Chicago songwriter Emma Butterworth is carving a niche for herself in the American indie scene with her uniquely soulful brand of indie-leaning folk rock. A keen storyteller and careful lyricist, she cuts straight to the heart of life’s big questions, examining moments of love, loss, growth, and self-acceptance with characteristic wit and wisdom. Her cheeky stage presence reveals a curious mind and a penchant for deeply melancholic songs, while her lush vocals have been compared to iconic acts like Brandi Carlile and The Head and the Heart. There’s a casual power when Butterworth sings that feels both practiced and raw: agile, occasionally vulnerable, but always sure—hers is a voice you’d follow in an emergency. The root of that strength lies in her own, joyful sense of self, which infuses even her most somber ballads with a buoyant, silver-lined charm. Or, as explained in the eponymous track from her forthcoming album, Fool’s Gold: “People say I’m lost without sweet words from a man, / but I never had trouble knowing just who I am.”
Born in Des Moines, Butterworth was raised in Iowa by musicians and obsessive music fans. As a child, she was exposed to a wide range of artists and bands, from sixties-era folk-rock to eighties hair metal, classic country, jazz, and traditional choral music. Her father, musician Mike Butterworth of The Nadas, encouraged her musical exploration from a young age; She took piano lessons throughout childhood before teaching herself to play guitar in high school. “I was into everything from Rage Against the Machine to Miles Davis growing up,” she says. “Then it shifted to folk-rock like the Lumineers, The Head and the Heart, and Brandi Carlile.”
In October of 2020, Butterworth released her debut record, Wild Life, a six-song EP she wrote, played, and recorded herself while studying audio arts and acoustics at Columbia College. She also teamed up with fellow artist, student filmmaker Sarah Jo Carré, to create a beautiful narrative music video for the EP’s eponymous single, “Wild Life.” Folky, distilled, and alluring, the songs on Wild Life draw inspiration from modern, idiosyncratic solo acts like Orville Peck and Phoebe Bridgers as well as iconic country bards like Sturgill Simpson. Butterworth spent the next few years touring the midwest and playing a range of local venues, listening rooms, breweries, and festivals, including gigs at Hinterland Music Festival, Metro, Roofgarden, and Reggie’s. Now poised to drop her debut full-length album in July, she’s actively working as an audio engineer at local studio Rax Trax and fine-tuning the details of her indie-folk sound.
Butterworth’s debut solo album, Fool’s Gold, is set for release in July 2023 on all streaming platforms. The stunning nine-song album was written, recorded, and performed by Butterworth, co-produced with her father Mike Butterworth, and recorded in part at his studio in Des Moines. From the first notes of the gently driving opening track “Take Me Home,” Fool’s Gold draws you in and holds you at its center. Built around a backbone of guitar, bass, drums, and piano, various tracks feature traditional folk accents like banjo, slide guitar, pedal steel, and strings played by Minneapolis musician Cicely Parnas, as well as background vocals contributed by Butterworth’s father and artist Jake Simon. Lead single “Dance of the Dead” offers an upbeat investigation into the macabre side of love, written from a fictional angle: “It seems to me the only remedy / is to dance with the dead at night,” while slow-building seventh track “End of Time” layers vocal harmonies and increasingly intricate instrumental parts with each new verse. Set against simple, steadily repeating piano chords, the song simultaneously evokes anxiety and comfort, repeating a simple question that seems to suggest its own answer: “Will you be mine?” Exploring themes of heartbreak, acceptance, anger, and self-love, the album deftly intertwines bright, dream-poppy love songs with gritty, rock-n-roll anthems, forming an eclectic yet cohesive vibe. It’s fun and it’s moving.
Want to read more about Emma Butterworth? Catch up on some articles here!