The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Emily How talks recent EP, pursuit of music career

Photo courtesy of Sophie Huber
Emily How sings while on guitar. Emily How speaks with buzz about pursuing a career in music after dropping out of college and her most recent EP, “I Hope I Die Inside a Fire.”

“The only thing I’ve ever wanted to be is a musician,” said local singer Emily How near the end of an hour-long interview. “I’ve never really persisted with anything except for this.”

How strides into the University YMCA sporting short blond hair and a colorful baja hoodie. She greets me energetically before quickly apologizing for being too loud. 

“I feel like I’m always yelling,” she said with a short laugh, settling into a chair and pulling her knees up to her chest. 

21-year-old How is the lead singer of her band Emily How and plays with bassist Brenton Angel, guitarist Jacob Hill and drummer Tyler Spatafore. Despite her artist name being Emily How, she readily explains that her name is actually spelled “Hough,” but since no one was able to figure it out, she goes by How.

With two extended plays released under her current artist name, How describes her music as alternative or indie rock, wanting it to be “a mix between hard and soft.” 

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“I want to be vulnerable, and I want the lyrics to be the main focal point of each song, because I feel like that’s my strong suit,” How said. “I want them to stand out, and I want them to hit the right way, a vulnerable way. But also I want a kind of gritty element.”

How began her music career before ever stepping foot in Urbana. It all began with her dad. 

“He brought home a classical guitar, which is like an acoustic guitar, but it’s got nylon strings and it’s for classical music,” How said. “He had a phase where he was obsessed with that. I was always drawn to it, and I would just play around with it.”

She said how much her dad influenced her as a musician, and mentioned how she grew up listening to the type of music that her dad loved: The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. 

“He was big in, like, ’70s and ’80s rock,” How said with a beaming smile. 

“I started singing when I was 7, I think,” How said. “And I kind of forgot about the guitar at this point, but I was obsessed with Taylor Swift, she was, like, the only person I listened to. I wanted to be just like her, so I entered the local county fair talent show and I sang ‘Our Song’ by Taylor Swift. I actually messed up, and I cried, but I got third place.”

The county fair talent show marked the beginning of How’s music career. Following that performance, she began to take guitar lessons and started to play local restaurants.  

“I would play for 45 minutes and I would sing only Taylor Swift,” How said with an almost embarrassed smile. 

How said that as she grew up she moved on from Taylor Swift, getting into different artists like Ed Sheeran and the Lumineers, who provided a transition into more alternative music.

Now, her music taste is a little different. Pine Grove, Soccer Mommy, Indigo De Souza, Cage the Elephant and Nirvana are some of her favorite artists.  

“I really love Nirvana,” How said. “I feel like that’s corny to say, but I love them.” 

She stops to pull up her pant-leg to show a tattoo of the “In Utero” album cover on her calf.

But out of all of the artists mentioned, Big Thief is the artist who How claimed has impacted her most. 

“This song in particular, ‘Real Love,’ made me really want to start writing more,” How said. “I felt like when I was writing songs I was worried about my words sounding too harsh. But then she sings words that are sometimes a little bit — morbid. They make you feel a little uncomfortable, and that made me realize that this is what I should be doing. I should not stray from that, and that just opened up my mind.”

Despite this realization, How said that once she went into college, she almost stopped playing music altogether.  

“I don’t think I was happy in college,” How said, fidgeting with one of the many rings on her fingers. “I just feel like I didn’t have the time to feel what I needed to. So I dropped out.”

How dropped out in 2022, an experience that shaped her EP “Flight Behavior.”

“My parents were always really encouraging of me, to pursue music and make art … but it was kind of a different story when I decided to drop out of school,” she said. “They weren’t mad at me, but I didn’t really have a plan and that scared them, and it scared me too, believe me.” 

How wrote “Flight Behavior” when she realized she was going to drop out of school. The main theme of the album is letting go and moving forward. 

“It was scary because I didn’t know what I was gonna do, or if I would even be able to book shows or anything,” How said. “Everything was up in the air. I wrote ‘Flight Behavior’ because my dad was reading this book called ‘Flight Behaviour,’ spelled the British way, and I just really liked the phrase.”

According to How, it’s finding little pieces of something, small spurts of inspiration in different pieces of her life, that get her going.

“I feel like when people ask about my songwriting process, I don’t always know exactly what to say, because it just changes all the time,” she said. “Sometimes Ill think of a phrase that I think is really cool, or hear a phrase that just catches my ear that I could build around … and that will just have to stew for a while in my brain until I figure out where it fits or what to build around it. And then other times, I just sit down and I start strumming, and it just kind of comes out like, it’s already been written, or something.” 

For How, the writing process isn’t always that simple.

“I get writer’s block all of the time,” she said. “Every few months, I will just not write anything. I won’t be able to even think of anything. And then a few months later, it’s like boom, boom, boom, a bunch comes out.” 

“I almost feel like it’s after every transitional period in my life,” How continued. “I don’t do it on purpose, but it seems to be a pattern. Like, oh, I moved, now I’m gonna process what life was like then. It’s just like me reflecting on different chapters in my life.”

How’s emotions, particularly sorrow, are apparent in her songs.

“I can’t write happy songs,” she said. “I just have to let an emotion sit for so long that I’m gonna explode or something. It’s like an eruption … I’ve always had a really hard time, always been a really emotional person, and I haven’t always handled it well.”

Despite being an emotional person, How said that she has never known what to do with her immense feelings. 

“It always backfired because I didn’t know how to handle them,” she said. “I feel like songwriting for me has become a way to step away and observe my feelings from an outside perspective. I just look at it objectively, like, this is how I’m feeling. It helps me understand my own self better.”

How described “I Hope I Die Inside a Fire,” the title track of How’s newest EP, as a product of some of the most intense emotions that she’s ever felt, remembering it as being a particularly challenging process.

“I put a lot of emotions into that. I put emotion into all my songs, but I feel like that one, especially, I was really, really upset,” How said. “I don’t even remember about what, but I was having a bad day and I was tired and broke and stressed. I was in my room and I had a bunch of candles lit, for songwriting, and I just started strumming.”

“I Hope I Die Inside A Fire,” a vulnerable confession filled with alluring imagery, was the result of a poem written in her notes app, although How said she doesn’t write poetry often.

“All the candles were everywhere, and I really was so upset,” How said. “I was like, ‘What if this whole place, and everything disappeared?’ I just wanted to disappear for a while. Not in a concerning way or anything, but sometimes I feel so intensely and I have a really hard time stepping outside of that.”

How described her music as her space to be real and to take away the facade of everyday life. Her main goal is to be a space where people can feel things freely without feeling judged.

“This is really how I feel,” How said definitively. “And I’m gonna feel it right now.”

Despite being immersed in music her entire life, How said that Urbana is the place that truly got her deeper into the music scene. 

“Urbana gave me a space to practice,” How said. “Playing shows is practice, you know. I feel like I had to get to a certain level of professionalism. It takes time for that to happen.”

When it comes to performing, How explained that a bigger stage allows her to blossom more — her favorite big stage being The Canopy Club — but house shows continue to be her preference. 

“It’s just because they’re so intimate and it’s just cool when everybody’s right there and you can interact, and everybody’s like, sweating on each other,” How said. “It’s just fun.” 

How expressed that the thought of pursuing music used to be almost dreadful to her; she was so sure that she couldn’t do it.

“I used to think there’s no way people would wanna listen to my music,” she said. “I used to be afraid to promote myself, ask to play at venues or tell anybody I played music because I didn’t want to explain it. I didn’t think anybody took me seriously.”

How recognized the amount of growth she has undergone since that first performance on the county fair stage, along with the growth of her band, who have been playing together since October 2022.

“I feel like, ever since I started playing with my band — I’ve kind of found what I want to sound like, and I feel like I’m slowly achieving it more and more,” How said. “Even in this small amount of time that I’ve changed my mindset, a lot has happened. So that keeps me hopeful. If I keep trying, things will keep happening.”

How said that her dream is to make a career out of her music, and that the next step is to fully commit herself. 

“I don’t know how that’s gonna work financially, but I gotta find a way,” How said. “I guess that’s my aspiration right now, is just to be able to do it full time — I don’t know how long it’s gonna take, but I just want to write more.”

How plans to take off the first few months of 2024 to focus on recording music. 

“I do have some songs that I would like to record,” How said with excitement. “I have a song I’ve been writing for the past couple days, and it’s really bugging me, because it’s almost there, but it’s not yet. So I wanna finish that. I wanna put out more music. That’s my plan for the next few months is to workshop and then come back and have new stuff to play at shows and stuff.”

Ideally, How would like to be financially stable off of her music by the time she’s 30, which she dismayingly commented is only in nine years, her face crinkling at the thought of it.

“By the time I’m in my 30s, I wanna be able to have a nice house in the woods,” How said while taking a moment to think of her ideal life. “Somewhere quiet, like northern California. I would have a nice house in the mountains, with a nice garden. I would have a music studio, and my house would be really colorful and cozy.”

At the end of her interview, How pondered on what she wanted listeners to feel from her music before simply responding: “Anything.”

“I just want them to feel something, anything,” she said. “Sometimes I worry. I’m like: ‘Oh my god, are people gonna get sick of me, like being sad and this and that?’ But, I don’t know. I feel like that really resonates with people because, unfortunately, there’s a lot to be sad about sometimes, and it’s hard to not feel that.” 


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About the Contributor
Annisyn Krebs-Carr
Annisyn Krebs-Carr, Senior buzz Reporter
Hi, I’m Annisyn! I am currently a freshman majoring in journalism. I started with The Daily Illini in Fall 2023 as a buzz staff writer, and became Senior buzz Reporter in the spring. I’m excited to be a part of The DI editorial team, and I’m looking forward to writing more arts and entertainment content. When I’m not writing for The DI, I enjoy playing with my dogs and watching movies. For any questions or concerns feel free to contact me at my email below.
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