Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Featured Artist Interview: Emily Strom



Emily Strom is a WSU graduate, former Miss Kansas, a piano teacher at Air House Music Academy, and a duelist at Ernie Biggs piano bar. She has been performing music in front of audiences for years and it's no surprise that she would be one of the few musicians who gets paid regularly for her work. 
One of my favorite things about creative people is that the things they can and will do with their talents knows no bounds. Emily is no different - she puts her heart and soul into everything she does while remaining unapologetic about the juxtaposition of  who she was while unmedicated and who she is now. 

A: How did you end up where you are now musically? You've always been performing obviously, but what actually lead to you to where you're at currently?
E: So I played in this cover band Ante Up during college and we'd tour on the weekends which was a lot of fun and so I pushed hard to graduate from WSU early to go live on the road touring. When I graduated WSU though I got a random phone call that KWCH was looking for a TV personality so I auditioned for that and ended up getting it. Which was really cool actually, I got to learn about hosting, production, filming - all of.  So I was playing in band and doing things for KWCH for like 6 months, and then I had to just stop touring with the band. I ended up having too much on my plate. But I missed it. I missed touring a lot.  Two years into working for the TV station I had a mental break down and had to stop working there. What I didn't realize at the time was I was having a depressive episode - it was only later after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder that I looked back and realized what had happened - but for the next year after I quit KWCH I slept for 12 hours a night, waking up and moving around a little during the morning, then going back in the afternoon and napping for 4 hours. This went on for a year. For a whole year. My husband, then my fiance, would come in and try to move me around a bit, but I pretty much just laid there. And wrote my album. I wasn't functioning, I had no money coming in, and my husband at that point carried us all the way. So yeah, I wrote my album but I was kind of a shitty person.

A: Isn't that kind of amazing though? I mean, sure you weren't doing anything in the world but you wrote. An. Entire. Album.
Kacy Meinecke Photography
E: That's true, I mean being a bipolar woman is such a hard thing. I felt guilty about it, and still kind of do because I feel it's something that you do have some choice over. Like, with diabetes you have some choice - like you could take your medication or you could eat a bowl of sugar - so there was some choice there that I had. I have had a complete 180 since then though and we've really worked together on our stability. When my husband and I first started dating there was some real mania there, we'd go shopping and do all these amazing things. It was like watching a movie where everything is seemingly really dull and then suddenly, it all changes into this ultra violet vibrancy. That was us. The thing is 9 months after we started dating I quit my job and a month after that was when he proposed, so he actually went through the darkest period I've ever had in my life with me and then wanted to marry me.

A: Now that you're medicated what has that done for your creativity and for your life on the whole? Do you miss that ultra vibrancy ever?
E: Of course. I still think about it. The medication that I take now has two purposes - for both bipolar and for anxiety. Anxiety is what I deal with for the most part now and some of that comes from having to keep my shit together. I gotta make sure I get all the shit done that I've got on my little list, and honestly I do miss the highs, but my lows were so low that I don't dare seek that out. I just don't. I don't have the same super hyperfocus but I'm also not screaming at my husband like a crazy person and tearing off into the neighborhood about to hit every car in sight. Honestly, I do create my own music a lot less than I did before, but I am doing music 6 days of the week. Making my own solo music doesn't happen as frequently, but that has a lot to do with the structure I've put in place in order to not be that crazy person. I'm basically on tour every week, I'm performing 4 nights at Ernie Biggs and then teaching two other days, I mean, as far as I know people who are on tour don't write while they're on tour. I have to have structure in order to get anything done. I will literally sit and do nothing, nothing of importance - like get obsessed with Breaking Bad and watch it in two days - if I don't have some kind of structure. So right now, figuring out how to find time for my own projects is something I'm working on. What I'm doing now is not in vain. I make a really great living as a duelist!! I wish I had known about this when I was 21 because I do what I love and get paid for it. I don't know if I could have done this, at least as efficiently, if I wasn't medicated. I love creating, but I absolutely love performing.


A:Where the hell did Miss Kansas ever fit in with all of this?
E: When I was a senior in high school I competed in two pageants, didn't win, nothing happened. So I've been a crazy person doing blow, running around being a shitty person and flash forward two years and I'm a sophomore in college being asked to compete because of my talent. I was like, okay I'll compete but I'm probably not going to win or anything. So then I won Miss Augusta. Shocker.
Thankfully Larry and Jerry who help run Miss Augusta sponsored me for jewelry and the dress to go to Miss Kansas - and I was like a dark horse, obviously- at that time short hair was just not in and I had this bright red short hair. Then the next thing you know, I started winning the preliminaries. People were suddenly like, oh shit, this bitch might win. No one could have guessed it, at all. Not even my family. No one was there on the final night, no one,  my mom had to call my brothers and say "hey, you might want to come check this out because we think she might win."
The funniest thing was, check this out, my platform at the time was music and they didn't know annnything about my past. So after you win Miss Kansas they sit you down and they ask you about like, are there any pictures or any creepy boyfriends and I was like, okay. How much time do you have? 
I told them everything. All about the coke, the craziness - everything. Then they left for a moment, but when they came back they asked me if I would like to change my platform to drug addiction, recovery, and talk to kids and all that. So I went and told people my story and what happened to me and what happened to my friends, some of who are still messed up. The brilliant thing about knowing that I'm bipolar is now I know why, why I ended up there. If you've never experienced mania you don't know how amazing it can be, but when you do, it's very easy to get into drugs or booze because you're just chasing it - the mania - but I was ready to stop doing all that even before Miss Kansas, so having the chance to tell kids about it and share my story was amazing.

A: You've gotten to do so many amazing things, things which when someone is in their darkest hour they can't even possibly comprehend being able to do - they feel abnormal or a lot fear - what do you think that you have that has made even just getting out of bed possible for you?
E: Having to show up for work you know, packaged correctly in my Tiny Buddha lipstick, isn't something I could've done without structure and without medication. Maybe someone without bipolar could do this without those things, but that's not me. I recently wrote the best song I've ever written in my life, and it's while I was on medication.  Everything that I personally write comes from a very emotional place - which I hate saying because it sounds so cliche - my husband every now and again will ask me write just like a little silly song and I feel like that's been healthy for my soul - the way I write can sometimes be very hard, therapeutic yes, but hard. It's only after I perform the song that I start to heal.

A: What was the song about?
E:A person near and dear to my heart attempted suicide a few years ago and I wrote a song as a way to kind of start dealing with some of the anger that I felt - and still feel - the thing is any kind of mental illness is very frustrating. I asked them after they came back from rehabilitation, how do you feel? They told me, I feel nothing. Which, that was hard to hear. Since then we've talked and instead of getting wasted and going back to being that crazy person, I've just talked to everyone. Everyone I had a gig with I talked to them about it and how I was feeling. So this song, I'm hoping to perform it in September for National Suicide Awareness Month and really start healing, that's what performing does for me. Performing is something that I love - I love putting on a show - but doing my originals is me. It isn't a show.


Connect with Emily on Facebook, on instagram @emilystrommusic, and her website. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions about her experience with bipolar disorder, what it's like to be a performer, or what other preferred shades of MAC lipstick she loves.





3 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for publicly sharing your story!

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  2. You have an awesome story! Thank you for sharing!
    -francisco

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  3. I imagine that took a lot of courage, and I applaud you for that. I'm sorry you (and your husband)have had to deal with so much - basically what I mean is that I'm sorry you have to deal with bipolar disorder, because it is so hard. But also kudos to you for your commitment to your health and your marriage and your music. Your music is awesome. I hope your interview will encourage others to get treatment and to comply with treatment. Thank you, Emily.

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