When the stars align: Wilmington musician Emily Roth has her sights set on Nashville

Wilmington musician Emily Roth plays on the front porch of a 110-year-old house she and her boyfriend renovated in Burgaw, NC. (Port City Daily/By Karly Burk Photography)

WILMINGTON — It’s been a busy few years for 24-year-old singer-songwriter Emily Roth. Aside from finishing her degree at UNCW and maintaining a career as a working musician, she and her boyfriend have been renovating a 110-year-old home in downtown Burgaw. 

“It’s been really fun — I’ve enjoyed it,” Roth said. “I’m not gonna lie: It’s hard though.”

The experience inspired the singer-songwriter to pen “You and Vinyl,” a song about getting home after a hard day’s work to find the respite of a record player and a loved one awaiting. The experience has been one Roth wanted to memorialize even during the roughest days of scraping walls and patching 10-foot ceilings. 


“By the end of the day, you’re just feeling done and sometimes it does take a toll on your relationship,” she said. “And you just have to remind yourself: You may have these moments, but you wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else.”

As is the case with most of her music, Roth is inspired to write and perform by emotions and daily occurrences — whether from her own life or from what her friends and family are experiencing. She wrote an homage to her grandparents’ relationship in “Family is Everything.”

“My grandparents met at the Carolina Beach Boardwalk and married in a week,” she explained. “So the song talks about how family is always there for you. . . . that is probably one of my favorite songs to play because it’s kind of a tear-jerker.”

Once the pandemic hit, Roth’s inspiration was fragmented since she wasn’t interacting as much with friends and family. 

“I was just so uninspired at first; I like to write from living,” she said. “But I tried to make space and time to sit down and write a little bit every day, even if, you know — even if it’s only a few lines.”

To date she has written around 20 songs, many of which cover the tried-and-true connection of love. She wrote “Timeless” in under 20 minutes, based on her own five-year relationship. 

“We bought this house together and I started to think about time, and how it’s comforting to come home and not feel uncomfortable in silence — getting comfortable with your person,” she said. 

Roth plays all of her music on an acoustic guitar — which she picked up for the first time at a young 12 years old after being inspired by hearing Taylor Swift for the first time. Her mom signed Roth up for lessons with local musician Justin Fox, and by age 13, another local musician, Fred Flynn, asked her to open for his band at downtown’s Duck and Dive.

“There’s little 13-year-old me at Duck and Dive — like so cool,” Roth said. “And it just kind of took off from there. I had a lot of help from the other local musicians.”

Travis Shallow invited her to play often, and Roth would hit up open mics as frequently as possible. By 2018, her live gigs were snowballing, so she began following the path of career musician while finishing her communications degree at UNCW.

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“I chose not to pursue music because I felt like the programs that our schools offer were mostly geared to teaching,” Roth said. “And that wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to go into. I just wanted to be able to market myself as an artist.”

Pre-pandemic Roth was playing around four or more times a week. The pandemic brought her performances to a sharp halt. She did two livestreams — one for Wilson Center’s Ghostlight Series and the other for encore’s Best Of livestream (she was nominated as Best Female Musician 2020 by encore readers).

“But that’s really all I did as far as livestreaming,” she said. “I didn’t really have a lot of good equipment and felt like the quality wasn’t coming out as good as I’d wanted it to.”

She began adding back weekend shows, mostly outside, during spring and fall, and is picking up weekend gigs still. Though, February so far is a little slow. Her sets mix originals with some of her favorite covers, including Stevie Nicks, Chris Stapleton, and Tom Petty, even Michael Jackson.

“I really like doing ‘Billie Jean’ acoustic because it surprises people,” Roth said. “People are like, ‘What in the world?’”

“‘Cornelia Street’ is the best, too” she added, praising Ms. Swift.

“My mom found Taylor Swift on MySpace when I was a kid and was like, ‘Oh, Emily, check this girl out,’” Roth recalled. “And so we kind of fell in love with her through that. And then my grandfather bought her CD and was like, ‘I think you sound like her.’ So that’s when I became obsessed.”

Much like Swift, Roth has her sights set on Nashville, Tennessee. It’s a goal within arm’s reach, as Roth wants to pursue a songwriting career in Music City by summer 2021.

“So after two years [working on the house,] we’re trying to sell it by July,” she said.

When in Nashville, Roth will record some of her music, first and foremost. Rather than do a full LP or even a shorter EP, she is sticking to singles.

“Because that seems to be the trend right now with some artists,” she said. “Artists are just releasing singles a lot of time because, you know, Spotify and a lot of platforms like that only push one song at a time.”

She also will pick up gigs immediately upon arrival, in hopes of getting the attention of music execs. 

“I want to get my foot in the door when some of these places reopen, which is hopefully soon, and that will be a good opportunity for me to get in the scene,” Roth said. “A lot of people left Nashville and went home during the pandemic, so I feel like that’d be a good opportunity, and the stars just kind of have aligned where I’m actually able to do that now.”

Before heading west, Roth will continue playing locally, including at Slainte in Monkey Junction on Feb. 13. Her music can be heard at www.emilyrothmusic.com.


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