Emily Jane White is a reason to love California. More specifically, Northern California.
Born, raised, educated and influenced in the Golden State, she is an embodiment of the North’s expansive wilderness, fertile farmland and bohemian beauty.
Compared to PJ Harvey and Kate Bush, the 30-year-old’s dusky alto frames her style of depression-era blues and folk.
The singer/songwriter is currently touring for her third full-length album, “Ode to Sentience.”
And the day before she left for a brief Japanese tour, White talked with the DLM about growing up in California, living abroad for a few years and how songwriting and live performances are her only job.
White grew up in Fort Bragg, a coastal town in an otherwise lush, rural part of NorCal.
“It was a really isolated area to grow up in … with no Internet, so it was really difficult to discover new music.” White says from her Oakland apartment. “To me, at times, it has comparable weather to the Pacific Northwest.”
She sees a direct correlation between this weather and her music.
“I think in a lot of ways, melancholy is my temperament,” she says.
She started taking lessons early on, but struggled with the structure of her lessons.
“I started playing piano really young and I quit in first or second grade because I didn’t really like the linear format of learning to read music from a book,” she says.
She found a new piano instructor that was more explorative, and was able to focus more on learning music as a whole.
She plays both electric and acoustic guitar on “Ode to Sentience.”
She stayed in NorCal for her education, but found a place that was less isolated.
“I went to UC Santa Cruz and there was a huge contrast between to the two places,” she says.
Though she was playing music at the time, her focus in college was much different.
“I ended up getting my bachelors in American Studies,” White says. “I chose the American Studies department because it was very interdisciplinary.”
Her primary focus was Women’s Studies. “It was my pathway,” she says.
After graduating college, White had a chance to go abroad.
“I had some friends that lived (in France) and they invited me to come on vacation and play some shows. … I’m not fluent but I can speak quite a bit,” White jokes about her time there.
“When I was living in Bordeaux I was writing songs,” she says, which led to her first album. “I got an opportunity to sign with a label in France.”
This led to White making songwriting her full-time job.
“I sell records over there and I’ve had some successful touring. … It’s primarily due to record sales and royalties. In 2008 I got a bunch of opportunities for touring and to do a bunch of amazing stuff,” she says.
With all of these opportunities presenting themselves and how busy she was fulfilling all of her engagements, White didn’t have time for a day job.
“To do everything I’ve had to do these last years, there’s really no way that I could have had a job with any kind of consistency. I couldn’t have had a schedule of any kind,” she says.
Though White played one of America’s most popular festivals earlier this year, South By Southwest, she didn’t feel as comfortable as other shows.
“I went to SXSW this year and some of the shows were really appropriate — some of them were not. It was a ridiculous environment to play the kind of music I play,” she says.
Check out Emily Jane White and Awahnichi at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center on June 29. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. for the all-ages show.