West Virginia bred singer-songwriter Emily Lehr may be new to the music scene, but her lyrics and storytelling are up to par with the most seasoned artists.
Lehr, an up-and-coming folk artist from Martinsburg, W. Va. made her musical debut in March 2021 with the release of her single “Ophelia.” The song is an ode to Shakespeare’s Ophelia from the play “Hamlet,” and uses lines from the play in the lyrics. Lehr wrote it while taking a Shakespear in music class at West Virginia University.
Lehr will graduate with a degree in music therapy in May. As a student at WVU, Lehr has made herself an active member of the Morgantown music scene. She is a frequent flyer at local open mic events hosted by bars and restaurants.
“Morgantown has a really special music scene because a lot of it is new musicians who are just getting their footing in live performance, and it’s been a privilege to get to walk that process with some really amazing people,” Lehr said.
Lehr continued, “We’re all learning together and we’re all doing our own specific thing, and that’s been so fun. I see it as one big playground where we get to experiment and try new things. And who cares if it doesn’t exactly land? Because we’re just figuring it out.”
In addition to her solo career, Lehr has performed with the WVU Bluegrass Band, WVU Symphony Orchestra and folk trio The Honeysuckle Vines, with members Anna Dunham and Mary Linscheid.
“Playing in different ensembles as a musician has probably been my best teacher over the past few years,” Lehr said.
“You learn so much from playing with other people in a variety of settings. What I’ve learned from the bluegrass band and orchestra have been like two sides of the same coin, or two different flavors of Doritos – both equally valuable but just applicable in different ways.”
Lehr said, “The Honeysuckle Vines has been especially valuable because I got to do it with two of my best friends, and we had no oversight, so we got to make decisions and mistakes on our own and figure things out together.”
In April 2021, Lehr released her first album, “The Drive Home,” through WVU’s Mon Hills Records. The album has 10 songs and a runtime of 37 minutes.
“The Drive Home” is nostalgic, heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. The album is a tribute to home— both the place and the people that fill it— and the fond, tragic, beautiful memories that come with it. The songs range from heartwarming homages to grandparents, to devastating ballads about burying friends, to pensive songs about growing up.
“I have wanted to create my own music and release a project since before I can remember, and the music I collected for this project seemed to follow the theme of self-discovery and introspection,” Lehr said.
“I always tend to have some of my more creative processing moments when I am in the car on longer trips, and this was especially true when I was in pre-production and recording for ‘The Drive Home,’ specifically traveling between Morgantown and Martinsburg. That’s where a lot of the creative decisions for the album came from, including the title.”
Lehr describes her music as songs for crying in the bathtub— a specific yet fitting explanation. There is a comforting sadness to her lyrics that invites listeners to simply let all their emotions out.
“I have a hard time letting myself be sad – I always see negative emotions as a problem to solve or a thing that needs fixing. Writing music has been a way that I allow myself to feel those hard things and to process them without the pressure of fixing a problem that I have little to no control over,” Lehr said.
Her love for West Virginia is evident in her song “Sideling Hill,” which Lehr wrote at the end of her freshman year of college when she was feeling homesick. It perfectly encapsulates the longing for the familiar embrace of home that those who have moved away are so familiar with.
“I have always resonated with my heritage as an Appalachian and a West Virginian. I think there is something special about this place that you don’t necessarily get everywhere else. When I left home for the first time to go to college, I never felt like I was truly away from home because I was still in West Virginia. I know that a piece of my heart will always live here, no matter where I am,” Lehr said.
With lines like, “I’m so lucky to have somebody who makes goodbye so hard,” Lehr makes anyone who has ever been homesick, feel seen.
In December 2021, Lehr released her single “Instagram,” a different and upbeat change from her previous releases. The song features mandolin, acoustic guitar, upright bass and powerful vocals. In “Instagram,” Lehr pushes back against society’s constant need for the instant gratification that comes from social media.
“I decided I wanted to write this song in the Chick-fil-A drive thru line. I was sitting in my car and refreshing my Instagram app repeatedly, getting frustrated that the people I follow hadn’t posted anything new for me to look at. I realized then that my addiction to social media was a poison and that I was in a bad mood over something that was very easily avoidable. This song is just about my frustrations with that,” Lehr said.
“I specifically left the subject matter vague because I think songs should be able to relate to a variety of things. So if someone hears “Instagram” and can relate to that experience of obsession and frustration in a different way, I think that would be really cool and I would welcome that.”
Currently based in Morgantown, Lehr plans to move to Nashville, TN in the spring and pursue a career in music therapy. Lehr also hopes to continue writing and recording music to secure her rightful place in the world of Americana.
“I have enjoyed the process of creating an album and just music in general exactly as much as I always imagined I would, and now that I’ve dipped my toe in the water, I only want to do it more. I already have the concept and a lot of the songs for a second project, and I am excited to see how moving to Nashville will grow and change me as a musician and a person. Now that I have one project under my belt, I feel simultaneously less urgent and more excited about moving forward to make more music.”
With just under 100 monthly listeners and a little over 10,000 streams on Spotify, listeners should add Emily Lehr to their music library immediately.