Video Premiere: How a Song Helps Em Rossi Fill an 'Empty Space' in Her Heart

02/07/2017 11:59 am ET Updated Feb 07, 2018

People take many life-altering courses of action to deal with loss. But when
Em Rossi was a 15-year-old aspiring singer in 2014, she found a way to handle grief naturally, solemnly and maturely, in a manner that belied her age.

In April 2014, "the most universal person" Rossi had ever known, the man with whom she shared her most personal thoughts and fears in life while growing up in Petaluma, Calif., died. Her father Robert Brockman, a landscape architect, artist and amateur musician, was 50 years old.

The day after his death, Rossi went to her room and began composing her thoughts. Those thoughts turned into words for "Empty Space," which turned into a beautifully made music video that the wise-beyond-her-years artist premieres exclusively today (Feb. 7) at The Huffington Post.

"Heartbreak changes people," Rossi, now 18, wrote last week as part of an email Q&A for the article accompanying the video premiere starring one of the most promising young American singer-songwriters I've heard in a while.

"I remember the image vividly of waking up the day after my dad passed away," she continued, "feeling the heartbreak continuing to make its waves of realization throughout. I escaped to my room and wrote down everything, and I mean everything: my sadness, thoughts, fears, questions, anger and loneliness. This song grew out of those thoughts. The heartbreak pushed me to continue with my music creating a personal drive stronger than it had ever been before. It's coming up on three years since his passing and the world is a drastically different sight to my eyes, but the anchor of who I am that will never alter.

"Time moves on and we shouldn't allow our past to keep us from transitioning forward, but rather to let it be the grounding force we all need in our lives. Heartbreak is heartbreak, loss is loss, time is time, and loneliness is a surprisingly simplistic emotion in a physical realm. Reality is what will always be and I hope that from feeling and reflecting on our own empty space, we will continue to be endlessly grateful for true love and take our own growth from heartbreak to new levels."

Such penetrating introspection shouldn't stun anyone who already knows Rossi, her music and her respect for Grammy-winning Adele or Grammy- and Tony Award-nominated Sara Bareilles.

Rossi, who moved to Los Angeles in December with her mother Karen, is slowly rolling out her songs as a series of singles, meticulously preparing herself for an eventual debut album. She makes her L.A. performance debut Wednesday (Feb. 8) at the Study Hollywood.

Having worked with producer-musician-songwriter Jim McGorman (Avril Lavigne, Michelle Branch, Paul Stanley), she has a powerful delivery and cool, contemplative grasp of songs ranging from pop rock ("Animal" is simply sublime) and brassy jazz ("Madness") to blues and retro soul.

Rossi, who plays the piano, didn't utilize the instrument in the studio, relying on artists such as McGorman, Stephen Bradley and Gabrial McNair (both supplying horns and more for No Doubt) and Saga Strings' Rachel Grace (violin) and Irina Chirkova (cello).

Singing at the age of 8 and recording professionally by the time she was 14, Rossi already has achieved success through previous videos that are approaching 5 million views on her YouTube channel. "Empty Space" is another stunning addition, and the cover artwork for the song, from one of her original paintings, shows where her heart lies.

Em Rossi is the lone subject in her music video for "Empty Space."

The video, shot at Point Dume and Malibu Creek State Park in November by FuseHouse Media, was directed by Aiden Magarian and produced by Ben Olivas and Conner Bell.

"Emptiness and loneliness are simple concepts when based in physical reality," said Rossi, the video's lone subject whose feelings are thoughtfully conveyed in slow-motion scenes and close-up shots. "I wanted the simplicity of the video to reflect the story told through the lyrics of the song."

Your words I wanted more / This life is much too short
No end in this cold war / Senseless battle

With such intimate revelations signaling the arrival of an emerging presence, Rossi enhances those emotions in the music video. Check out "Empty Space" here, then follow the rest of her story afterward.

Emily Cecilia Rossi was born in Petaluma, north of San Francisco, on June 26, 1998, her middle name the same as her great grandmother (on her mother's side) who lived to be 103 years old.

"From what I have been told, she was a very strong, independent mind of her own kind of women. She would just say it like it was," Rossi said.

Em, who obviously inherited some of her grandma's strength along with the middle name, might appear to be a full-fledged grownup, but keep in mind that she just graduated from Petaluma High School in 2016.

Her first two years there were fun, a "classic high school experience" that changed suddenly with the death of her father.

She spent her junior and senior years driving the I-5 with her mother down to L.A. after school almost every month while developing a career.

"School at that point consisted of a lot of independent study and late nights after studio sessions to get my homework done," Rossi said. "I think I mastered car sickness from writing essays and doing chemistry in the car for hours. I was the only student in my grade pursuing music professionally, which made it hard to find connections with my classmates as well as the support of my teachers. My group stayed small and I'm grateful that I had those who truly cared when I got overwhelmed."

Rossi, who enjoys the companionship of her "two adorable dogs, Cali and Ruckus," even passed up the prom because her older brother Daniel was graduating that day from Chico State University. She wrote: "I WAS NOT going to miss seeing him get his diploma :)"

In about another 16 months, Rossi will be saying goodbye to her teen years, and admits there will be aspects of that part of her life that will be difficult to let go.

"I will miss the simplicity of being a 'normal' kid going to school, playing sports, and coming home to sing in my dad's office," said Rossi, who has been busy this week with rehearsals and writing sessions. "I will miss going out to dinner with my whole family on Friday nights. Also, I will miss having the traditional college experience. I was accepted to the Berklee School of Music in Boston, but they are allowing me to defer for now so I can truly pursue my singing career."

The normal kid in Em eventually comes out, though, in an emphatic reply to what she will miss the least:

"HOMEWORK!"

ON A NEED-TO-KNOW BASIS: HERE'S 5 MORE FOR EM ROSSI:

1. You seem to have an incredible amount of composure and maturity for an 18-year-old. You mentioned in your bio finding confidence in Adele songs. What effect did they have on your desire and ability to write songs? What particular songs wanted to make you become a songwriter (and why)? 

Em Rossi: "Adele is one of my biggest inspirations because her music helped me find confidence in my voice. That confidence is what made me believe I could perform and write my own songs. Being mentally strong about my passions allowed me to be OK with making mistakes and taking the time to figure what it was that I truly wanted to convey. At a young age, you look up to an artist hoping to stand where they stand. I watched Adele cry on stage from the cheers of the crowd after performing 'Someone Like You' and it made me start to dream of having a moment like that with one of my own songs someday. Knowing a song that originally started as a personal story for yourself could find a connection with millions of other people around the world is something magical to me. In that moment you know you're not alone. Sara Bareilles is also a major influence of mine. I found a good balance between the strength of Adele and the vulnerability of Sara's raw truth. Growing up and singing songs such as 'Once Upon Another Time' or 'Turning Tables' from the two of them felt cathartic, and inspired me want to write songs that lyrically could have that same effect on people listening to my music."

2. Besides becoming a singer-songwriter, what other professional aspirations did you have growing up? 

Em Rossi: "Aside from music, I have always had a love for art. My dad was a landscape architect and during our family vacations growing up he would sit back and draw the view in his journal of whatever was in front of him. From being around that I became obsessed with sketching. As a kid, I also dreamed of working at Pixar. I've seen images of their workspace and it looks like a world of imagination and endless creation, which would be my ideal version of a place to work."

3. As a songwriter, do you prefer to work alone or with someone else? Who's on your wish list of collaborators, either as a songwriter or performer? 

Em Rossi: "I've always enjoyed having another mind to bounce ideas off of. Collaborations can make the final product much more dynamic. The studio itself is an escape into one massive thought bubble and it's comforting and exciting to know that someone else is interested in the creation of your music. I have a pretty extensive collab list. My top artist collaborations would be Adele, Troye Sivan, Sam Smith, Lukas Graham and Tom Odell. Some of the songwriters and producers would be Rick Rubin, Sara Bareilles, Alex Hope, Ryan Tedder and Jack Antonoff."

4.  Since it's Grammy week (Rossi is walking the red carpet Thursday at the Whole Planet Foundation pre-Grammy party at OHM Nightclub on Hollywood Boulevard), who would you like to meet (and why?) and what would you say to them? 

Em Rossi: "I would love to meet as many people in the business as I can! I'm excited for the future ahead and hope to meet great people along the journey who are also immensely passionate about their craft. I can say that if I met Adele I would be at a loss for words. ... I'd probably just shake uncontrollably."

5. To whom do you reveal your deepest, darkest secrets?      

Em Rossi: "No one! Ha ha. I actually don't really have any crazy, deep, or dark secrets. My family and I have always been unbelievable communicators, so I'm always an open book with them. Before my dad passed away, he was probably the main person I used to go to about my thoughts and fears in life. He was the most universal person I have ever known. My mom is my best friend. She will forever have my back and I'm grateful to have her by my side."

Publicity photos courtesy of the artist.