Monday Profile: Local musician’s ‘gentle twang’ finds a new album in vacuum of live music
The COVID-19 virus has found a way into nearly every aspect of Americans’ lives, but local musician Jackson Emmer’s music remains immune.
“The music itself has only changed in that I don’t have anyone to play it for,” Emmer lamented.
The 33-year-old country and folk singer said performers have been hit hard by the shutdowns and social distancing restrictions, but it’s also provided him an opportunity to expand his horizons.
“Lately, it’s really become about me and discovering what I’m interested in, and what I want to shape my sound into,” Emmer said. “I’ve been learning a lot more about production and mixing— just the tools at hand for people who produce music.”
For Emmer, the pandemic has been a mix of hosting workshops and occasionally live-streaming his brand of Americana.
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While he hasn’t had many opportunities to play for live audiences, the time hasn’t been wasted. Emmer is scheduled to release his new album, “Alpine Coda,” early in October.
“I don’t think the pandemic has changed people’s appetite for music,” he said. “People don’t really forget how vital music is to who we are.”
“There’s 28 bullet holes in the Utah border sign as you fly over that Colorado line” — lyrics from Jackson Emmer’s “Colorado line.”
Emmer moved to Carbondale from California around 2002 to attend boarding school.
“Like most teenagers, I was really angsty and pent up, so having something like music helped divert the energy,” Emmer explained.
Though slow to take to the open sky and majestic vistas of the Western Slope, he eventually settled into his current home in Eagle County.
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area surrounded by millions of people, Emmer drew on the anonymity of one among many for security from the prying eyes of adults. Once in Garfield County, he felt as if the spotlight had turned on him.
“One of the things I loved and hated about coming to a small community was the accountability,” Emmer recalled, adding with a chuckle, “you can’t get away with as much. But, I really appreciated the opportunity to grow up in a small town.”
Though he felt a connection with music throughout his teens, he didn’t immediately pursue it as a career.
“I didn’t know that I could make a living playing music,” Emmer said.
Instead, he studied visual art in college, and found himself constantly daydreaming about music or forgetting to do his homework because he was up late practicing guitar. Eventually, Emmer’s grades fell far enough his instructors pulled him aside to ask why he seemed so distracted.
“I mentioned I was interested in music, and they suggested I study that,” Emmer said. “I told them I couldn’t make a living playing music. They replied, ‘Do you think you’re going to make living drawing cartoons?’”
‘I don’t want this’
“My future avocation is a lack of occupation. I’ll be floating down the river somewhere.” — lyrics from Jackson Emmer’s “I don’t want this.”
Before Emmer puts a lyric to tune, he tests its contagiousness.
“It’s more likely to get stuck in someone else’s head if it’s already stuck in mine,” he explained. “I often write while I’m out on a walk — humming to myself and making up words.”
With a gravelly voice that carries a wisdom beyond his years, Emmer sings low, often sorrowful, and always, deliberately.
“I used to play Gypsy jazz, funk, Western swing, straight-ahead jazz, electronic music, and I was in an Afro-Latin band,” he said. “But, now I play country. I call it gentle twang. It’s a blend of western swing, honky tonk, folk and singer-songwriter with a little bit of rock in there.”
Emmer’s favorite venue for showcasing his gentle twang is Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale, and since the pandemic he’s live-streamed from the location on more than one occasion.
Currently, his website http://www.jacksonemmer.com doesn’t list any in-person shows, but if you’re looking to tune in, you can find his self-titled channel on YouTube and catch some of his most recent endeavors.
“No pandemic has ever lasted forever,” Emmer said. “This will fade and people will come out and enjoy live music again.”
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