On her new LP Girl Bandit, Kansas City songstress Emma Jo deftly blends heartland rock and glossy country into a signature sweet Americana. Her voice, all silk and woodsmoke, weaves confidently through shimmering reverb and stomping bass, buoyed by a top-flight band laying in the groove. Yet, for all the polish and poise, this isn’t a “cute blonde goes to Nashville to become a country star” record. Girl Bandit is both an ode to empowered femininity and an imploration to grab the reins and re-write your own story. Your personal truth is out there, and Emma Jo stands ready to soundtrack your own journey of self-discovery.
Raised in Kansas City by a mother who loved country music and a father who breathed rock & roll, Emma Jo has spent the better part of her life latching onto a deep-rooted passion for music and performing. From stealing the spotlight at age four during a local talent show, to learning guitar on an Esteban purchased from an infomercial, to releasing a full-length acoustic album titled Waiting to Be Heard at fifteen, there hasn’t been a moment when this gal wasn’t living and breathing melody. Following high school, Emma paused her music career to pursue a higher education, earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history.
In the fall of 2017, Emma Jo was utterly shaken by the tragic passing of her father by suicide. She had studio time booked, and reassured concerned loved ones and compatriots that more than anything he would have wanted her to go make a record. Using the opportunity as a form of therapy, she released Brave six months later.
Then, as she puts it, “I got married at 22 years old to a man who quickly became an absolute nightmare.” Her 2021 single “Queen of the Silver Lining” relates her persistence and perseverance in overcoming recurring struggles. In 2022, Emma released the single “Same Moon,” addressed to the Italian astronomer Galileo (remember that master’s in history?) The 2023 track “Straight Into Mine,” which framed the hardships of her divorce, set the stage for the Girl Bandit to come.
“My ex used to love watching old westerns,” Emma Jo explains. “You know, the ones where the man is a rugged hero, and the women are put into one of, like, three stereotypical roles? Little did he know, he planted an idea in my head of a girl bandit – this romantic figure who broke men’s hearts, stole their money, and got away. She was badass, clever, and beautiful: the girl I wished I was.”
That gunslinging gal took up residence in Emma Jo’s subconscious, and soon enough gave her the courage to walk away from a life that seemed destined to be lived trapped, powerless, and walking on eggshells. “There was a moment when I grasped some Girl Bandit energy. I escaped my marriage and stole a brand-new life for myself. Except I wasn’t stealing it. It was mine all along, I just finally had the courage to take it.”
Girl Bandit was written alone at home in Kansas City, in Nashville with Craig Wilson (Paul Cardall, David Archuleta), and in Branson, MO with a writing team that includes her mom and brother. It was recorded at Forty-One Fifteen in Nashville. It was produced by Wilson, and features performances from the likes of Grammy winner Charlie Chamberlain, John Salaway, Adam Beard (Tenille Townes), and Hermon Mehari.
Ultimately, Girl Bandit is a record that was destined to be written. It serves as not only a documentation of one woman’s search for strength in dark times and her eventual triumph, but as “emotional support record for life changes. I’ve dealt with loss and trauma and pain, just like everyone” says Emma Jo. “Girl Bandit is a record about how I discovered I was living the wrong life, grappled with that, and made the decision to change it – and it’s a call to action to take the first step out of darkness.”
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