Strawberry Runners is the project of songwriter, Emi Night. Emi took up the guitar when she was 7 and teacher, Judy Collins, (not the one you’re thinking of) taught her to strum along to Bob Dylan and church hymns in Madison, Indiana. Music took Emi from teenage years on the midwestern DIY circuit to Bloomington, IN where she formed the bands Princess City and Summer Salt; out to Denver, CO, becoming a member of the orchestral pop-punk band, Mega Gem, and where Strawberry Runners came to life in 2013; and most recently, back across to the Northeast, and Brooklyn, NY.
If you were listening to the radio in 2015 when “Hatcher Creek” caught Wired’s attention and made NPR’s The Austin 100, you might have fallen for the shimmering guitars and trumpet hooks wrapped around bittersweet memories of Emi’s youth in the Ohio River Valley. If you were in Denver in 2016, watching Strawberry Runners at Red Rocks under the evening stars, or up close at the Underground Music Showcase, you might have felt the tug of Emi’s plaintive vocals that hinted at a country-station education.
Two years in the making, In the Garden, In the Night is Strawberry Runner’s first EP. Recorded on a snowy mountain in Evergreen, CO, mixed by Doug Boehm in LA, and available from Salinas Records in October 2017, the album presents five of the band’s core songs. The tracks are so catchy, so energetic and relaxed in turn, that on first listen you might almost miss the narrative being told, where love and pain bloom side by side: one story begins with a carefree dip in the river, parts with the sudden news of the death of a friend’s grown children, and fiercely, softly, and sincerely affirms that “search your whole life long, there ain’t nothing strong as a Kentucky woman.” All of the EP’s material is drawn from Emi’s childhood and adolescence and has been well-tested live. While we await its release, Emi and her band are laying the groundwork for a full length album of her more contemporaneous reflections incorporating the formal and tonal influences of Appalachian icon Jean Ritchie and German folk singer Sibylle Baier.
The richness of her music is in Emi’s tender and easy integration of the varied styles she’s called home: most of the songs are short enough, with a humble faith in brevity; melody compels every word with the mystery and familiarity of a hymn, stays in your ear like pop, and flares up with punk-rock verve; poignant scenes are conjured with the respect, compassion, sensitivity, and generosity of great singer-songwriters like Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Stuart Murdoch, or Jenny Lewis. These are the kind of songs that ring true no matter how close or far they hew to the incidents that inspired them; they are pictures painted from a life too often troubled by violence and fear but also graced with an inheritance of compassion, determination, and — best of all for us — music.