to break new artists in my genre than radio does. Well in fact, in Americana and Folk, I think that press and streaming services are more powerful in breaking new artists in than radio, because terrestrial radio for Folk music and Americana music is really a pretty small percentage of radio. People are finding their new music on Spotify and Apple Music. I just think that this is an amazing time to be an independent artist because you don’t need permission from anyone in the industry to make a living.”
She added, “I think it’s amazing. Like, you can find your people and your audience and your niche, and you can make your music for them and they can buy your music and support you and come to your shows and to me it’s really kind of a meritocracy in that way, and it’s fantastic. And there’s so much more transparency, I think, as to how things work. Like, my whole team, where my music is going, how many streams it’s getting, how much money I’m getting paid for it, what percentage I’m paying out to my distribution label, like I know all those numbers. It’s not like I’m some, you know, young artist and I’ve been under a record label who doesn’t know where all the money’s going. It’s great. I have complete power and transparency over where my music goes and what the numbers are, which is very powerful.”
Her optimistic view of the independent scene does not translate to the mainstream realm, where she also faces the challenge of being a woman in an environment decidedly not kind to women.
“It’s so interesting because I have not pitched anything to mainstream country radio, I haven’t promoted anything to mainstream country radio at all. You can really see the writing on the wall from so far away that if somebody like Kacey Musgraves can’t get mainstream radio play, then it’s like, I belong in Americana really, a genre where, although radio is not a huge part of Americana — or Americana is not a huge part of radio — it’s like, I just haven’t even tried because I don’t really respect, actually I don’t respect mainstream country radio at all, unfortunately. I think there are people in the system trying to change it, but I never felt like I belonged in that world.”
She continued with her strong sentiments towards the issue: “The whole country, tomatoes, salad thing, it was literally like the more women speak up, the more women protest, the more this becomes a hot issue, the more they are punished in the radio charts. Like literally, we didn’t think it could get worse in the past three years, and it has gotten worse. I’m really sad tho see that there are not — it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of powerful male artists in the industry who are speaking up about the issue and trying to use their power to leverage it into some positive change. It just seems like country radio programming is full of, it’s like an old boys club. And I think the people that lose out the most are the music listeners, because if you put me in front of a room of people who listen to country radio, they would love me. I would win their hearts and minds. Like, I know my ability to tell stories, I know my ability to convey emotion, and to give people a soundtrack to their lives.”
“Unfortunately, radio programmers have played it so, so incredibly safe that they have made music dumber than their audience actually is.”
Continuing, she added: “And it’s just really sad. It’s like, they have just — I did not think they could continually, on a yearly basis, underestimate even more their audience. But you can see it’s like, you know, this inner circle of Nashville hitmakers writing songs for Cody, Tom, or Tony, and the songs are like, I wanna make a country music magnet, like fridge magnet poetry whatever it’s called. Literally all they’re doing is just switching around words, it’s just terrible, it’s just so bad. And it’s too bad because people who love country music are smarter than that, it just really bothers me. That’s my diatribe on country music *laughs*. And I love women, and I do not understand why they’re depriving country music listeners of women. Women make money, women are well-loved, women love women, men love women, everybody loves women, as much as they love men, and it’s the most crazy, ass-backwards, weirdly political ego-driven, insane, crazy-making thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I just hope it all goes down in flames.”
Robinson also understands that the exclusion of women from mainstream country radio has broader, and more problematic, outcomes in the long-term. Speaking to female role models in the mainstream of country music, Robinson was steadfast in her declaration of their importance.
“I can’t even explain how important it is. It just makes you feel less alone, it makes you feel like the things that you want to do are possible, because you’re seeing other people doing them and you’re seeing other people do them with grace and humility. It’s important to see women in this industry who are taking all the same detours and making mistakes and fixing problems and riding the highs and lows and it’s just important to see them taking up as much space as male artists. And I just — I look to Brandi Carlile, and Margo Price, and Maren Morris, and Miranda Lambert, and artists who are older than me and artists who are younger than me, and go, wow, look at that woman doing her work in the world. She is creating an infinite amount of space for more women to honor their calling in the world and to take up their proper space, and to let their light shine brightly. It’s less about, not taking up space, but when you see a woman n the industry who is allowing their light to shine fully, it gives other women permission to let their light shine fully in their own way instead of trying to fit in or be like ‘aw shucks, no not me’. You see a woman in her power, taking up space, doing her thing, and owning it, and it’s just incredibly powerful.”
She also spoke to an often-overlooked issue, that being th navigation of the music scene as a mother. “And I also have to say, it’s been very powerful and very influential to see women publicly being mothers and touring artists, and that is a huge, huge step for us. And this is for someone who, I want to be a mother, I’m in my early thirties, I’m watching women go out on the road and take their babies with them, and have the support of their partners, and that has been incredible to watch. It’s really cool to see Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires move through the world, both as parents and touring artists, and that’s just one example. Brandi Carlile, Margo Price, Maren Morris is pregnant, it’s just great to see thee shifts in the music industry where for so long, whether we were told this or not, I think many of us women, I think it’s a common fear that you have to give up on a career in music, or at least take a break or else it will slow you down to have a family or to have kids. And it’s not that there aren’t tradeoffs, because there are always tradeoffs for parents for having kids no matter what. But it’s been great to see women in my genre embrace that and be really honest about it. During the Americana Awards, the Our Native Daughters group, they were backstage and one of them was breastfeeding, and they took a picture like ‘we’re backstage waiting!’, but it was cool to see that we’re normalizing this space for moms and for babies, and I think that’s really profound.”
Finally, when asked to name a female artist we should all be listening to, Robinson enthusiastically spoke of one artist: “So Kyshona Armstrong, she’s out of Nashville, she is amazing. And Kyshona is one of the best songwriters and best singers and best performers — I mean, everybody in Nashville knows Kyshona, it’s just that on a bigger and more national level I hope to see her music getting the same recognition that other artists are getting, because she’s, to me, she’s just like on of those people who, I watch her and it’s like, oh my God, she’s a legend. She’s amazing, she’s almost indescribable. She’s got such a bright light, she’s a phenomenal musician, she’s actually a music therapist, it’s so cool. And she’s an unbelievable singer and songwriter and performer and she can just slide right between the folk genre to blues to like, rock to soul — she’s incredible. I love her.”
Emily Scott Robinson encompasses many of the traditions of country music. Storytelling. Poignancy. Emotion. If Traveling Mercies is any indicator, ESR is poised to have a tenured career in the country music realm, and the genre will be much better off for it.