Things are a little different since the last time Carbondale-based singer and songwriter Jackson Emmer released an album. That was in 2018, when his sophomore album “Jukebox” received national attention, and live concerts were part of his touring schedule. His newest album, “Alpine Coda,” comes out Friday, Oct. 2, and he’ll be hitting the virtual road to promote it.
He produced the album pre-pandemic with Nashville based musician Mary Bragg. Emmer spoke to Aspen Public Radio about the album’s current relevance, silver linings of a virtual tour and the importance of music right now.
When we last spoke with you, it was just a couple weeks into the pandemic shutdowns and you were busy with a series of virtual concerts called “Quarantunes.” What has life been like for you since then?
Life has been hectic, but very nice. I have gotten used to being home all the time, which is new for me ‘cause I was traveling so much. And I have done my best to pivot and change the way I approach making my living and also making music given the new reality, and I have been focused on getting the record out.
The album itself touches on some of the difficulty of the time we’re living in. Was that something when you set about putting together this album you had intended to write about, or did it just come out when you started putting things together?
That just came out naturally. I think the triumphs and tragedies of our culture have been played on a loop for forever regardless of time or place. So, all those themes that I talk about, all those things feel very current and kind of specific, but really they feel like they run deeper than that for me. So, even though I began writing them a couple of years ago and they came to fruition last year and they were recorded last year, I’m not surprised that they still feel relevant.
Just some of the themes of the songs generally, that’s just such a personal thing to put out there, especially at this time of volatility, that I was kind of interested in the writing process for you.
It is very interesting how you can write something one year, and the cultural shifts that can happen over the next few months or even years can reframe those same words or that same music in a pretty fresh way. I mean one would be the job interview song ("I Don’t Want This"). Before [COVID-19], it’s a little bit tongue and cheek when the economy is more optimistic, but now that the economy is much rougher, that song, you know the same lyrics, have a different context. I often think about how it took a pandemic to stop the school shooting epidemic in the United States. How have we failed at handling that problem for so many years? It took this to quiet it down, and I don’t have any real insight to that or how to make that better for everybody, but I can’t help but think about it. And I feel a responsibility to reflect that in my music, and so I did my best.
Through all of this you’re embarking on a virtual tour. At this point it seems like there’s some loosened restrictions about gathering, and online forums have come a long way since March. What is kind of the feel of this new tour you’re embarking on?
Well, I’m excited to play for people who wouldn’t normally get to hear me. I say that because when I perform concerts live they’re often very small and they’re in specific places, and you have to be there to hear it. So, I think that’s kind of the special and exciting thing or me is that I get to reach people that I normally wouldn’t get to sing for.
What do you hope people take away from the album when they listen to it?
I hope that it sparks a range of emotion for listeners. I’m blown away anytime anyone listens to anything I make, and I feel a sort of duty, like a lot of artists held their releases off until 2021 or later down the road—they had albums planned, but since they couldn’t go on tour they held back. I kind of feel like the opposite. I feel like if you’re an artist and you have a real connections with your audience, you owe it to people to show up for them when times are hard, like people have shown up for me many times before.