Emily Retsas: From Oblivion

Playing alongside Phoebe Bridgers, BOCC, Fiona Apple, and Shirley Manson, Emily Retsas has found her calling as a first-call touring bassist.

Emily Retsas: From Oblivion

Playing alongside Phoebe Bridgers, BOCC, Fiona Apple, and Shirley Manson, Emily Retsas has found her calling as a first-call touring bassist.

At this point in her young career, Emily Retsas can most often be found on festival stages, packed venues, and late-night talk show sets, which is a far cry from her upbringing. Growing up in a remote town in Southern Australia called Smoky Bay, Retsas always had a deep passion for music, but her access to it was severely limited, given her lack of resources among a population of only 200 people. The music she did get her hands on influenced her deeply: the grunge, alternative, and punk music coming all the way from America that was filling her headphones and fueling her musical dreams. At age 14 she bought her first bass and immediately started a band. Once she graduated from high school, she moved to Adelaide, with its larger music scene, where her musical voice continued to grow, as did the demand for her playing. After a vacation to Los Angeles in her 20s, Emily decided to make the big jump, and she immediately packed her bags and moved to California. Submersing herself into the unfamiliar L.A. music world as much as she could, Emily started getting noticed, and before long she was landing gigs that increased in profile. In only a few years after her move, Emily had performed with Shirley Manson of Garbage, Fiona Apple, Death Valley Girls, Boygenius, and Jennie Vee. Emily’s longest-tenured gig has been with indie-rock phenom Phoebe Bridgers, and Bridgers’ side project with Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), Better Oblivion Community Center. Her roles with Phoebe and BOCC have taken her all over the map and featured her on almost every prominent late-night talk show. She recently wrapped up recording on Bridgers’ upcoming album, and Emily is soon to hit the road with her again for a long stretch of tours. Retsas’ ability to generate both gentle rhythms to accompany Bridgers’ delicate, crooning voice and aggressively powerful riffs when the songs call for it are just one reason why the diverse player from down under is getting so much attention for her playing. Much like her transition from a sleepy town in Australia to the buzzing city of Los Angeles, Emily enjoys a little contrast. Photo by Ian Laidlaw. What was your musical upbringing like in South Australia? There wasn’t a lot of music going on locally at all. My best friend and I bonded over Sonic Youth in our early teens, and we started a band, and that was it for me. When I graduated high school and moved to Adelaide, the much larger music scene there was an important experience early on for me. Did you have any musical experience before picking up a bass at 14? I grew up playing piano and guitar, and when I wanted to start a band, my two friends both played guitar, and they said that someone had to play bass and that I was the worst guitarist [laughs]. It was that age-old story on how most people become a bass player. But I was like, you know what, Kim Gordon plays bass and she’s the coolest, so I’m gonna do this. I finished school playing guitar, and then wh
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Jon D'Auria   By: Jon D'Auria

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