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Making Art is an Act of Hope: Q&A with Emily Wells

On Sunday June 12, Emily Wells will close out the first season 10×10 at the Hult and we couldn’t be more excited.

The 10×10 series is focused on discovering incredible artists near and far and presenting them on our stages for the low cost of $10 per ticket.

Rich Hobby: Hi Emily! We’re so excited to have you at the Hult Center as part of our 10×10 series.
First off, would love to know how your year has been going? Are you excited to be back out on the road?

Emily Wells: Hello! Thank you so much, I’m so delighted to have been asked to be part of your 10×10 series and to get the chance to bring this show to the Hult Center.

My year has been full of surprises and hopes. I’ve felt engaged and present through much of it, too busy for much relaxation, grateful for every person who’s spending time with my new album, which has been getting most of my attention this year, and last for that matter. I’m bereft about the war in Ukraine, Roe, gun violence, figuring out how to emerge back into the complicated world as a compassionate person. I’m excited to be back out on the road, though I think I’d forgotten how hard it is… maybe akin to childbirth, the agonies are forgotten so you’ll do it again. My ethos for this tour is to step on stage with gratitude for each person in the room every night, and to build something that leaves for each of their imaginations.

RH: You released your newest album “Regards to the End” in February of this year and the album tackles some heavy topics including Climate Change and learning from past activists including those from the Aids epidemic of a few decades’ past. What drew you to explore these areas?

Emily Wells album art

Emily Wells: I was looking for elders, people who had looked something enormous and insurmountable in the face and walked toward it with ferocity, humanity, grace, rage, and humor. I’m interested in the overlay between climate crisis and the early days of the AIDS epidemic, for instance, the necessity for cooperation between governments, science and corporations, government inaction, denialism from the right, the inability of the actions of individuals to solve the problem at hand. Those activists created change that saved lives, that is still saving lives.

Emily Wells Q&A Photo

RH: When exploring such deep issues, how do you avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed or paralyzed by the immensity of an issue? What keeps your lantern lit?

Emily Wells: No. The short answer is no, I don’t avoid, I absolutely felt and feel overwhelmed and paralyzed at times. The hardest research for me to engage with is that of current climate science. I think this is part of why I found myself turning to the artists working during that time, who were dealing with AIDS on every level, and making work through it despite many facing the illness itself, and watching friends die, and feeling helpless. The will to keep working, what they made, the way it endures, this keeps my lantern aglow.

RH: Having researched these past activists, what critical takeaways did you come away with? What did you learn that inspires you still today?

Emily Wells: Making art is an act of hope and belief in a future.
Collective action is vital.

RH: You released a series of youtube videos for each song from your new album, and all but two are set to videos of water, was there something about the element of water you wanted to connect to?

Emily Wells: So the cover of the album by Alvin Baltrop, The Piers (exterior with person sunbathing)1980. It was shot, like much of Baltrop’s work, at the abandoned Hudson River Piers in New York City which were repurposed by queers for cruising and art making in the 1970s and 80s. I returned there to film the water, a way of touching that past place and what has been lost and what remains.

RH: We see that you also like to DJ whenever possible, and therefore we must know: What are 1-2 surefire songs to start or close out your set?

Emily Wells: Oh love thinking about this. In my imaginary Hult Center DJ set I’m going to start with Esther Phillips, “Try Me” and to finish with “Here Comes the Rain Again” by Eurythmics, because no one, and I mean no one, can resist dancing to that song.

RH: We’ve watched a LOT of your performances and love how you interweave multiple instruments and technology in your performance, in your own words what else can you tell us about what audiences can expect at your live show?

Emily Wells: Thank you so much for spending time with those documents of the ephemeral.

This tour is so special because I invited three incredible musicians to join me on stage: Alec Spiegelman on woodwinds and guitar, Dandy McDowell on bass, and Addie Vogt on drums and flute. We are all singing together as well, which is its own particular form of magic. After two and half years alone in a studio there’s a ‘dreams do come true’ quality to experiencing the songs, both new and old, all being brought to life through our hands, and I too am enlivened by the sacred act of making music with other people.

Thank you so much for these thoughtful questions. I truly can’t wait for this show!

Join us for Emily Wells on Sunday, June 12 for the final 10×10 show of the season!