Kempner Blurs Line Between Folk and Rock


Childhood Dream: Kempner opening for Tally Hall and Jukebox the Ghost during her most recent show at Toquet Hall on March 6. | Photo By Victor Hollenberg '10

Ellen Kempner picked up her first toy guitar at the age of six. Since then, she has developed a love for the instrument, making it a priority for her future.

Kempner often performs in shows at multiple venues, most recently at Toquet Hall in downtown Westport on March 6 playing alongside bands like Jukebox the Ghost and Tally Hall.

She also records and produces her own albums.

“My dad plays guitar and writes songs, so when I was six I was like, ‘Hey, I want to play guitar too!’ So my dad thought he’d give me one lesson and I’d give up like I do with most things, but I kept on playing the guitar,” Kempner said.

“My mom went to a garage sale and she found a little kids’ toy guitar. It was basically a big ukulele, and it became my life.”

She started writing music at ten.

“My first song was a total rip–off of some song I heard on the radio,” Kempner said. “I had the same melody and chord progression but different lyrics. They were about how angsty I was at the age of nine, but once I turned 12 I started taking [music] really seriously.”

Over time, Kempner’s music has become more and more sophisticated, resulting in a growth in popularity around Staples, Westport, and the music industry.

Kempner plans to pursue music through college and for the rest of her life.

“After I wrote my first song,that’s when I realized that that’s really just what I wanted to do forever. First, just because it got me a lot of attention, my sister and I had a battle for attention and when I played my song at Christmas she was like ‘Ah, Curses!’” Kempner said. “But now she plays the cello and steals my thunder.”

However, the elder Kempner is in position to have the last laugh.

Kempner says she writes all of her music about every day life, sometimes assuming things from mere appearances.

Her song ‘1940s Gangster’ was inspired by “one guy on the train with his kids. He looked absolutely miserable, and I thought to myself: ‘What if he’s a gangster and leads this secret double-life?’,” she said.

Kempner puts forth effort every day to get better at guitar.

“You never stop learning the guitar,” she said.

She notes her musical influences as Joni Mitchell, Regina Spektor and Pete Townshend, who each play a part in forming the kind of music she likes to play and write.

She made an attempt at a second instrument in sixth grade with the clarinet.

“I was f—ing bad,” Kempner said. “I remember one time in a performance there was this epic last note and I squeaked the whole thing. So I decided to stick to the guitar.”

Kempner also has a love for the ukulele, and one of the songs on her upcoming album is written for that instrument.

“I quote Kanye West ripping on Taylor Swift in my song for the uke; it’s pretty great,” Kempner said, referencing the pop-culture moment at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.

Kempner’s popularity in her music is a testament to her dedication and her skill as well.

She is in the process of finishing her next album, which is planned to arrive in April, and plans to continue playing shows around Connecticut, as well as in New York City and Boston.

“I just have to make sure I have a ride so I don’t have to hitchhike to Boston,” Kempner said.

Childhood Dream: Kempner opening for Tally Hall and Jukebox the Ghost during her most recent show at Toquet Hall on March 6. | Photo By Victor Hollenberg '10