Like most of us, Emily Vaughn had a rough 2020. The independent pop star was in Norway working on her second EP when lock-downs forced her to retreat home to Los Angeles and confront the demons in her relationship at the time. Rather than getting closer during quarantine, Vaughn’s beau apparently retreated to Las Vegas and cheated, sending Vaughn into a tailspin. Somewhere along the way, after distilling her many feelings into her music, she made her first album.
Vaughn first made her name with catchy pop anthems and Bitch Bops, as she called her first EP, that put her independence and unapologetic attitude at the forefront, earning over 20 million Spotify streams.
On her debut album Silver Linings, she goes harder than ever — literally, at times. Joined by established hit-makers such as Lil Xan and fellow up-and-comers, such as her BFF Bronze Avery, Silver Linings sees Vaughn embrace the mess she’s created with the help of her loved ones.
From the mournful “Fix You” to the self-reflective “Healthy,” Vaughn goes through all the phases of ending (and dipping back into) a relationship with sleek synths, hypnotic melodies and jaw-dropping one-liners.
Below, Vaughn opens up about finally creating her debut album, why she’s chosen to stay independent and the weirdest encounter she’s had with a celebrity.
Finally, you’re releasing your debut album. Did you intend for it to be a breakup album?
I think so, I don’t think there was a moment in my head where I was like, “I’m only going to write breakup songs.” But I’m just very momentary and intense and passionate. When I’m in something, I’m 100 percent. If I’m in a relationship, I’m 100 percent. If I’m going through a breakup, I’m 100 percent. If I’m liking someone new, I’m 100 percent.
What pushed you to finally make this your debut? Did you have a light bulb moment where you realized you were making an album?
I really think it was being in the midst of a lock-down and having all these different emotions that I’ve never had to just sit down with. I looked at the group of songs I loved that I created over the past two years and I was like, this is an album. This is the story that I’ve written for myself. It just ended up being a whole f—ing life story of my past two years and all the different emotions, whether it’s being in love or happy or heartbroken or angry or feeling unapologetically sexual and fun.
Where did the album title, Silver Landings, come from?
I was going to bookstores in Silver Lake and reading through poetry books, feminism books, anything that related to who I am as a person, hoping that a title would pop out at me. It didn’t. With Bitch Bops, it was the most effortless — I gave it no thought. For this one, I went through so many options. Then one day I asked, for every song on this album, what’s the one thing in common? I realized it was the silver linings of every situation from the past two years. In every single song, there is a silver lining that’s brought me to where I am.
Tell us about your creative process. What was the first song you wrote for the album?
I think it was “Fix You,” because I was writing that when my ex and I were still on a break. I was in the process of deciding, “Should I stay with this person? I don’t feel like I want to…” Then we fully broke up, and next came “Harder Than Ever.” I went from, “I don’t want to miss you,” to “Peace out, kiss my a–, miss me harder than ever.”
Speaking of, where did that song come from? You really do go harder than ever.
My ex and his best friend had gone to Vegas with other girls. The girl his best friend was dating and I found out at the same time, so we freaked out and had a whole “bad bitch” moment. She texted me and said, “Peace out, kiss my a–, miss me harder than ever.” I was like, “Bitch, if you think I’m not going to make that a song right now, I’m absolutely going to.” She’s not even a songwriter, and I put her on a percentage of that song because I wrote the whole song based on that.
Tell us about the last song on the album, “Healthy.” How healthy do you feel now?
The point of “Healthy” is that I don’t know that I am healthy in a lot of ways — and realizing I don’t know how to be healthy in relationships right now. That was a weird thing to accept. At the time, I was in this new relationship thinking, “This is going to be healthy, I need to hone in on it and hold onto it.” But I wasn’t happy, and it’s not what I want. “Healthy” came from writing not being sure how to be healthy right now, and that’s okay.
Who provided the voicemails on this album, and why wasn’t I one of them?
You’ve never left me any voicemails, otherwise I would have! Right after I broke up with my ex, I dated this boy in New York for two seconds, another thing I knew was not correct for me. He sent me the voicemail on the intro of “Love Me Later.” It’s funny looking at that song. I was not ready to be in a relationship but I met this person who was crazy about me, so I thought I should be with him. I wrote this song about how I thought it would end up happening later, and then after taking that space, I realized there is no later and I was better off without it. On “Fix You,” that’s my Nana, who is just iconic and stays giving me advice. It’s incredible. I’ll call her and tell her what’s up, and she’ll be like, “I don’t know if you know this already,” and throw in life advice all the time.
Are you scared to be releasing your debut album without a label?
I think it’s second nature. Obviously, it’s scary. I’m just sitting here stressing out about it, because you pour your heart into something and you want it to do everything. But even this morning, I was sitting in the sauna and I was like, “I think this is going to do what it’s supposed to and reach the people it’s supposed to reach.”
Why do you choose to stay independent?
Since I put out [debut single] “Better Off,” I’ve gotten hit up by basically every label offering me something like a 360 deal. I’ve always wanted to have creative control because my music has been very true to who I am, and I think I’ve been able to accurately represent that being independent. Honestly, it’s f—ed up seeing Raye tweeting about how she’s been making music for five years and wasn’t able to put out an album. Having to fight the f—ing system to put out music you’ve written about the sh– actually going on in your life is just so incredibly f—ed up. That’s why I’ve really enjoyed being independent and learning the system and my rights as an artist and how much I can do for myself without primarily men having their hands on everything.
What were the best and weirdest encounters you’ve had with celebs in the industry?
I met with Doja Cat a few times because she was friends with some of my friends. We would have Thanksgiving or Christmas celebrations. Two years ago, we did karaoke together in full Santa costumes, and we have a boomerang where we’re sitting on Santa’s lap. Just honestly iconic. The weirdest one is that Jason Derulo blocked me on Instagram for no reason. I met him once, we shook hands and I asked him, “What’s your Instagram?” Why did I ever ask that question? At one point, we were both in Miami and he was like, “Come to the studio.” But I was watching the show YOU and I was paranoid, so I didn’t go anywhere. And that was it.
How do you think you’ve grown since you released your first singles?
I could blow your mind with how I had no idea to be in the industry. Now, I’m just proud of myself for taking that younger version of myself that had a dream but no idea how to execute it and becoming someone that fully understands what I’m doing and how to navigate emotions enough to be able to write an album I’m proud of.
When I first started, I was coming from a very religious background that I had to undo. Originally, I wanted to name the album “Altar,” because I always felt like I needed to alter myself to fit in this box of this perfect little sweet girl that I’m comfortable not being now. I know I can still be a genuine person, but also write a song about sex. Whereas before, I don’t think I could’ve understood or been genuine about that.