Muddy Creek Muse with Emily Stewart

What is your main method of songwriting?

Usually, I’m walking or driving or doing something else deep in thought, and a melodic phrase pops into my head. I suppose it comes first as a line, and then the meter of the phrase catches my attention and my brain starts to sing it to me. It’s so important to catch that line when it happens and start building on it, that I usually drop what I’m doing and start singing. It almost always feels more like something that happens to me than something I intentionally create – sort of like an intuitive channeling process. I usually know what the song is supposed to be about and who it’s supposed to reach. It expands from there as the story, and the rest of the melody become clear. Some songs materialize quickly – others may take months or even years. The ones that come together quickly usually feel propelled by some energy that seems to want its voice heard. Once I was suddenly overtaken by lyrics and a melody about this cemetery where people go to bury their beloved coon hounds in North Alabama, and I ended up writing the song “Coondog Eulogy” in less than a day. I felt such a sudden emotional connection with all the dogs in the story and the grief of their owners. Later, I was shocked to find out it was National Dog Day. Songwriting is a bizarre process. It seems like there are all sorts of energies that come into play.

What are your goals this year with your music?

In 2017, I’d like to continue traveling more and play more solo shows while still keeping a strong focus on our folk duet, Magpie Thief. I have most of the songs written for a new solo record and am looking forward to getting it recorded at On Pop of the World Studios. I expect there will be strong female energy that comes forward in the accompaniment and backup vocals. Each song is an empathetic look at someone’s story. It’s really about understanding people and seeing their struggles.

What song are you most proud of that you’ve written, and why?

There’s an angry blues tune on the latest Magpie Thief EP called “Alabama Loud,” and I guess I surprised myself with it. I don’t think I’ve ever “let go” at that level when writing a song and captured such raw emotion. I have to give major credit to my partner, Matty Sheets, for playing blues guitar and holding space while it emerged. The song is basically my inner narrative during a heated disagreement with a neighbor who had crossed every line imaginable after contributing to the loss of a pet. We don’t often get to hear women express anger, particularly where I come from, so there is definitely something empowering about expressing both the familiar process of holding it back and letting it loose in song. I also love the Delta blues feel, because that’s where my roots are.

What is your view of the current Triad music scene, and what kind of improvements do you think could help enhance the local music scene?

I live in Greensboro and am definitely looking forward to the opening of a new venue soon on South Lewis Street here. It seems we have been looking for a good midsize venue here in town for as long as I can remember. I am also heartened by the collaboration I see between musicians in this area. Musicians really seem to look out for each other, and I don’t see the competitive vibe you hear about in other scenes. I think that musicians sticking together is what will ultimately result in venues and opportunities that help musicians sustain a decent living. Deep community is what we need, and we’re certainly on the right path.

What inspired you to become a songwriter?

I got bitten by the music bug after being laid up and out of work for quite awhile after a car accident, and I knew it was something that would be a big part of my life. I didn’t know I’d be a songwriter until a friend who I’d been playing with called me up and said, “Well, we better get some songs written. I booked us a gig in two weeks.” I said, “You did WHAT?!” He must have known that I thrive under pressure, though. I was shocked to find that songwriting came pretty naturally, and once it became a self-care practice for me as well, there was no giving it up.

Who’s your biggest musical influence?

Before I ever had a clue I’d be writing songs, I spent years studying Bob Dylan’s every word. I love his passion, integrity, and the way he presents a story. In high school, I spent hours driving up and down Alabama country roads for no reason, just to be able to listen in peace for longer. I think some part of me must have known I was learning something important from him at the time. I knew I was a writer, but I didn’t know I was a musician.