Vincent Neil Emerson is a busy dude. That’s not really a bad problem to have, but it makes getting hold of him kind of a challenge, like, for instance, if you’re trying to interview him for a story and he’s at a music festival in rural Washington that’s known more for its apples and cherries than it is for its cell phone reception. Per the specificity of that example, on Thursday, when I wanted to talk to him, he’d just arrived at Chinook Fest, a country music event held in Naches, a town of about 800 people in the north end of Washington’s Yakima County. I called, left a message, followed up with a text, and then imagined what I’d be doing if I had just arrived at a music fest in a state where marijuana’s legal. I didn’t sweat it. I wouldn’t want to put down my joint long enough to talk to me, either.
Emerson texted me back the next day, explaining his radio silence as a function of the fest’s crummy WiFi, and we agreed to do the interview over email. While I awaited his reply, I called Niles City Sound head honcho Josh Block (Leon Bridges, Robert Ellis). Block, along with Austin Jenkins, co-produced and engineered Emerson’s new album, Fried Chicken and Evil Women, which he’s debuting at the Post at River East this Friday in CD format. Block had a lot to say about Emerson and his music. Surprisingly, Fried Chicken is not exactly a fresh platter. “That record’s been in the can for a while,” Block said. “I think it’s been done for over a year.”
That’s not to say that the songs sound stale. Crewed by locals like keyboardist Steve Hammond, multi-instrumentalist Simon Flory, as well as legendary upright bassist James Kirkland, Fried Chicken is a hefty serving of roots-referencing, Western swingin’ country seasoned with wry humor and rueful heartache. But Block said Emerson was already working on a new album. “I hope he puts some gas into [Fried Chicken] before he gets too far along with his next one,” Block said. “Hopefully, he tours it for a little while.”
Touring is Emerson’s main occupation for the foreseeable future. He’s been working with Travis Blankenship of Hill People Management for more than a year now and is booked by Jon Folk at Red 11, two names that are big deals in the indie country scene. In an email, Emerson mentioned that he had in fact just wrapped up a West Coast tour in support of Fried Chicken and Evil Women, at the moment “on a plane headed to Nashville to song-swap with Colter Wall, Corb Lund, and Brandy Clark at The Bluebird Cafe.” He’ll be home for a week before embarking on another tour next Friday for a couple of weeks across the Southeast as the opening act for his friend Colter Wall.
Block pointed out that Emerson’s at his best when he’s ambling along with a laidback shuffle or waltz, and Block is appreciative of his knack for assembling ideas into songs: “He’s a really clever songwriter. He spends a lot of time piecing things together. When he stumbles on an idea, he works hard at making it turn into something good.”
As a case in point, consider Fried Chicken’s single, “25 & Wastin’ Time.” It’s a funny song built on lively visuals drawn from lines like “I’m drunk as an uncle in a Walmart parking lot / Blarin’ ‘Margaritaville’ and takin’ up 10 spots.” The song gambols down the road like a George Strait anthem rewritten for potheads, but it also speaks to that phase everyone goes through, when you kind of don’t know what you’re doing, not that far from being a teenager, but also sufficiently deep into adulthood. “I was trying to capture what happens to most young adults after the party’s over and you have to face reality and adulthood,” Emerson said.
While his songs are certainly relatable (“I’m high as a fly on Willie Nelson’s wall” is a pretty common feeling), Emerson said he’s not really trying to reach anyone in particular: “I’m just trying to write good songs, and if people like them, then I’m happy. If they don’t, then that’s all right, too. Songwriting is just as much for the writer as it is for the listener, I think.”
Songwriting seems to occupy much of his time, then, or least fills in the hours when he’s not on the road. Whatever keeps him busy with music, he should keep doing that.
Vincent Neil Emerson CD release show
6pm Fri at the Post at River East, 2925 Race St, FW. $16. 817-945-8890.