Musician Emily V Flips the Script on Violin Mastery

Strings attached.

  • Category
    People
  • Written & photographed by
    Kat Monk

For Emily Kilimnik, also known as Emily V, it was love at first sight. At just 5 years old, she had an instant affinity for the violin. The only daughter of a family with six kids, she learned that hard work and practice get you noticed. Her passion to follow her own path paid off with a signature style that has been likened to a female version of Jimi Hendrix—with a violin rather than a guitar.  

Atascadero, midway between San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles, was home to young Emily. Unlike the South Bay, strings were not an option in the elementary schools there. Her love for classic rock began at home while the family did the household chores or cooked with The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Beatles and especially Pink Floyd filling the walls.

“I remember my dad would come home from work at night, and he would go into the office after dinner. He would lay on the ground and listen to music,” Emily says.

She would listen to her father tell stories about what the music was about and the meanings behind the songs. Emily specifically remembers him talking about the Animals album by Pink Floyd, released in 1977. She also credits her parents for introducing her to It’s a Beautiful Day, a psychedelic rock band from the late 1960s that featured an alternative violinist. 

At 16, Emily paid a neighbor $50 for a violin—a bargain compared to the ones many of her friends owned. With her violin in tow, she would sneak into the practice rooms at Cuesta College to play before she headed to work. One Friday afternoon, she was confronted by a professor demanding to know what she was doing there. He asked her to play a song, and she nervously complied. Expecting to be reprimanded, she was told that she was now a music major.

“Her tone and performance are enchanting, sexual, sensitive and flat-out rock ‘n’ roll all at once.”

But it was not until she received a partial scholarship to California State University, Long Beach that she really started to branch out and “figured out her rig.” Although she majored in violin performance, she also studied theory and composition as well as Brazilian and West African percussion. Soon she became one of the main West African dancers for that class.

While in college, Emily worked as a waitress and taught violin lessons to help cover the costs of her education. Still in her uniform, she would go to the Irish pub next door because they had bands playing five or six nights a week. She got to know each of the bands, and eventually they invited her up to play with them. 

Classical is not Emily’s genre, and she says there are purists who believe she sold her soul. While classically trained, she figured out a rock style for herself, flipping her violin upside down to create her sound. “I’d never seen the violin played that way before. It was like Hendrix had birthed a child with Janis Joplin and Stradivarius,” says musician and friend Kevin Sousa.

Her passion, energy and talent are unmistakable as she jams on stage. Locally she is known for playing alongside Kevin or as part of the band Monkey Finger Duo. Emily has toured with iconic punk band The Adicts and has performed with Gov’t Mule’s Jorgen Carlsson, Lukas Nelson, Blind Melon’s Travis Warren and Jimmy Paxson, drummer for Stevie Nicks.

Emily has her sights set on a solo career too. She is working on an album with producer Johnny Avila, formerly of Oingo Boingo. “Emily V plays her own unique style of rock and alternative violin that will satisfy your soul,” shares Johnny. “Emily V rocks hard!”

“Her tone and performance are enchanting, sexual, sensitive and flat-out rock ‘n’ roll all at once,” adds Kevin. “Emily provides an edge to our music that drives the band and lifts us up at every live show. In a word, she is stunning—sonically, physically and charismatically.”

After watching her perform, it’s apparent that everyone is left with the feeling that they were lucky enough to have just witnessed a true rock star.

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