Local teen singer/songwriter gets ready to release second album.
By Ronelle Grier
While many teenage girls are busy doing homework, playing school sports and daydreaming, 13-year-old Emma Guzman of Mount Clemens is playing gigs at local venues and working on her second album of original songs.
Her first album, Echo, released in June 2015, is an eclectic collection of songs written and performed by Emma, with the help of some local musicians such as George Friend, Anthony Retka and drummer Drew Schultz.
When performing and recording, Emma uses her chosen stage name, Emma Islands. To her friends and teachers at L’Anse Creuse Middle School Central in Harrison Township, she is Emma Guzman, member of the National Junior Honor Society and this year’s representative for the school Community Action Coalition.
“She is an awesome young lady, very creative, unique and outgoing,” said Diana Conklin, Emma’s school guidance counselor and co-chair of the Community Action Coalition.
Emma also participates in the Michigan Opera Theatre Children’s Chorus, where she will play “dragon lady” Katisha in a children’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera The Mikado, scheduled to run this spring at the Detroit Opera House.
Emma’s earliest musical memories include listening to songs in the backseat of her father’s car.
“My dad has always played really good music in the car; I grew up listening to the Beatles and Bob Dylan,” Emma said. “I had guitar lessons at 9, but I was too shy to play in front of an audience until 11.”
Her first stage appearance was in the musical, Annie, at Clintondale High School, where she played an orphan. The next year, she won the lead role of Annie in the Warren Civic Theatre’s production of the same musical.
While participating in the band program at the Rock N Roll Prep School in Macomb Township, Emma had the opportunity to record some of the songs she had been writing with the help of local musicians John Nash and Josh Ford.
So far, about 300 copies of Emma’s CD have been sold, mostly through her appearances at various venues such as the Dovetail in Warren, where she is a regular performer, Michigan by the Bottle in Shelby Township and other local sites that include the Michigan State Fair and Hamtramck Music Festival.
“My first album was kind of surreal,” Emma said. “I never imagined I would make an album, but it was really great, too; I loved it … there is this amazing moment of ‘I did this, and I don’t really know how I did this, but I did it!’”
She was chosen as one of 2015’s top 15 artists by the Metro Times, which praised her “rich, velvety alto” and the “affecting melancholy” of her songs. Echo won for best album in the folk/singer-songwriter category in the July 2015 Akedemia Music Awards, a California-based organization that recognizes new artists.
“Emma’s lyrics are rife with symbolism,” said her guitar teacher, Emily Rose. “Her songs are clever. Her melodies are unique and refined, and her voice sails them right where they need to go.”
In her upcoming second album, Emma adds the ukulele and electric guitar to the acoustic guitar she used in her first CD. While her chords and techniques are more complicated, her overall themes have not changed. Her favorite new song, “Roots,” is about growing up and moving on from old friendships.
“It has been amazing watching her grow,” said Emma’s mother, Robin Guzman. “At times, Emma can be shy and introverted, but she is absolutely fearless on stage … It has been a joy watching her come into her own.”
Because Emma handles many of her own bookings, her father, Chris, provides moral support, serves as an adult liaison and chauffeurs Emma to various lessons and gigs.
“It’s been kind of a wild little ride,” Chris said.
Emma was recently accepted for the fall 2015 term in the singer/songwriter program at the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts in northern Michigan, where she has spent the past four summers attending camp programs in theater, musical theater and vocal arts.
While Emma does not know exactly what her next step will be, she knows her music will be a big part of her future.
“I hope to be able to support myself with music as a songwriter, singer and performer,” she said. “There’s no giving it up now because I’ve already come so far.” NS
Emma’s album is available for download on iTunes, Bandcamp and Amazon.