Many artists never survive what you’ve gone through and make it back to fight another day. How important were your friends and family at this juncture in your career?
I never really even thought about it in that way, but I think you’re right, because all of those people made a difference, I think. My family could have said to me, ‘All right, well maybe you should move on now, but they never did, and my friends never did. In fact I think they would have been mad at me if had I quit at that point. I just wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t gonna be one of those statistics. I feel like I never even got it started, I felt that I needed to prove to people what I could do. When I told my fiancé that I was gonna move into the woods, write songs and grow a beard (laughing) she was very supportive.
It’s a big decision to actually sit down and say, ‘I’m done’ to a major label. Did you ever think about it and say, ‘Maybe I should have just put on the monkey suit and played along’?
(laughs) Well in the beginning, it was never that big of a decision, because it’s always subtle, it’s never overnight. First it’s like: ‘Oh, try writing with this person’ and then ‘extend that chorus.’ They wanted me to write a single for radio, and I gave them 14 songs and they chose one and spent money that was supposed to be for my second record to record that one song and I handed it to the president and he said, ‘eh, I think you should keep writing,’ and I said to myself, ‘No way, I’m not writing another note for these people.’ They were making me chase my tail, ya know? That’s when I realized that they wanted something that I couldn’t keep guessing on and I had to focus on what I wanted.
How did you feel right after you escaped the major label travesty? Was it as if a weight was removed or just something you had to put out of the way to move ahead?
I think it was a bit of both as I felt both relief and was also frightened. My first couple songs I wrote were kind of reactionary, kind of pissed off, you know? But I spent two weeks alone in this big house and I would just write, and eventually after spending enough time, it started coming naturally. I think that’s what you do when you first pick up a guitar, you just start writing, you don’t really think. You always say: ‘Wow it would be great to get a record deal someday,” but you’re really doing it because it’s fun. I think you forget that as you get older and there are responsibilities and bills to pay, you start changing what you do to fit into the mold.
Was there anything for you guys to do for fun between sessions? Besides smoke cigs and chase cows?
Actually, that’s all we did. (laughs) We woke up in the middle of the afternoon, drank coffee and worked on songs. I mean, we wouldn’t get going till late at night, but we would play until 4 a.m. as there was no one there for miles, and it was so weird, that freedom. I really feel it made its way into most of these songs.
Going to Woodstock and regrouping with the band was similar in a way to what Bob Dylan did. Not to compare you, but just to say hey, I don’t need the distractions of life, let’s do this the right way?
Yeah, if you are gonna make music your life you might as well do the best you can at it. I needed all distractions away from me if I was gonna write the best songs I could, and I really think my songwriting took a step up when I said goodbye to everything in my daily life.
‘This Ship’s Going Down’ made it to #1, beating out The Killers, Evanescence and The Black Keys with the most votes on G106. Do you think your team can broaden that success to other cities with the same effect?
I hope so. I think that they just took that one chance and I was thankful for that. I don’t know if you’ve heard it on the channel, but they are playing it like 25 times a week and really promoting it and that’s unheard of. I mean, I didn’t get any radio airplay on Epic and it’s just ironic that I’m on my own now and I finally got my first bit of airplay.
Will you be going back to Woodstock anytime soon?
Actually for my bachelor party we’re gonna have a big reunion at the same house and basically just do what we did when we were there, drink beers, play music, have fun and get stupid. (laughs)
Val Emmich will be at The Saint in Asbury Park, NJ, on Feb 16 and at the Mercury Lounge in NYC on Feb. 22. For further info, go to valemmich.com