An Interview with Eliza Densmore

I walked to Eliza’s house in an aggressive down pour of soft snow. One of her roommates let me in, and as I adjusted to the warmth the smell of something delicious being cooked trickled into the room and soon engulfed the entire house. We sat down in her living room, me on a wooden table and her on an oversized beanbag chair in the center of room. I asked if she could play me some songs and she pulled out her guitar, placing it on her lap. She played three originals. She looked comfortable singing to me in her loose jeans and wool socks, like an impromptu solo performance for an audience of one was no big deal to her.

The first thing I noticed was that she moved her toes a lot when she sang. After the first song she said she preferred to stand and walked to the center of the room. She stood in front of me, silhouetted against the pastel light behind her.  When she sang her face was full of expression. Her eyebrows moved up and down with the music. Her eyes opened wide, closed suddenly, and opened again more slowly. She looked down, out and down again. During the last song there was a moment when her voice got loud. It was controlled and sudden, and it surprised me. She quickly diffused back into a softer tone effortlessly. It was beautiful, and I wanted to hear that power behind her voice again.

Eliza has been musical since a young age. She started taking piano lessons when she was six, learning by the Suzuki method, which focuses on the development of a musician’s ear rather than their ability to read sheet music. Her musical journey was largely independent. She listened to a wide variety of music growing up, building a repertoire of different styles and techniques. She taught herself guitar, and learned how to harmonize by singing along to songs she heard. Her only formal training was chorus.

“I didn’t really consider myself skilled at singing until late in high school. I was sort of a loner in high school and I would come home and be angsty and play the piano to myself. I would try and belt it all out. Eventually you learn how to work with what you have and adapt and find your own sound.”

Eliza first started writing songs on the piano, but switched to the guitar her junior year of high school. The piano was framed in her mind as a more classical instrument, and the guitar lent itself more useful for the singer-songwriter vibe she wanted. She wrote her first song when she was fifteen. She laughed when I asked her about it, and offered to play it for me. It’s called “Out of Here”. It’s angsty, and the lyrics are hilariously trivial, but behind is an impressive chord progression that Eliza says she still enjoys.

When Eliza came to CC she hesitantly entered the music scene. She started with nervous performances of covers at open mic and ended up in a few student bands her freshman year. It wasn’t really what she was looking for, but eventually she met the right people and found those that had interests more aligned with hers. She is currently in the band Randy and the Reptiles, and is a member of Room 46, an a cappella group on campus.

“I don’t know if I ever felt totally comfortable voicing what I wanted to do at the beginning. It was definitely hard. A lot of the guys wanted to play their electric guitars super loud and told me I could do the ‘belty singing’ part on the side, but I wanted to be more involved than that. I think Randy is really good about that.”

Eliza thinks that singing with other people is about community. Once she started collaborating more and forging new relationships, she grew more comfortable in her abilities. Her songwriting followed suit, and since her high school years she’s developed a more advanced approach to writing.

“Songwriting has gotten a lot less ‘me me me I I I’. It’s still a little that way- when you write a song I feel like that’s what’s relatable, but it’s more subtle now and I’m looking more at the details of things. I have a long way to go and grow as a songwriter and I think it progresses with each song. The way I would have written “Out of Here” is to just have written it and not gone back at all or reedited. Now it’s a lot more of piecing things together. I’ll write for five pages and take bits and put them together.”

Between her group musical commitments and her classwork, Eliza’s found that she hasn’t had as much time as she hoped for. She wants to focus more on her own work and get a better grasp on what exactly she wants to be doing. Her songwriting, while advancing, hasn’t been as much of a center point as she wants it to, and in the months to come she hopes to learn more about who she is as a musician.

“I was scared about post-grad in the fall but now it’s sort of fine. Working on music is something I’m thinking about, and I feel like at CC I’ve taken advantage of all the musical connections I’ve made with people, but haven’t focused on myself as much. But I don’t think that will hurt me at all. I do want to spend more time alone, reading and writing.”

I asked Eliza about her emotional connection to music, like what purpose it serves for her and why she engages with it. She thought about it for a moment and stumbled on her words as she tried to articulate her thoughts. She decided to tell me about the times she plays piano by herself in Shove, and the feeling it instills in her when the sound fills the room.

“Sound fills up a space with something. It’s physical, it’s emotional, it’s everything. I feel like I have to do it. It’s comfort, emotional stability, relationships with people. Everything. It’s discipline, it’s something you work at, it’s a craft. Especially with song writing, you can piece everything in there. It’s simply everything.”

Eliza’s commitment to her work shows clearly in her compositions. She does not rely on her natural talent to carry her forward, she works for it- meticulously and persistently. Her devotion reveals itself in her creations and performances, and in the coming months I look forward to seeing what she comes up with. If you haven’t seen Eliza perform, you should really try and catch her before she’s gone.

 

 

 

DJ Profile- “Jazz n’ Shit” with Cole Emhoff

Monday nights from ten to eleven pm you’ll find Cole Emhoff in the SOCC studio djing his radio show, Jazz n’ Shit. The name is pretty self-explanatory- Cole plays his favorite jazz music, and the ‘shit’ is basically an excuse to play whatever else he wants at any point.

He came up with the name long before he actually had a radio show, or even thought he would have one.

“I remember fantasizing in my car one time while I was driving and pretending I was a DJ, putting on songs and announcing them. I was thinking of things I could call a show and ‘Jazz n’ Shit’ came to my head. I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to call it.”

Cole always intended to have his show focus on jazz music. His taste for jazz developed when he was young and involved in musical theater. He performed in a surprising amount of productions, but his favorite musical was Anything Goes by Cole Porter, a notable jazz standard composer. The score for Anything Goes has been called Porter’s best composition, and many jazz musicians continue to play and interpret these songs. The songs from the musical resonated with Cole from an early age, before he knew exactly how influential they were to more popular jazz songs of the time.

His actual interest in popular jazz music comes with a notable story. It started in 10th grade after he’d gotten his license. His mom enforced a strict curfew at the time, and one night Cole spent a little too much time at his girlfriend’s house and was going to be late.

“I was freaking out and bolted out the door. I was driving back on the freeway pretty fast and I knew I needed to relax. My friend Jake had told me he was listening to Kind of Blue, a classic penultimate jazz album. I put it on, specifically the song Blue in Green, and it really mellowed me out. I was a different person after hearing that song. It’s still my favorite jazz song. I remember listening to it and being amazed at how it affected me emotionally. I’d enjoyed other good music objectively, but I hadn’t really heard anything that had that kind of physical affect on me.”

After his initial exposure Cole began researching other jazz artists, spending hours on Wikipedia and music blogs. He sought out information on jazz artists he’d heard of and then went further to see who they played with and who they were associated with. In the process he discovered not only the music, but the stories surrounding the musicians, as well.

“I mean, Charlie Parker lit himself on fire and jumped out a window. They’re all crazy, but it was the epitome of cool. They were cool when being cool meant something different than it means now.”

Jazz n’ Shit is Cole’s attempt to bring awareness to the music he loves and to share it with others. He says sternly that jazz is under appreciated, as it was before, and wants people to recognize the historical elements and the skill that surrounds the music.

“There’s talent behind the music they’re playing. The way they use their instruments is amazing, and I feel like there’s not that many parallels now in terms of just pure skill. You gotta be crazy and the best, and these musicians are.”

His radio show also serves his own sanity, and offers him a time during his busy day to forgo what weighs on his mind and simply relax.

“I love jazz and I love sitting and listening to it. The show gives me an excuse to drop whatever I’m doing and whatever is stressing me out and just chill. That’s why I started listening to it originally. It mellows me out.”

Cole says he will definitely continue Jazz n’ Shit for the rest of the semester, and hopefully into his remaining time at CC. He has developed an incredible taste for jazz over the years through diligent research and a natural ear for good music. His show is perfect for Monday nights, and listeners who are looking to expand their jazz repertoire or, as Cole says, mellow out, should tune in.