Off the beaten track again and looking, as always, for a creative challenge, singer-songwriter Jackson Emmer has embarked on a 2022 22-song release project.
Writing and recording from his home in Midvalley, and with distant collaborators in Nashville, Emmer will release the second song in this extended cycle, “I Love You Now, I Loved You Then,” on Friday.
He expects to have 13 songs written and at least partly recorded by the end of February, which will give him a head start on the goal.
As coronavirus cases spiked everywhere late last year, Emmer canceled his January tour dates and hasn’t booked much since then. Instead, he chooses to stay mostly at home, writing and recording new songs, and spending time with his wife and young daughter.
“I started out saying, ‘I’m going to do a bunch of singles, and it’ll be fine. And I’ll do 12. One a month, that’s fine with me,'” Emmer recalls. “And then as soon as I started working on it, I just felt like it wasn’t challenging enough for me. So I got fired to do 22 in 2022.”
Releases began on January 14 with “Colorado Line, a neo-classical folk road tale that local fans will remember from one of Emmer’s weekly “Quarantunes” virtual concerts hosted by Americana Highways during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown in the spring of 2020.
Another memorable track that debuted at those concerts, “Caffeine and Gasoline,” is set to be released on March 25.
Emmer uses a home recording facility and sends his parts to a Nashville producer who adds more instruments from other collaborators and finishes the tracks.
“Given how many tracks I have to finish and how long it takes in a day, sometimes it makes sense to just send it off to someone else,” he explained.
Most of the tracks have been written since the start of the pandemic, a time of significant change for the normally road-bound minstrel.
“The lion’s share are the songs written while I’m stuck at home, either expecting my child or becoming a new dad, working alone or writing with people on Zoom, just trying to figure out how exist in the new landscape,” he explained.
The unusual check-in and out strategy is, in part, a creative and personal decision – maintaining his creative fire while caring for the baby.
“It’s mainly because producing a full album when we have a newborn seemed really daunting,” he said with a laugh, noting that the 22-song project technically means doing more than a standard album. “I don’t know why it’s less daunting than making a record. It’s actually more music. But because each song is allowed to live in its own world and be its own thing, you’re not necessarily beholden to what you did on the last song. It’s liberating.
It is also a commercial and marketing experience. In our post-album streaming moment, singles are what primarily finds new listeners and fuels the digital content beast. Regularly streaming music can cause the algorithm of a service like Spotify to start serving an artist’s work to people who listen to similar styles and might enjoy it. In theory, this 22-song challenge will put the algorithms on Emmer’s side.
It also releases songs that listeners might have heard in concert, like the great “Colorado Line,” but couldn’t have found anywhere before.
“People often email me, ‘Oh, I heard this song on YouTube at a performance,’ but they can’t find the song itself and they want to hear it,” he said. he declared. “And releasing singles is a faster way to get the music people are asking for.”
Emmer hopes the project will allow him to grow as a writer. It includes a variety of songs ranging from the clever and comedic “Can’t Take It With You”, co-written with Tom Paxton and due out next month, to “I Love You Now, I Loved You Then” by this week, an emotionally complex song about love bonds between gay and straight friends, relationships that don’t often appear in songs.
Upcoming tracks include the personal “Kids on Crescent Drive,” due out in April, chronicling the part of his childhood Emmer spent in Palo Alto, California — before his family moved to Aspen — and how he recognized his privilege over his peers in the violence-ridden East Palo Alto next door.
The adventurous sonic textures of some of these songs utilize sounds and production elements from the world of dance music. Emmer dubbed it – jokingly at first, but with increasing seriousness – “honky-tronica”, a marriage of honky-tonk and electronica.
“Colorado Line,” for example, includes layers of drum machines and experimental percussion (Emmer slamming a chest freezer among them). These experiences are reminiscent of his early work as a solo recording artist, like his 2015 debut album “Last Known Photograph” and the wild live Americana experiments that first won Emmer over to Aspen audiences during of his residencies at Justice Snow’s bar with his bands. Hot Eagle and the Howling Kettles from 2013 to 2015.
In the years that followed, Emmer mostly left electronic production behind to settle into a contemporary American sound and garnered national attention for him, including a Rolling Stone star dubbing him a country artist to watch. With his increasingly gritty vocals and witty, wise songwriting in the tradition of Townes Van Zandt, an acoustic guitar and kicking boot suited Emmer’s sound well on the albums “Jukebox” (2018) and “Alpine Coda” (2020).
But the 22 singles project allows him to mess around again.
“These (records) were based on me putting myself in a box for people,” Emmer explained. “Like, ‘If you want a folk-ish, country-ish singer-songwriter, look here.'”
The records were also made, in part, to replicate what he did at concerts, which he doesn’t have to worry about right now.
“It’s very freeing to be able to make a record that doesn’t have to sound like it does in person,” he said. “Just to make the best record possible and try to make it interesting and new. I love exploring that.