Emma Butterworth grew up in the lap of rock and roll. At home, three generations of Butterworth living rooms have overflowed with music—from singing, to strumming, to turntables spinning out albums from Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt, Fleetwood Mac, and John Denver. On the road, Butterworth has spent her twenty years dancing and singing along from the front row with her dad’s long-time, hard-touring band.
“Music has been a big part of my life forever, and professionally for the past year,” she says.
Her family roots provided Butterworth’s liftoff into a natural progression of folk sounds. Tucking away in her bedroom on a floor usually tatted with lyrics, she dove deep into the stylings of Brandi Carlisle, the Lumineers, Lord Huron, Gregory Alan Isakov, First Aid Kit, and Head and the Heart. While Dad knocked out road miles in bars and festivals around the country, Emma often in tow, the young singer-songwriter developed a powerful voice and a seeking spirit, making sense of a bittersweet world with a notebook and her songwriting.
“Being a musician is being a different kind of storyteller. I personally don’t like being the center of attention, but I’ve grown up with these stories and songs I want to share.”
Listeners will find those scraps of girlhood longing—plus the wry wisdom of a new generation—on Butterworth’s intricate debut album, “Wild Life,” co-produced and recorded by she and her father in a storeroom in the back of the family basement. Here, Butterworth weaves her own way, one breathy alto lyric at a time.
Her pared-back power vocals dominate Enough & Loved and Work in Progress (penned, incredibly, when she was in middle school). They’re stripped and simple, stitched into melancholy strings and lush piano chords. Dad’s influence and pop sensibilities surface in Take a Little Weight, about temporarily buckling under expectations, both spoken and unspoken.
The album vibrates with energy on the verge of, well, everything. It hits close to home whether it’s how you felt last year, or a lifetime ago.
In her own words:
Word after word
Verse after verse
When worse comes to worst
I’m a work in progress