Singer-songwriter Jackson Emmer discusses new album and virtual tour
IF YOU WATCH…
What: Jackson Emmer Virtual Tour Kickoff
Where: KDNK Carbondale Community Access Radio, Facebook
When: Saturday, Sept. 19, 7 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: jacksonemmer.com
‘ALPINE CODA’ VIRTUAL TOUR
Sept. 19 Livestream concert on KDNK, Facebook, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 ‘Alpine Coda’ album release
Oct. 2 Interview, ‘Express Yourself,’ KDNK, 4 pm
Oct 4 Livestream concert on KGNU, Facebook, 5 p.m.
Oct. 8 Livestream concert on The Bugle Boy, Facebook, 6 p.m.
Oct. 10 Livestream concert with Red Lodge Songwriter Festival and Whitefish Songwriters Festival, Facebook, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 Patron Only Livestream and Q&A, Patreon, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 18 ‘Ask Me Anything’ Livestream, Patreon, 2 p.m.
When singer-songwriter Jackson Emmer released his 2018 album, “Jukebox,” he launched it with a festive concert at The Temporary in Basalt, playing the new songs surrounded by a sellout crowd of friends, family and familiar faces from his years growing up in the valley and playing Aspen-area gigs. From there, he hit the road with the new songs and the record that brought the Carbondale-based artist his first national attention.
Emmer’s follow-up, “Alpine Coda,” due out Oct. 2 in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, won’t go into the world with the fanfare of in-person concerts here or anywhere in the near future. But sharing the music is still vital, Emmer believes.
“It does feel anticlimactic in some ways,” Emmer said through his facemask in a recent interview on a snowy September morning in Aspen. “But in other ways, people love and appreciate and need music as much as ever because of all this uncertainly. This release is going to feel different, but the act of offering something that I’ve worked so hard on — that still feels great.”
The 10 tracks on “Alpine Coda” were produced by the Nashville-based singer Mary Bragg, who offers gorgeous and haunting guest vocals with Emmer on “Fork in the Road,” an album standout.
It’s Emmer’s first proper studio album, following his home-recorded sophomore album “Jukebox,” a creative breakthrough that drew notice from Rolling Stone and NPR after years of genre experimentation with Americana.
Aspen audiences saw Emmer’s evolution in real time during his residencies at Justice Snow’s, where he and his bands Hot Eagle and the Howling Kettles played dozens of shows from 2013 to 2015.
Emmer recalls the shows — including the deep dives of his Americana Music Series — as a period of massive artistic growth. But the frequent and lengthy barroom gigs at altitude took a physical toll.
“Playing Justice Snow’s all the time, I completely shredded my voice,” he said.
A local doctor helped Emmer rehab his damaged vocal chords. When he emerged out of the other side, it was with a new rasp and maturity that was evident on “Jukebox.”
He is finally in command of the new vocal instrument, its dusty rasp and confident overtones, on “Alpine Coda.”
Emmer and Bragg recorded at a Nashville studio and in Bragg’s home in October and November of last year, with a band of seasoned Music City session musicians.
Emmer had planned to shop around the album in search of a record label in the springtime. He got the mastered tracks back from Bragg in mid-March, as COVID-19 began shutting down the U.S.
Soon the economic fallout from the pandemic on the music industry made it clear that the prospect of landing at a label as a new artist wouldn’t work. After mulling options and discussing a post-coronavirus release strategy with Bragg, Emmer opted to release the album independently and launch a “virtual tour.”
That tour begins Saturday, with a Facebook concert hosted by the Carbondale radio station KDNK and continues into October with streaming events on Facebook and Patreon.
Emmer found a creative outlet, an opportunity for service and an audience in the virtual space at the outset of the COVID-19 lockdown. He performed a weekly live “Quarantunes” concert on his Facebook page and through Americana Highways, drawing upward of 1,200 views. Emmer accepted donations and gave proceeds to the Community Resource Center in Nashville, providing relief for musicians affected by the coronavirus economic fallout.
In those concerts, and on the virtual Carbondale First Fridays broadcasts, he also shared some of the new “Alpine Coda” songs he was sitting on.
The songs that made it onto the record came together in the two years since “Jukebox” was released in 2018.
Among the most indelible of the new ones is “Acetaminophen,” a stark and dark poetic reflection on the U.S. in the Trump era. An anti-anthem suited to our apocalyptic moment of climate disaster, pandemic and unrest, it paints vivid pictures of school shootings, drug addiction and late-stage capitalism punctuated with the sardonic refrain “Ain’t that livin’ the dream.”
“I was nervous to perform it for a long time,” Emmer said of the song. “It is dark and critical and it paints very specific pictures that are hard to see and hard to be reminded of.”
Emmer recalled playing the song on tour last year in New England at the encouragement of fellow musicians who he’d shared it with.
“I started playing it and seeing people weeping, but I was hearing from people that it was in a good way,” he said.
A music video for the song dramatizes it, including a segment where Emmer is pulled over by police and let go, then watches a Black man (played by local actor Gerald DeLisser) being carted off in cuffs.
Writing songs that reflect history as it happens is, of course, at the heart of the Americana and folk tradition that Emmer is carrying on. But he took his time approaching it.
“I’ve tried to write things that capture it and failed many times,” he said. “It’s hard to say anything without people getting offended and it’s hard to talk about it without it being a bunch of platitudes.”
While the handful of spare and hard-hitting songs stick with you from “Alpine Coda,” Emmer also showcases the dry wit and the more rollicking style that often stands out in his live performances.
He brandishes his comedic chops on “I Don’t Want This (Job Interview Song)” and “Anything Once,” and on the up-tempo “Turn Up the Jukebox” he makes you wish you were at a barroom gig.
That emotional mix, Emmer said, reflects his general approach to live performance, where he keeps it mostly upbeat with small doses of darkness.
“You can’t live in ‘Acetaminophen’ all the time,” he said. “Those brighter moments make the darker ones hit harder. I’ve seen performers that will play an hour-and-a-half of crushing music. Some people might love that but a lot of people are like, ‘I’m never going to that show again,’ because its exhausting.”
Looking ahead, it’s unclear when he might be able to return to touring and bring “Alpine Coda” out properly on the road. For now, he’ll be playing to a global audience from his Carbondale living room.
“I am at peace with how unpredictable and chaotic things are now,” he said. “It’s like a chess game you play with the universe. Everybody is playing it, though. So at least there is camaraderie.”
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