Guitar star Emily Wolfe: It’s all about the song

Emily Wolfe is a guitar hero. The Austin-raised musician has a distinct, modern style mined from classic influences that can jump from subtle shredding to an over-driven squall. And if you get Wolfe on the subject of the guitar, she’ll happily riff on those influences.

“I love Stevie Ray Vaughan’s phrasing, I love B.B. King’s phrasing, and tone-wise, I love Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, he’s so mid-range, and of course Hendrix,” she said ahead of her Wednesday gig at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge. “I really love the weirdness Hendrix had. He approached the guitar as not just six strings but as an entire weapon. And then of course, there’s Tom Morello.”

Wolfe could go on, and did. She adores what Bonnie Raitt’s playing adds to each song. She loves trying to create Morello-like chaos by letting feedback flow through her Gibson Memphis ES-335’s f-holes. She has loads and loads to say about her pedal board. But, as clever and wild as her approach to guitar is, Wolfe is a songwriter first, guitarist second.

“Sometimes I’ll hear guitar players that are incredible but there’s nothing behind them,” she said. “There has to be something behind the playing. The best way to put something behind it is play over a great song. I love guitar but like any instrument, its mission has to be to support the song.”

Since releasing her 2014 debut EP, “Roulette,” Wolfe has been known as force of nature on tour; fronting her power trio, she’ll drop into an epic solo at any moment. With her first LP, “Emily Wolfe,” her guitar chops remain but the songwriting outshines the instrumental heroics. “Holy Roller” bumps with equal parts garage rock and club banger while, singing like an angry angel, Wolfe smartly, passionately slams the patriarchy. With few words and varied howls and whispers, Wolfe turns a wall of sound, a tangle of riffs, into the slinky “Atta Blues.”

“‘Atta Blues’ was one of the first songs I wrote that I felt really proud off,” she said. “It’s kind of repetitive, the lyrics are simple, but when I wrote it felt connected to my future as a rock artist. It felt right.”

Wolfe grew up listening to classic rock with her dad. But, coming of age in the late ’90s and early 2000s, she couldn’t miss the pop revolution that sold nearly a billion albums.

“There was a lot of classic rock, but I have also always been into music that is super focused,” she said. “Motown and funny enough, NSYNC and everything Max Martin was doing back then.”

You can’t hear any “Bye Bye Bye” in “Emily Wolfe.” But the songwriting exemplifies focus. Underneath Wolfe’s words, guitar fury, shouts and coos, the songs slip from tight hooks to joyous melodies, restrained verses blooming into big, bold choruses.

“I think it’s just that I’ve always loved both things, songwriting and guitar,” she said. “Now I see it as kind of an advantage. At my shows, I see there are people who are more into my fully fleshed-out songs and guitar nerds who just want to see me soloing. And I like that, I want to be speaking to both of those kinds of people.”


Emily Wolfe, with Tom West, at Atwood’s Tavern, Cambridge, Wednesday. Tickets: $10; brownpapertickets.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *