Holler Country Music
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New Artist of the Week: Emily Nenni

By Jof Owen

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“What I love about country is the songs can be very honest and vulnerable, yet they’re beautiful enough to make you cry,” says Emily Nenni. “My music is sweet and sad, but I don’t take myself too seriously. It’s old school honky tonk with a slightly different flavor.”

That right there is the reason we love her! The first time Emily Nenni caught our ears was a few years back with her debut long player - the appropriately titled Hell of a Woman. But it was I Owe You Nothin’, her collaborative EP with Teddy and the Rough Riders, that turned our heads, before her Long Game EP truly captured our hearts when it came out in 2020.

From the swampy outlaw swagger of ‘Messin’ With Me’ to the chirpy two-stepper ‘Long Game’, it was obvious that Emily Nenni is the kind of country singer you always dream about. A no-fucks-given, no-shit-taken honky tonk hang about with pipes like Connie Smith.

Two years later and she’s swinging into town with a renewed sense of purpose. Her new album puts her firmly in the ring with any other heavyweight country contender looking to lift that title belt - and make no mistake, On The Ranch is a title fight of a record, dancing out of its corner with its gloves up, ready to punch seven shades of shit out of every other record around.

Produced by Chris Stapleton guitarist Mike Eli and Alex Lyon, and mixed and engineered by Jake Davis at Laughing Heart Studio in Nashville, it was written by Nenni and Eli on the producer’s ranch in Colorado, which eventually ended up giving the record its title.

“I’d been working at a restaurant for a few months in mid-2020, and like a lot of people, I just wanted to run away”, explains Nenni. “I was fortunate to know a Covid-safe place to escape to — Mike’s wife was wrangling at a ranch in Colorado, so we relocated with the intention of writing the rest of the record, which we did".

"It was such a privilege to stay in a house full of wrangling women," she continues. "Their days started around 5:30am, Mike and I would have breakfast and get to writing on the front porch, which had a beautiful view of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. I ended up going back to that ranch to work about 6 months later, after I had left my job at the restaurant. The owner needed an extra hand, so I served meals, took care of her kid, and played for guests once a week.”

The brand new video for ‘In The Mornin’’ is premiering exclusively at Holler below.

"The inspiration behind this song was actually from Rod Stewart and Faces”, Emily explained to us about ‘In The Mornin’. “Some of my favorite rock n roll. A common theme in some of their songs like ‘Stay With Me’ (one I used to play on the road with Teddy and the Rough Riders) is - hey gal, you can come home with me, but when the sun comes up, you’re outta here! I wanted a female version of it, and we gave it more of a Bobbie Gentry production."

Bay Area born and raised, the Nashville-based singer-songwriter cut her country chops with endless sets at Robert’s Western World and the smoky double-wide trailer of Santa’s Pub. On The Ranch is a testament to her love and understanding of country music. Following tour dates with Orville Peck, Charley Crockett and Teddy and the Rough Riders, Emily Nenni is now out on the road with Kelsey Waldon.

We sat down with Nenni to find out a little bit more about what inspires her and recording the new album.

Where are you from and how did that influence you?

I’m from the East Bay in California, and it is really rich in music history. Between Oakland and San Francisco, I was able to see so much incredible live music growing up. That had more to do with my upbringing - there was music playing in the house at all times of day of all genres. That also goes for music documentaries or old iconic concert/festival footage. I had a really rich music education ever since I was in my mother’s belly.

What did you grow up listening to?

Jazz, soul, funk, rock, country, rap, hip hop, R&B, pop, you name it. Miles Davis, James Brown, Prince, Rolling Stones, Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline, 60s girl groups, Mamas and the Papas, Missy Elliott… There’s a great home video of me at probably two years old dancing to Salt n Pepa with my mom and sisters in our living room. And I had a very heavy Springsteen phase in high school. A wide range, and I’m so thankful for it!

How would you describe your sound?

Simply put, I’d say honky tonk. I do think there’s a little bit of most genres I grew up listening to that sneak their way into my writing and recording. As well as the sound I’ve picked up playing in a double-wide trailer with my friends on Sunday nights at Santa’s Pub and the house band, Santa’s Ice Cold Pickers.

Tell us a little bit about making your album On The Ranch?

I’d written some of it socially distanced with Mike Eli in our neighborhood, but most of it in Colorado on a ranch with a view of the sand dunes. Eli, Alex Lyon and I recorded demos in my basement over the course of a couple months. I used my Covid government money to record for the first time ever in a studio, which would have been a more intimidating experience had I not been joined by Jake Davis, my friend and engineer of many years. It’s produced by Mike Eli and Alex Lyon - Eli on guitar and Lyon on bass.

I had so much trust and comfort with them while recording. We’re joined by Bradford Dobbs on drums, who I hadn’t met before we got to the studio but came highly recommended by Mike and Alex. He’s a killer drummer and great company, too. If I ever did a Dolly-style disco record, Bradford would be my first call! We also brought in Eddie Dunlap on pedal steel, and he absolutely slayed every track. He’s an incredibly tactful and intelligent player. I held back tears when he played on the slower songs.

Where’s the most unexpected place music has taken you?

Driving an old lawn mower up and down the street of a trailer park in a cowboy hat, singing about being busy walkin’ the dog.

What inspires you?

People who actively make room for others, make them feel safe and included. I want that more and more in country music. Seeing Orville Peck’s crowd when Teddy and the Rough Riders opened for him, I adored his fans. A sea of all kinds of beautiful people. I hope to bring that to my music and shows.

What’s your favourite song of yours?

'Messin’ With Me' - I just want people to know I’ve got their back. Cher said in an interview once, “I’m very gentle, I’m really sweet, but if you mess with me, I’ll really mop the floor with you.”

You’ve often played at Santa’s Pub and Robert’s Western World, what are your favourite songs to cover?

Anything we can make a little swampy at Santa’s, like Bob Dylan’s 'Meet Me In The Morning' or Terry Allen’s 'Amarillo Highway'. At Robert’s I used to do Ray Price’s 'My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You' or Merle Haggard’s 'Bottle Let American Down'.

How’s it been out on the road with Charley Crockett, Kelsey Waldon and Teddy and the Rough Riders this year?

Teddys are my best friends and we truly have the best time on the road together. Jack Quiggins, Ryan Jennings and Will Johnson, and when I’m lucky we get to have Ryan Elwell on drums. He’s great at mini golf. Charley Crockett’s band and crew were incredibly welcoming and supportive. Their live show is fantastic. Mayo Valdez and Kullen Fox are insanely talented players, I never got tired of watching them perform.

I’m just about to hit the road with Kelsey Waldon and I truly can’t wait. I’ve admired her as a musician and songwriter ever since I moved to Nashville. I’ll be a duo with Sean Thompson for these dates, it’s going to be a great month.

If you could time travel back to any time when would you travel back to?

60s and 70s. I want to see Willie and Waylon together. And Betty Davis or Funkadelic. And Rod Stewart and Faces in their prime - but seems like he’s doing pretty darn well these days, too.

What would be your Spice Girls style nickname?

Hell of a Spice

What advice would you give to the younger you?

Work hard and be kind, and you’re great just as you are.

What’s next for you?

This winter I’m getting started on the next record! Writing and recording with the Teddys boys, Alex Lyon, and Jake Davis.

On The Ranch will be available across digital platforms, on compact disc and standard black vinyl on November 4th. An extremely limited-to-150 Smokey Clear Color vinyl edition will be available via Vinyl Me, Please. A limited-to-800 Tan & Gold Marble Color vinyl edition will be available at independent retailers and can be pre-ordered here via Normaltown/New West Records.

Emily Nenni features on our The Best Modern Outlaw Country Songs playlist. Check it out here.