It was March of 2020. I was scheduled to spend a week in The Tragically Hip’s Bathouse Studio in Bath, Ontario. Producer Gord Sinclair and I had lined up a team of talent and we were very much looking forward to creating a new album – the follow up to our 2017 release ‘In Between’. We all know what happened in March of 2020. There was no album making. The world was in turmoil and we were all scared of the unknown as a worldwide pandemic took over all of our lives.
It was March of 2020. I was scheduled to spend a week in The Tragically Hip’s Bathouse Studio in Bath, Ontario. Producer Gord Sinclair and I had lined up a team of talent and we were very much looking forward to creating a new album – the follow up to our 2017 release ‘In Between’.
We all know what happened in March of 2020. There was no album making.
The world was in turmoil and we were all scared of the unknown as a worldwide pandemic took over all of our lives.
The album prepped to be made that last week in March of 2020 never happened. I guess it wasn’t meant to. With the second year of the pandemic well underway, I found myself forced into a life change that I hadn’t anticipated and definitely couldn’t have planned for…there was a worldwide pandemic afterall. There was no amount of employment for those of us in the music industry (and many other industries) and when the foundation of my life that was my marriage, family and home was pulled from underneath me, I found myself clinging to the only securities I felt I had left – my daughter and my music.
A couple of weeks before life as I knew it changed forever, I had arranged to go into Jim Bowskill’s Cobourg studio ‘Ganaraska Recording Company’ with my new music pal Steve Marriner. There was no talk of making an album, just the desire to create some music in this cool space I’d recently heard so much about. When I called Steve days before our scheduled recording session to fill him in on my “new situation” he very compassionately offered to reschedule everyone involved. But the reality is, for many of us who’ve spent so many years in this business, the term “the show must go on” is our living truth.mThere was no rescheduling. I spent a day recording with a team of new people I’ve never worked with before. My tour manager Margie was ready for whatever might have been thrown at her that day from my direction. I don’t remember much of the day, but I know that some of what we captured is documented on what has become my most recent studio album.
‘Defined By Love’ is, in my opinion, the best work I’ve done to date. Steve Marriner wasn’t freaked out by my fragility of the last year and his enthusiasm to create meaningful music with me has placed him in my world and heart as a true brother and friend. The album that we made this past year wasn’t anything like the studio album I had originally intended to make. I guess the moral of this story is “there’s a bigger picture.” I might not understand why things happen the way they do, but if I trust that they are happening for a reason, I’ll be able to focus on making the most of the twists and turns of life.
My manager Gord Hunter always seems to have the best words, and so I’m leaving you with what he wrote about this new album ‘Defined By Love’. Thanks again for always knowing what to say, Gord.
Miss Emily is ‘Defined By Love’ (by Gord Hunter)
We humans are often defined based on a single thing. For some, it could be a career choice. For others, it might be a character trait or even an event. For Miss Emily, it would be simple to say that she’s defined by her unparalleled voice, but she would encourage you to seek a broader definition of who she is.
Whether it’s parental love, romantic love, or an all-encompassing love for community; Emily’s contention is that love is at the core of who we are. Emily Fennell’s earliest memories swirl through the dusty fairgrounds of Southern Ontario, accompanied by her parents, as she pursued her love of performing at county fair singing competitions where the creaky floorboards of outdoor stages laid down the backbeat. Later as a young adult, Miss Emily emerged from a soul-drenched gumbo of blues, old-school R&B, and jazz. With Ray Charles and Aretha as her mentors and K.D. Lang as her benchmark she went to school. Studying her craft on the side roads, backroads, and highways of Ontario; she played every juke joint and nightclub that would have her.
When she was pregnant with her daughter Piper, she took up residency at The Merchant in Kingston. Every Friday night she preached love, happiness, and harmony to jam-packed crowds and in the midst of the cover songs, she’d throw in a few of her own. Soon the set lists would be more hers than theirs and as she fell in love with her adopted hometown of Kingston, Kingston fell in love with her. It’s a love that flourished as she played festivals and music halls and more recently six sold-out shows at the Isabel Bader Theatre. Now she’s headlining the City’s centerpiece of artistic performance, “The Grand.” In all that time, despite the advice of highly-placed music industry insiders, never once did Miss Emily assume a persona. She has been hilarious in her honesty, heartfelt in her compassion, or touching in her grief but always and forever she’s been her genuine self on stage and off. That naked commitment to the truth has never been more apparent than in her fourth studio album, Defined By Love. It’s a warts-and-all diary of a year filled with confusion and anger, lost relationships and found humanity.
Defined By Love is a deeply personal 12-song meditation on deception, pain, resilience, and finding strength among the ruins of heartbreak. Someone once said that we are the sum total of our experiences.
It’s three words and the fine line between friends, lovers and foes.
It’s walking the road less travelled but making that road your own.
That may, in fact, be true but those experiences – good or bad – shouldn’t define us. Take Miss Emily’s advice and don’t allow the world to lock you into a single description. Be defined by family, friends, and community. Be defined by love.