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MIAMI, Fl -- Emily Estefan could have floated into the recording contract of her choosing. Instead the daughter of Gloria and Emilio Estefan got into the prestigious Berklee College of Music and developed her craft one instrument at time, and kept her voice under wraps until she was ready to sing in front of her famous mom at the age of 18.
With her parents unconditional support, she started to record her first album in her dorm room studio. Laying down all the instrumental tracks herself, save the horns, she finished it in two-and-a-half months.
If her first single F**k to Be is any indication of what we can expect of her first album, I can’t wait. The song says you can't tell her who the f**k to be - she is, and will be, her own person. Both musically mature and lyrically bold, her voice seamlessly weaves through this smart jazzy pop concoction, promising exciting things to come.
I spoke to Emily about her musical approach and career development right before she headed back to Boston to finish her last semester of college. I found that her music is a fluid and intimate expression of everything she lives and strives for.
Did you always know you wanted to sing?
I didn’t sing at all until I was 18. I had a lot of fears around singing. I went to school, and half way through my first semester I went home for break and I knew I had to face my biggest fear. So, I took my mom by the hand and I told her I wanted to show her something, but that she had to promise not to cry or throw me out a window. Since then I’ve done more daunting things vocally, but I’ve never been as nervous as that moment.
She was so excited. She had this recording from when I was a baby. We were in her car and she recorded me without telling me. I was singing "Calendar Girl." Since then she said she knew I was a singer.
I've never considered myself a vocalist, but after I sang for her and got over that fear, I was super excited to start working on my music. I felt a lot of the chains around me had been unlocked. I went back to school and I would attend classes from nine in the morning until nine at night. Then I would come home, eat something and work on my album until five in the morning. I’d get a couple of hours of sleep and go back to school and do it again. I finished the album in two-and-a-half months.
You played all the instruments on the album?
I played keys, drums, guitar and did the vocals including the background vocals. I don’t mean to brag and say I play so many instruments, but I am proficient enough to communicate what I want to portray. I played everything except for the horns. The horns I created on MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), and then I wrote the charts for my musicians and had them recorded in Miami.
Were you nervous about coming out of the gate with such a bold message?
I have a little of buzz on social media because some my mom’s fans follow me. A lot of people have an expectation of who they want me to be because when I was born, a lot of people were rooting for my mom. It was a big deal she was able to have a baby after her accident.
I wouldn’t change my life for anything in the world. I have a lot of love and support around me. But there’s a lot of expectation about who I am. I don’t want to trick anybody into thinking that I’m going to be this person they expect. So, I wasn't nervous. I was excited and I was supported enough to portray exactly whom I wanted to portray, which was me.
How does it make you feel to see all the views your first video, "F**k To Be" has gotten?
Here’e the thing. I like lots of views, but it’s the little moments when I realize that it’s impacting a person. So, the moment I most appreciate is when I’m walking on campus and somebody comes to tell me that they really appreciated the song. That means so much more to me than how many views I may get.
I don’t have any expectations and that’s my attitude towards my music. I make music because I love it and I’m committed to it no matter how strange it is. I can’t get offended by how people react to it because it comes from a vulnerable place and I have to take risks. It's very personal and when I have to let it go, it’s terrifying. Ultimately, I have to make the last call whether I believe in it or not.
Tell me about your relationship with your Abuela and how it got famous.
My abuela always wiggles for me. She’s always supports me. When I released this single I got a call from her saying, “I know what you can change that works too. Force! Piensalo, you can sing 'You can’t tell me who the force to be!'” And I told her, "But Abuela, I already released the single, the video has already been made.” And she answers back "Si, pero you can change it onstage. Think about it." Then I thought it's actually not a bad idea.
I made my first rap video for Instagram with Baby Sasha. We were on the swing and were just playing. When I went to my Abulela’s and showed it to her she wanted to do one, so I did one with her and she loved it. People freaked out. Even now, every time I post something on Instagram that isn’t with her somebody will comment, “Very cute. Where is #rapbuela?”
How do you feel when people bring up your famous parents?
I wouldn't be the person that I am today without my parents. When I was younger, certain things made me angry. But as I’ve gotten older I realize there aren't many people as respected as them with their longevity in this industry, and that’s beautiful.
When Entertainment Tonight premiered the video they announced it as ‘Gloria Estefan’s daughter releases her first single’. At first I was like, “Oh man! The missed the point.” But since that day almost every other article I’ve seen barely mentions them. It’s taking care of itself because I made this video to show exactly who I am. People are hearing what I have to say. I realized the more that I stick to my path, the more that will happen.
I have no problem with talking about my parents. I owe them everything I am and everything I will be. I’m not following their exact path or going about things the way they did. What they accomplished comes with a lot of baggage but also with a lot of experience and I am blessed and proud that they can give that to me.
It's not always easy. You have to develop a thick skin, which is necessary to navigate the industry with any kind of grace. But I get a lot of love, support and energy that a lot of people don’t get, and I will never take that for granted.