Smartists: Emily Danger

Published on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls

It was natural for Emily Nichols to foray into music after being born the daughter of an elementary school music teacher. But, after growing up doing musicals, playing piano and guitar, and eventually graduating with degrees in classical music, she embraced her individuality (her “Danger”, if you will) and forged a musical path all her own. “I’d be singing in an opera and wishing I was Robert Plant,” she says. “I never lost my love for rock and pop music.”


About three years ago, Emily decided to run with her longtime love for cabaret rock and express herself through it.

“There was a lot happening in my personal life that was tumultuous and I couldn’t communicate well as a result. I was playing the piano more at home, flirting around with Cole Porter songs (some of my favorite music) and suddenly, words came to me quickly. ‘Shed My Skin’ was my first full song, I wrote it in 5 minutes,” she recounts.

After playing it for her husband (who’s now her band’s creative director), it was clear what she should be doing: writing and performing her own original music. “[Songwriting] has now become my preferred way of getting my point across,” she says.

Emily is inspired by documentaries (“I watch at least one a week”) and artistic couples, like her friends Inez and Vinoodh who shot her EP cover photos and are models in creative partnership for Emily and her husband, John Patrick Wells. Fellow female artists like Bjork and Marina Abramovic, and other women who “question traditional gender ‘roles’ and aren’t constrained by them,” also get Emily’s juices flowing. This is an area she is particularly passionate about.

“…I’ve felt challenged because of my sex. I don’t consider myself a pop singer, so I haven’t felt the pressure to be overtly sexual. But, as a front woman of a rock band, I have felt opposition because I don’t sing sweetly or perfectly, my voice has guts to it,” she said. “Whenever we cover men’s songs like ‘Killing in the Name’ or ‘Whole Lotta Love’, I get people saying, ‘Wow, I never thought of a woman singing that.’ That bothers me. It’s like when people say, ‘Oh wow, you play electric guitar!’ or ‘Wow, you carried that bass amp up stairs!’ But, that’s part of the challenge!… I’m not trying to prove a point by singing a ‘man’s song’, and I’m definitely not proving a point by carrying my own equipment. It’s part of the job, and I get Michelle Obama arms from it.”

Emily is proud that she can make music for women and show them a different way to look at the industry. She feels supported and empowered when ladies are watching in the audience and dancing to her music.

“I love doing a show, and seeing a ton of women in the audience who would be having a totally different experience if I were a man… They’re there to be a part of the team, one more girl up in front to scream for and have the message be heard. This is what I tell myself. There are also a lot of ladies there because Ricky is devastatingly handsome and Cameron is a rock God. But, it’s nice to have some balance between all of us.”

new band, alanna

Staying true to her strong, opinionated, and passionate nature is an important part of her life mission, and part of the reason she chose to write and perform her own music.

“If something strikes a chord with me personally, I like to write about it…I write what I know and what I feel. I’m a big proponent of being heard by using your own voice, literally and figuratively….I don’t write thinking ‘Would this song be a top Billboard hit?’, I would be stunted if I worked that way and it wouldn’t come across as authentic.”

She applies this same mentality when she mentors young singers, and wants to pass this wisdom onto Smart Girls everywhere.

“If you’re passionate about anything…whatever it is….do that. If you’re only worried about a pay check or having what society tells us is necessary for happiness, you will never be truly happy…[I teach vocal lessons to] a lot of young girls who try to mimic the big names in pop. My constant lecture to them is, ‘There’s nobody who has your vocal chords and your experience and heart. Sing with that.’”

Repeat after Emily, Smarties: There’s nobody with your experience and heart. Embrace yourself. While you’re at it, extend that embrace to Emily by checking out the Emily Danger Band’s new single, set to be released this month. Also, keep an eye out for their “War Torn” EP coming out this Spring. For more information on their music and tour, visit their website.

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