In Conversation with Emma Davis
Indie/Alt’s Bren Swogger joins their best friend and frequent collaborator, photographer Emma Davis, for a conversation about music journalism in the time of COVID, the future of live music, what they’re listening to now, and a deep dive into Taylor Swift’s latest release, ‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’.
Bren: My name is Bren Swogger. I’m the creator and writer for this project here, Indie/Alt. And I am here with my best friend, Emma Davis, who also collaborated with me. She did the cover photo of Laryssa Birdseye, and also helped me in filming the live session that we did with Laryssa as well.
Emma: Hello, thanks for having me. Super excited to be here. [Laughs] Not like I never see you. Like I see you every day almost.
Bren: Do you want to talk about your background, because we’ve worked together on some music-y type things for a long time.
Emma: Yeah. Honestly, since we met. That’s kind of when things started to kick off with everything. I am a recent graduate of the University of Oregon. I graduated last June. I do journalism. I am very music focused though. And on my side, I would would rather love to do music journalism primarily, but right now, that’s just not what’s happening. I got a lovely gig at Vortex Music Mag with Bren doing photography. I honestly wouldn’t be able to do it if it weren’t for them. So that was really, really cool. What else have we done?
Bren: We’ve covered a lot of shows together, pretty much all for Vortex.
Emma: All for Vortex. I think the only one I didn’t cover [for Vortex] was Poppy. I think I did that through The [Daily] Emerald. But we’ve covered a lot of shows together, primarily like local ones in Portland. Some bigger artists, I would say.
Bren: You did Panic! [at the Disco] at the Moda [Center].
Emma: That I did. That was probably my best one that I’ve done. Well, it’s one of my favorites at least. Yeah, so we have collaborated primarily as a duo doing shows together since I don’t know, 2017. That’s when I started shooting.
Bren: Oh, okay. Yeah. I was going to ask when you started officially.
Emma: I started shooting my freshman year of college. I think February was my first show.
Bren: I do remember this. Because I was in California seeing Twenty One Pilots with my mom. And you were sending me photos that you had shot of Pierce the Veil, right?
Emma: [Laughs] Piece the Veil. I’m not going to get over how that was my first ever.
Bren: But those photos kicked ass.
Emma: I was pretty happy with them. Yeah, they kicked ass. I started shooting then, and then I think further into school is when I kept coming back to Portland ever so often. You and I started collaborating more, going to shows together. Except for that one shit show that was Aly & AJ, but we’re not gonna talk about that. Actually, we might have to touch on that because that was bullshit.
Bren: Honestly, that is something we should talk about because, from a music photojournalist perspective, you were not 21 at that point. And there’s so many challenges for being in the music journalism field, whether photo or writing, when you’re not 21.
Emma: That show was good. I wish it went better. You know, I’ve had difficulties with getting into shows because I wasn’t 21 at the time. And of course, [now] I’m 22. So that time has passed. But for the music journalism industry, especially when you’re first starting out, especially the young ones, because you have to get your foot in the door somehow. And if you’re not eligible to do a show or not eligible to shoot something or write about something because you’re underage, you have limited opportunities, and it’s not entirely fair from a journalistic standpoint.
The music journalism field is crazy difficult, but it’s fun. It’s worth it. I think that eventually that’s what I want to be doing is music journalism. The dream is Rolling Stone. Always has been since I was like five. My first love is photography and writing comes second. I mean, that’s what I’m doing now, but more of a marketing standpoint. But I want to do more publication stuff and I want to write more, and I want to shoot more, but you know that right now in this day and age, it’s just not possible. And it’s frustrating. I still shoot from time to time, but it’s not what I want to be doing. I want to be back in the pit, and I want to be shooting and I want to be running around jumping and dancing and having a good time. Maybe being a little drunk.
Bren: You’re totally right. There are no live shows really. I mean, aside from some venues, like Alberta Street Pub, that are keeping live music alive in a COVID safe form. But, for the most part, those giant tours that we would always cover and go to, those aren’t happening anymore.
Emma: As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think they’re going to be coming back for a while.
Bren: Which is strange to me because I don’t think so either. I don’t think there’s a real good, just solid way to bring them back. I mean, once more people get vaccinated, maybe. But there’s a bunch of tour announcements that are just coming out that I’ve seen. And it’s cool to see, but I’m also curious how they’re handling it because the only way I can see live shows happening are: everyone has to be vaccinated in the show. You have to show proof of vaccination, which in itself is also kind of iffy because the vaccination cards are not official looking at all. Like you could easily fake one of those. And then also, they still need to have some sort of social distancing happening.
Emma: But the thing is, at shows, everyone is packed together.
Bren: Yeah, so in order for them to have the social distancing, they would have to have limited capacity. And that makes me question some of these rescheduled shows that are already sold out well past 50% capacity. You can’t do social distancing there. So that makes no sense to me. How would they reschedule it and think they could still have everyone packed in like that?
Emma: You know, I was thinking the other day. Bigger artists are going to have to cut back a lot because they have like arenas. But you know, smaller artists, they’re not going to get as much revenue. They’re not going to get anything. For an example, Holocene. We were supposed to see [Allie X] there. If an artist is performing [there], they’re not going to see as much as bigger artists. It’s just going to be less and less people to ensure safety. But you know, another thing I was thinking about is even if shows are back and everything’s completely, quote unquote, back to normal, are people gonna want to go? Are people going to feel safe enough? I was just talking with a couple of people about this. They’re like, “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to hold this event because people aren’t going to be comfortable by that.” Or like, people might not feel comfortable even if vaccinations are happening.
Bren: There are some artists who are announcing tours right now, but I haven’t gotten any tickets for anything yet. I just saw Julien Baker’s coming to Aladdin. And I was like, “Oh fuck. I really want to see Julien Baker.” Because I loved this new album, and I haven’t seen her for a while. But I just don’t know. I don’t know if they’re selling capacity or if they’re selling 50% or something, but either way, I think my plan will be, if that time rolls around and the tour’s still happening, it hasn’t been rescheduled for three more years, I’ll probably try to cover it.
Emma: Well, I think it’s also because of timing. I mean, here’s just an example, different situation, but Lover Fest was supposed to happen last year. [Taylor Swift] canceled it altogether because I honestly think it was just not timely anymore. Like she just can’t do it.
Bren: I mean, it was for Lover. And by this point, she’s released what, three albums since then?
Emma: Two albums and a rerelease of a previous album. Like she can’t. But yeah, I don’t think festivals are going to happen for a while.
Bren: And that’s another one. I see these festivals that are being scheduled.
Emma: What the hell? Festivals are being scheduled? If you think about it though, I feel like festivals are easier to do though, because you’re able to social distance.
Bren: Because it’s outdoors, I suppose. I can’t remember what festival it was. There were multiple festivals that have been announced.
Emma: Really? That’s shocking to me.
Bren: It’s just also strange to me because, the pandemic’s not over and it does not feel over at all. Like people are getting vaccinated. Good for them. That’s progress. But it still just does not feel safe.
Emma: I think what trips me up a bit is if people are going to be comfortable enough. Things are going to be like, Oh, we’re able to have shows again. Awesome. How many people are going to be able to go? How many people are gonna feel comfortable going?
This article is an edited excerpt. Listen to the full podcast embedded at the top of the page. Stream a playlist of the songs and artists discussed in this episode on Spotify, or find the full list in the podcast’s description. Find more of Emma’s photography on ekdpdxphotography.com and follow her @emmakdavis18 on Twitter and Instagram.