Hendersonville resident Emily Bodley, who was an opening act at the Downtown Rhythm & Brews Concert Series this year, is charismatically effervescent, and has such a quirky sense of humor that it’s hard to picture her being down in the dumps. (In fact, on her Facebook page, she adorns her name with no less than three exclamation points: “Emily Bodley!!!”)
But she became so discouraged with her fledgling musical career several months ago that she nearly ditched it.
“I pretty much gave up on it,” she says. “There can be so much rejection. I lost my joy. But I’m slowly gaining it back.” Bodley captured some of her existential angst in her song “Trench,” a rather despairing tune about running away from dark psychic forces.
“I actually wrote that while I was in the middle of a panic attack,” she nonchalantly discloses. Despite being under duress, she wanted to turn the frightening incident into something positive. So, rather than breathing into a paper bag, she encapsulated her fear in a song composed in real time. Asked if it can be panic-inducing to perform as a solo artist on stage, Bodley admits to feeling the pressure. “I have a love-hate relationship with that. I get to be the center of attention, and I love that. But if I screw up, I feel really terrible for days, like I let down my fans.”
That’s why, before a recent performance of the jazz standard “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” Bodley put the audience on notice: “ ‘I’m still learning this one, and for me it’s a really a hard song to play,’” she told them. “But I promise I’m going to try not to completely mess up and murder it.”
Judging from the enthusiastic applause the song garnered, it appeared that she instead killed it — in the most flattering sense.
An aspiring filmmaker who recently started her own business shooting short promotional videos for clients in creative fields, Bodley is a diligent songwriter with a solid repertoire of her own material. But she has great respect for the history of music and the artists who came before her, and won’t hesitate to showcase someone else’s song if she believes it expresses what she wants to say.
“Sometimes singer/songwriters try too hard to be different, and I don’t want the process to seem forced or plastic; it should be authentic,” she says. “The point is not to see how different you can be. Different is everywhere, but where is the feeling? There are so many great songs that other people have recorded, and I love doing my versions of them.”
She is not the first, for instance, to cover the Beatles’ teeny-bop rocker “I Want to Hold Your Hand” as a slower-tempo croon tune. But what makes her torch-song interpretation enticing is that she delivers it with distinctly soulful, Motown-infused vocals, turning it into an original.
“Motown is my favorite genre,” says Bodley, who covers hits by the Supremes and Otis Redding. But she also performs songs by everyone from Edith Piaf to Elvis Presley, from Hank Williams to the Smiths. In fact, a 90-minute set may include selections from every decade of the past 100 years.
“I’m a singer/songwriter, play ukulele and guitar, and mostly do slower, jazzy, folk-pop tunes. I perform lots of melancholy songs, and I’ve got a few upbeat ditties in my set, too,” she lists. “But mainly what I am is a vocalist.”
Bodley says she’s been singing her whole life, and she admits that “my instrument playing hasn’t yet caught up to what I can do with my voice, so sometimes it can be fun to have other musicians behind me.”
Her father, professional musician Wayne Bodley, often accompanies her on percussion — although her own syncopated guitar style is capable of laying down a danceable beat behind those scale-climbing vocals.
“Oh, and I also play mandolin and banjo,” she adds. Then she pauses for a second, grins, and decides to revise her statement. “Well, I don’t really play them yet. But I did hang them on my wall, where I can think about playing them, so I’m sure it will happen soon.”
Emily Bodley performs on the patio in front of Black Bear Coffee Co. (318 N. Main Street, Hendersonville) on July 4, 1:30-2:30pm, and at Luella’s Bar-B-Q (501 Merrimon Ave., Asheville) on July 31, 8-10pm. emilybodley.com