You might say Emma Rose was conceived on music. Her parents are prolific folk musicians who met, fell in love, had two babies and a band. Innately, Emma took up an instrument as early as seven years old — the violin, Suzuki method. Emma’s roots go deep within bluegrass and folk music, but she remembers sounds of Stevie Wonder playing in the car and genres of all kinds flowing in and out of her ears as a child. Emma sang before she could talk, clapped before she could walk. She was destined to be a musician.
Emma transitioned to banjo, “Scruggs style,” and fell in love with that for a good while. But in middle school, she quit. Playing the banjo was embarrassing. She was already getting bullied and did not want to give kids any more ammunition. Like most middle school musicians, there is one choice to play music: join the orchestra, which Emma did. She discovered the cello, for one year. Then the bass player of the orchestra moved, and they needed a sub. And then it happened. Emma found her lifelong instrument. “I remember playing the first note I ever played on the base and feeling the most power that I have ever felt,” says Emma. “This was so loud and so big. And I can make this huge sound. And I was the only bass player in the orchestra for the next three-ish years.”
That led her to play standup bass with her parents at bluegrass jams. Emma went to bluegrass camps and bluegrass circles and honed her craft at this very young age. Emma’s parents separated, and her dad kept playing, but her mom took a break from the scene. But Emma did not take a break; she just started discovering who she was as an artist, outside of the family band. By then, Emma hit high school and still loved music, but she knew she was more than just a tagalong. She lost interest in bluegrass.
Emma had her own voice just waiting to burst through.
Emma was dating a fellow from Austin, “I had gotten into CU Denver for jazz bass and music business. So it was going to do that whole thing, ‘cause my teachers, my parents, everybody in society is telling me to go to college,” said Emma. She ditched school for a week in her senior year, visited Austin, Texas, and the fellow during SXSW, and bam, “I remember sitting and watching all these bands and thinking like, ‘I could just move here and do this without going into super debt. ‘Cause I don’t have money for college. And if I get out, if I graduate college with a music degree, like, how am I going to pay off, you know, that much money?’ So I just decided on a whim that I was going to cancel my college plans and moved to Austin instead,” said Emma.
Ten days after she graduated, Emma hightailed it down to Austin, the best place in the world to discover herself as a musician. “I wanted to separate from my family and from that genre, which was tied to my family,” she said. “I moved to Austin with intentions of playing my songs, which I had started writing when I was probably like 15 or 16. They were very self-absorbed, as they still are in many ways. But my phrasing, I think, has matured over time.” The sound she was making was indie-folk-rock, and she was proud that it wasn’t bluegrass.
When Emma arrived, her bass was broken. She didn’t repair it for months. She didn’t even play bluegrass, just as she planned. But then she met these two dudes, as Emma describes, “really cool young, tattooed shredder, bluegrass musicians.” And through them, she ended up meeting the whole bluegrass scene in Austin. This was not her parents’ bluegrass music. It kind of blew her mind and set a spark within her. She knew how to play bluegrass, and she adapted quickly.
“This was a whole new take on bluegrass. None of them knew who my dad was. They knew me as Emma Rose and not Mike and Amy’s daughter. And they were all better than anybody I’d ever heard in real life at bluegrass. I was able to discover it for myself and be around peers who I looked up to and were like, ‘Yeah, you can play bluegrass, but you got a lot to learn, girl.’ I moved in with these two guys, lived with them in Austin for two years.”
And over those two years, Emma faced some of the most intimidation she had ever felt musically. It was challenging, but she was learning and growing. She surrounded herself with musicians who were better than her. She grew so much as a bluegrass bass player, a harmony singer, and unearthed ‘Emma Rose’. She played gigs and was a working musician in Austin, Texas.
“I feel super grateful that I have the opportunity to make money from music at all,” says Emma. “And I think that being a side guy – a bass player, harmony singer, that’s so fun to me. That feeds my soul and me too. My original music right now is not making me very much money because it’s not out yet.”
Emma also met a group of songwriters. She played at open mics, listened to their songwriting processes and studied the art of songwriting through these relationships.
After a few years, she met another fellow, moved back to Colorado, and started the duo, Rose and Bjorn. “My middle name and his middle name, and we played a bunch of shows all last summer , all around the Front Range. And that’s when I started playing my original music out,” says Emma. “We played my original music, and he just backed me up. It opened my mind to what production could do to the songs, turning it into what I hear when I dream about it versus what it sounds like when I’m playing it by myself on a guitar.”
The duo broke up. “I was really lost after that breakup, as I am after most breakups, I just really absorb everything,” says Emma. She was then in Denver working as a live-in nanny. Then 2020 happened, and it shattered the music industry. Emma walked away from the nanny position and started over, at her dad’s house, in Fort Collins. “So I packed everything into my car, which over the past two years, I’ve done about eight times,” says Emma. “I ended up writing a bunch of songs in my room, spending every day doing yoga, writing my pages, crying a bunch, you know, I went through it.”
Emma met a local band, Annie Oakley, and fell in love with them musically. “They made a record in the summer  at Courtney Hartman’s house. And I recorded bass and harmony vocals on that. That was my first studio recording,” says Emma. She recorded vocals and bass on a few other projects then recorded her very own album.
“I got to record it [her album] at my friend, Charlie Emma’s house in Lyons. He was an instrumentalist in Elephant Revival for a long time; he co-produced it with Rick Robertson, who lives in New Orleans.” Emma spent seven days recording seven tracks. The songs span from writings done over the past four years. “I’ve written. Oh, a hundred songs, maybe more than that, and most of them are bad. And that’s the thing about songwriting, and all art is like, you have to just keep creating because you’re going to create things that are bad and you’re going to have bad days,” says Emma. “You’re going to show up to your guitar. And forget how to play every note that you ever learned and forget what words are at all. And then, you know, it’s really easy to take that and feel defeated. And like, you’re not doing your job as a musician or an artist, whatever medium it is. You have just to keep showing up.”
Emma showed up. That recording session led to an EP [to be released]. It connected Emma with a group of musicians in Lyons that took her under their wing. Emma moved there to be near the collaborative bluegrass scene and hopes to keep making music. Follow Emma Rose on social media to see when she releases her first EP.