Photo: Tonita Johnson
Emi Secrest is cherished by all who have heard her music. Going to one of her shows is like going to a reunion for happy people. Her expansive voice and range is only matched by her wisdom and insight. As an independent artist, Secrest has surpassed all expectations of what is possible. She has taken a worldwide tragedy and turned into an opportunity for growth. With songs that encapsulate experiences that most people have, it isn’t hard to relate to her artistry. Thankfully, Secrest does not plan on ever putting a halt to making music.
I sat down with Emi on Zoom on a Saturday at 6PM.
Happy: Anyone who has listened to any of your songs knows that your range as a vocal artist is wildly impressive. Have you always been able to sing the way that you do now, or how did you learn to sing?
Emi: Well, I started singing at a really young age in church. I was like two. They figured out I could sing, and then it started from there. I feel like it wasn’t always like this, but it was always something special. It wasn’t just like, ‘oh, she could sing in the shower.’ I think throughout the years, it was just developing and putting in the work. Working with other artists and learning from them, it helped mold me into the artist that I am right now.
Happy: That’s very cool. I feel like through watching your shows, it definitely seems like your voice has always been very skillful, the way that is now.
Emi: Well, thank you. I don’t see it that way because I see myself. It’s still getting better. I’m still not… vocally, career wise, or anything, I’m not where I want to be. So that’s just me. I’m just always trying to evolve, and always trying to get better. I stopped smoking cigarettes in November 2021, so I was afraid that my raspiness was going to go away. But it’s just working through it and just finding different ways to use my voice in different ways. So I don’t think I’m ever going to be where I want to be, but I’m always striving to be better for sure.
Happy: So you’ve worked with Kanye West, John Legend, Macy Gray, and so many others. What is it like working with other people that have been in the music industry for so long?
Emi: I’ve had a beautiful experience. It’s been a really beautiful journey. I don’t have horror stories or anything like that. Every artist that I’ve worked with… They really embraced me and treated me like family during our time of working together. It’s always been really good energy, really good vibes. Especially, of course, with Macy: she let me kind of shadow her in a way. When she would sign autographs, she would take me to sign autographs. Now, I haven’t worked with an artist that’s been that generous or that open to teaching, but she was also my first artist. I worked with her the longest. So it was kind of like that was a different thing. It’s been really helpful just to see other people doing it, seeing how they run their businesses, and how they run their camps. I’m a visual learner, so I learn by seeing. I’ve been really unfortunate to be able to see the best of the best and how they shake and move. So, I’m grateful.
Happy: That’s incredible. You’re definitely very easy to love and be comfortable with, so the fact that you have had those relationships make sense.
Emi: Thank you. I tell people all the time: if you’re trying to get into the industry, as anything, it’s all about the hang. Like 90% of it is about the hang. Think about it. There’s so many people that can sing, so many people that can dance, and so many people that can do all these things that we as artists need. But it’s like, who do I want to be around on tour? Who am I going to have the most fun with? That’s the person I’m going to hire. So I feel like a lot of people focus on the wrong things. They think, ‘oh, I have to practice 8 hours a day.’ Yes, you do have to do that. But you also have to have good social skills and to know how to be a good gager of people and energies and just know how to be what that artist needs.
Photo: Tonita Johnson
Happy: If the world were to end tomorrow, what is it that you would hope people would remember you for?
Emi: I hope people will remember me, and be inspired by, my drive and my tenacity and my will to not give up. I just really want to be an example that you can work for the life that you want. You can work for it. You can really be a decent human being and not mess people over. There’s a lane for you and for me. I want people to know that. I want to be known for my good energy, and being a curator of good vibes. That’s what I want to be remembered for.
Happy: So what is next for Emi Secrest?
Emi: Well, I have a single that’s coming out in April called, “Diamonds Are Pressure.” Then, I have an album coming out in May, which is also called, “Diamonds Are Pressure.” Also, I’m really being intentional with touring more. We’re bringing, “Live From The Studio,” back. It won’t be a weekly thing. It’ll be a once a month thing, because I want to keep that vibe and energy always going in LA. I feel like it’s something that’s definitely needed. I’m building my TikTok, and my socials. I’m really focusing on branding. So I’m collaborating with different brands right now, and it’s just a lot of cool stuff coming up. It’s always going to go higher and higher and higher and higher and higher.
Happy: I’m so proud. It’s definitely gone so well, right?
Emi: It is honestly going amazing. I don’t have one complaint. Even if I could complain, I’d be an idiot to. To move out here and really have a dream, you know what I’m saying? I want to do this and not really havea clear vision or formula to follow, but just trusting God and speaking positive affirmations and tapping into manifestations and to see that journey. It’s like I can never be sad or depressed again because it’s like I’ve been through way worse. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And learning to be happy no matter what phase of my career, or phase of my life… That’s really been like the game changer. I can be happy with a lot of money, happy with no money, happy with a lot of friends, happy with no friends. I can be happy. You know, that’s where I’m at.
Happy: You’re someone who carries themselves in a very confident way, both on the stage and in real life. What is a secret to confidence that you feel most people don’t know?
Emi: A secret to confidence is everyone is insecure. So once you stop trying to make yourself be perfect, and you start to just embrace your insecurities… that’s the secret to confidence. An example: when I was heavier… I was much heavier. I would not sit in my boyfriend’s lap because I felt like I was too big to sit in his lap. Even if he was bigger than me. It used to mess with me. I would want to sit in his lap all the time. But it’s a fear of mine for someone to be like, ‘uh oh! I can’t hold…’ I never wanted it to be that. So I was overseas somewhere, and we were at a nude beach. I just thought, ‘they’re about to see these rolls, they’re about to see everything.’ In that moment, I thought, ‘I’m really exposing everything that I was trying to hide, and nobody cares.’ Nobody looked at me and said anything. It was all in my head. Nobody even did a double take. All of these fears I had conjured up in my head that if somebody saw me naked… And in that moment, I’m like, I’m the only black person out here, and they should be staring at me. I have blue hair, but nobody’s concerned because everybody’s free. Everybody’s happy. That’s when I realized I have to just expose my insecurities. The very next guy I was dating: on date number one, I said, ‘I need to sit in your lap.’ When I sat in his lap, I said, ‘am I heavy?’ He said, ‘no.’ After that, whatever my insecurities are, I get it out, because you can help me with that if you know that it’s something that bothers me right now. So you have to just get out of your head and live in real life. What you’re focused on: people don’t even care about it. So live your life. Hopefully that answers your question.
Photo: Tonita Johnson
Happy: So what are your favorite things to write songs about?
Emi: My favorite things are real life experiences. Everything that you hear by me, is something that either I’ve went through personally or I’ve watched one of my friends go through it. I really feel like I’m able to connect because it’s real. That’s why I don’t take songs from other writers that are already written because I’m like, how am I going to be able to emote this? But it’s also kind of, like exhausting because once I’m over something, I don’t want to keep reliving it. “I FUX W U,” is a very real song from a really vulnerable place. I really was just writing it to get my feelings out. I had no idea it was going to be the song that gets the most streams. Every time I’m out, somebody wants me to sing it, and I think, ‘I don’t even like that person like that anymore.’ It was just a little stamp in time. Sometimes it does have a double-edged sword. But I guess I’m not the only person who went through it, so.
Photo: Tonita Johnson