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Often the most frightening and difficult decisions made in life are the ones that turn the tides. They challenge you, question your strength, and leave you feeling both empowered and completely helpless in one swift move. For Emily Zuzik, it was a summer internship in NYC making the tedious NJ Transit commute, a craving for the excitement and stimulation of the city, and the encouragement of a friend who told her, “You just have to go. It will all work out,” to make the biggest choice of her adult life. In that moment, Emily purchased a one-way ticket, grabbed her college graduation money, and said goodbye to her suburban Pennsylvania roots, bravely facing the city that would open doors of opportunity of which most spend their whole lives simply dreaming. “It never would have happened if I let fear control me,” confidently states Zuzik.
Raised in a Catholic home where singing in choirs and folk mass dominated her youth, Emily honed in on her musical abilities around age twelve, rediscovering the guitar and keyboard, writing and recording on cassette tapes, playing in bands throughout junior high, high school, and college, and consistently embracing music as a creative outlet. It was after her move to San Francisco in 1999, where she approached the open mic scene two to three times a week, feeling welcomed by the community there and finding a place in both cover and original bands, that the sultry singer-songwriter thought to herself “I could have a go at this.” From that point forward music was no longer just a hobby; it was a career she attacked with great confidence and force.
The open mic scene in San Francisco didn’t always crossover to gigs, and Emily found the music scene somewhat inundated with cover bands and specialty sounds- a free-spirited, hippie vibe complete with matching costuming and a theatrical undertone. “The quality of songwriting and playing strikes me as being higher in New York. People come here to make it,” Zuzik notes in comparing the level of professionalism between the two cities. “You find everything here. The top players in the world all come through New York.” While San Francisco tends to turn around new artists every two years or so, NYC offers more room for growth and expansion, allowing all different kinds of people to build a life. Three months after 9/11 struck, Emily and her then-boyfriend found themselves back to New York City, reasoning at the time that New York offered more opportunities than the already crash-ridden San Francisco. “It was a great time to be in New York because there was such a communal spirit,” Zuzik recalls. “Everyone was just trying to get through the madness.”
Since moving back Emily has been extensively involved with numerous aspects of the music and arts business. Originally attending college to be a broadcast journalist, Zuzik used to feel a great deal of pressure to produce an instant answer to the daunting question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Coming from a background where not knowing the answer to that question was just as bad as saying the wrong thing, Zuzik spent much of her adult life exploring a variety of career opportunities in addition to singing and performing. “I don’t know what I thought I was going to be. Part of my life is figuring it out day-to-day,” reveals Emily, citing that her secret to staying sane. Always a writer, keeping journals throughout high school and college in addition to her music and lyrics, Emily has also dabbled in the world of publishing, acting, modeling, print media, and journalism, inevitably coming back to her work creating and collaborating in different facets of music. “Even though I do work in other industries I’m doing something with music everyday, whether it’s prepping for a show, or working with music licensing, commercial singing, jingles, or background vocals.” Zuzik explains.
That same free-spirited, open-minded attitude transcends into Emily’s music and lyrics, which are layered with strength, depth, and often-brutal honesty. Usually writing from an independent, strong-willed mindset, Zuzik observes her shift in perspective as she’s grown and experienced life. Always seeking freedom and success, her style and attitude differs from many of the standard female singer-songwriters the public has grown accustomed to. “I don’t write a lot of love songs,” Emily declares matter-of-factly, ”Because usually if I’m in love I don’t have a lot of time to be writing songs.”
Lyrically, she examines the complicated parts of relationships, the relatable pieces many are often unwilling or ashamed to talk about, such as those where a strong connection cannot compensate for the pain of moving forward, making it easier to simply walk away. Zuzik finds these situations to be just as valid, harboring no fear in expressing her thoughts despite facing possible scrutiny. The song “Breaking It Down,” from her 2006 album “You Had Me at Goodbye” examines the idea of knowing and acknowledging you’re in an abusive relationship, calling out the other person, but are not yet willing to leave. “What about all these other scenarios?” Zuzik questions, adding, “They’re not pretty. They’re not the Hallmark cards.”
This exploration of vulnerability, a commanding stage presence, and a delicate fusion of beauty, intimidation, humor, and talent beguiles audiences, channeling the same musical dominance of early 90s fem-rockers like Aimee Mann, Liz Phair, and PJ Harvey. Admired by many in the NYC community, Zuzik is not only successful as a solo artist but also as a collaborator, frequently sent tracks and given carte blanche to write, bringing the pressure down in working with others, and opening the doors of opportunity to write from alternate perspectives and try on different personalities. The ease in which she transitions from one craft to the next is an inspiration to any artist, encouraging the impossible, stimulating the spirit, and reminding us all that life is simply about taking chances, living to the fullest, and not being afraid to take that giant leap of faith.