Emily West is a self-described fan of awkward situations. That includes pulling up to music industry meetings in an old Buick that could only be started with a screwdriver; writing a country song about recycling; furiously downing free grapes at the supermarket as a struggling songwriter; and performing her new single, “Rocks in Your Shoes,” in front of radio programmers who’ve heard it all.
“I love any type of thing I’ll have to rise above,” says West, who has slogged it out in Nashville for eight years — four of them after getting a record deal with Capitol.
West was 18 when she moved from her Iowa home to Nashville, where she earned a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell in hopes of getting signed to a label as a singer/songwriter. It took her several years to grow as a writer and find her voice. “I tried to become Bonnie Raitt, and the next month I would be Linda Ronstadt,” says West.
But when she started “writing stuff that was real and looking inside my journal, that’s when it got better.” West’s songs have a confessional, personal touch. Soaring ballad “Pretty Girl” is about the unseen insecurities of a, well, pretty girl. But it’s her crackling uptempo numbers, like “Rocks in Your Shoes,” that have gotten radio’s attention.
What she discovered after getting signed was that it took time, as a new name, to get publishers to pitch their best material.
“You need some killer songs,” says West. “Otherwise it’s not worth it… ‘Rocks in Your Shoes’ was written about that. All these people that were being signed, they had records out and I had to watch them on CMT. And I’d be eating from an unpaid sack of grapes at Kroger’s.”
Despite a subsequent publishing deal with BMG expiring as her project awaited completion, West’s wait may finally be over. “Rocks in Your Shoes” rises to No. 44 this week on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. Her yet-untitled debut album, produced by Jeremy Stover and Mark Bright, is due this fall.
West has spent the last two months touring radio stations from coast to coast. Asked where her music falls in the pantheon of what one blogger called “sappy story songs and over-thunk musings” or poppy country music, West says that if she had not set out to “say something” from the get go, “I would’ve ended up with a sucky record.” Instead, she took things day by day, focusing on a specific story she wanted to tell. “Let’s write something that will stick to the wall,” she recalls thinking. “I want this noodle to be cooked.”