Peoria-based emily the band is turning heads in music circles
The basic equation could not be more simple: Ukelele + electric guitar + drums = Fun Music.
That simplicity also inspired this rising trio of young Peoria musicians to lowercase everything from their name, emily the band, to their growing catalog of catchy original songs such as melt and brooklyn lady.
‘This is the coolest stuff I’ve ever been part of, meeting people who are moved by our songs’
— Cami Proctor
“It’s just super cool and relaxed and Gen Z,” songwriter Emily Antonacci explained with a laugh. She might add that the intentional lowercase essentially screams for attention in all caps: LISTEN TO THIS!
Music fans are definitely listening. Formed barely two years ago, emily the band supplements its steady central Illinois performance calendar with performances in Champaign-Urbana, Chicago, Iowa City, Nashville and St. Louis. Frequently booked to open for regional and national touring acts, the band has one EP, the heartbreak album, available across all major streaming platforms. Their latest single, marceline, marks a new level of songwriting collaboration for the group and was released in late October. (Stay up to speed online at emilytheband.com.)
Greater than the sum of their parts
Antonacci, 22, plays the ukelele and sings lead. Camryn Proctor, 22, harmonizes while playing guitar and occasionally adds a delightful, breath-powered keyboard known as the melodica. Abbey Haste, 21, plays drums.
But hey, doesn’t a band need a bass?
Ha! Now, we’ve stumbled into the complex formula behind emily the band’s delightful simplicity.
“It’s a very defining feature of our project,” Proctor said of the absent bass instrument. “Everything you think you know about the way a band can be put together? Open your mind. We have a ukelele, a guitar and a drum kit, and we put together a sound that you didn’t expect. You can make a band out of anything.”
It’s not really fair to say the formula for their growing success starts with one particular thing. The factors are interwoven and co-dependent, with three talented individuals forming a team to contribute something unique to the indie alt-pop genre.
Antonacci’s lyrics are the stuff of great poetry: honest, smart, playful, wistful, challenging, full of sadness, joy and surprise. Her vocals are superb. Proctor’s brilliant guitar work infuses the stories with a fullness that can only come from having been there when your best friend lived those experiences that birthed the lyrics. Haste’s percussion is intuitive and understated, perfectly filling each tune without unnecessary fills, subtly driving home amazing reminders — just in case you get lost in the groove — that these songs originated on the four strings of a ukelele.
The ‘magic’ of three
Antonacci and Proctor met as students at Richwoods High School and began playing music as a duo. Proctor was also part of a nameless — and drummerless — band that played at Princeville Heritage Days, where they heard Haste play drums in her hometown talent show. Impressed, Proctor invited Haste to join the band.
They subsequently joined with guitarist/bassist Josh Sweeney to form The Blank Stairs, which continues to perform. Fast forward to 2021, when Antonacci had just finished recording her first solo EP, living room. Proctor had accompanied on the project, and they asked Haste to join them for the live release party.
Antonacci summed up the experience: “We are three really strong solo musicians, but as a trio, it was like magic.”
Proctor elaborates: “Emily’s songwriting and voice, playing along on her ukelele, is like a beautiful vanilla cake. By itself, it’s totally awesome. But me and Abbey come in, and we’re cake decorators. Is it a birthday cake? A wedding cake? What color is it? We give you a lot more information about what Emily was feeling when she wrote it.”
Besides great music, the three feel an individual and shared responsibility to break down stereotypes, particularly as “feminine-presenting, non-binary musicians,” to use Proctor’s description.
‘I can’t believe they figured out how to do a drummer with no bassist’
— Ryan Groff
Antonacci encounters general disregard for the ukelele as a “legitimate” musical-performance instrument. Proctor shakes her head after guitar solos that elicit amazed reactions from men who don’t expect women to shred. As a student at Bradley University, Haste was given a list of drummers to study and responded to her professor, “These are all dudes. Can you give me some females to listen to?”
Trying to make your way as a full-time musician is hard enough without discrimination. The injustice of it all can give rise to anger. But the musicians in emily the band have chosen to kick down the doors of ignorance with professionalism, excellence, kindness and a sound that can transform the heaviest subject into a light, refreshing lift. Close your eyes, listen, and all things seem possible.
Really, who needs a bass?
Ryan Groff, 42, has been a mainstay of the Champaign-Urbana music scene for nearly 25 years, first with his band Elsinore and currently with Modern Drugs. He’s a big fan of emily the band, which performs frequently to enthusiastic audiences in the college town.
“I can’t believe they figured out how to do a drummer with no bassist, but they’ve pulled off a really nice arrangement and live-production trick,” Groff said. “It’s part of their magic and their draw.” He credits Haste’s drumming for providing “a noticeable, unique style that perfectly fits the hole with exactly what’s needed.”
Killing it with kindness
All three women confess to dreaming in their early teens of rock stardom. While there are no guarantees, achieving those dreams is certainly possible. And yet, though barely into their 20s, each has redefined how success looks. The common denominator is a desire to spread kindness.
“Empowering people to believe they can do it, planting seeds for that to continue. I just want to be a net positive,” Antonacci said.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re famous if you’re not kind and don’t uplift others,” Haste said.
“This is the coolest stuff I’ve ever been part of, meeting people who are moved by our songs,” Proctor said. “We have this beautiful community that appreciates us, and if for some reason no other people in the world heard of us, I’d be pretty darned fulfilled.”