Photos provided courtesy of the Artist
What do you get when you combine a powerhouse producer from Philadelphia who has worked with artists such as Avril Lavigne, New Radicals, Shakira, Weezer, Cher, and countless others, with a passionate, seventeen year-old artist from the Bay Area who has a voice and a message far beyond her years? One million YouTube views and the beginning of a meaningful music career. Jim McGorman and Em Rossi teamed up nearly two years ago to start creating relatable, soulful music, and as their international success is now beginning to shake up the industry, they graciously took the time to tell Rock On Philly how it all got started.
We first talked with McGorman about his musical roots and his work as a producer and as a songwriter. Born in the greater Philly area, McGorman says that he has always felt a connection to the soul of Philadelphia. With the Sound of Philly and the Studio 4 era so close to home, he says that soulful music is “definitely something that I love and that comes through in the things I do.”
For college, McGorman went to Berklee College of Music where he improved his technique and began to truly master his craft. He is a talented multi-instrumentalist, known for guitar, keyboard, voice, and drums, and his work as both a producer and a songwriter has resulted in numerous collaborations with artists such as Sabrina Carpenter, Marc Broussard, Kate Voegele, Matt Nathanson, and Miley Cyrus, as well as TV placements in shows such as One Tree Hill and Smallville. Recently, he has been focused on production in his studio in LA.
“It [producing] is different with every artist,” says McGorman. “Some are more self-contained than others . . . Your job is to bring out sides of them that they might not otherwise get out on their own.” McGorman works with artists to create music that they can “get behind from a lyrical standpoint,” and he helps them articulate their messages through music. “The public, when it comes to music, can sense if artists aren’t being true to who they are, ” he says. Producing, for McGorman, is always a collaborative effort where he and the artist work together to establish an authentic identity and viewpoint through the art. Working with Em, he says, has been great, and McGorman has enjoyed collaborating on the evolution of Em’s sound.
“Singing came first for me,” explains Rossi. “I’ve been making noise for as long as I can remember . . . I’ve always wanted to express my own feelings, and not just play off of somebody else’s.” Rossi’s dad always kept journals, and watching him write, she herself began to think about life, family, and emotions from a different perspective. Her father passed away unexpected about two years ago, and Rossi says it was then that she knew she needed to use writing to express and move beyond her fears and uncertainties.
“We kind of got thrown into the deep end,” explains McGorman when discussing first writing with Rossi. “We wrote some heavy songs at the beginning, but that’s the place she was at in her life.”
Musically, Rossi says artists such as Adele and Sara Bareilles heavily influence her. She had just transitioned from a private school to a public school when Adele began to rise to fame, and Rossi credits Adele’s “strong character and sultry voice” as main confidence builders for her at the time. The international superstar gave Rossi “confidence in my music and in my ability to continue it as a career.” Bareilles’s influence comes from the “lightness of her pieces” and from the ballad-based style that she has popularized. “She showed me that you don’t always have to sing a powerful, belting song to get your message across,” states Rossi.
McGorman notes how Rossi incorporates strength and wisdom into her music: “They [her influences] are all artists that have true songs; they sing emotionally; their lyrics have depth and experience. That’s rare for someone at Em’s age. She definitely has a mature viewpoint of the world.”
“Everything that’s happened has been so spontaneous, and I am so grateful for all of it,” says Rossi with regards to her newfound success. Earlier this year, Rossi was on the East Coast, filming her episode of The Sessions On Demand and opening for The Tenors, when she decided to shoot a music video for her song “Earthquake.”
“We couldn’t just let the landscape go to waste!” She jokes about the reasoning behind the shoot. They filmed the video, put it online, and just a few weeks later, it is now an Internet phenomenon with over one million views. It hit number one in Australia and is still currently trending in multiple countries. And we have no doubt that this global attention is just the beginning for this aspiring, new force in the music industry.
“We were basically starting fresh after I lost my dad,” says Rossi. “We [Rossi and her mother] were walking into meetings as newbies in the business, and I’m so fortunate and grateful to have a team with people like Jim [McGorman] that constantly motivates me.” At only 17, Rossi has already impacted more people than most artists can throughout their entire careers, and her moving music is a refreshing change for the modern music industry. We can’t wait to hear what McGorman and Rossi do next on this musical venture. As McGorman says, “Hopefully this is just the beginning.”