In Emily Wolfe’s exclusive interview with Guitars Exchange to launch her eponymous debut album, she said “I want to show the aggression, the anger and the dark side of me in my guitar playing, and then the lighter happier side of me in my voice... [I want] to do something that no-one has ever done before…”
At that time the Texan prodigy was heavily influenced by 70s rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy and UFO, whereas on her sophomore album, Outlier (25 June 2021; Crows Feet Records), she has added 80s pop and 90s grunge sounds in search of her dream.
“Outlier is a huge indicator of where I'm headed as an artist. My goal is to create well-crafted rock songs with polished pop production, but stay true to myself as a lover of guitar solos," she says. Wolfe went into the studio with the songs less structured than before and sought to embrace the messy contradictions created by that process: “[It contains] an endless push-and-pull between desire and resistance, determination and self-sabotage, the instinctive need to belong and the urge to strike out on your own,” she says.
In achieving this more experimental sound she was aided by producer Michael Shuman, of Queens of The Stone Age fame. The duo have introduced backing vocals and synths to produce a more pop-oriented sound, while also respecting Wolfe’s musical foundations. This is clear from the heavy use of her Epiphone signature Sheraton Stealth guitar, which features ‘diamond f-holes and Alnico Classic Pro humbuckers for big blues-rock tones’.
This guitar stars on the official video for the album opener, No Man, which was shot live on location at the Gibson Showroom in Austin, Texas. Originally written as a blues song it gradually became more influenced by classic rock and electronica. “It starts out with this sort of Nine Inch Nails attitude and industrial groove, then kicks into a classic fuzzy riff,” Wolfe says. “It is a song about independence. I wrote it out of passion and rage, and for every person who has ever felt stifled in their endeavors. No Man is a song about the emotion that comes with seeing your place in the world, but knowing you're going to break the mold one day."
The next track, LA/NY, is a catchy radio-friendly pop number that breaks into a refreshing guitar solo at around the 2’ 30” mark. “I can’t be LA, I can’t be New York, but I can be yours,” she sings, channeling her inner Katy Perry or Ariana Grande to a thumping back beat.
The first single release, Something Better, follows, which again features a fusion of synth-pop and catchy guitar melody. “This was written at a difficult time in my life, when I was working hard toward a future but wasn't sure if that future would ever come. But, with the pandemic, it feels more like a universal song about wanting change and not knowing when things are going to be okay. I wanted it to sound fresh, but familiar,” she says. The video is certainly different, with a half-undressed man in an apron performing various routine household tasks while Wolfe looks on, before hitting us with a burning guitar solo.
Other standout tracks include Vermillion Park, which is about a relationship that Wolfe had at High School; the disturbing My Lungs Give Out, which features a heavy breathing intro; and the beautifully slow album closer Heavenly Hell, which highlights the depth and range of Wolfe’s talents.
Outliers is, among other things, pop with attitude. Wolfe is determined not to be constrained or compromise, and is strongly driven to create something new and fresh. She is open about her doubts and fears, as is clear in her interviews, but she thrillingly meets them head on. As she sings in the lyric to her second single release: “I am the real thing … I got no secrets… but you never know what I’ll do next.”