Chatting with crooner Emma Cook


By Norm Wheeler

Sun editor

Leelanau native Emma Cook, now a fulltime musician who live in Burlington, Vermont, will perform with her band, Questionable Company, at the Manitou Music Festival on Wednesday, Aug. 1 at 8 p.m. The show will be behind the Lake Street Studios in downtown Glen Arbor. The Manitou Music Festival is part of the Glen Arbor Arts Center. Visit for details. Here’s our interview with Emma.

Glen Arbor Sun: When did you start singing/performing, and what moment made you realize that you wanted to be a singer/songwriter? What was your epiphany?

Emma Cook: I’ve been performing and singing since I was a little one! I would ham it up in my musical family. By the Light of the Silvery Moon was one of my first performance numbers. It wasn’t until high school that I started formally songwriting, and since then songwriting has been my main creative outlet. I can’t pinpoint to a specific moment of epiphany that made me want to a singer and songwriter – this is the person I’ve always been.

Sun: Who did you listen to and learn from? Who were your early influences?

Emma: There are so many incredible contemporary artists that I like to watch live—like Lake Street Dive, Brandi Carlile, The Wood Brothers, The Tedeschi Trucks Band—that are so inspiring to me. Not only because of their musicianship but because of the energy they bring to the stage and what they share with their audiences. I just saw Janelle Monae in concert two nights ago (from when I’m writing this) and that was a learning experience—the professional and stamina it takes to put on a 90-minute show where she never stops moving! And the message she brings to her music about love, equality, and inclusivity is inspiring. She’s bringing activism and such a strong message to empowerment to her fans and providing so much hope to people. I’m learning from artists like her.

My early influences were the musicians who played at Blissfest and Wheatland, and around the song circle with my parents! I learned to harmonize pretty early in these settings, and that’s something I’m incredibly grateful for.

Sun:What is your process for songwriting? Do you hear a melody, or do the words come first and you create a melody around them? What are your sources of inspiration for your songs?

Emma: My process is always different. But typically I start with a melody and the word. Those will get worked out and change a little when I sit down at the piano or the guitar. I find I write a lot when I’m doing physical work. I worked in an orchard and wrote a lot for our recent album Take It Home. And I like to take walks or go on a bike ride and find natural rhythm to write to. Moving my body helps me write. And then I’m out in the world. I’m inspired by everyone and everything—this planet, these people, experiences, stories. My songs are a true reflection of my life experience.

Sun: Please tell us about the band’s name.

Emma: How the name came? I think we were in the car together, just tossing around names and that’s the one that stuck! The core band members are Max Guyton and Andy Feltus. They have been their own rhythm section for over 10 years! Other guitar players and vocalists will join us on stage, but that’s the main company. They reunited with their college band, Trinoceres, at a Halloween basement show a year after college. Andy and I had just started dating, and we decided to play a few of my tunes as the three of us, to open the night. We had so much fun! And here we are today! It’s not easy, Max lives in Boston while Andy and I live in Burlington, but we have so much fun playing together. I’ve learned so much from them as musicians (and friends). They’re spontaneous and crazy talented, and they are so supportive of my songwriting, and bring such a joyful spirit to our performances! Their attitudes and styles have definitely influenced my songwriting, and I’ll find myself writing bass lines or having a drumbeat in mind when writing a new tune!

Sun: How would you characterize the style, or genre, of the band? Does your music fit into any identifiable category?

Emma: We don’t fit neatly into any one genre. And that’s ok! We’ve been calling our genre folk-funk since we started, since we were combining forces. In a recent album review we were described as bluesy pop-rock. You’ll have to decide for yourself when you come to our next show!

Sun: Are there other groups out there that you emulate or imitate, or are you searching for your own unique sound? How does that work?

Emma: We are searching for our own unique sound. For me, there are bands and performers that I mentioned earlier that I admire and imitate in the sense that they bring enormous energy and skill to the stage.

Sun: Now that you have committed to being a fulltime musician, what are the new challenges and delights that come with that?

Emma: Well I’m delighted by the fact that every day is different! I might be performing one night, doing sound for a show the next, working at the Girls Rock Vermont summer camp, or teaching lessons. It’s a true delight to be putting my energy into connecting people with music. I believe that to be my life’s work. While it is social, the solitary aspects have been a challenge, working from home or driving to a show on my own. But I’m learning how to work around that! And, setting healthy boundaries! That’s a challenge. I could be working all the time, because work is writing music and playing music and thinking about potential collaborations and that’s so much fun—but I’m married to my bandmate and creating space for our relationship outside of the band is important to me. Really though, I’m grateful for this chance to pursue my creative endeavors as my job, and I’m so appreciative of the support my community, including Q Co, offer me.

Sun: Along with Questionable Company’s Aug. 1 show in Glen Arbor at the Manitou Musical Festival, where is your current tour taking you?

Emma: We have a busy first half of August! We’ll be at Lake Ann Brewing Co Aug. 2, Musikfest in Bethlehem, Penn., on Aug. 3, back to our hometown of Burlington on Aug. 9 and then playing in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on August 10!