Singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer Emma Lamontagne landed a single’s deal the very first time she performed a bonafide gig in 2016, winning a contest put on by the Ottawa Bluesfest and recording “I Don’t Sleep” with songwriter/producer Robyn Dell’Unto. The teenager at the time went on to achieve close to half-million streams for the song, but she wasn’t happy with the electronic-pop direction her sound was going, so she took a break.
Now, with an audio engineering degree under her belt and a new home studio, Emma is back with a sound that she wants: lyric-focused folk-pop.
A difficult diagnosis of Postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS) — a chronic blood pressure disorder — forms the basis of many of her new songs as well as her chronic hate of dating. You see, while managing her illness, Emma’s between song banter is downright hilarious.
“You may have a career as a comedian who is also a singer OR a singer who is also a comedian,” wrote one fan on her Instagram, alongside a clip of a song introduction about relationships. “Ain’t nobody coming in my no-no square,” she said, waving her hand across her private area, laughing. “I wish I could predict what I talk about on stage but at least everyone is as surprised as I am by what I say,” she posted.
Born in Kingston, Ontario, as a child Emma was given both classical voice and piano lessons and dabbled in various music clubs at school. The family moved around a lot because her father was in the military, but they finally settled in Ottawa after Germany. There, her voice coach encouraged her to write songs. She was 15. “I always wrote poetry, so the transition wasn’t too difficult,” she says. “I've always been drawn to lyric-heavy music. I grew up listening to Elton John, Billy Joel and Bon Jovi.”
A year later, she entered a cover song in the Ottawa Bluesfest competition She’s The One. The finalists got to perform two songs at the concert with the grand prize winner selected at the end. “I went straight into a record deal with Festival House Inc, which is the conglomerate of Bluesfest and Cadence Music Group,” Emma says.
“I was part of the writing process for ‘I Don’t Sleep,’ but not part of the production process, so I received the song completely finished and that's exactly what I heard when it was released. It was pretty sweet to then see that it get picked up by CBC Radio 2 and I made it to the top 20. It was a lot of fun.”
After the first single, she started co-writing with Alan Frew, Rob Wells, Aloma Steele, Josh Bogert, Kayla Diamond and Ezra Jordan, and even performed for songwriting legend Linda Perry at Canadian Music Week (CMW).
Just out of high school, she released two more singles, “Love Games” and “The Art of Reality,” and her 2019 debut full-length, Uncomfortable Eye Contact. Everything was ready to go, but when she met with a major label to further her career, they could tell she wasn’t keen on her music. “It wasn't a sound that I could stand behind and perform every day,” Emma says, however now she performs many of those tracks acoustically with far more conviction.
The album came out at the end of October 2019 and then covid hit. During that time, she parted ways with her manager and focused on rebuilding her confidence. “I did a lot of virtual co-writing with other artists, even artists that I probably wouldn't have met without the pandemic,” she says. “I am very excited about it. I have even been building my own home studio.”
She describes her new sound as more organic. “I wanted it to feel very intimate and essentially the way how I perform on stage with a guitar and vocals. I want that to be the base of it,” Emma says.
“The new songs that I've been putting on into my set on stage have a lot to do with the grieving process. They're not in your face about my health problems, but that's what they're based around because that's been my mental state for the longest time and I've been doing a lot of love songs.
I thought with the pandemic I had enough of the depressing breakup themes, so I've been putting more of a positive spin on my writing.
“I do a lot of writing to process things myself and then, I hope, that someone who hears it will get the same benefit that I did.”