EXCLUSIVE: Emily Warren Talks Writing with The Chainsmokers, the Voicemail That Spurred a Viral Hit, and Making Honest Pop Music

Emily Warren

Emily Warren is both an incredibly successful pop songwriter and a breaking new artist. Her latest co-write, “Don’t Let Me Down” by The Chainsmokers, is performing on par with hits by Drake and Justin Timberlake (305 million Spotify streams, 1 million sales, 18 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100). Her most recent vocal feature, “Capsize” by Frenship, is not far behind, having picked up a “Song of the Summer” accolade from Spotify itself. And although the twenty-three-year-old has been a major force in the industry since her high school days as frontwoman of the since-dissolved band, “Emily & the Betters,” the success still comes as a shock.

“It’s crazy,” Warren comments over the phone, with slight surprise. She asks me where I went to school—she’s a 2015 college grad as well—and I’m taken aback by her interest. After all, her college experience was anything but ordinary. While in her sophomore year at the prestigious NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recording Arts, Warren was tapped by publishing juggernaut, Prescription Songs, and she spent the next few years writing for artists on the magnitude of Fifth Harmony, Shawn Mendes, and Melanie Martinez, including penning the Billboard Hot 100 hit “Masterpiece” for Jessie J. Even still, she’s humble, friendly, and apologetic: over the last few days she’s been in three songwriting sessions that sprawled late into the night, and on our call she’s temporarily interrupted to set up another one as someone walks by in the studio (“Sorry about that” she apologizes with slight embarrassment).

The highly in-demand songwriter enjoys the grounded appeal of London, where she is currently based, since it reminds her of her home town, New York City. “Being able to walk around and see people on the subway—normal stuff—affects writing so much,” she explains.

Experiencing “normal stuff” led to her very latest feature, “Capsize.” The song’s writing actually came from an experience on the New York subway. On the day she graduated from NYU, Warren left a scene of caps, gowns, and tassels for a writing session with the members of LA-based band “Frenship” who were in town. When she got off at her stop, she noticed that she had received a message from her grandmother, who is known to drop “pearls of wisdom” to the Warren family.

“At the end of it, all of us were choked up.”

Upon arriving at the recording session, Warren plugged her phone into speakers and played the voicemail for herself and the members of Frenship—Brett and James. “At the end of it, all of us were choked up,” Warren recalls. The voicemail reminded Warren of her grandmother’s unflinching strength after her grandfather had passed away. According to Warren, the song is about incompletion: the moment when “you realize after [a relationship is] over how many things you wish you had said.”

Warren explains that the lyrics that she and each Frenship member sings are personal to their respective lives. In the verses, Brett and James of Frenship cover the feeling of missed connection, with the lyrics “your silhouette… burned in my memory / rubble left from the moment that you left me.” The pre-chorus starts with a question, “I just wanna know—are you?” and Warren drowns it out with her answer: “I’m fine,” she sings, her wooden delivery inspired by her grandmother’s own strength and resilience. The conversation resounds over a simple, synthetic beat that morphs into a crashing pulse, rippling throughout the length of the tune.

“I have to believe—I think about this all the time with my own writing—that if you write something honest and vulnerable, you’re touching on something that other people have felt before.”

Warren believes that the authenticity and raw emotion behind the song have carried it to success—the band Frenship is not even signed to a label and there has been no major marketing push, yet the song has been taking off like wildfire, having been streamed 34 million times on Spotify since its release in April. “I have to believe—I think about this all the time with my own writing—that if you write about something honest and vulnerable, you’re touching on something that other people have felt before. I think whether people know exactly what the story is or not, that emotion kind of carried them in and that must be why it’s striking a chord with people.” After completing the song, Warren explains, “we had to leave a piece of her voicemail at the end that inspired the whole thing.” And her grandmother’s “pearls of wisdom” do grace the end: “I think about you, love you, and I’m filled with pride.”

As with “Capsize,” Warren’s involvement with the writing of “Don’t Let Me Down” was also the result of her own vulnerable and personal songwriting. After splitting with her band, Warren channeled her feeling of loss into “Until You Were Gone,” a breakup song with an icy chorus that mourns the end of a relationship. The Chainsmokers and Tritonal picked up the confessional tune, keeping her vocals in the final cut. The song piqued The Chainsmokers’ interest, and led to a songwriting session between Drew Taggart of The Chainsmokers, Warren, and her long-time collaborator, Scott Harris.

“Drew [of the Chainsmokers] is one of the best creatives I’ve ever worked with.”

To the session, Taggart brought a haunting, mostly-finished track that mixed acoustic guitars with a trappy, percussive drop. It took only “a couple hours” for Warren and Harris to sketch the lyrics and melody of “Don’t Let Me Down” while working with Taggart’s track. Speaking of Taggart, Warren has nothing but praise: “Drew is one of the best creatives I’ve ever worked with. He’s got really good tastes and a really good ear—he’s the man. It’s really fun sharing this with them [Taggart and Harris]. It’s fun to have it with friends, you know.”

Daya would eventually cut vocals for “Don’t Let Me Down” and the final track would surpass The Chainsmokers’ “Roses” as their highest-charting number, hitting the number 4 spot on the Billboard Hot 100—where it holds put this week. The song is now a pop songs number 1, and is one of the highest spun songs on radio week by week. Although she doesn’t listen to the radio much, Warren has heard the song played while riding with a friend. “I was in my friend’s car and she was like ah I’ve been hearing this song everywhere. She turned on the car and literally the first thing that came on was ‘Don’t Let Me Down.’” Warren claims she “knew it was going to be crazy,” but experienced a “full body takeover.” “The idea that words I wrote [are] being played all around the country and now the world… is ridiculous. I always want to be used to it and I’m not—it’s shocking every time.”

“The idea that words I wrote [are] being played all around the country and now the world… is ridiculous.”

As for Warren’s solo plans? She’s patient but certain that there will be more features and—eventually—an album of her own. “A few years ago I was going door to door saying I’m a writer because that would get me in the room. I’ve grown to love writing, but I have always had [being a solo artist] in me. What’s amazing personally about what’s happening right now is that these features [“Until You Were Gone,” “Capsize”] are allowing the whole thing to happen organically.”

-Shane

 

Note: Transcribed quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.



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