Article By Joe Viglione / Arts correspondent GateHouse News Service Emmy Cerra's Tinderbox CD is a beautifully packaged, eco-friendly collection of 11 songs from the Malden artist's Tapcut label. The Malden Observer caught up with Cerra earlier this week to chat about her past, and latest, musical endeavors: Malden Observer: Who came up with the Jimi Hendrix-styled cover of "a guitar on fire"? Emmy Cerra: I love the symbolism of fire and other raw elements. I try to work it into most of the art that relates to my music. When me and my friend Merlyn sat down to begin the CD design I brought him photos that I really love. Turns out that the image was available so we purchased the image to use as the cover. It was such a happy surprise. MO: When did you start writing songs? EC: My Mother wrote poetry for as long as I can remember. Also since I was a child, my grandmother used to pull out the Casio keyboard and sing for us, and I remember how happy she was as she did this. I combined the idea and began writing lyrics and simple songs when I was a kid. My family has always been open to self-expression so it is nice to merge these tools and use them as an outlet to materialize thoughts and emotions. MO: Do you have any formal training or are you self-taught? EC: I have had very little training, but have a lot of guts and drive. I began working when I was 13 and finally saved up enough money to buy a guitar. I took lessons at a shop that shut down after I had just a few lessons. I took the chord charts I was given and surfed the Internet for more and more until it got to the point that I could play a song on the guitar after listening to it on the radio. That evolved into going back to my roots of combining original lyrics and music. MO: How did you develop your sound? EC: Creating my own sound has been a journey and ever changing. My first album was all about getting away from old tape recorders and was just me and my guitar without any other instruments for the most part. As the years go on I learn more and more about production and meet incredibly talented people and get inspired to learn new techniques. For instance, I saw a flamenco show a few years ago and fell in love with this style. I know that those folks have dedicated their whole lives to perfect the art but that inspired me to learn more about finger picking methods, and I sought someone out who could introduce me to the basics. I believe broadening my understanding of different techniques has made a big difference in my sound. It's truly a collection of inspiration from other musicians. MO: How did you decide to open the disc with "Bite the hand?" EC: "Bite the hand" was the first song I wrote after the first album and it's also the most familiar to fans, as I have played it during shows before the album was released. This song is also the biggest contrast from the previous album, which lead to this decision. MO: Track 7, "Salteens," has a great hook and would be my choice for a CD single, what's it about? EC: I wrote this song for my oldest friend. We met in Wilmington when we were 8 and have been friends since, so the song is reminiscent of being young and crazy. The title "Salteens" is directly related to one of my fondest memories together that still makes me laugh. There was a corner store we would always walk to. We'd buy Butter-Rum Life Savers and Cool Ranch Doritos every time. One night it was raining so hard that we couldn't go to the store but we found some Saltines in the cabinet. We stuffed our faces with them, and she sneezed a big salty cracker cloud - so after stumbling on this discovery we stuffed our face with crackers, sang songs and blew around so much cracker dust, it took days to clean up. MO: The packaging on the album is terrific - I love how the cover is a fold-out in three sections - who designed this and how did you come up with the concept? EC: My friend Merlyn Caswell-Mackey designed the layout of the album, and I'm really lucky to know such a talented guy. The pictures in the foreground I took when going to an old cemetery in Boston. I love photographing the artwork on the headstones. I gave Merlyn a bunch of pictures I took and he combined it all tastefully and beautifully. I'm also environmentally conscious so I wanted to make sure it used as little plastic as possible. MO: You plan to donate half of the proceeds from your record release party to The National Guard Family Readiness Group. How did you get in touch with this organization - and do you have any family in The National Guard? EC: Yes, my sister is in the National Guard. Recently she was deployed to Afghanistan and the FRG helped me and my family cope, as they do with so many other families. I wanted to do something to give back to this organization.