Emily Hackett is the rare songwriter who doesn’t just pour her heart into her lyrics. She inspires every listener to reach a deeper honesty in their own lives. With her easy candor and stunningly detailed storytelling, the Nashville-based artist bravely sheds light on the countless liabilities of being human: all the insecurities and secret longings, fears and frustrations and irrepressible dreams. And as her radiant voice captures the most nuanced of emotions, Hackett ultimately transforms even the most painful feelings into something glorious.
It’s exactly that alchemy that recently found Hackett named one of CMT’s Next Women of Country Class of 2019, a distinction hat’s helped launch the careers of luminaries like Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris. That announcement followed the release of By the Sun: a five-track EP that marks the first half of Hackett’s debut album, hailed by Rolling Stone as a “smart meeting-point between early-Aughts pop, country’s current genre playfulness and the one-name women of the Nineties (Faith, Trisha, Shania).” Featuring the acclaimed singles “Good Intentions” and “Nostalgia” (two tracks in frequent rotation on Radio Disney Country and CMT), By the Sun also channels the boundless energy that Hackett’s long brought to the stage.
Throughout By the Sun, Hackett endlessly blends all different genres, offering up everything from the soulful swagger of “Good Intentions” to the Irish-folk balladry of “Yours.” On the EP-opening “Nostalgia” (a track that earned her a spot on CMT’s Artist Discovery Program), she displays her supreme knack for detail, conjuring the titular emotion with nods to the TRL countdown and Polaroid pictures. And on the back-to-back beauty of “Waitress” and “Josie,” Hackett proves the pure generosity of her songwriting.
“I wrote ‘Waitress’ the morning after I had a really awful night at the restaurant where I worked for about a year,” Hackett explains. “What’s hard about being a server is having to swallow your words and put on that smile even when you’re having a terrible day. That song is meant to remind everyone that ‘Hey, you’re not alone’—there’s a camaraderie between all the waiters and waitresses out there.”
While “Waitress” comes on with an anthemic urgency, “Josie” unfolds with a quiet grandeur that’s nearly dreamlike. “That song’s about my 13-year-old cousin, who was going through a hard time trying to fit in and be loved,” says Hackett. “I wanted to write something about the struggle to maintain your sense of self-worth—not just for her, but for anybody who’s in that kind of situation.” Sparked by some Joni Mitchell-inspired experiments in open D tuning, “Josie” conveys that message without ever turning heavy-handed, embedding Hackett’s subtle poetry with flashes of gentle wisdom (sample lyric: “Cool is a liar, I’m calling its bluff”).
From song to song, By the Sun reveals the vibrant musicality that Hackett’s honed her entire life. Growing up outside Atlanta, she realized her passion for music as a little girl, thanks largely to her father—a former rock critic whom Hackett describes as “a total music junkie, that quintessential dad who’s always bringing a guitar to the campfire.” Through her father’s record collection, Hackett discovered singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon, who first ignited her affinity for music that searches and challenges. (“If a song’s just catchy, I get bored,” she notes. “I need it to pluck my heart out.”) After hearing Hackett sing along to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and noting the then-five-year-old’s preternatural vocal command, her father asked if she had any interest in learning a musical instrument. Although she first took up flute—inspired by Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, no less—Hackett soon moved on to guitar and in sixth grade
began writing songs of her own.
When it came time for college, Hackett headed to Belmont University to study songwriting but later shifted her focus to the business side of the music industry (“It had a lot to do with fear—I felt like I had to have a backup plan,” she says). But not long after landing an internship at Big Machine Records, her trajectory took a major turn when a friend asked Hackett to write a song for his wedding. Through a string of serendipitous events, she ended up recording the track with Parachute’s Will Anderson (and with producer/songwriter Mikey Reaves, whom she eventually married). Almost immediately after Anderson shared “Take My Hand (The Wedding Song)” on social media, the 2014 ballad hit #4 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter chart and, in under two months, garnered over 50k streams on Soundcloud. And in a burst of inspiration true to her visionary spirit, Hackett put out a call for couples to submit footage from their own weddings, then used those clips to create the “Take My Hand” video (a beautifully poignant piece that’s amassed over 24 million YouTube views).
Emboldened by the success of “Take My Hand”—now at 3.5 million plays on Spotify, and so wildly popular as a wedding song that Hackett’s begun selling sheet music on her website—Hackett put out The Raw EP in 2015. “It was a collection of songs I’d written over the past few years, recorded in a very stripped-down and rootsy way,” she says. But when she set to work on her debut album, Hackett decided to expand that sound and show the full scope of her musical identity and sensibilities. To that end, her forthcoming By The Moon EP includes emotionally thorny offerings like “Easy,” a song about owning up to past infidelity. “The idea behind the two EPs is that one is the version of me that you’d meet on the street, and the other’s the side of me that you’d get to know once we let our walls down,” she says. That approach is perfectly fitting for Hackett, who sees her songs as an extension of her everyday interactions. “I always want people to feel like they can tell me anything, and know that I’m going to try to help them get to a better place,” she says. “But I am going to give them the truth. Sometimes it may not be what you want to hear, but it might be what you need to.”
In replicating that exchange with her music, Hackett hopes to empower others to embrace all their imperfections. “With my lyrics I try to express things that a lot of people might not even be comfortable bringing up with a close friend—the things that people bottle up because it comes from a place of shame,” says Hackett. “When people listen to these songs, I hope they feel more capable of dealing with whatever it is they’re going through, and more confident to accept themselves for who they truly are.”
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