At the young age of 26, singer-songwriter Emily Warren has accomplished what some singer-songwriters can only dream. Her lyrics have blasted through radio speakers internationally, having written both Dua Lipa’s “New Rules’ and the Grammy-winning dance track “Don’t Let Me Down” by The Chainsmokers. She has also collaborated and written for artists like Shawn Mendes, Jessie J, Sean Paul, Charlie XCX and Frenship. In conversation with Salute Mag writer Maya Baroody, Warren talks about her process, her purpose for writing music, and the experiences that lead her to where she is now.
SALUTE: First of all, we are both alumni of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, that’s pretty dope! Tell me a bit about your time at NYU, favorite past times, moments that shaped your music, etc. Any most influential professors or mentors you wanna shout out? And also— is college something you encourage for young artists and musicians on the path to pursuing their dreams?
EW: Ah, amazing!! One of the best parts about NYU, for me, was being able to stay in the city. New York is a great place to get started, or at least it was at the time because it’s not quite as saturated as LA so you can really work your way around and up if you just put the work in. Tisch was also great for me because the faculty was flexible, and I got signed when I was a junior, so I sort of needed to be able to work and be in school at the same time…and it somehow worked out. Another great aspect of Tisch is they brought in amazing guest speakers. Benny Blanco came in one time, and it was a real turning point for me because it was my first real window into the world of songwriting. I went up to my room after that and went down a Wikipedia rabbit hole and started realizing that the same handful of people were responsible for so many of the songs I loved by different artists. Whether or not college is for everyone is really hard to say—I honestly know very few people in the music industry that actually graduated from college, and I don’t know if I would say that my degree is what got me to where I am now. But it’s hard to not recognize any part of my journey as significant since everything I did is what got lead me here. I do, however, love learning and think to educate yourself, in whatever way, can only help you. It was often the classes outside my program – such as English or History classes— that were actually the ones that sparked my inspiration and gave me more to think about and say.
SALUTE: So far you’ve done some really cool collaborations with the Chainsmokers, Dua Lipa, Frenship, Noah Cyrus and Jessie J. Clearly, you had chemistry with all these artists based on what resulted. Could you share with us the creative process and merging of souls that takes place when you joined forces to write a hit with these fellow stars?
EW: It’s always different, but I find it really important just to make sure everyone is comfortable. I think everyone’s best comes out when they’re feeling confident and have no fear of judgment, so I think my first job is to try to create that environment. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to do anything when you’re making music, so anyone’s ideas are just as good as mine. I always like to ask a ton of questions, not only because those questions often lead to the concept of the song, but also because I’m genuinely curious— all of us have such different stories, and it’s really interesting to hear where people are coming from. From there, when everyone’s comfortable and open enough to be vulnerable, it becomes much easier to create something together.
SALUTE: What were you doing when you found out “Don’t Let Me Down” was nominated for a Grammy?
EW: Oh god… that was nuts. I’m pretty sure I was in a session with Scott Harris, my friend who is also a writer on the song. We couldn’t even believe it!!! It was crazy enough that the song had done what it had done, played on the radio and gone multi-platinum. But to get nominated for a Grammy was something you don’t even fully imagine. We were shook.
SALUTE: With the platform of a Grammy-winning emerging female artist, what would you say is your purpose— the mission and message of your art?
EW: The goal for me is always to tell the truth. What I love most about music is when you’re going through something, and you hear a song, and those lyrics seem to be telling your story, and it makes you feel less alone. I am always striving to make that kind of music, and I think the only way to really do that is to open yourself up and be vulnerable—say what makes you uncomfortable to say. There’s a good chance someone else is feeling it, too.
SALUTE: NYC is such a musically vibrant and historical city. How do you think growing up in NYC shaped the woman you are today, as a musician and a person?
EW: I always say New York is the best thing that ever happened to me. There’s no close second in terms of culture and art, and my parents taught me at a very early age to soak it all up. We went to Broadway shows and musicals, the opera, the museums it was all just right there. I owe almost everything to New York.
SALUTE: Do you have a favorite cafe/bar/club/restaurant/shop in NYC that you always go back to?
EW: My favorite restaurant in the city is Alta. I go pretty much every time I’m home. They have tapas, and the food and ambiance are amazing, and the location right near Greenwich Village is the best.
SALUTE: ”Something to Hold on To” is a very special song and video in the way it addresses the harmful effects of smoking and the anguish experienced by the loved ones of those who smoke— a very real subject not often discussed in music popular music. Can we expect more songs like this on your debut?
EW: Thank you! Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. That’s something I was going through at the time and felt important to write about. There’s definitely a lot more like that on the album, although ranging in emotion. I like to think there’s a good balance of sad and uplifting songs.
SALUTE: Are there any books you feel changed your life?
EW: Yes! The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Neapolitan Series by Elena Ferrante.
SALUTE: What do you turn to when you need inspiration?
EW: When I’m feeling burnt out, step one is to walk away from it. As with anything, you find what you’re not looking for, and no matter where I am, going out for a walk and just stumbling into places or meeting people is always eye-opening and a good way to get perspective. If I’m out of ideas, I just need to turn to someone else and ask what’s going on with them—everybody’s got something, so there’s always something to draw from there.
SALUTE: Who are your biggest musical inspirations of all time? Who are some people currently in the industry who inspire you?
EW: The biggest are The Beatles, John Mayer, and Ella Fitzgerald. I am always in the mood for those three. Beyond that the people currently in the industry who inspire me are Emeli Sandé, her lyrics are the craziest, Ryan Tedder because he does it all, and to be quite honest everybody I work with really inspires me and motivates me to be the best version of myself.
SALUTE: What’s your dream collaboration?
SALUTE: What’s been your favorite music video to shoot so far? I personally love the video for Poking Holes— you look beautiful!
EW: Aw thank you so much! “Poking Holes” was my favorite as well actually because it’s all of my childhood friends in the video, so it was a hilarious day and just so much fun. We actually put up the bloopers on YouTube, so you can see how impossible it was for me to get through it without dying laughing. I like working with my friends whenever possible— it makes everything so much more fun.
SALUTE: “Paranoid” is so fresh and catchy. I know you’ve talked in the past about how all your songs come from the truth or something you’ve experienced. I was curious—in “Paranoid” are you reassuring your lover that you won’t leave, or are you talking to yourself here? Can it be interpreted either way?
EW: Yes! And thank you so much! I was talking to someone else in that song, but we were trying to leave it open-ended so that it could sound like it’s addressed at the listener or their partner, so I’m glad it’s being interpreted that way.
SALUTE: You are marketed as a feminist singer-songwriter. If you could accomplish one thing for women through your music, what can you hope for that to be?
EW: Very happy to hear that :). Because it’s a male-dominated industry, there aren’t that many female writers and yet there are tons of female artists, and the majority of music listeners are female, so it’s really important that we are properly represented and that there is a female in the room when writing a song for a female artist. Men who write songs for women without a female in the room are not being malicious, but it’s also impossible for them to truly write from the female’s perspective when they’ve never lived it. My goal in the room is to try and make sure we’re all being honest about what we would actually feel and say and not say things because we’re being swayed in one direction or the other by male executives or collaborators.
Warren’s debut album is deeply and authentically personal. She touches on real issues and uses her powerful voice and lyrics to convey emotion and wisdom. Although a pop album, Quiet Your Mind provides a truly fresh sound with melodies and soul that will capture and secure listeners of many different music tastes. It is an innovative sonic diary from a special girl living and growing through her music. Catch Emily’s debut album Quiet Your Mind out now on all platforms!