At least in LGBTQIA+ pop culture, the coming-out movie is a cliché at this point. The coming out song? Not as much, and in the case of alt-rock band Mayor’s House, that theme presented a chance to explore what it means to be a queer woman, as they did on the recent song “Emma.”
Based out of New York, the band consists of Emily Morris (guitar/vocals), Eli Meyers (drums/guitar/bass), Jeffrey Allen (bass/ukulele), and Chris St. Pierre (guitar). All multi-instrumentalists that change from electric to acoustic instruments – even ones outside of the traditional rock combo, like trumpets and harmonicas – the quartet started playing together in high school, and made their debut earlier in 2023 with the song “Poetry.”
“Emma” thematically came to Morris after the band met and hung out with a young woman at a festival the previous summer, who talked about her experiences growing up in a conservative region of Canada.
In turn, Morris strived to illustrate the bond that occurs between two queer people and considers it her first truly gay song.
How did you all start playing together as Mayor’s House?
Jeffrey: Eli and I have been best friends since kindergarten, and we went to the same school as Emily. We didn’t start doing music until Emily and I started hanging out before rehearsals for our high school’s performing arts program.
Emily had already started writing music with her guitar, so I decided to learn ukulele to play along. Eli began playing with us a lot more during sophomore year, and he already played drums, so I decided to learn bass to fill out the trio.
When we started playing music more seriously after college, we added Chris, who was a co-worker of ours at The Rock Club, so we could have a dedicated lead guitar player.
You’re all multi-instrumentalists: How does this work for writing and composing songs?
Jeffrey: Our writing process usually starts when someone brings an unfinished song to the group. This can often be just a verse and chorus or maybe a full chord progression with no words.
Sometimes the writer has a specific idea for the sound of the song and what instruments should be included; other times, the other group members experiment with different instruments until we find something cool.
A huge perk of playing many instruments is that we can play many styles of music. Sometimes we use standard electric guitars, drums, and bass for a punk song and other times, we use ukuleles and keyboards to have an acoustic or singer-songwriter type of sound.
Considering these possibilities, how do you define your sound or style?
Jeffrey: We have a hard time sticking to one genre, with all our instrument switches and experiences with different types of music. One key aspect of our music is playing live: We never play to a backing track and do all our writing and arranging based on how we can play the song at a show.
We often say we play acoustic rock as sort of a catch-all, but we range from singer-songwriter to beach rock to pop-punk. Some key components of our music are vocal harmonies, melodic bass lines, stylistic drum fills, and heavily rhythmic string instruments.
Your second single “Emma” is inspired by someone you met at a music festival. What about her story resonated with you?
Emily: I’m not typically someone who strikes up a conversation with a total stranger, but my gaydar was going off like crazy when I saw this girl unsuccessfully searching for a porta-potty with toilet paper. I went over and let her know that there were more porta-potties close by, and she asked if I could show her where they were.
We got chatting, and I quickly became aware of how similar we were, not only in appearance but in many other unexplainable ways. I saw a lot of myself in her, and I think she saw a lot of herself in me.
She really opened up to me about the struggles of being gay in her small hometown and how it was exciting to meet someone who looked like her. I think that alone is very moving. I got home from the festival, and I thought about that experience for a few days then, one night, without even trying to, I wrote this song, exactly as it is now.
Very rarely does a song come together as quickly and effortlessly as this one did, but I think part of me had written that song a long time ago, and meeting Emma was what finally got it out.
Emma is a foil for my own feelings and experiences, she gave me an opportunity to talk about myself without making it about me. I’m a fairly private person, but I find that I’m the most honest and open in the songs that I write. If you ever want to know what’s going on with me, that’s where the truth is.
You also consider this your first “gay” song. Thematically, how does it stand out from the rest of your output?
Emily: Most of my other songs are gay without being gay. Meaning that I don’t use gender-specific pronouns, but the fact that I’m queer makes the music inherently queer, as well. This song was the first where I outwardly addressed queerness and made it not just an undertone, but the main point of the song.
Most of my other songs are written to, or for someone specific, so I tend to use a lot of “you”s, but this was more of a narrative written from my perspective to an audience that doesn’t know Emma. I really love story-driven music, and I listen to a lot of folk and bluegrass, which are obviously super narrative-heavy, so this fell right into line with what I was going for.
I love writing music with an intentional style in mind, something that emulates a specific person or circumstance, so having met Emma at a bluegrass festival, my first thought was that it had to be a bluegrass song, but having a deep love of folk music I decided to lean into that a little more.
What made you select “Emma” as your second single following your debut?
Jeffrey: “Emma” came together very quickly. We played the song live less than two months after meeting Emma. It was a song that felt really strong about how it came together, as it pretty much came together in one day.
After playing the song at a few shows, we had a lot of people (in particular Eli’s mom) say how powerful the message was and how they felt the world needed to hear this song. All of these factors made the song feel really exciting for us, and since we have nearly two albums worth of music ready to go, the songs we currently feel excited about got the recording nod.
You’re just getting started: What should listeners expect next?
Jeffrey: We have our debut EP releasing this summer that “Emma” and “Poetry” will be a part of. After that we have a huge backlog of songs that we plan to record and release. Maybe another EP in 2024??
Do you have any upcoming tours or performances?
We are playing Sleepwalk in Brooklyn on June 8th. We also are hosting a show at Sleepwalk on Aug 4th. Look for us to play more venues in and around NYC this fall.