By SHELLY WILKISON
Driven by a passion for music and blessed with a deep, bluesy and soulful sound, Emily Cousins never had a hard and fast plan for her career. Instead, she explored opportunities and discovered that sometimes — even in the music industry — not having a plan is a good thing.
“I didn’t see this coming. People say I’m so lucky, but the truth is that I’ve been blessed that God has allowed me to have so many opportunities,” said Mrs. Cousins.
The 37-year-old singer songwriter graduated from Liberty Hill High School in 2000 and had a college scholarship to play volleyball and basketball. But it was while playing women’s professional football that she sustained a knee injury that put her athletic career and her college education on ice, opening the door for her to follow a passion for music.
“I’m thankful that I didn’t have a set plan because I wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Mrs. Cousins, born the fourth of eight children of Keith and Nancy Hamilton, describes herself jokingly as the “meanest” of the Hamilton siblings and adds that some in their Liberty Hill-Bertram stomping grounds might agree.
But the truth is that the very opinionated and self-confident wife and mother of two is armed with an honest and gutsy attitude and a bold look that seems to be helping her open doors in the highly competitive music industry.
She said she enjoys meeting new people and isn’t shy or easily intimidated by Nashville stardom. After meeting many Country music giants, working with them in the studio, and visiting with them in some of Nashville’s top venues, Mrs. Cousins said most are friendly and open to work with new talent.
She said she learns something new from everyone she meets. She shares stories of making connections with music producers, top singers and musicians, songwriters and others with influence in the entertainment industry.
“These people create opportunities, and their experiences make them who they are. I’m humbled by their willingness to listen to me and to give me a shot,” she said.
To make it in the music business, Mrs. Cousins said “you either step up or get scared.” Those who allow fear to dictate the next step rarely get noticed.
Mrs. Cousins said she believes her sound reflects a bit of her gutsy attitude.
“I have a tendency to add a bluesy tone to everything I sing,” she said.
Someone who had never met her once described her soulful sound as coming from a “big, Black independent woman who needs no man,” she said.
“I was extremely proud of that description,” she said, adding that her sound is partly influenced by the voice of a longtime friend from East Texas who continues to encourage her, even as her career takes a new twist.
Songwriters Across Texas
That sound and the confidence she exudes on stage were likely factors in the decision by Executive Producer Pitt Garrett of Austin to select Mrs. Cousins as the hostess of a new local television program “Songwriters Across Texas.”
The half-hour program, which is recorded at Austin’s Broken Spoke and airs at 11:30 a.m. on Sundays on CW Austin, features songwriters from across the state who perform an original song and tell their story.
Mrs. Cousins said two months ago, she received a call from Garrett inviting her to host the show. In that role, she introduces the songwriter and the song that will be performed, and will soon take over the role of interviewing the guests.
“I think they brought me in to market to a younger up and coming crowd,” she said. “The purpose of the show is to promote younger artists with promising talent as songwriters.”
Eventually, the role of the show will expand in an attempt to unite well-known performers with songwriters.
Mrs. Cousins and Garrett are finding advertising sponsors for the program, and recently secured the support of Charles Maund Toyota of Austin. Mrs. Cousins was featured in an ad that appears during some commercial breaks during the program. At the end of the commercial, she sings a jingle for the car dealership.
For Mrs. Cousins, the television show is a new experience. For years, she has been performing at benefits, rodeos, fairs and community events.
The singing talent of Mrs. Cousins is no secret in her hometown where for three years she lead the music during worship services at Fellowship Church. Although she left the position in 2012, she said the experience prompted her to think more seriously about pursuing a career in music.
Taking risks to follow a dream
In 2012, against the advice of some, she entered a competition hosted by the Round Rock Express and won with her performance of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” composed by James Allen II Shamblin and Mike Reid for Bonnie Raitt.
“It got me in the studio where I was offered some work doing background and lead vocals,” Mrs. Cousins said.
A short time later, she went to Nashville where in Robert’s Western World she ran into owner Jessie Lee Jones, whom she had met in Austin while competing in the Round Rock Express contest. He invited her on stage to sing and she returned the following night.
Today, she spends 10-12 days of every month in Nashville where she does studio work for various recording artists and cuts demo recordings for studios seeking to promote songs to big name artists.
She also performs regularly as an extra in the television series “Nashville”.
“I am a VIP extra…anytime there are red carpet scenes or edgehill artist scenes, I am in them,” she said.
“I don’t know what I’m doing, but I must be doing something right for these opportunities to keep coming up,” she said.
Mrs. Cousins grew up in a Christian home and was heavily influenced by her father’s love for country music. She took piano lessons as a child, and in recent years taught herself to play the guitar.
While she enjoys all types of music, she sings and writes songs more typical of the music genres of traditional country, bluegrass, gospel and soul.
Mrs. Cousins said she has been fortunate to be exposed to many high profile artists over the years for whom she has performed backup vocals in the studio or worked on other musical projects.
Some of those include singer songwriter Billy Joe Shaver, who has issued a standing invitation for Mrs. Cousins to write music with him.
“People have been helping me with new perspectives. They want me to do an album of my own music. Yes, I want to sing, but for now I prefer working behind the scenes to learn as much as I can about this business,” she said.
She spends part of every day writing songs. Sometimes the words come to her at inconvenient times and find their way onto napkins or whatever she has handy. But eventually they make their way into a song journal she keeps. While Shaver and others have offered to write and produce music with her, Mrs. Cousins says she isn’t there yet.
“My ultimate goal is to write songs and be singing in front of a crowd and they are singing with me,” she said. “But I’m not ready yet. Eventually, my time will come if it’s meant to be.”
Mrs. Cousins said the songs she has written are about relationships, raising children, and even Liberty Hill. She said she wrote a song about her hometown using its name in the lyrics.
“It’s about eight kids living in a castle on wheels,” she said. “It’s about growing up here.”
But her favorite is one she calls “How many times”, which asks the question how many times can a heart be broken before it comes apart.
Mrs. Cousins said she was told that she couldn’t sing by a junior high teacher at a private school she attended in Cedar Park before coming to Liberty Hill her junior year to play sports.
“I guess I never thought I could sing, but I just loved it,” she recalled.
Mrs. Cousins said these days she doesn’t like to plan her life too much. When she isn’t working in Nashville, she is at home in Liberty Hill where in addition to being a wife and mother, she has also worked at Liberty Hill High School as a paraprofessional assigned to an autistic student. She said she enjoyed the experience, which offered the flexibility she needed to be available for her own children when they were out of school.
Mrs. Cousins is also a photographer. While she does it mostly for enjoyment and personal use, she has shared some of her works. Earlier this year, she photographed a historic Masonic Chair that was shared with Antique Archaeology Nashville. The chair was ultimately purchased by Jones of Robert’s Western World, but the photograph was seen by thousands on social media.
Mrs. Cousins also shared a photograh she took during a winter storm in Liberty Hill this year that was featured on the front page of The Liberty Hill Independent.
“The hardest part is deciding what I need to be doing and what I want to do,” she said about the ongoing projects and interests in her life.
In 2012, doctors discovered a tumor in her brain. She said she was rapidly gaining weight, had serious headaches, but put off going to a doctor for about a year. When she finally went to see an endocrinologist, a tumor was discovered on a pituitary gland behind her eye. Before announcing the condition to her husband, she said she did days worth of research so she could explain the problem and the remedy. Four months after the surgery in 2012, the non-cancerous tumor began growing back.
“I truly believe that you can’t always change your situation, but you can always get a new perspective and develop a whole new outlook on life,” she said. “I try to keep a positive attitude, and live every day to the fullest.”
Although work takes her far away, she says her heart stays at home with her husband, Ben Cousins, a lieutenant in the Leander Fire Department, and their two children Zane and Pressley.