First the Winter is an acoustic folk rock duo hailing from the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. Heavily influenced by singer-songwriters like Damien Rice and Glen Hansard, much of their music presents a raw, somewhat dark view of love and relationships.
The duo is comprised of Jimmy Stewart and Aili Emilia, who began writing and playing together in Minneapolis in the summer of 2015. Their music is laden with stark contrasts: delicate fingerpicking and sweeping cello gives way to pounding drums and haunting vocalizations. Although they record with the help of professional backing musicians, First the Winter typically appears live as a duo with a dynamic mix of guitar, keyboard, violin, and dual vocalists, often employing live looping between different instruments to create sweeping, orchestral sounds with a massive sonic range.
Their debut album Experimental Mice was distilled from over sixty songs that Stewart wrote during the first four years of their musical partnership. Unrequited love and longing provided the inspiration for songs such as “Don’t Look Now” and “Same Old Story,” as the stars had not yet aligned for a romantic relationship between the two. However, things finally clicked when the duo were reunited at F5 Soundhouse in April, 2019 to record Experimental Mice, and their partnership became both personal and permanent. After five months together as a couple, Stewart proposed during a sold-out performance at Bryant Lake Bowl Theater in Uptown Minneapolis, and Emilia said “yes!”
The couple now lives and creates in their small cottage nestled between the Olympic Mountains and the Puget Sound in the sleepy little town of Chimacum.
“Subtle and supple vocal blends, gorgeous intertwined boy/girl harmonies of the sort that would have Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan looking over their shoulder, set the scene before the song [“Same Old Story”] rips open into anthemic acoustica underpinned by chiming piano and sweeping strings. It is a masterclass in keeping something back, of building dynamic, of the power of the vocal understatement before shifting into a higher gear and resolving and releasing all that beautifully pent up energy.”
– Dave Franklin, Dancing About Architecture (click here for the full review)
“First The Winter has perfectly captured beautiful harmonies and has supported them effectively with calming cello. The duo also creates phenomenal imagery with lyrics […] First the Winter creates exceptional acoustic music and is definitely worth the listen.”
– BuzzMusic (click here for the full review and interview)
“I discovered this local duo over the summer, and their music has greatly resonated with me. Imagine Damien Rice, Joshua Radin, Howie Day, and Swell Season all thrown into a blender together. It blows my mind that they’re here, in this tiny little town, with talent this undeniable […] Their debut album Experimental Mice is a well-crafted tour de force, and I strongly encourage you to check it out and share it with your friends. Do it not just because these are good people with an incredible story, but because their music truly deserves to be heard.”
– David Hulegaard, Dir. of Publicity/Digital Marketing for Hammock Music