Art Maker: Emma Ayres, singer-songwriter

  • Singer-songwriter Emma Ayres, at home in Greenfield with “Doc Watson,” a young Chihuahua mix she brought back from a recent tour. Her four-year-old Puerto Rican rescue “Ida” is behind the window in background. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Singer-songwriter Emma Ayres, at home in Greenfield with “Doc Watson,” a young Chihuahua mix she brought back from a recent tour. Her four-year-old Puerto Rican rescue “Ida” is behind the window in background. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Singer-songwriter Emma Ayres, at home in Greenfield with “Doc Watson,” a young Chihuahua mix she brought back from a recent tour. Her four-year-old Puerto Rican rescue “Ida” is behind the window in background. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Emma Ayres, an Amherst native now living in Greenfield, has been active in the local arts scene for years as a musician, actor, theater director and event organizer. Submitted photo

Published: 10/10/2019 4:39:04 PM

Singer-songwriter, actor, theater director, event organizer: Emma Ayres has been a key figure in the region’s arts scene for several years. A native of Amherst who now lives in Greenfield, Ayres has been involved with a number of bands and projects, one of which is an ambitious folk opera she’s developing about the flooding of the Swift River Valley in the 1930s to create the Quabbin Reservoir.

The effort has involved “five years of drafts and iterations, numerous trips to the Swift River Valley Historical Society to [review] primary source materials, profound community support, and hundreds of hours arranging and rearranging words on a page,” says Ayres, who is also looking at displacement of Native Americans from the region as part of the project. “I am trying to honor this locally specific history, while connecting the narrative to its global context.”

Hampshire Life: Talk about the work you’re currently doing. What does it involve, and what are you trying to achieve?

Emma Ayres: In addition to my work about the Quabbin, I am going back into the studio with my indie-rock band Old Flame to record two singles this fall, recording a full-length album with Emma June Band at Ghost Hit Recording in the winter, and releasing a solo EP titled “Encyclopedia of the Broken-Hearted,” recorded at Echo Base Production, in November.

HL: What do you draw inspiration from? Do you ever have any “Eureka!” moments?

EA: I draw inspiration from everything. I write down ideas on scraps of paper, the notes section on my phone, the margins of the newspaper — any surface I can get my hands on. I record melodies and phrases that come to mind while driving. I am heavily influenced by day-to-day conversations, snippets of overheard exchanges, and labor organizing music.

I love when songs come out fully formed at the first try; it rarely happens, but when it does I feel like I was struck by lightning and survived.

HL: Have you ever had a “mistake” — a project that seemed to be going south – turn into a wonderful discovery instead?

EA: The first solo album I wrote was a songwriting contest with myself. I wrote one song a day, and truthfully I thought everything was a load of trash in the moment. But when I stepped back and then revisited the songs. it was apparent which ones were meant to survive.

HL: Name two artists you admire or who have influenced your work. What about their art appeals to you?

EA: I recently fell head over heels in love with the late folksinger Karen Dalton; her music is sung with a kind of heartbreaking abandon I can only dream of. Then there’s Amalia Rodrigues, the Queen of Portuguese folk music called Fado. My mom came to the U.S. from the Azores Islands, and my Portuguese-Azorean identity is a vital lens through which I see myself as an artist.

HL: What’s the most recent exhibition/concert/book reading/other event by another artist or group that you’ve attended and enjoyed?

EA: I am obsessed with Emily Dickinson and loved the movie “Wild Nights With Emily.” I appreciated how it destroyed the heteronormative interpretation of her life and called attention to her sense of humor. I appreciate when art makes audiences reconsider their perspectives …while making them die with laughter, too!

HL: If you weren’t an artist, what do you think you’d be?

EA: I’d probably run my own dog rescue. I love my dogs like my firstborn children. I’m a nerdy dog mom and proud of it.

HL: Dream dinner party — who would you invite?

EA: Gina Davis, because I loved the movie “A League of Their Own”; Emma Goldman, because I want to pick her brain about her radical organizing tactics; The Dixie Chicks, because I’ve loved their music since I was 13 and they are the fiercest trio in music; and Emily Dickinson, because I just have to meet her before I die. Also Judy Garland, because she would haunt me more than she already does if I didn’t invite her.

HL: How do you know when your work is finished?

EA: I don’t think anything is ever fully finished. I feel like I accept a certain iteration of something as finished for the sanity of the recording process, but I think it’s important to let songs continue to evolve as they are performed.

— Steve Pfarrer

Emma Ayres will perform at The Parlor Room in Northampton on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in a showcase with fellow singer-songwriters Izzy Heltai and Max Shakun.




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