Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Emmalee Rainbow isn’t afraid to take things slow. Her debut EP, a three-track project titled Origin, came out earlier this year, and she’s letting it linger.
Emmalee got started in music at age 14, but she’s been surrounded by it for her whole life. Growing up with Australian pop singer April Byron for a grandmother, Emmalee shared that “I sort of grew up in a musical family and always kind of knew that this is what I wanted to do.”
For many, 14 seems like a late start in music—even Emmalee calls herself a “late bloomer” in that sense—but she found it nonetheless. Bethany Cosentino of the rock duo Best Coast inspired Emmalee to teach herself to play guitar—”I thought she was the absolute coolest person ever, so I picked that up trying to be like her.”—and the anxiety and changes that come with being a teenager inspired her to start writing.
Emmalee also credits Lady Gaga for being her “biggest influence” as a songwriter and a creative. She might also be the ultimate jazz nerd, loving it for its freedom and lack of rules. “It just gives this sense of, you know, mistakes can create something entirely new and you never know what you’re going to invent.”
Childhood is still inspiring Emmalee, and it was change and growth that sparked Origin. The title track was written while Emmalee was in New York, and the other two songs were created later, but it was getting out of Los Angeles for a while that let her tap into some of the ideas and emotions that brought each song to life. “I was born in Nashville. I moved to LA when I was 3, and I kind of lived part-time in New York since I was like 15. But I decided to move there permanently in January of 2021, but I moved back to LA in May of 2021 because I just had a horrible time and didn’t want to do it, so I flaked. I chickened out,” she told us. “I think in some ways, I had to leave LA in order to process everything. I kind of had to make myself miss it, so even though it was quite difficult— that period in New York—I think, artistically, it was the best choice I’ve ever made.”
You can almost track Emmalee’s life and growth through each track. This was done on purpose. “I view ‘Origin’ as like the child of the record,” she told us. “‘Playing Dead’ feels like sort of the angsty, angry teenager that’s lashing out. ‘Trust Fall’ is… that adult sound that feels more reserved at the end, so I feel like sort of I grow up within the record—not that I’m a grownup yet. I’m only 20.”
She further expanded on these themes and the composition of the EP. “Something I really liked was that ‘Playing Dead’ and ‘Trust Fall’ are names of games, so it was kind of keeping with that childhood theme, and ‘Playing Dead’ specifically was kind of about me growing up as an actress, and it’s about the industry in Los Angeles, but the real theme of it is the fact that I cover up my emotions in my life, and I feel like I’ve just been playing dead my whole life instead of being open about what I’m feeling. And then ‘Trust Fall’ is sort of the chapter of the record where it’s like my adult voice speaking, I think, and there’s that horrifying feeling when you turn 18 that’s just like, ‘Oh my gosh I don’t know how I’m going to handle all of this new responsibility,’ and I kind of realized that I just had to trust fall into it. ‘Origin’ is of course about my childhood. The title of this came to me randomly. I don’t say it in the song, but it just felt like the correct title for what it was about.”
All of these are represented not only in the sounds Emmalee produced (playing nearly every instrument on the project as well as singing and writing the songs) but also in the visuals she created. The album art for Origin features Emmalee and a strange orange dog sculpture that has kind of become the mascot for her childhood experiences. “That’s actually a sculpture they had at a casting studio I would go to when I was really young growing up as a child actress,” Emmalee told us, “so it’s sort of this mascot, this representation for my childhood that was something physical to see that I thought would be interesting for listeners and viewers.”
This is one of the abstract moments on Origin that is super specific to Emmalee but just a symbol to her listeners. Always following (or even being walked) along behind Emmalee, the dog never quite leaves her, and except for a few moments in the “Origin” music video, there’s always space between the two of them. This came naturally, and Emmalee shared that it ended up capturing her relationship with her childhood self overall. “I think there’s a bridged gap at some point between me and my childhood and that’s kind of what it was supposed to represent.”
Along with the dog, Origin‘s artwork also features “the Origin skirt.” A custom skirt created by Emmalee and designer Janette Lucio, this was Emmalee’s solution to not knowing what to wear for the cover art but also honoring all three songs. The skirt is originally based on a dress design with a pleated skirt. The pleats were transformed into fabric script pages that Emmalee wrote the scenes for, imagining what it would be like to bring each of the three songs to life. “It’s just this really cool representation of, you know, the film industry, and I grew up with scripts scattered all around me, and to be wearing them as a garment I thought was really special, and it felt really unique.”
Origin celebrates Emmalee’s childhood self and the changes she’s gone through as a person and an artist. In the “Origin” music video, she even shares a plate of sushi on the beach (an inside joke for members of the singer’s family) with her childhood self. The dog is nearby. “I felt what better way to honor my younger self than to eat a plate of sushi with her,” Emmalee said, “and look at each other and say, ‘Hey, look how far we’ve gotten. Look what we did. So much.'”
They have done so much, and Emmalee is still working. But while she writes nearly every day, she’s letting those songs wait for a bit while she continues to feel out Origin. ‘I think there’s so much left to see with this project, and I don’t want to move on that quickly, so I’ll have more stuff coming out soon, but I just want to sit with what I’ve made for a moment.”
Until then, she’s still exploring her ideas, writing new songs, and chasing her dreams. No regrets. And she’s not just holding onto it for herself. Her advice to aspiring artists? “I kind of want anyone out there who’s feeling nervous about, you know, going out there independently. I would just say don’t wait for anything. Create what you can make on your own. Learn as many instruments as you can. Just start writing stuff as soon as you can because I can’t imagine my life without it to be completely honest.”