Sherri Dupree BemisSinger/Songwriter

Sherri Dupree Bemis

Singer/Songwriter  •  Tyler, TX, USA

  • Interviewed by Emma Koi
  • Edited by Alissa Zimmerman-Exley

Sherri Dupree Bemis is a singer/songwriter best known as the lead singer of the band Eisley. She lives in Tyler, Texas with her husband Max Bemis (of the band Say Anything), and their daughters Lucy (four) and Coraline (two). My love for the band goes back to 2005, when my husband and I had just started dating. He made me a mixtape (well, CD) that included a few Eisley songs, and I totally fell for the Dupree sisters’ vocals and their fairy tale lyrics. Eisley is a family band that started out by opening for local bands at the church coffee shop, run by the Dupree parents, and has since put out six albums with Sherri on lead vocals. Sherri has been really open on social media throughout her career, sharing every up and down of her life, all the way through the births of her daughters. I’ve always been drawn to her ability to share her life without making any apologies, embracing parenting wholeheartedly and fearlessly. If you’re not following her on Instagram yet, I hope you will! Her posts are guaranteed to bring you joy—I mean, she has a playground swing hung in her kitchen! I was totally starstruck doing this interview, and I’m so grateful to Sherri for taking the time to share her story. Thanks for reading. Love, Emma.

Take us back a bit to your childhood in Tyler, TX. How was music a part of your life growing up? My parents were always involved in music. My dad played the drums in high school, and my mom sings really well. We sang in church growing up and music was always there—always a big part of everything. My parents were never pushy about doing music at all. I never felt pressure from them. They were really supportive because they were musical, and they understood it and loved it.

Photo: Bliss Katherine

As kids we were always singing together. From as young as I can remember—literally like three years old—I remember singing with my family on walks. My parents would teach us how to harmonize; they played a big part in why I fell in love with music. Music was in me, but they helped cultivate and support it. I started learning to play guitar around the age of 12 or 13. My dad taught us a couple of chords and taught me that it actually was pretty easy to play guitar. The way he presented it was that it was not hard or intimidating, but fun. We just kind of took it and ran with it, and started writing songs.

I remember having my first realization of writing music, thinking “Oh wow, I can write my own song? What? This is so fun!” And I never got tired of it. It was a family thing. Now that we are all older with kids, doing our own things, it’s just the lyrics that change. Music has always been there, part of my life. I feel lucky that I had parents who encouraged me to take it and run with it, and to do it because I loved it.

“Music has always been there, just part of my life. I feel lucky that I had parents who encouraged me to take it and run with it, and to just do it because I loved it.”

How did your band, Eisley, form? My younger sister Stacy was eight years old, and my older sister Chauntelle and I were always writing songs. Stacy was always banging on our door begging us to let her play and sing with us. And we’d tell her no, because she was too little. Then one day she wrote a song, and it was really good, and we thought, “Oh, this little kid knows a thing or two about music!” So, my sisters and I started sitting down together, just for fun, figuring out songs and writing lyrics.

I was always reading as a kid, so I loved the fact that I could write lyrics and put them to music. My brother started playing drums on our dad’s drum kit and we started playing together, and we became a band. At the time, we all helped run this coffee house venue out of our church, booking bands. I would email bands that I liked or that I knew, and they would come and play, so we started opening for them. It was a very natural progression. We played locally, and then started booking shows in Dallas, and eventually got a label interested and involved.

Sherri with her sister Stacy King, Sherri's daughter Lucy, and Stacy's daughters, Solenne and Scarlett.

Did any of you take official lessons in music, or were you self taught? No. Sadly you’d be able to tell if you ever actually listened closely!

“Whatever you love is sitting there if you can get to it.”

I come from the world of classical music, where everybody goes to school for years and years, but I really admire it when musicians just follow the music that’s in them, rather than getting caught up on something that’s on a page. I can understand and appreciate that a lot. It’s true. We have a lot of friends who were classically trained, and they’re amazing, and they’re scary and intimidating. But in my family, we were all homeschooled, and there were six of us. My dad is a graphic designer, and it was a one-income family of eight people. We didn’t always have the money for lessons or anything like that.

I’m sure regular lessons would have been awesome. But I think if it is in you, it’s accessible if you just tap into it. Whatever you love is sitting there if you can get to it. Early on, we had a few vocal lessons that I really do think changed my life as a singer. I learned about breathing technique, and how to avoid straining my throat, which is really important—especially when you’re going off on these tours that are six weeks long and you’re playing every night.

So we didn’t have any official lessons on our instruments, but we had a lot of family around that knew how to play. My uncle is this killer guitar player, and can play any song. We had people around like that who were able to help and be there, and to teach us if we got stuck or needed help.

Sherri with her daughters, Lucy and Coraline.

Did you plan to have a family when you did? For sure. I had a list of three things that I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a mom, a singer and I wanted to work in an ice cream place. Obviously because I was like four when I wrote that, and I just wanted ice cream. But I always knew I wanted to be a mom. Some people don’t want to be a mom, some people don’t know if they want to be a mom. I always wanted to be a mom, and so I just decided early on that if I could, I wanted to have both—music and kids. Thankfully, I have been able to do that so far. And every day I wake up wondering how this is even happening—that I am able to be a singer, travel, and have my family there, while I do what I love. I’m overwhelmingly grateful for it every day.

“Every day I wake up wondering how this is even happening—that I am able to be a singer, travel, and have my family there, while I do what I love. I’m overwhelmingly grateful for it every day.”

It’s hard, traveling in a bandwagon, in this little area with the kids. Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing. I’m crazy! But at the end of the day, it’s so worth it. Because whenever we’re home, it’s so beautiful, and I love being home with my family. And thankfully I’ve found a guy was also in a band, and wanted to have a family. It really helps that we’re both in bands, honestly, because we both totally understand the love of playing music, the need to play music, as creative people. Traveling is hard, but since we both know how to do it so well at this point, it makes it really easy on us as a family. We just do it together. We go on each other’s tours, and bring the kids.

Photo: Cydnee Burden

How long are you gone at a time? It depends on the tour, but six weeks is pretty standard. Then you have periods when you’re off, and you get to be home together. Max and I have the same booking people, and they are really helpful and sympathetic, and they love the family. They try to book us so that we’re not touring at the same time. Max will have a tour and we all go on his tour, and he comes on my tours. It’s all a juggle, but it works for us.

How do the girls do on tour? They do better than me! Both of them went on their first tour when they were four months old. We took Lucy in a van, which was hard, but she’s always been really chill. It’s just part of life for them. They enjoy it. We find science centers and parks, and when the closest thing is a Starbucks, we just make a big deal about getting cake pops. We have a lot of fun and I’m so grateful for their attitudes. They are troopers.

Sherri with her daughters, Lucy and Coraline.

It seems like it’d be a super fun childhood, and they’re going to remember it forever. I hope so. Hopefully they won’t grow up and resent me for it, wishing we had let them stay home and have “normal” childhoods. We stay present with them, making sure that they don’t ever feel like touring is all about us or what we are doing. I think they sense that, and they appreciate it. Kids are so smart. I know that I’m talking about a two year old and a four year old, but they get it.

When you were pregnant with Lucy, what were your expectations about motherhood as a touring musician, and how did that match reality? When I was pregnant, I wondered if I was still going to be able to maintain a sense of self, or if it was going to all fly out the window. I was pleasantly surprised.

I’ve given everything to just being a mom and being present, and being there for my daughters, but I don’t think you can really do it properly unless you also maintain a sense of yourself and what gives you joy. You live your whole life being yourself and finding out what makes you tick, and what you love. But if you have kids and you throw all of that out the window, you’re going to get depressed. You’re going to be resentful and angry and bitter. At least I knew that I would, because I just love what I do so much. I love singing; it’s my favorite thing. I just knew that I needed to keep that part of me there.

“I’ve given everything to just being a mom and being present, and being there for my daughters, but I don’t think you can really do it properly unless you also maintain a sense of yourself and what gives you joy.”

Every day is a learning curve when you have kids, but finding the balance wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be, because my kids just roll with it. They just want to be with me. If I’m happy, dancing and singing and playing music, they’re happy to experience it with me.

Sherri with her husband, Max Bemis, and their daughters Lucy and Coraline. Photo: Alex Modisette

Were you able to set aside time to adjust to motherhood? It was hard at first. There was a period of time when they were newborns, where I had to be nursing every few minutes, but after they reached a few months old, I adjusted. Thankfully I have a husband and family who sympathize with being a creative type. So they all really recognize the need to just tap into that as self therapy.

And I’ve definitely learned that if I’m not doing something creative on a regular basis, like work on music or draw, I start feeling a little bit crazy, and I get grumpy and irritable. I know then that I just have to create something.

I have this awesome family who I can reach out to for help. That’s how I wrote a lot of our last record. I had family—and my husband obviously—who would take the kids for a couple hours. It is something you have make an effort to do, but the payoff is so big that it’s worth it. You’re happier, your baby’s happier, your family’s happier.

Did you notice a shift in the things you wanted to write about when you became a mom? For sure, lyrically. The second I became a mom, my take on reality shifted, and I realized that all the stuff that I thought was such a big deal was just nothing. My focus shifted. I started writing more songs about my girls and my family. Not that my records as a teen were “whiney” but there is that element of, for example, complaining about a breakup. It’s important to write about those things in the moment, because it’s all therapeutic, but I definitely felt a shift to a less selfish take with my lyrics. When you’re a songwriter, you instantly have writing material as soon as you have kids.

Eisley's latest record, I'm only Dreaming, available on Equal Vision Records.

Tell us about a song you have written specifically for your girls. The first song I ever wrote specifically for both of the girls is called “When You Fall,” and is on our latest record. This was the first record that I had two kids, and the lyrics are very specific, about their births, and their personalities. When I sing it, I always get a little emotional!

Let’s talk about social media. So much of your daily life is up for your fans to see on Instagram. I loved that video you posted the other day, dunking Coraline under the water. She was so mad! I got a little bit of crap for that from people, saying things like, “Way to like give her trust issues.” But Coraline doesn’t even care. She’s so unaffected, and she does her own thing.

I would imagine you get a lot of that, with all the people that follow you. And then being a mom on top of that. But I think what’s so impressive about you is that you seem to be the kind of person who makes no apologies about how you live your life. What you see is pretty much what you get. I try not to make apologies, because I stand behind my mothering, and my parenting. It’s because my parents were—and still are—so great. It’s not that I can’t admit when I’ve done something wrong, but I try not to be apologetic about things. I am so much like my mom, and moms know. We know what’s best for our kids. And I can dunk my kid under the water and I know she’s not going to hate me or be scarred by it. I know her personality.

Sherri with her daughters Lucy and Coraline.

And who’s to say what’s right or wrong for your child? Exactly. But people are pretty cool, honestly. For as many followers as I have, I don’t get that much weirdness, and I really feel lucky honestly. Maybe every two or three photos, I’ll get some people saying crazy negative things, or trying to attack us. But most of the time it feels like such a community, and I find that people are really supportive. It’s really why I love Instagram.

One more question about your family. You and your sisters all had your first children within the same year. Was that planned? No. In my family, because we’re all so close, pregnancy is contagious. Seriously, one sister got pregnant, and we literally had kids all within the same year. And then the second round, my sister-in-law Jessica and I both had kids within the same two months. It’s been fun.

Do you have any advice for other Mother Makers? Just follow your instincts, and do whatever is in your heart. That sounds so simple and cliche, but it’s really true. For example, my sisters and I all became moms at the same time. While we tried to keep touring, some of them decided their priorities had changed after kids. They loved touring, but with kids, it got to be too much. They’d rather be snuggling up with their kids at home instead of traveling. But I knew that it was worth it for me because I wanted to do it, and where there’s a will there’s a way. If you really truly love something to the point that if you don’t do it, it will affect your life in a negative way, then I think you just find a way to do it.

“Nothing can stand in the way if you really love something and you want to do it. That’s just the truth.”

And ask for help. Always ask for help. There are people who want to help you. There are people who want to watch your kids, or travel with you. That’s a big thing I’ve learned. I’ve gotten help from family, or others who have nannied while I play a show. If I didn’t have helpers, I wouldn’t have made so many great friendships and I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. You can find a way, absolutely. Nothing can stand in the way if you really love something and you want to do it. That’s just the truth.

Photo: Natalie Baeza