Best-known for playing Lilly Truscott on Disney Channel’s Emmy-nominated Hannah Montana and Gerti Giggles in the Spy Kids movie sequels, Emily Osment has actually been making music almost as long as she’s been acting. And even though she’s just 18, don’t expect disposable Top 40 teen-pop on her Wind-up Records debut, Fight or Flight, produced by U.K. auteur Nellee Hooper, whose credits include Gwen Stefani and No Doubt, U2, Bjork, Madonna, Massive Attack and Soul II Soul.
Writing with such well-respected tunesmiths as Grammy winners Adam Schlesinger [Katy Perry, Jonas Brothers, Stephen Colbert] and Toby Gad [Fergie, Beyonce, Brandy, Jordin Sparks, Alicia Keys] as well as David Gamson [Ke$ha, Adam Lambert, Chaka Khan, Scritti Politti], Osment’s album bow combines her classic rock influences into a mature-beyond-her-years blend of state-of-the-art electro/Europop (as on the first single, “Lovesick” and the feisty “Double Talk”), alternative/indie (“Let’s Be Friends,” “Gotta Believe in Something”), sophisticated, jazzy torch ballads (“Marisol” and “You Get Me Through”) and even rapping over hip-hop beats (“1-800 Clap Your Hands [The Water is Rising]).”
An accomplished musician, whose mom first taught her to play guitar, Osment wrote most of the songs on Fight or Flight in recording studios in New York and L.A., before turning the tracks over for Hooper to work on in London (where they communicated on Skype), then finishing them up together back in the States.
“It was nerve-wracking, terrible and wonderful all at the same time,” she says of working with Hooper. “I’ve been a fan of his forever. I even have a Massive Attack ringtone on my phone. He’s pretty intimidating, aside from his tiger tattoo, but he ended up being so easy to work with. We really meshed.”
The album’s title, Fight or Flight, reflects Emily’s own lofty ambitions to fight through personal anxieties to achieve simultaneous success in two very competitive fields.
“It’s about that chemical reaction in your head when you’re faced with fear,” she says. “You have a choice to fight that or run away. Working on this album, I had so many decisions along the way about whether to take on a particular battle or not. I was so involved in every single process of this record, and the songs are so related to my own life.”
The songs are filled with references to her own favorite groups, whether the nod to White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” in “1-800 Clap Your Hands [The Water is Rising],” which she wrote on a plane flight about having the faith to keep it together when it all looks like it’s coming apart, or the dance-floor pulse of “Get Yer Yah-Yah’s Out,” a tribute to the Rolling Stones’ 1969 live album of the same name, with its call for one and all to party.
“I don’t want to write songs that are just surface-deep,” explains Emily, whose own favorites growing up included listening to Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Monkees, the Doors and Herman’s Hermits, as well as modern groups like The Pixies and Massive Attack. “I want songs that, the more you listen, the more you figure out what I’m talking about. I love putting secrets like that on the record.”
Songs like “All The Boys Want” (co-written with frequent collaborator Matt Bair) and “Double Talk” show her feisty side. “I get that from my mother,” she laughs. “We were in such a crazy, weird mood in the studio.”
There’s a more serious side to Osment represented on a pair of ballads she co-wrote with Schlesinger, including the dark-edged “Marisol,” about which she says: “That could be me or you or anyone else. I want the listener to step into another world and become a different person.” “You Get Me Through,” one of the first songs she wrote for the album, is about her mom. “She cried when she heard it,” admits Emily. “She definitely deserves it because she’s the one who first taught me how to play guitar and to love music.”
The closing “Gotta Believe in Something,” co-written with Hooper and Derek Fuhrman, who also penned “The Cycle” with Osment, describes a Bonnie & Clyde-type tale of bank robbers on the lam and places us—and her—in the driver’s seat of the getaway car. “It’s all about giving yourself totally to believing in something, no matter what it is,” she says. “And I always wanted to use ‘miscreant’ in a song because it’s such an SAT word.”
Already a young veteran of international touring in Europe, Canada, Brazil and the U.S., from clubs to larger arena-sized venues with her longtime band, Emily says, “I’d be nowhere without them. They’re so smart. I feel so blessed to be working with musicians who are trying to do what’s best for my music. These guys work so hard.”
As for Osment herself, she is confident she can artfully balance—and maintain—her burgeoning careers in both acting and music, without sacrificing quality in either, something she learned only too well from watching others close to her such as good friend and colleague Miley Cyrus and brother actor Haley Joel Osment. “Whether it’s going to school and taking on film roles or doing music and acting, I’m lucky to be pursuing both of my passions.”
“It’s definitely a challenge finding the time to do everything I want to do. You have to walk a tightrope, and fit all the puzzle pieces together. They are both things that I love, and they employ different sides of the brain. As my life gets more complicated, I realize I will have to balance them both like a circus act, but it’s the best type of circus act there is. There are certain aspects of both disciplines that do cross over. When it comes to writing songs, I pull from my personal experiences, as well as other people’s lives, just like I do in acting.”
Whatever happens to Emily Osment in the future, she will continue to do things her way.
“I want to be in a world where I’m making the kind of music I want to make, and that’s what I’m doing right now,” she concludes. “I want to find a balance between Top 40 songs like ‘Lovesick’ and ‘Let’s Be Friends’ and more complex material like ‘Marisol’ and ‘You Get Me Through.’ I always had my heart set on going with an indie label because I wanted to make alternative music, and I wanted to be with a record company that would back me on that.”
For Emily Osment, nothing expresses the belief she has in her musical ability better than the 11 new songs on Fight or Flight.
“I’m a serious musician,” she says. “And if I can convince myself of that, I don’t think it will be too hard to convince the rest of the world of that, too. I’ve given 1000% to making this album… I won’t settle for mediocrity.”
Fight or Flight. The choice is yours. Emily Osment has already made hers.
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