Jackson Emmer’s 22: Local singer-songwriter embarks on 22-song release
Jackson Emmer has 22 songs coming in 2022
Off the road again and seeking, as always, a creative challenge, the singer-songwriter Jackson Emmer has embarked on a 22-song release project for 2022.
Writing and recording from his midvalley home, and with remote collaborators in Nashville, Emmer on Friday will release the second song in this extended cycle, “I Love You Now, I Loved You Then.”
He expects to have 13 songs written and at least partly recorded by the end of February, giving him a head start on the goal.
As coronavirus cases spiked everywhere at the end of last year, Emmer canceled his January tour dates and hasn’t booked much since then. He’s opting instead to stay mostly home, write and record new songs and spend time with his wife and baby daughter.
“I first started by saying, ‘I’ll make a series of singles, and that’ll be fine. And I’ll do 12. One a month seems fine,’” Emmer recalled. “And then as soon as I started working on it, I just felt like that wasn’t enough of a challenge for me. So I got fired up to do 22 in 2022.”
The releases began on Jan. 14 with “Colorado Line,” a neo-classic folky road tale that local fans will remember from one of Emmer’s weekly “Quarantunes“ virtual concerts hosted by Americana Highways during the lockdown period of the coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020.
Another memorable track that debuted in those concerts, “Caffeine and Gasoline,“ is set for release March 25.
Emmer is using a home recording set-up and sending his parts to a Nashville producer who is adding more instruments from other collaborators and finishing the tracks.
“Given the scope of how many tracks I have to finish, and the amount of time in a day, sometimes it makes sense to just send it to somebody else,” he explained.
Most of the tracks were written since the onset of the pandemic, a period of significant change for the normally road-bound troubadour.
“The lion’s share is songs written while I’m stuck at home, either awaiting my child or becoming a new dad, working on my own or writing with people on Zoom, just trying to figure out how to how to exist in the new landscape,” he explained.
The unusual recording and release strategy is, in part, a creative decision and a personal one — keeping his creative fire going while also minding the baby.
“It’s mostly because producing a full album while we have a newborn seemed really intimidating,” he said with a laugh, noting that the 22-song project technically means making more than a standard album. “I don’t know why that feels less intimidating than making a record. It’s actually more music. But because each song is allowed to live in its own world and being its own thing, you’re not necessarily beholden to what you did on the last song. That’s freeing.”
It’s also a business and marketing experiment. In our post-album streaming moment, singles are what mostly find new listeners and what feed the digital content beast. Steadily releasing music can make the algorithm of a service like Spotify start serving an artist’s work to people who listen to similar styles who might appreciate it. In theory, this 22-song challenge will get the algorithms on Emmer’s side.
It also publishes songs that listeners might have heard in concert, like the great “Colorado Line,” but wouldn’t previously have been able to find anywhere.
“People often email me, ‘Oh, I heard this song on YouTube from some performance,’ but they can’t find the song itself, and they want to hear it,” he said. ”And putting out singles is a quicker way to publish the music that people are asking about.“
Emmer is hopeful the project may allow him to grow as a writer. It includes a diverse run of songs from the clever and comedic “Can’t Take It With You,“ co-written with Tom Paxton and due out next month, to this week’s ”I Love You Now, I Loved You Then,“ an emotionally complex song about the loving bonds between queer and straight friends, relationships that don’t often appear in songs.
Upcoming tracks include the personal “Kids on Crescent Drive,” due out in April, recounting the portion of his childhood that Emmer spent in Palo Alto, Calif. — before his family moved to Aspen — and how he recognized his privilege compared to his peers in the violence-plagued East Palo Alto next door.
The adventuresome sonic textures in some of these songs use sounds and production elements from the world of dance music. Emmer has dubbed it — jokingly at first, but with increasing earnestness — “honky-tronica,” a marriage of honky-tonk and electronica.
“Colorado Line,” for instance, includes layers of drum machines and some experimental percussion (Emmer slamming a chest freezer among them). Those experiments harken back to his earliest work as a solo recording artist, like his genre-hopping 2015 debut “Last Known Photograph” and the wild live Americana experiments that first endeared Emmer to Aspen audiences during his residencies at the bar Justice Snow’s with his bands Hot Eagle and the Howling Kettles from 2013 to 2015.
In the years since then, Emmer has mostly left the electronic production behind as he has settled into a contemporary Americana sound and drew national attention for it, including a spotlight feature from Rolling Stone dubbing him a country artist to watch. With his increasingly gravelly voice and his witty and wise songwriting in the tradition of Townes Van Zandt, an acoustic guitar and stomping boot suited Emmer’s sound well on the albums “Jukebox” (2018) and “Alpine Coda“ (2020).
But the 22-singles project is allowing him to mess around again.
“Those (records) were based around kind of putting myself in a box for people,” Emmer explained. “Like, ‘If you want a folk-ish, country-ish singer-songwriter, look over here.’”
The records were also made, in part, to replicate what he did at concerts, which he doesn’t have to worry about for the moment.
“It’s very freeing to be able to make a record that doesn’t have to sound the way it does in-person,” he said. “Just to make the best record you can and try to make it sound interesting and new. I’m loving exploring that.”
Jackson Emmer’s “Colorado Line” and “I love You Now, I Loved You Then” are now availabe on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music and elsewhere. Upcoming releases include “Can’t Take It With You” (March 11), “Caffeine and Gasoline” (March 25) and “Kids on Crescent Drive” (April 8). More info at JacksonEmmer.com
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