For musical duo Jimmy Stewart and Aili Emilia, both the culmination of their courtship and their move to Chimacum were the result of a romance long deferred, which is part of the reason why Stewart …
For musical duo Jimmy Stewart and Aili Emilia, both the culmination of their courtship and their move to Chimacum were the result of a romance long deferred, which is part of the reason why Stewart chose to rename their group to “First the Winter.”
The couple met in Minneapolis in the summer of 2015, and while they bonded over a shared love of music, Stewart’s falling “head over heels in love immediately” was not initially reciprocated by Emilia.
Although they continued to perform independently as musicians, Stewart’s longtime dream of cutting an album finally culminated with him and Emilia meeting back up again in person, to the point that, when they recorded their debut album, “Experimental Mice,” in April of last year, at F5 SoundHouse in Minneapolis, they were able to book the recording studio for a week, and then knocked out the entire album from Monday through Friday.
“I was ignored by every other studio I sent my songs to, which was maybe a dozen,” Stewart said. “F5 were the ones who said, ‘These are kind of terrible, but they show promise,’” he laughed. “I sent all of my songs to them, and without me paying them a dime, they offered me thoughtful feedback. I owe them such a debt.”
With Stewart serving as the songwriter and composer, as well as playing piano and guitar, Emilia paired off his vocals with her own, and a professional backing band of a drummer, bass player and cellist were brought in as well.
“Experimental Mice” features eight of the 60 songs Stewart had written over the preceding four years, which survived F5 SoundHouse’s quality-minded edits.
Both Stewart and Emilia cited a pair of Irish singer-songwriters, Damien Rice and Glen Hansard, as chief among their musical influences, for their acoustic folk rock sound and passionate, often depressing material, but Stewart now admits that many of the songs he wrote during the years when he and Emilia were playing together, before their album, were about her.
“Over time, we finally clicked mutually, and we’ve evolved so much since then, as we’ve cemented our partnership both personally and professionally,” Stewart said. “But for years before that, it was ‘First the Winter,’ with nights spent sobbing into glasses of wine, before we could get to the fairy tale of the joyful reunion, and the flow and glow of spring.”
Stewart and Emilia’s love affair even had a movie-worthy moment, when he proposed to her during their sold-out show at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater in Minneapolis, in September of last year.
Although the couple has made their home in a cozy cabin in the Chimacum woods, and have taken part in events such as the Port Townsend Soundcheck, that preceded THING in August of last year, Stewart expects they’ll return to Minneapolis by the end of this year, to record their second album.
In the meantime, you can catch First the Winter at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18, at Discovery Bay Brewing, as well as at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15, at Manresa Castle, with a return appearance on KPTZ’s “Tossed Salad” at 1 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 28, after they’d previously sat in as Stewart and Emilia.
“We’re looking to re-release ‘Experimental Mice’ under the band name First the Winter in March as well,” Stewart said.