Getting to Know Emerson Snowe
Emerson Snowe is one of those artists we feel like we’ve known for quite some time, though in reality we’ve only recently had the pleasure of interacting with him one-on-one on a couple occasssions. The feeling of familiarity is understandable of course, since Emerson Snowe’s creative bio includes Ariel Pink support slots during the Australian leg of the Dedicated To Bobby Jameson tour, and he’s already crossed paths with Kirin J Callinan, Don Bolles, and one of our absolute favorite photographers, Miriam Marlene.
With his debut EP That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll set for release May 10 (via Liberation Records), spring tour dates in the UK and France on the books, a successful 2019 SXSW appearance to his credit, and new music on the horizon, we had plenty to talk about with Emerson Snowe. As if all this weren’t enough incentive to document a tête-à-tête with Emerson Snowe, we were lucky enough to receive an exclusive series of photos from none other than Miriam Marlene, which we are thrilled to share here.
Bobby Weirdo: You’re based in Brisbane, and I think The Saints came from there. Are they one of the cooler bands to come out of Brisbane?
Emerson Snowe: They are from Brisbane. Also, I really like the Go-Betweens, who are from here. I grew up in Townsville, and I’d heard of the Go-Between, but hadn’t listened to that much Brisbane music. But once I moved down here I was bombarded with classic albums, and [now] the Go-Betweens are one of my favorite bands – they’re just great.
They have an album called 16 Lovers Lane, and they’re very specific with their lyrics. I like that you can go around Brisbane and see the street names and all these things from their lyrics. The Bee-Gees are from around Brisbane too; they’re from Redcliffe.
BW: I’d never heard The Go-Betweens until Kirin told me about them.
ES: It’s funny that you say that because one of the first songs by Kirin that I ever heard was his cover of the Go-Betweens’ “Apology Accepted”. The Go-Betweens did a reunion tour, and played a show at a huge theater in Brisbane called QPAC. Kirin gave me a ticket because I really wanted to see the show, so I walked into a huge theater, and his parents came down and sat next to me. We sat together and watched Kirin perform with the Go-Betweens. I see his mom Lynny around a fair bit whenever Kirin is playing in Australia. Even in L.A., I think his parents make the effort to go over there.
What’s funny about Kirin is that with everyone that I met the week I was in L.A. [this year], Kirin would always come up. I couldn’t believe it – it was like, “why do so many people know this guy?” Even talking to you — when I was at your house we were talking about him, and it was really strange having that connection. I found in L.A. that there are a few people that everyone seems to know and is connected to – it’s really interesting.
BW: The video for your new track “Human” just came out.
ES: Do you know Fascinator?
ES: He’s in that lot of Kirin and Alex Cameron – I think he’s mainly based in New York. He used to have this band called Children Collide, which was like a garage band. I was a fan of his, and he started doing this weird pop stuff. We ended up working together, which was cool.
BW: How did the collaboration work?
ES: My new EP is called That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, which is so funny to me. It’s like an inside joke with myself. I have around 250 songs, and I knew that I wanted to have seven or eight of them on the EP.
I write constantly, and with that EP we had six or seven songs. Everything was ready to be mastered. When I got back from the UK in December, I wrote this track “Human” and it felt right to be on the EP. My manager is friends with Johnny [Mackay, aka Fascinator], who was back in Sydney doing music and art.
I think everyone starts as a fan of things. Like, I got to go on tour with Ariel Pink in Australia, and I grew up listening to stuff like that in Townsville. I was an only child, so I had to find it by myself. And now I’m around these people, and I’m grateful that somehow the lines have crossed.
So when this happened with Johnny, it was weird because my high school band used to cover his songs. The stuff I’m doing– like I’m working with Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear now – is very surreal, and makes me feel good that I’m at a point where I’m confident and comfortable with what I do as a solo artist.
As a solo artist, you’re constantly questioning everything you do. I’m broke as hell; I don’t have any money. But I think a lot about how if I didn’t have this time to do my art, then it wouldn’t exist. I tell people that when they’re struggling with stuff. Even if you just sit down and write a song or something, it only exists because you did it and made it happen. [It might] look, sound, or read like something that’s been done in the past hundred years, but it’s original to you, and wouldn’t have existed with you being alive and doing it. It’s a beautiful thing. I’m at a point where I’m happy about what I do.
BW: So even though there are other EPs to your credit like Big Baby, Vivid, and Thoughts PT. 1, the new EP That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll is your debut?
ES: It’s funny you say that. I stopped drinking July 16, 2016. From that point, I started writing again, every single day. I hadn’t written for almost two years [before that] because I had lost all confidence in myself. But when I gave up drinking, I started writing constantly.
By the end of a week I’d have an EP, and by the end of two weeks, I’d have an album. I didn’t have a label, but I put out about twenty-five EPs myself because I just wanted them out. They were more like diary entries, and I always put the date and time that I did them. The whole point was just to believe in the first fifteen minutes of everything. I gave myself fifteen minutes [of writing] and then at the end of that, it would be the song. After that [fifteen minute] period I felt like I would be thinking too much and trying to make it into something that it didn’t need to be.
So this is the debut EP. It’s the one that has been most thought out, and the songs have been taken to another level in the studio. Everything else I’d done was just at home and then putting it up [online]. This is a collection of songs – and some of them are quite different from each other – but I think all seven tracks tie into one thing and have one meaning.
It’s cool, because that never used to happen for me. Before -- when I was drinking -- it would be all over the place. It would be a synth pop thing with a heavily-orchestrated thing with something that was just guitar…which was fine, because I was being creative and doing stuff for myself, but there was never a point until I stopped drinking where I had a collection of songs. And the [songs on the EP] are still kind of like that, but there’s a similar sound underneath them. I feel good about it, and I already have songs for the next EP, and probably the next ten albums, which is a cool thing to look forward to, art-wise.
BW: You mentioned that you don’t have any money, but last year you did win $25,000 from Levi’s, right?
ES: I did – I don’t have any money now, though. That was great, and the money went toward going to the UK in December last year and even going to SXSW and L.A. It lasted for a while. All these other people like Amyl and the Sniffers, Hatchie, and Stella Donnelly have won it, and it’s nice being attached to a group of artists like that.
BW: When you and I last spoke you were on your way to play your first L.A. show at Sunset & Vinyl. I know it was very spur-of-the-moment, and I’m curious about what your setup was and how it went.
ES: It was like a speakeasy, so you had to walk through an Italian pizza restaurant, which was cool. It was a really small bar that was packed with people, and my setup for the night was my nylon acoustic [guitar] and a microphone. It was a stripped back set, which I hadn’t done for ages. I really liked it [and] those last minute things are the best.
It was a really fun group of people. A comedian was there, and I asked him to emcee me. Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear caught the show, and it was a really good night.
BW: You do visual art as well. Do you have any training in the visual arts?
ES: Not at all. The day after I stopped drinking, I found a box of watercolors in the house I was living in, and just started doing it because I had to get my mind off drinking and all this other stuff. There’s my music and line portraits that come from that same era, which is neat. The evolution of the paintings and the songs is interesting, because somehow they were all in my head before that, and it just took a while for them to come out.
BW: You mentioned opening for Ariel Pink, and you played a series of dates on the Dedicated to Bobby Jameson tour. What was your takeaway from that time? Is there anything from that experience that you remember in particular?
ES: The first person I met was Don [Bolles]. He was really energetic and excited about the show that was coming up in Brisbane that night. I’d grown up listening to Ariel Pink and had looked up to him for years.
After I played I was walking around, and Ariel said, “Wow – that was great. You remind me of my friend Bradford [Cox].” He was really interested.
Then Ariel and the band played, and I was sitting on the back steps of the Zoo, which was the venue. As soon as he finished, he came back, sat next to me, and asked how I was doing and what my plan was. He was interested in what I was doing, and I didn’t expect that at all.
Those were some of the best shows I’d heard Ariel and his band play. I think he was super confident in the album, stoked with how it all went, and that really came across live. It was tight, sounded great, and looked great.
BW: And when Ariel asked how you were doing and what your plan was, he was referring to your music career?
ES: Yeah -- it was very surreal and interesting how he was as a person. I went down to do the Sydney show at Oxford Art Factory, which was a sold-out show. I went in early for sound check, and Ariel was there. Kirin was playing guitar [with Ariel] for the Sydney show, and Ariel was going to meet him. He asked if I wanted to walk with him, and we walked down Oxford Street, talking about personal stuff and recording. It was all this nice, genuine stuff that he didn’t need to do, and it’s that stuff that stays with you. Don is a super sweet guy, and the whole band was great. I’ll remember those moments forever.
BW: You’ve mentioned Sean Nicholas Savage’s tape Screamo as a favorite, and I’m curious about what especially resonates with you about that music.
ES: I think the simplicity of it. When I started writing my new music, I was obsessed with French pop and romantic songs. I loved that the songs were so simple — usually nylon guitar, and bare recordings. I don’t even know what they’re saying, but it’s the melodies themselves that tell a story.
And that’s what Sean Nicholas Savage does great — his melodies are awesome and beautiful. If he wrote for a pop singer, that singer would be a huge star, but it’s funny because Sean is who he is. I really look up to him, and he’s definitely been an influence. When he’s on stage, whatever happens, happens. That’s what I like and take onboard.
Kirin would always say this thing, and I’ve really grabbed onto it and say it a lot: “Just because it’s funny doesn’t mean it’s a joke.” And it’s so true – you can be yourself, and people can find it funny, but it doesn’t mean that there’s not meaning behind it. A lot of Sean and Kirin’s work is like that.
BW: Besides the new EP, you’re playing UK and France dates in May, right?
ES: Yeah, and in June I’ll be recording six or seven songs for the next EP. In July I’ll be doing my first headlining Australian tour. It’s a daunting thing, but even if there’s five people there, that means heaps as well. It’s all going to happen.
Listen to and purchase Emerson Snow’s EP That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll here.