Miss Emily
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Miss Emily

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"Celebrities on the road (by Josephine Matyas)"

How do a Canadian comedian, indie singer-songwriter, choreographer, Hollywood heartthrob and famous soprano all deal with life on the road?

If you travel for work, you deal with missed flights, weather delays and wonky schedules.

There is comfort in knowing that some of Canada’s biggest celebrities—actors and actresses, musicians, sports figures—also wrestle with the Travel Demons.

Here are a few of their tips for staying sane while on the road.

WHO: Rick Mercer, Canada’s best-known comedian, political satirist and host of the very successful Rick Mercer Report on CBC television.
Packing tip: “I travel with great, big duffel bags and usually take too much because you never know what kind of weather and conditions we’ll have. So, when I go into a hotel room the first thing I do is unpack. I try to be much more organized in my hotel room than I am at home.”
Pet peeve: When we land and they say: “We’re going to pull up to the gate in five minutes . . . then I know it is going to be more like 40.”

WHO: James Tupper, actor known for his roles in Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Grey’s Anatomy. Voted by US WEEKLY as one of 2010’s “Sexiest Stars” and TV GUIDE’s “Sexiest Men on TV.”
Needs help with . . . “Packing. I’m one of the worst packers and I rely on the generosity and kindness of my family to help keep me organized.”
Never leaves home without: His watch – it’s the model with several time zone settings. By his own admission, Tupper is one of those travellers who is always checking the time back home when he’s on the road.

WHO: Emily Fennell, Canadian indie singer-songwriter who tours as Miss Emily.
Never heads out on tour without: Her classic Odds CDs (the alternative rock band). “If I have my CDs with me I am happy and can drive just about anywhere.”
Travel benefits: Fennell is mom to a very busy six-year-old daughter, so she knows how difficult it is to carve out time for herself. “If I’m travelling for work it forces me to take some time for myself by listening to music or reading a book.”

WHO: Stacey Tookey, the Emmy-nominated dancer and choreographer best known for her work on the television show So You Think You Can Dance.
Travel tip: It’s a three-pronged approach. Pack some Epsom salts. After a long flight when you feel swollen, bath in Epsom salts to help drain the toxins and you’ll feel much better the next day. Before getting on the plane, take a little bit of green tea extract in water—it boosts your immune system. And while you’re in the air—drink a ton of water.

WHO: Measha Brueggergosman, an internationally renowned Canadian soprano, celebrated for both her opera and concert work. She performed the Olympic Hymn at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in British Columbia.
Travel must-have items: Noise cancelling headphones so she can block out the rest of the world and revel in the music or watch one of her favourite shows. And a good old fashioned book (no annoying e-readers for this gal). “I love to crack the binding and to shop for it myself in a bookstore.” - Travel News (TripAtlas.com)

"Matt Tracks (MuchMoreMusic)"

The Sellout – Miss Emily (2011)

So when I’m picking these Matt Tracks every week I’m really at the mercy of what videos we have in our library. Granted, that library is a goldmine for music, but sometimes that isn’t enough and I have to go looking for certain videos/tunes and ask the artist to send them in so I can share with you…..this tune is one of those times. I had heard good things about Kingston’s Miss Emily but it wasn’t until I caught her on the main stage at Ottawa Blues Fest this year that I really got it. Think Janis Joplin, think Alicia Keys; great songs and a HUGE voice. - MuchMoreMusic

"Kingston's Miss Emily embraces success (by Mark Bergin)"

About a year ago, Emily Fennell took a leap. She flew.

The past 12 months have been huge for her.

When I interviewed her this time last year, Miss Emily, as she's known, was trying to pack a lunch for her daughter's first day in senior kindergarten. Simultaneously, she was making plans for an opportunity that had come up at the last minute to perform at The Living Room in New York City on Manhattan's Lower East Sidea hotbed of artists, musicians and songwriters.

Miss Emily, the musician, jumped at the opportunity to play in New York. Emily Fennell, the mother, was concerned about her daughter's first week of school. Fennell covered both angles.

"I've spent so much time with my daughter," she said. We're both so fortunate. While other parents have had to ship their kids off to daycare since they were 12 months old, I've been hanging out with my kid and working while she sleeps."

Miss Emily, on keyboard, plays feisty soul-rock-pop. Her Gibson ES-335 guitar's name is Bettyclearly they've bondedand is flaming red. It matches Miss Emily's gutsy music.

Her music is focused, but she said she doesn't want it to become too polished.

"It's much more edgy," she said.

She says her days of heavy bar work are over. Like most original acts, Miss Emily plays one-set shows, solely showcasing, festivals and theatres.

In New York City she played in the same setting graced by the likes of Al Kooper, Minnie Driver and jazz phenom Madeleine Peyroux. At the time she was on a career cusp, about to take the leap.

From performing in New York City to being in a showcase for Gene Simmons, and receiving a recording contract offer, the sky's the limit this year.

She's performed at other showcases for Sony, BMG, Universal, Cherry Hill, Warner, and Verve. Major record labels are coming to her.

She turned down a recording contract from Gene Simmons, who is allied with Universal Music Canada.

That took guts. And wisdom. Too many performers, ego-driven, jump at the first sign of public recognitionthe recording contract.

Miss Emily explained that she is working as part of a team, a group of people she trusts.

"I don't make a lot of the big business calls," said Fennell. "I've made the choice not to make them."

She's the expert on her music, but Fennell turns to her team for business decisions. Her team includes management, a financial advisor, and New York entertainment lawyer Matt Greenberg who represents many of the music and entertainment industries biggest acts.

"I feel confident taking cues from him."

In the past year Fennell has turned down several contract offers. That's a nice position for her to be in.

"The music industry has changed," she said. "Labels no longer have the resources they used to."

Many of the professionals in production and marketing who used to work exclusively with labels have been cut from staff and are also available to independent artists.

"The labels know this," said Fennell. "They know it's hard to compete with independent artists. The scene has completely changed from 10 years ago."

Thus, Fennell's confidence in turning down offers from big recording companies. She said that members of her team, including Greenberg, think Fennell can do better.

Fennell now makes the Ottawa Bluesfest her home base. Kingstonians recently had a rare opportunity to see Fennell in one of her old haunts. Miss Emily performed at the Merchant McLiam during the Limestone City Blues Fest.

Mark Monahan, of her current management team, is the artistic and executive director of Ottawa Bluesfest. He works closely with people like Cliff Fabri, who discovered Avril Lavigne and worked as her first professional manager. Fabri approached Fennell last year after seeing her perform on Wolfe Island.

Fabri has described Fennell as "like nothing I've heard in probably 40 years. It's the big voice and incredible vocals."

Fabri suggested Fennell differentiate her new act from her old work. Thus, the Miss Emily moniker.

Fabri describes the Miss Emily sound as Amy Winehouse meets Janis Joplin. I prefer to think of her as her own unique talent.

Miss Emily has her recipe for success and is excited about the future.

"Each day is something new," she said. "It's exciting and there's not a dull moment."

In case anyone thinks Miss Emily has transformed in a process of overnight success, think again. I remember the first time I heard her. She performed in the 2004 Limestone City Blues Fest. Since then, I've been raving about this amazing singer. I've heard her many times, shot many photos of her and gotten to know her. One unique moment was days before she gave birth. I was working on a story and photos about body painting. Fennell had a painting done on her pregnant tummy. She had the same sparkle in her eyes then when talking about becoming a mother as she does now when talking about music.

I've always been impressed by how she embraced motherhood while maintaining her career. She gives each role 100%.

"I haven't waited a long time for this," she said. "I've worked a long time for it."

She said that a highlight of the past year was "playing in front of 30,000 people in Bobcaygeon. Playing in front of Canadian music lovers. That goes in the history books as one of my favorite nights."

She added that now that she's not losing her voice playing five nights a week in bars, she's writing more and can focus on the creative aspect of her music.

"Things are good," she said. "I bought a house in the spring. I have work I love at a level I'm comfortable with. I feel so proud and honored to be part of the music industry. I really see a future in this as opposed to having to scrape together the next meal."

No one deserves the success more.

mbergin@theemc.ca - Kingston EMC (Kingston, ON)

"Putting her best foot forward (by Jan Murphy)"

Coming off of a summer that saw her as busy as ever -- and one that saw her field record contract offers and perform alongside some major Canadian musical heavyweights, it's hard to imagine things could get much busier for the talented and cheerful Emily Fennell, a.k.a. Miss Emily.

It's hard to imagine, yet on this day, a long conversation with the rising star reveals that the reality is, things are about to get very busy for the 30-year-old. She will take centre stage as she often does, but this time her audience won't be fans of Miss Emily, her musical alter ego, but rather as Ariel in the latest Kinsmen Club of Kingston production, Footloose.

Yes, that's the play based on the wildly successful 1984 film starring Canadian Kevin Bacon. In the Kinsmen production, Bacon's character is played by John Macpherson, who also starred in last season's Kinsmen production, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, which starred Canadian Idol and local singing star Ryan Malcolm.

For Fennell, the invitation to star in Footloose comes on the heels of an extremely exciting time in her life.

I recalled during our conversation that our last conversation revolved around her mulling an offer from music legend and KISS frontman Gene Simmons to join his record label.

I admitted to Fennell that I had wondered on numerous occasions over the summer why I had heard nothing more on the Simmons situation.

"We turned down the offer that they gave us," Fennell revealed. "My understanding is things have gone back and forth a bit, but not to any length that has included us signing anything."

But never fear, things are rolling along quite smoothly for the Prince Edward County native. And to be honest, Simmons' offer is not the only one Fennell has received.

"Things are in a good place," she said. "People think of signing as being the be all and end all of a musician's career, but it really isn't anymore because the labels, really generally speaking, don't have a lot to offer. We haven't crossed off the idea of it because there is always stuff on the horizon. A new potential opportunity just came up," she added, without elaborating. "We might end up signing in order to make the most of it. Things are always up in the air."

As she alluded to, the Simmons deal may be off the table, but it is far from dead.

"As far as I know there is," she answered when asked if there is still interest from the reality TV star's camp. "I don't know if anything will come of that, but ..."

For the time being, the offers Fennell has fielded have been unable to match what she can do on her own, with help from her team of advisers and friends.

"We have options," she said. "We'll just see if somebody comes out with something really remarkable that's better than what we can do on our own."

"The reality is in order for us to take one of these opportunities, quote unquote, they have to be better than our current scenario. The reality is what we have access to and what we have going on without, at this point in time, anything that we've been offered, as far as I'm concerned, takes a piece of the pie without bettering the scenario."

And what a camp Fennell has surrounded herself with. She has enlisted the legal skills of renowned entertainment lawyer Matt Greenberg of New York City.

"He's a great resource when it comes to this type of thing," Fennell said, adding she has a financer, a manager and others in her camp.

And then there are her fellow musicians, one in particular who Fennell says has taken her under his powerful and influential wings.

Fennell has had the fortune of catching the interest, and no doubt the ear, of Tragically Hip members, particularly that of Rob Baker.

"Kingston is such a great community," Fennell gushed. "The musician community stretches from people who play music a couple of times a year to people like the Tragically Hip, the biggest band in the nation's history. To have those types of resources at your fingertips... Those guys, especially the guys who live around here, words can't describe how thankful I am to have people like them, honestly, as part of the team, really to a certain extent. I had lunch with Rob Baker last week and he's like 'Ask me, feel free. Ask me if you have questions, if you need some guidance, if you're feeling like you want to just get an opinion on things.'

"Those resources are just so valuable, it's awesome. I feel like because I've had access to some of these amazing people throughout this process over the past couple of years ... it's reassured me that what we've been doing has been the right thing."

The influence of Baker and company, as well as the team she has surrounded herself with, has certainly afforded Fennell the time to seriously weigh her options, rather than jumping at the first big opportunity that comes along.

"Ten years in the making to this point has been a slow and steady process," Fennell said. "There hasn't been any waiting. It's been hard work the entire time. There is so much going on behind the scenes on a daily basis. I think people are hoping for some big, drastic updates from week to week but there isn't. It really is baby steps.

"If I wanted to act on ego alone, we could be signed to something and doing considerably less, but be able to say 'oh, I'm signed to so and so's label,' or whatever, but I feel very confidently that things would have moved slower. You work the hardest for yourself, generally speaking. I feel pretty strongly about being proactive in my own way. And things are moving," she added, before stunning me with a revelation.

"One of the best things we did was turn down the Gene Simmons offer, the main one, because it's one thing for people to know that you're the person that signed with so and so, but if you're the person that turned down that opportunity ..." she said, before stopping abruptly.

"I'm not totally convinced that that's said and done. I think the world of Gene Simmons and I think he is incredibly smart and business-minded and talented and the list goes on and on. I think he's a phenomenal being and I'm not totally convinced that this is a said-and-done deal. I really kind of feel that we're still in the position where we're working toward something so much bigger."

For Fennell, any deal she potentially considers will be one that focuses on getting her known worldwide.

"You can't help but notice that there is a lot of fantastic Canadian talents that have had a hard time breaking out of this country and I don't want to limit myself to this country," she said. "We want to make sure that the act can be accessible worldwide eventually."

While professionally, things have never been better for the musician, the journey has had its share of dark moments and doubt.

"I can't even count them, actually," she said when asked if there have been dark moments during her ascent. "The upward spiral of this year has seen its own fair share of dark times, but this Miss Emily act, which has become such a huge part of who I am as Emily Fennell -- I kind of now have this superhero being that is this Miss Emily -- and I feel like that, having that part of my life, has taken alot of those dark times out of the picture, but I have struggled for the past 13 years in this industry, constantly back and forth.

Fennell not only faced the adversity of succeeding in the competitive music world, but the adversity of doing so as a single mom.

"Once you have a child, and that's been the better part of the past 10 years of my life, once you have responsibility like that -- and I'm on my own, things come to light pretty quickly. If you cannot make your rent or mortgage payment," she said, her voice cracking, "and you're trying to think what you are possibly going to do in order to have this money in a week and you feel like your hands are tied. This is in any business. I know I'm not the only person at all, but I have almost hung up the skates so many times. I've had to full-out close some doors behind me, without having the door open in front of me before that door in front of me opened. I had to just completely close doors."

Juggling motherhood, in a single world no less, and the life of an aspiring artist took Fennell years to master. In fact, it wasn't until she made a revelation that she began to truly figure things out.

"This business is me," she said. "It encompasses me. It's not just the singing. It's the singing and the writing and the performing and the recording ... the process of marketing myself that way. I don't ever check out. It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week and it's what I know and what I love and it's not only what I do, it's such a huge part of who I am and it's taken me a long time to embrace it as that.

"There was a huge chunk of time when I thought I could separate them and I think I tried to be another person almost. I kind of joke that I have a double life, but this double life has really turned more into one solid person -- or getting there -- who ... I am a musician. I am a mother. It's all hand in hand. It's not two separate lives anymore."

As such, her daughter, Piper, has been exposed to a lifestyle that maybe isn't typical of what many children experience.

"Piper comes to a lot of stuff," Fennell said. "Piper is exposed to a lot more things than a lot of children her age are exposed to. I'm sure there is some criticism out there as to what is appropriate and what is inappropriate, but the reality is this is my life, and because she is my daughter and it's just the two of us, this is our life. As I've been able to embrace the fact that this is who I am, not just what I do, I realized that everything is connected to this. My relationship with my friends and my family, people I care about, it's all connected to what I do."

Much like she's experienced doubt and darkness, Fennell has lived her share of defining moments -- none bigger than one that resulted in her playing alongside some Canadian music legends.

"I was sitting in a little cafe in Cornwall, eating breakfast, and I got this phone call from my manager telling me about this Bobcaygeon show," Fennell revealed, referring to Bobcaygeon's Big Music Fest, which took place on June 25. "At that point, nobody knew about this. This was back in the winter. Him describing to me what was going to happen (went) like 'so, it's a show and they're going to sell like 25,000, 30,000 tickets and it's going to be in a big field in Bobcaygeon and it's put on by the Hip. It's going to be the Hip and Sam Roberts Band and the Trews and Miss Emily.'

"I'll never forget that conversation," Fennell said, clearly reliving that moment during our conversation, "because it was this moment of 'wow, someone has really put their neck on the line' -- that person being Rob Baker at the time I've since found out -- to really put belief in what I do that they're going to include us in an event of this magnitude."

So just how was it to share a stage with some of the biggest musical acts in this country's history?

"It was awesome," she gushed. "It was crappy, rainy, muddy weather and if there was a frown on anybody's face, I didn't see it. Everybody was all smiles. Everyone was so warm, accomodating, welcoming ... We were nobodies, you know, backstage. The roadies have way more clout than we do in some ways, you know. We arrived there, I think at like 11 in the morning, and the first that who greeted me at my vehicle with my folks was Rob Baker. It was like 'is this really happening.' It was such a lovely, community vibe. All positive. It was awesome, so awesome."

The Bobcaygeon show not only marked her biggest gig ever, but it lit a fire under her that Fennell says burns as intensely now as it did on stage in front of tens of thousands that rainy June day.

"You feel like you work so hard sometimes for a certain moment," she said. "I think having that opportunity -- the Bobcaygeon opportunity -- put so much wind in my sails that I feel unstoppable. I feel like I could work 24 hours a day right now. The drive that that has given me ... I thought I was driven before. To see from the outside, from people who have some serious experience and some power, to feel like they believe in you ... that moment for me has brought me to a whole new level in my career. I feel so unstoppable, feeling like I have this support and encouragement behind me."

Fennell can't say enough about the help she received from Hip members, particularly Baker.

"I've had some fantastic moments getting to know him a little bit over the past six months. It just warms my heart that he, and Gord Sinclair and Paul Langlois -- I don't know Gord Downie as well and I don't know Johnny (Faye) as well -- but for the three guys who live in this community, and Rob in particular, who I feel like he's taken me under his wing a little bit -- for people who are the biggest rock stars in this country, if there's ego there, I have not witnessed it.

"I get this impression that there's this desire from Rob to spread the love, to create an environment -- and Gord and Paul too, all three of them -- they're all involved in this Limestone Gala that is happening Oct. 15, for the Limestone Learning Foundation. They want to encourage the young musicians of this community.

"I just feel so honoured that I've been able to have that support from that community of musicians in town, Rob Baker in particular. I've known Paul the longest. I did some work with Gord Sinclair last night at the studio. Wow. They're such a well of wisdom and talent and experience and to know that they're encouraging and supportive of the music happening in this town at all these different levels ... I just can't speak highly enough of them, and Rob in particular."

As for her next venture, Footloose, Fennell couldn't be more excited -- or, quite frankly, perfect for the part.

"I'll be playing Ariel, who is the preacher's daughter," Fennell says. "She is the slightly out-of-control preacher's daughter who has got her crazy, wild side. I'm still getting to know the character myself. We start rehearsals this week so I'm really looking forward to getting to know more about my character and more about this show. My experience with Footloose is similar to most people's, which is the fantastic '80s movie -- I hear they're doing remake actually. I'm excited to be a part of it. The music in it is great and that's no surprise to anybody who is familiar with it. I'm really looking forward to be a part of it."

Producer Jennifer Forsythe, who lured in Malcolm last year, has set the bar high once again. Malcolm, by the way, absolutely shone as Buddy Holly.

"I have been a fan of Emily's for years, she is a true talent," Forsythe said. "She did such an outstanding job in Buddy, even though her role was relatively small, that I really wanted to choose a show where she might be interested in auditioning for the lead. Her voice is just awesome, and she's a great actress too. Emily also has a really strong fan base in Kingston, and I know she will draw a crowd, she always does. I watched her open for the Hip in Bobcaygeon and she was incredible."

Few people are aware, Fennell says, but her background is in musical theatre.

"I was well into a musical theatre career in my teen years and I did a show with Kinsmen when I was 16 years old, Greece," she said, adding "I lied about my age at the audition so I could audition. When I applied to post-secondary, I actually applied and was accepted to Sheridan's musical theatre program. They have hundreds of applicants and they barely accept anyone, I think 40 out of like a thousand applicants or something. I chose instead to go to the University of Western Ontario for classical voice."

For all intents and purposes, "that kind of ended a chapter in my life of musical theatre and I honestly didn't think those doors would reopen at any point in time, but 10 years later, they did," Fennell said. "So here I find myself back in a musical theatre mode and enjoying it. It fits really well with the other stuff I'm doing. It's a fun addition."

For Forsythe, who produced last year's Buddy and Wizard of Ozin 2009, Footloose and Fennell were no-brainers.

"I think Kingston wants to see new, exciting productions at the Grand, especially when they showcase local talent. That was made obvious to me last year with the success of Buddy." FYI, Buddy sold out in advance so get your tickets up front.

As for what the role holds for her, Fennell is still learning what producers have in mind for her character, but she does know one thing.

"I do know that I get the big Holding Out For A Hero solo and I am pretty excited about that," she said, her grin evident even over the phone.

And what take on Footloose would be complete without a lot of dancing? None, of course. And lo and behold, dancing is also something Fennell has some training in.

"I have a background in dance," she revealed, much to my surprise. "It's been several years since I've done any dance training, but Ebon Gage is the miracle worker here. He and I have already been talking, we get along like peas and carrots, and I'm excited to do a bunch of private tutoring with him and training with him and working with a cast of people, a number of them being dancers. I'm right into it. I'm a little intimidated, but more than intimidated, I'm incredibly excited."

Much like the prospects for her musical career, so am I.


twitter.com/Jan_Murphy - The Whig Standard (Kingston, Ontario)

"Miss Emily could get Gene Simmons kiss (by Jerome Lessard)"

Emily Fennell has a demon chasing her.

Not just any demon — The Demon.

Fennell, a Prince Edward County native, is currently in negotiations with Simmons Records, the record label operated by legendary KISS bassist Gene Simmons who, when wearing the KISS makeup, is known as The Demon.

Singing professionally for the past eight years, Fennell hit a milestone accomplishment earlier this year when she was invited to perform for Simmons in Toronto as he searches for new talent to sign to his label.

"I'm loving 2011 and we're only a couple of months in," Fennell, who now calls Kingston home, told The Intelligencer. "Things are going very well. I have not signed anything (with Simmons Records) yet but there are offers on the table. The first offer we turned down and they've returned to the table with another offer."

Just exactly how Simmons came to know about Fennell remains a mystery as the 30-year-old singer said she has no idea how her music made its way into his hands.

"He called me on Jan. 3, that's when this all began. We're not sure how he found out about me, but he heard my stuff somehow and then contacted Universal Canada — Simmons Records' Canadian affiliate — and asked if they knew about me. They said they did because I did a showcase for them back in December and we'd been in talks with them," she said. "Anyway, they e-mailed me and said he wanted to meet me, see me play and hear a set."

During the last week of January, Fennell travelled to Toronto and met with Simmons and then, a day later, performed some of her original material for him. Despite Simmons' legacy in the history of rock and roll, she said, she was not intimidated to perform for him.

"Everybody's human. Everybody farts and has weird tastes ... Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate the fact that Gene Simmons is Gene Simmons and he's a world-wide household name and that's cool and the fact he likes me is great, but I wasn't nervous or anything," she said.

Simmons loved Fennell's material and a few days later commented on the Simmons Record website that she "has the best pipes we have ever heard in an unsigned artist. We are moving ahead and want to sign Miss Emily to our label. Hopefully, the lawyers and well-wishers will get out of the way and let her have her career."

Fennell said negotiations are continuing and she's hoping things will result in a positive outcome. She said the record label executives have indicated they want to put her on an "express elevator" and, should she sign a deal, make things happen quickly.

bmcvicar@intelligencer.ca - The Intelligencer (Belleville, ON)

"Miss Emily takes a new approach (by Luke Hendry)"

Introducing Miss Emily.

She looks like Emily Fennell, the Milford-raised singer who's well-known for her lifetime of making music around here.

But things have changed.

Same big voice. Same knack for songwriting. Different approach.

Her new stage name reflects a shift in Fennell's career, changes fans can see and hear for themselves next Saturday when she returns to the Regent Theatre.

Reclining in one of the Regent's seats this week, Fennell said she was home.

"It seems like a natural course of action that I'm coming back here," she said, recalling her Regent debut at age 13 in the musical Minerva.

"The icing on the cake is it's home and the hometown crowd."

The Open Heart Society -- a duet of locals Chris Brown, former organist of the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, and Eric Schenkman, guitarist of the Spin Doctors -- will open her March 6 show here.

Fennell's act has undergone something of a transformation -- still her, to be sure -- but more focused.

The change comes just after a tough period in which Fennell said she'd considered stepping back from music as her main job.

"I've been through a lot and music was never an option to give up," she said.

Though dedicated to her art, Fennell said another commitment -- raising her four-year-old daughter, Piper -- was more important. With the music industry struggling, playing for a living was getting harder.

"How does 'Emily Fennell, real estate agent' sound?" she remembered thinking.

But after working virtually her entire life to build a career, Fennell wasn't quite ready to make the leap.

Fennell made her first public performance at around age four at church.

"I sang a song called The Big Grey Elephant off the back of a colouring book," she said.

Many of her childhood performances saw her singing while accompanied by her mother, Monica Alyea, on piano.

Intent on a music career even as a youngster, Fennell would accompany herself on piano and later guitar.

"I can't remember ever wanting to be anything else," she said.

She can still recite the phone number of her piano teacher, Milford's Heather Ross.

"As a child she was a treat to teach, because she was totally absorbed in her music," said Ross. "It was really fun.

"She was very focused ... She could bring out a lot of feeling in her music."

Fennell has supported herself almost entirely with her music, relying on a few odd jobs when needed.

Fennell studied classical voice for two years at the University of Western Ontario in London but left after finishing her practical studies.

She has released three studio albums and two live ones and opened for Steppenwolf, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Pat Benatar The Wilkinsons, Chantal Kreviazuk, Jann Arden, Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy and more.

Kingston's Cliff Fabri, who's credited with discovering Avril Lavigne, approached Fennell after seeing her perform with her band at the Wolfe Island Bar and Grill last fall.

"The talent was unbelievable," Fabri said Thursday from Kingston.

What hooked him most was a new song called The Sellout, a slow-grooving song that begins with Fennell singing huskily and builds into a chorus that lets her stretch her vocals to their full room-filling potential.

"It was like nothing I've heard in probably 40 years. It's got the big voice and incredible vocals," Fabri said.

He said her big voice made him think of "Amy Winehouse meets Janis Joplin."

"You don't need a band. You're phenomenal as a one-woman show," Fabri told Fennell.

Until then, Fennell had avoided having a manager.

"Unless you can find someone who's able to do considerably more than you can do, you can't afford to pay out to them," she said.

But Fabri "had this vision," said Fennell, and she decided to try it.

"Next thing you know I'm a solo piano act playing electric guitar periodically."

She's since written about 20 new songs in that style.

To separate her new and old work, Fabri suggested Fennell change her stage name to Miss Emily. Her Internet presence has also vanished -- temporarily -- and while she's still young she's no longer revealing her age publicly.

Fennell said it wasn't easy to split from her bandmates who "have become my family," but it seemed like a worthwhile risk given the extra clout a manager can offer.

Fennell and Fabri made whirlwind business trip to New York City earlier this year.

"We instantly had major record labels and publishing companies interested," Fabri said. "Every one of them was blown away."

Fennell performed showcases for music publishers Sony, BMG, Universal, Cherry Hill and Warner/Chappell and music labels Verve, Republic and Warner.

"If you can believe it, I wasn't nervous," she said. "To me it's just fun people to play for."

Both Fennell and Fabri maintained her new approach is still very much her own.

"It's still me singing my songs," she said.

"All we did was resurrect what was already there," Fabri said. "It's just a little polished."

But not too polished.

"I don't want it to be too dressed up like Norah Jones or Diana Krall," he added. "I think this is much more edgy."

Though she hasn't yet signed any deals, Fennell said she's confident the trip will prove worthwhile.

"Something is going to come of this," she said. "It's surreal.

"The right place at the right time does exist and it does happen to certain people."


Emily Fennell plays the Regent Theatre on Picton's Main Street March 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 from the box office, 613-476-8416.


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All about Emily Fennell

Hometown: Milford, now living in Kingston

Profession: Singer, songwriter, musician, mom

Musical genre: Soul-pop or soul-rock

Career goal: 1. To support myself and my child off of my original music through performance and/or royalties. 2. To perform for listening audiences in beautiful venues!

Discography: Green -Emily Fennell (2004); For What It's Worth -Live Recording -Emily Fennell Band (2005); Live at The Merchant Tap House -Emily Fennell Band (2007); Miss Twisted -Sugarplum (2009); Red -Emily Fennell Band (2009)

Favourite song: While You Sleep by Chris Brown (I recorded a version on Miss Twisted)

Favourite albums: Tapestry (Carole King), The Bends (Radiohead), Guitar Pickin' Martyrs (Luther Wright & the Wrongs)

Musical inspirations: Suzanne Pasternak, Luther Wright, Stevie Wonder, Carole King, Odds, Janis Joplin, Wide Mouth Mason

Best gig: A tie. Opening for Wide Mouth Mason. Definitely not my best performance, but they've been a huge influence and opening for them was on my "bucket list." And performing a couple Janis Joplin tunes with The Fade Kings at last year's Belleville Waterfront and Ethnic Festival for the Woodstock Anniversary show. The crowd was huge and amazing!

Worst gig: I once had to sing for a local museum's anniversary party. Two hours worth of music from 1968. Let's just say 1969 was a better year in music... - The Intelligencer (Belleville, ON)

"A can't Miss talent (by Greg Burliuk)"

Emily Fennell is one of Kingston's busiest performers. It seems like scarcely a weekend goes by in which isn't playing with one of several groups.

That may be ending soon because it looks like the rest of the world is finally figuring out what the Limestone City has known for a while -- that she is a giant talent.

Gene Simmons thinks so.

Yes, the KISS legend, who is now also a record mogul, is a fan. He's offered Fennell, who now operates under the stage name Miss Emily, a recording contract. He's not alone, though, as so have other record companies, which has left Fennell and her team sifting through offers to figure out the right one.

On Simmons Records website, simmonsrecords.com,Fennell was recently praised.

On the home page is a news update that reads:

"We were recently in Toronto as Keynote Speaker at Adweek Conference. And we had some time to go see some terrific, new Canadian talent.

"We saw: Miss Emily, who has the best pipes we have ever heard, in an unsigned artist. We are moving ahead, and want to sign Miss Emily to our label. Hopefully, the lawyers and well wishers will get out of the way and let her have her career."

And the night that Simmons himself heard Fennell, he tweeted about it to his Twitter followers:

"In Toronto -- showcased many acts for my label, Simmons/ Universal Records ... Miss Emily, Dubbs, Courage My Love, 11past 1. And others."

Fennell's career took a jolt upward a year ago when she got a new manager, Cliff Fabri, the man who shepherded Napanee native Avril Lavigne to fame. Fabri had moved to Wolfe Island and heard Fennell playing at the Wolfe Island Grill. He learned that Fennell had a rock band as well as a country band.

"I write all different types of music, but there were several songs I had written on the piano which were rock soul songs but I wasn't performing them," says Fennell. "He wanted to hear different stuff so I played him that. He jumped up and said you're Miss Emily."

Fennell says Fabri opened doors for her that previously had remained firmly closed.

"I am the artist, but 50% of what I'm doing now is because of Cliff," she says.

"I go about my life, but the business is 24 hours a day non-stop and that's what Cliff does. I get an e-mail from Gene and it's Sunday night at 1:30 a.m."

No one is really sure how Simmons heard about Miss Emily. In December, she played at a showcase in Toronto for reps from several record companies including Warner and Universal, and Simmons has his own Simmons label with Universal.

"Then on January 3, I get a message from the Universal rep that Gene wanted to talk to me," says Fennell. "He told me he was coming to Toronto later in the month and would I play a showcase for him."

Fennell told Simmons that as Miss Emily, she played solo or with veteran keyboardist Chris Brown. The KISS leader asked her to do a couple of things for the showcase.

"He asked me to have a full band and that it have 25-year-old soul players in it," she says.

The showcase would be on Jan. 27 in Toronto, and two days before, the Universal rep asked Fennell if she wanted to meet Simmons so she wouldn't be as nervous on the day of the show. It was to be at the venerable Horseshoe Tavern, where Simmons was checking out another act. Miss Emily discovered only when she arrived that she was part of a taping for Simmons' TV reality show Gene Simmons Family Jewels.

"The act on stage they completely ignored," says Fennell. "At one point, Gene said let's go into the washroom, we go there, along with the cameraman and the entourage. And he's showing me what to do with my hair to make my eyes look better.

"He's a great man, funny, odd and powerful."

So now Fennell waits. She's been told to clear her schedule for March, but she has a fundraising concert for Helen Tufts Nursery School on Feb. 25 at Sydenham Street United Church, which may be her last local appearance for a while.

"The record industry has changed even since Cliff was with Avril," says Fennell. "The major labels aren't offering what they used to so you have to be very careful whom you sign with. There are other offers out there besides Gene's."

About to turn 30, Fennell spends a good chunk of the day doing business e-mails when she's not on yard duty at her daughter's school.

"It would take a lot to knock me on my ass," she says frankly. "I'm thrilled about it all, but I wouldn't go back on my personal values just to make Gene Simmons happy."


gburliuk@thewhig.com - The Whig Standard (Kingston, Ontario)


"The Struggle" - 5 song EP available on iTunes




In the words of Rob Baker (The Tragically Hip) “Miss Emily is a truly gifted singer. Her voice is rich and soulful - she can slip from sweet and seductive to commanding and fierce and back again in the tradition of the finest blues and soul singers. And like those great and rare legendary talents she is well seasoned in the art of performance having paid more than her fair share of dues. Emily maintains a very high level of musicianship and integrity in everything she does.”

In 2011 Kingston, ON based 'Miss Emily' received accolades from Gene Simmons (KISS) & Matt Wells (MuchMoreMusic), played to 25,000 people alongside The Tragically Hip, Sam Roberts Band & The Trews in Bobcaygeon and added Ottawa Bluesfest Director Mark Monahan to the 3-3-3- Music management team.

Miss Emily performs in front of a full rock band or in a down-scaled, more intimate sounding duo featuring band leader Chris Koster, depending on the event. Miss Emily has played a range of venues from large festivals to small theatres in both Canada and the United States.

Miss Emily and her team are looking forward to a bright 2012!

To check out the video for Miss Emily's 'The Sell-Out' (Chris Brown mix) directed by Sean Michael Turrell go to:


'The Making Of' video for Secretive Addiction (recorded February 2012), by Jason Middaugh: