If you're not watching and listening carefully, the Emma Hills of the world can slip right past you. Like so many other young artists, Hill finds herself in the often crowded and sometimes vanilla-flavored waiting room known as the female singer/songwriter genre.
But thankfully, Hill is toward the front of the line and there's a good chance her number will be called before most of the soft strumming, tender-voiced songstresses waiting behind her. And nothing against the rest of the room, most are probably talented and hardworking, it's just that they all seem to get buried amongst each other and it takes someone like Hill to get out front.
The 19-year-old Hill grew up in the small (as in 100 people small) town - or "village," as she puts it - of Sleetmute, Alaska. And after spending a year of college in Anchorage, Hill headed south to the signer/songwriter-rich city of Portland. She'll be stopping off at Silver Moon Brewing on Wednesday the 16th to show off her folk/Americana/indie skills as part of her 20-plus gig tour.
Hill most reminds me of Jenny Lewis (most notably of the pop rock band Rilo Kiley) when she sings in her alt-country/folk project Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins. When I ask Hill if she knows who Lewis is, she giggles, then bursts into laughter.
"She's actually my all-time idol. She's my best friend's older sister, so I've met her a few times," Hill says, "She's a very large influence of mine. I think the songs on my new record [to be released this year] are even more like her style," Hill says.
Growing up in a village with no real venues for live music, most of Hill's early exposure to music resulted from spinning her parents' record collection - an assortment that included the likes of Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Kate Wolf. These folk greats are present in Hill's style, but she also purveys a modern, indie feel, especially with respect to her thoughtful and often atypical lyrics. Telling stories that exceed the "love-lost-and-love-found" boredom of too many folk songs, Hill's words are fitting whether set to either the soft plucked ballads or the toe-tapping Americana numbers of her debut album Just Me.
But well-crafted, sweetly flavored folk tunes aren't the only aspect that puts Hill at the front of the pack in her genre. From what I can tell, she's also a hell of a hard worker. Rather than postponing her first West Coast tour when she was a tad low on cash, she set out on the road by tour bus - but not that kind of tour bus.
"I did a tour all by myself with my 80 pounds of stuff on a Greyhound. It was exhausting, but it was fun," Hill says, "I had very low funds and was ready to do a big trip and just thought I could ride Greyhound from spot to spot. It ended up working out."
During her Greyhound tour, Hill stopped off at a Chinese restaurant and after cracking her fortune cookie was greeted with this message: "You will be unusually successful in an entertainment career."
There you have it. The cookie never lies.
8pm Wednesday, Jan. 16. Silver Moon Brewing Co. 24 NW Greenwood Ave., 388-8331. To check out tracks from Hill's CD, Just Me, visit www.myspace.com/ emmamariehill