On September 22, 2023, Emily Ann Roberts will be releasing one of the most anticipated albums of this fall with her debut full-length, Can’t Hide Country. Teaser songs such as “Whole Lotta Little, “Chickens,” and “The Building” have taken who the causal fan recognizes from her stint on The Voice and made her a household name amongst country music lovers, walking her along the fine line of fresh and modern with an irresistible throwback flare. We had the incredible opportunity to check in with Emily ahead of the album release and talk to her all about the record, deep dive into the teaser songs she’s gifted fans with so far, working with Trent Willmon in the studio, her hometown release party in Knoxville on September 21, 2023, and much much more!

(Interview by: Jeffrey Kurtis)

1) Talk to us a bit about your debut full-length Can’t Hide Country.

I am so excited for this album to be out.

It has 13 songs, and it is country as cornbread! You don’t have to wonder what genre of music you’re listening to when you listen to my album. That’s something that I have always been very passionate about, is sticking to the sound that I was raised on, that I love so much, and that I think people are craving. I think country music needs more fiddle, it needs more dobro, and more of that stuff that just feels country.

These songs are kind of a smorgasbord of different things that I’ve been through in my life these past couple of years. It’s lessons that I’ve learned. It’s things that I’ve learned from watching the way that other people live.

I’ve recently got married, but there’s tons of breakup songs on this record. I’ve seen a lot of my girlfriends go through hard breakups, and I write about what I see and what I know.

It’s funny when people have listened to some of the teasers and they’re like, “okay, ummm is everything okay with you and your husband? Shouldn’t this album just be full of love songs?” But I tell everybody, it’s like a sampler platter, alright! It’s got a little bit of everything in there.

And Trent Willmon produced it and I’m so glad to have him as part of this project. He absolutely brought all these songs to life in a way that I could only dream that they could be. So, he made all those dreams a reality.

2) You mentioned working on the album with Trent Willmon. What did he bring to the production aspect that really helped shape the overall vibe you were going for that without his input might not have been there?

Oh man! You know, I can articulate how I want things to sound, but I’m not one that can really see the full picture. I can talk to Trent and say that I wanna hear banjo or I wanna hear fiddle. I want this song to feel like a hoedown or I want this one to feel really huge, but this one to be really small and intimate. I can explain that kind of stuff, but he’s the one that’s able to have the vision to go to the band and say this is what we’re looking for and bring all those little ideas that I have to life.

Another thing that he brought to this record was just flat-out belief in what I wanted to do. That is something that is so important that I haven’t had in years here in Nashville. Finding the right producer has been a huge struggle for me and for my team because I do want my music to sound more country, and a lot of people when they hear that, they sometimes think that it means dated or that it means old. But that’s not the truth. It might be their opinion, but just because something sounds more country doesn’t mean it’s old.

Trent felt that same way as me too. He felt like that was my biggest asset. Instead of that being a disadvantage, that was something that really set me apart. So, without him I don’t think this project would have ever existed because he came in and brought confidence and belief in the fact that this music is going to have its own spot, it’s own lane, and it’s going to resonate with people.

3) You’ve released several songs ahead of the album release. Let’s talk about the up-tempo anthems first; “Whole Lotta Little” and “Chickens.” How important was it to showcase your fun-loving, down-home country side ahead of the album?

Those songs mean a lot to me. They are my newly married songs on the record.

“Whole Lotta Little” is about being happy with what you have, whether it’s a lot or a little. In mine and my husband’s case, I wrote that song when we just had a little…and we still just have a little and I’m thankful for what we have. It’s just a mindset for wherever you’re at in your life of saying, “we don’t have to have it all.” To be happy, to be content, we don’t have to have it all. So, that song means a whole lot to me because it takes me back to those first days of being married, living in a little tiny apartment and being poor as dirt and wondering if we had enough money to pay the bills…and we always did! That song just carries a lot of sweet memories.

I love that song and I love being able to play it live because people have so much fun with it. It’s so up-tempo and kind of leans towards that Appalachian, almost jacked up bluegrass feel that I love so much.

And “Chickens” was actually another newly married song…and if you’ve heard it then you’ll know why. I was writing with Trent Willmon and Paul Overstreet. It was my first time writing with Paul, and I’ve been a huge fan of his songwriting. He’s written all kinds of hits that we all know and love back in the day, and he’s still writing hits…he’s absolutely incredible!

But he was talking about how he and his wife had chickens, and he said, “Did you know that chickens put themselves to bed when it gets dark outside? We do the same thing in this house. We don’t sit around and sit up late to wait around to go to bed. We go to bed with the chickens.”

And I was like…”umm same! I’m newly married. You ain’t gotta tell me twice.”

So, we wrote that song and I like to tell people that it is the country(est) love song that you’ll about ever hear because it’s called “Chickens.” And if you’ve got a country(er) one, then I’d like to hear it!

4) You talked a little bit about your husband, and “Infinity” was another that you released. Talk to us about that song and what it means to you on a personal level?

I wrote that song years ago…back when me and my husband were just dating. We met in Spanish class in high school, and he is just my best friend. He’s my biggest supporter. He believes in me when I feel like giving up. He’s just been a steady, constant force in my life ever since I’ve known him, and I’m so thankful for him.

But that song just kind of fell out into the room the day I was writing with Stephanie Chapman because she was asking me all about my life. We were getting to know each other, and she asked if I had a boyfriend. I told her I did, and like any good southern woman says, she looked at me and said, “Is he the one?”

And I was like, “Yes! I know he’s the one.”

And she says, “Well how do you know he’s the one?”

And I said, “because even if we get forever together, it won’t be long enough.”

That’s how “Infinity” was born. Stephanie started saying, “okay, that is a song” and said, “Forever won’t be enough for me, I need a guarantee I’ve got you for infinity.” And I was like, yes! That’s how I feel, and so we were able to sit down together and write that song.

Then a couple of years later when my husband and I were getting married, we actually had some strings playing as I walked down the aisle, and they played “Infinity.”

5) Empowering anthems are prevalent in country music right now, and you delivered one yourself with “Walkin’ Shoes.” In what ways do you feel this song stands out a bit differently than others released with a similar theme?

There are all kinds of empowering songs, but I do think that this one is special because of the production, for one, and I also think the melody is awesome and catchy. And the runs that we sing on “Walkin’ Shoes” are so fun.

The thing that I love about “Walkin' Shoes” is that I wrote it thinking about if one of my girlfriends has been putting up with a man who treats her like garbage heard this come on the radio, would it inspire them to stand up for more, and to say that I deserve more than this. This is not a relationship that I should keep fighting for if I’m the only one fighting for it.

I think that’s something that sets it apart, because instead of just being empowering and saying things like “I’m this” or “I’m that” and “I’m worth it,” I hope that when women listen to it, they’re able to say, “you know what…I should put on my walkin’ shoes! Why have I been fighting for a relationship that’s not right?”

6) My personal favorite release ahead of the album is the incredible song, “The Building.” Take us deeper into the writing room on that one. It’s obviously a very personal song for you, but what aspects did Michael Farre (you-co-writer) offer that helped craft it into such a universally appealing flavor?

Oh man! He brought the whole idea of it.

He had read some stuff on my Instagram before we wrote together. That song was thought of during our very first co-write. We had never worked together before and we wrote another song, and I was packing up to leave, ran to the bathroom, and he was just playing piano and humming to himself when I came back into the room. I was like, “oh…maybe he’s starting a new song.”

I sat back down, and he said, “I stalked your Instagram before you came here to write.”

I was like, “Oh gosh! Well, what did you find? Probably too much because I probably overshare on there.”

He said, “you wrote something a couple weeks ago about your home church in East Tennessee…and I think that I have a similar story to yours.”

He said that his dad was the pastor of the church he was raised in and that it was a little tiny church that whole family went to. So, he told me some of his story, I shared some of my story, and in my Instagram post, I had talked about how it was the place my great-grandfather had pastored, that it was where my nana was the church secretary, that this was the place that felt like family reunion every Sunday, and the place where my mom and dad met, the place I was baptized…the list went on and on about why this place meant so much to me. But at the end of the post I wrote, “But besides all that, what really makes it special, that makes it home, is that this is the place where I met the Lord and He changed my life.

So, Michael had read all that and was like, “that’s a song!” He told me to record on my cell phone because he wouldn’t remember anything he said. So, I press record, he starts playing, and he spit out, “I know the stained glass never saved a soul, and these pews ain't on the roll that's called up yonder.”

He kind of fumbled through the next line and was working through what he thought the idea would be. Then when he got to the last line he sang, “I know it's just a buildin', plain and simple white, but it's the buildin' where Jesus changed my life.”

I was crying. I was absolutely in a puddle. He turned around and looked at me and said, “We have to write that!”

I was like, “Yes, we have to write that. Why have I never thought of this?”

Without Michael that song would have never been born because he’s the one who read the post, got inspired, and basically took that song and ran with it. We actually had to finish up our write that day, so we didn’t get to finish it then and it was like 2 months before we could get back together to finish it. I was chomping at the bit to get to it too, because I was like this song is gonna be so good.

We got back together and finished it up, and I got to debut it at the Grand Ole Opry for the very first time. We got a standing ovation, and that’s when my manager thought, “we gotta record this song.”

7) A track on the album that we haven’t heard yet that really has us intrigued is “Still Searching.” How did it come about that both the legendary Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs are on this song, and does that mean it will carry your bluegrass flare to it?

Well, I’ll tell ya what, “Still Searching” is the most country song on the album and that’s saying something cause they’re all so stinking country.

That song is actually the only song on my album that I didn’t write.

Back when I was writing really heavily for the album, I reached out to a couple songwriters that I was really big fans of, and one was Jerry Salley. I asked him if he had any songs that he thought would be a good fit for me because I am absolutely open to cutting a great song even if I didn’t write it. He sent me “Still Searching.”

The song is about searching for someone who’s searching for someone like you, and feeling like you haven’t been able to find that person, yet. You’re questioning if there’s someone out there that is gonna understand me? Is there someone out there that I can give my heart to?

The demo that he played for me was sung by Sonya Isaacs, who is with a group called the Isaacs. The harmony on the demo was sung by Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs, and when he sent it to me, I was like, “Okay! Well first of all I relate to this song so much.”

In the moment, it wasn’t that I related to it from a relationship standpoint with like a significant other. I related to it because I felt like I was putting my heart out there with this music and was wondering if there were people out there looking for someone like me to bring what I bring to the table.

So, it really spoke to me, and it really connected with me, and so I wanted to cut it. But I also knew that hearing Vince and Ricky on that demo, I could not record it and not try to get them on my version. And they had recorded that years and years and years ago.

I know Ricky pretty well through just meeting him on The Voice and staying connected through the years, so I was able to reach out to him. I told him that I wanted to cut the song and asked him if he remembered it and would put his vocal on it again.

I never met Vince Gill, so my team reached out and was able to get him on the song as well.

But I’ll tell you what…Ricky sent me the coolest text message after he put his vocal on that. He told me that hearing music like this fired him up again and that he thinks it’s time for country radio to start playing music like this again. And that he was just really proud of me and excited.

Then he said, “ya know what would be fun? If me, you, and Vince could all get together one night at the Grand Ole Opry and sing it.”

I was like, “ya know Ricky…that would basically make me die a happy girl. Let’s please make that happen!”

It was incredible to be able to hear it for the first time with both of their vocals on it with mine, and definitely a bucket list goal is to make that performance happen at the Grand Ole Opry at some point here soon.

8) You’ll be celebrating the release of Can't Hide Country on Thursday, September 21 with a hometown show at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville, Tennessee. Why do people need to buy a ticket and be part of this amazing night?

That show is going to be so incredibly special because it will be the first time that anyone gets to hear the full album, but it will also be the first time that the full album is played live. You know, you can’t recreate a first time. This will be the only night that it ever happens.

It’s just going to be an incredible celebration and an awesome night of music because it’s with my hometown folks…and I’ve got folks coming in from Wisconsin, Georgia, Alabama….so a ton of folks are coming in for that night which means the world to me.

There’s just never going to be another night like it, and that’s why people oughta get their tickets. We’re almost sold out, so if anybody’s on the fence, you should definitely get your tickets because it’ll just be a big ole pre-party, and then at midnight, the whole album is out, But those people at the show would have been the first to hear it.

Also, that’ll be the first night that anyone can buy the album and the new merch line to go along with the record. It’s neat cause it’s kind of a little pre-party before the whole world knows about it, but for those first couple hours, it’ll be just our special thing.

And we also have Alex Miller opening up for us and he is absolutely phenomenal. He’s a hoot and a half. If you’ve never seen him, he’ll absolutely make your day as well.

9) What advice can you offer to someone who is just starting out and trying to break into the music industry?

My biggest advice that I give to anyone who is trying to do this, is first and foremost, don’t listen to what other people say when they tell you that you need to be somebody that you’re not because nobody is going to believe you if you’re not being authentic. If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, how are you going to make anyone else believe it? So, stay true to who you are.

Second thing that I would say to anyone trying to get their name out there, get their music out there…the internet is ruling the world these days. I think we have seen it with folks like Oliver Anthony and countless other people that have blown up online here recently who didn’t have a record label, didn’t have a management team, didn’t have anybody making it happen for them. A cell phone, Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube… all of it is very powerful. If you are consistent and put your art out there, I’m a firm believer that it will make its way to the people who want to consume it. I tell everybody, put what you got out there. Upload the videos, share the music, share behind the music…as much as you can because you kind of have the world at your fingertips these days. Really that is what’s driving the ship in this industry right now, at least that’s what I’m seeing right now.



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