Emily Lind is the future queen of the Upper East Siders, a budding indie-rock artist — and, no surprise, the coolest girl in the room

cahlgrim@businessinsider.com (Callie Ahlgrim)
·9 min read
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Emily Lind is an 18-year-old actress and singer-songwriter.

Emily Lind for Insider

  • We launched the Stay Insider Sessions to connect with artists while the world practices social distancing.

  • Next up, Emily Lind opened up about the real-life inspirations behind her new single, "Spotless Mind," and why it's the right time to release her debut EP — which she describes as "sad-boy music for the soul."

  • "I mostly threw out the idea of ever wanting to become successful as a musician," she said. "I was like, 'write what feels natural and write what feels good, and just f--- everything else.'"

  • Lind, who's been cast as a lead in the upcoming "Gossip Girl" reboot, also teased HBO Max's modern spin on the Upper East Side mythology.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Insider launched the Stay Insider Sessions to connect with musicians while they, like many of us, are grappling with isolation and unprecedented downtime. Next up: Emily Lind.

When I ask Emily Lind who she grew up admiring, I half-expect her to say Jenny Humphrey.

The blonde "Gossip Girl" rebel, played by real-life rocker Taylor Momsen, seems like a natural comparison for Lind. After all, the drowsy-eyed 18-year-old actress has been cast as a lead in the show's upcoming reboot on HBO Max, but moonlights as a musician in real life.

Instead, Lind says without hesitation: "I really wanted to be Bob Dylan."

"I started writing music when I was about 10, little folk tunes," she tells me during a recent Zoom call. "I taught myself guitar, I learned a C and a G chord and I thought I was the s---. But I never shared it with anyone, because it was very personal to me and it was more of an outlet for a very long time."

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Emily Lind during a recent Zoom call with Insider.

Callie Ahlgrim/Insider

"Just recently," she continues, "I decided that I think I have something I could share with the world that could maybe make people feel less alone. That's my main thing. I have all this stuff inside of me, all these lessons I've learned and that's what musicians in the past, my favorite musicians have done for me."

Lind is gearing up to release her debut EP, "Here and Elsewhere," during the last week of May — a potentially bold choice for a largely unknown, unsigned artist to compete for attention during the coronavirus news cycle. 

But Lind, unruffled as ever, says she doesn't pay much attention to those sorts of industry-minded calculations.

"I've never really had expectations with my music and I choose to keep it that way," she shrugs. "I want to keep it as a passion of mine and not something I have to do, or something I'm ever forced to do."

"Honestly, right now, music is what we need," she continues. "Art really connects all of us. I just think that it feels like a great time for me, to be creative and make people feel better."

Lind is an independent artist in the truest sense

At just 18 years old, Lind already has quite a resume. She made her film debut in 2008's "The Secret Life of Bees," had a recurring role in ABC's "Revenge," and starred in the 2019 Stephen King adaptation "Doctor Sleep."

Two years ago, the teenager met two well-established producers through mutual friends: Kool Kojak and tizhimself, the same duo behind Doja Cat's "Cyber Sex." During her very first visit to their homemade studio, she was hooked.

"It was just such a vibe," she tells me. "I went there and I was like, 'I just really want to hang out with these dudes. I want to spend hours here and create things and I want to do this.' So we did and we never stopped."

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Lind took a series of self-portraits for Insider while at home during quarantine.

Emily Lind for Insider

The duo produced Lind's debut single, "Castles," which she released independently in November.

The glittering, indie-pop record recalls Billie Eilish's knack for addictive, unconventional song structures. "Castles" starts with a pre-chorus, a hook, then another pre-chorus before gliding into the first verse — which quickly melts into a second verse with an entirely different rhythm.

Lind's voice skates and pirouettes over a polished, trap-inspired beat, buoyed by the acoustic guitar that swirls underneath. She neither sings nor raps, but gives you just enough to keep you curious before heading back into the pre-chorus.

After another hook, the song ends with what sounds like a bridge. It's not the pop formula you're used to, but bears the same elusive, unbothered energy that Eilish has weaponized so effectively.

Lind, the daughter of "One Tree Hill" actress Barbara Alyn Woods and director John Lind, has had Hollywood connections since birth. But she's balked at the chance to sign with a label, preferring to have ownership over the songs she mostly writes in her bedroom.

"We have full control over it and we don't have deadlines," Lind says, referring to herself and her two producers. "It's the whole idea of art not being forced out of someone. If I wasn't feeling inspired right now, I wouldn't have to be doing what I'm doing."

"There's just so much artistic freedom there, and I wouldn't have it any other way."

Lind's new single, 'Spotless Mind,' is a whimsical folk song that's rooted in reality

Listening to Lind's new single, her idolization of lyricists like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen becomes clear.

"Spotless Mind" is just Lind's feathery voice paired with a shimmery acoustic guitar — a timeless formula, but one made even more powerful with her thoughtful, specific songwriting.

She sings about little moments that trigger nostalgia and regret, like finding an ex-lover's toothbrush and thinking about "all the graveyards we used to kiss in." She says both examples were inspired by real-life memories.

"I think that's something a lot of people can relate to," she explains, "when you're in a relationship and then you're out of it, and all of a sudden you find something — there's a jacket that they left and you smell it and it's like, 'Oh my god, it still smells like this person. I want to burn this, but at the same time I really want to sleep in this tonight.'"

The song is a taste of Lind's forthcoming seven-song EP, which she describes as "sad-boy music for the soul."

"Whenever I imagine people listening to the songs, I imagine them listening to them on their computer, sitting next to their bed, looking up at their ceiling," she says, letting out a self-aware chuckle. "Honestly, it's pretty specific, but those are the songs that I'm really into. Like, you know, 'You can sit down and really dwell in your sadness with me.'"

Many of her songs were originally written as poems "in my room around 3 am," when Lind feels "the moodiest." Others began as "super s---ty voice memos of me saying something weird," or were directly inspired by real-life conversations.

"If someone says something that is interesting to me, I'll write it down. I'm constantly quoting people," she explains, pausing for a moment and smiling, "which is probably terrifying for people when they hear the songs."

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"Write what feels natural and write what feels good, and just f--- everything else."

Emily Lind for Insider

"I mostly threw out the idea of ever wanting to become successful as a musician," she continues, explaining her lyrical process. "I was like, 'Write what feels natural and write what feels good, and just f--- everything else.'"

"I was getting so down to the formulas, so down to what I thought everyone else was going to want to listen to, that I just ended up feeling like I'm not making music I like anymore, and I'm done with that. If you don't like it, you don't like it."

Lind says she finds it 'pretty simple' to let her two passions coexist

When I ask Lind how she intends to juggle her music with her acting career, she nods solemnly, as if she's been expecting this question all along.

"I find it pretty simple, actually," she replies.

"Music is not work for me. It's something that I do because I love it, and it's something that I do as a coping mechanism. I find a lot of therapy in it. It doesn't feel like a job," she elaborates. "I don't ever want it to feel like a job."

"Acting is my job," she continues, "but I'm very lucky that my job is something that I am also very passionate about and haven't lost the fire for. I've just been very lucky. I can do both, and I hope that it stays like that for a long time."

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"Music is not work for me. It's something that I do because I love it."

Emily Lind for Insider

When pressed for details about the "Gossip Girl" reboot, Lind remains loyally tight-lipped about the new story of the Upper East Side, which will take place eight years after the original's finale.

Lind will play a new member of Manhattan's young elite named Audrey, "who has been in a long term relationship and is beginning to wonder what more could be out there," according to Variety.

When she met for the role, Lind says, the creators "told me a bit about Audrey and her values and whatnot, but she is very under wraps right now."

"I think I can say," she allows, "that these characters are going to be different from the original, in the sense that they're going to be talking about a lot of subjects that are relevant to today's society — today's Instagram generation, social media generation. It's not going to be very fluffy at all."

"I think the creators are very interested — and I think they've said this — on creating content that really resonates with today's younger people, that is as real as possible and has consequences."

As for Lind's favorite character in the original series? It's not Little J, but rather Blair Waldorf who takes the crown.

"She is just who she is," Lind says. "She is just there, just honest: 'This is who I am, I'm not hiding it to anyone.'"

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