Val Emmich has been writing and performing for several years now. I remember his early work starting with Slow Down Kid back in 2003, which was the disc that started me down what was to be a long and intriguing road of musical expression. Emmich has always trusted his creative impulses over commercial aspirations, turning down major label intoxication for the simple act of doing things his diverse way.
2006 brought us Sunlight Searchparty, one of Emmich’s best records and certainly one of his most popular to date. But even after the artistic success of that homegrown disc, Emmich continued to create sounds that combined the sharp contrast of talented composition, creative production and musical bonds and a direction that bring in the fans by the boatload.
Songs, Volume 1, Woodstock, which was released in 2007, was a batch of B-sides from Sunlight Searchparty that brought the back porch feel of New York State music straight to the Jersey Shore. Produced by longtime friend Jason Cupp, Emmich and bandmates rented a house in upstate New York and spent weeks recording all night long to come up with the combined discs. Since then, Emmich has released seven more original projects before settling on his latest project called Whatever’s Chasing You.
Val himself explains his passionate foray into music: “I started playing music and writing songs when I was fifteen. After graduating Rutgers University, I got my first record deal with Sony/Epic. Since then, I’ve released more than a dozen albums as a singer-songwriter and toured the U.S. several times over.”
But whatever pushes Val to create, he doesn’t stop at only music. “I’ve also been acting since I was eighteen. I’ve had roles on Vinyl (HBO), 30 Rock (NBC), The Big C (Showtime) and Ugly Betty (ABC) and been featured in a bunch of commercials.”
Last but not least, he writes fiction. “My debut novel, The Reminders, is based on a short story that won an award in Glimmer Train’s New Writers competition and will be published in May 2017 by Little Brown in the U.S./Canada and by a dozen other publishers abroad. It has also been optioned for a film.”
When it comes to his latest disc, Val tells me that he performed, recorded, produced and mixed the album himself with the help of a few friends on some tracks. He did it at home in Jersey City. It’s his first full-length since 2012’s Bulldozzzer. For a while, Val said he was questioning whether people had the patience to absorb full-length pieces anymore, so he started by releasing three consecutive EPs.
“I released the album first as a limited edition CD before it was available for download because I wanted to recreate that feeling you and I used to have when we were younger of only being able to own a new album by buying the tangible thing and bringing it home and listening to it in order. I quickly sold out of the CD (granted it was a super modest short run), but it was nice to know that a few others still value music in a tangible form.”
Emmich is no one-trick pony and his ongoing adventure into all things creative shows he has plenty left to say to the fans and new listeners along the way. I took a listen to the new disc and here’s what I came up with.
The record begins with “I Want To Hang Out.” Emmich hangs everything out on the line with this rock and pop tune. Slinging low, throaty vocals with electric guitars, drums and bass, Emmich weaves intrigued melodies into catchy choruses and succinct bridges as he tells his story of trying to figure out how to spend time with his lyrical subject. I love the guitar bends in the bridges.
“Nobody Makes It On Their Own” is next. Emmich has become quite adept at composing songs that are made up of all the right parts. Many times I’ve heard songs that were almost there but still missing something, but I don’t get that with him. “Nobody Makes It On Their Own” cruises smoothly from section to section, culminating in a memorable chorus that stays for days. Guitars chug and jangle under rock solid bass and drums and wide open backing vocals as Emmich waxes poetic about the need for human companionship. Once again I love the handpicked electric guitars that shimmer throughout the choruses.
Moving around the disc a bit, I came to “Almost Lost You.” Utilizing an almost Tom Petty meets Jackson Browne vibe, Emmich grinds out Americana-laced rock with sweeping electrics and grand backing vocal arrangements. The middle-eight blends single-note guitar lines with soaring vocal tones before coming back into the last sweet chorus.
Another cool song is “Back Me Up.” Val is quite skilled when it comes to melodies and arrangements. This is a perfect example of melding pop-tinged addiction with the proper instrumentation. Emmich never overplays or clogs space with unnecessary filler. Case in point is the way he lays guitars into this piece. Single-note electrics ping just at the right times. Keyboards are also their specific sounds and fall in between lush vocal melodies and rhythm work. Arrangement-wise, Emmich is always dead on when conveying his lyrical message within an excellent sounding framework.
“Where My Heart Is” winds its way out of the speakers with a Tennessee flavor that might be delivered on the back porch in the Smoky Mountains. Guitars twist and turn within their smart arrangements as Emmich extols the virtue of having someone who knows where his heart is. Backing vocals are seamless and melt around Emmich’s seasoned tenor. Bass and drums march in time with electric guitar tones and controlled feedback. A symphony of sound proceeds to take over, mixed with the voices of children and others. “Where My Heart Is” is one of my favorite songs on the record.
“All I Ever Wanted From You” is the last song on the disc and it’s probably one of the most diverse of the bunch. Emmich grinds low electric guitars over the top of vocals before the band takes effect and does its thing. Utilizing grand and sweeping flourishes, Emmich brings things back down in the verses. His vocal returns to its low, melancholy lilt as instrumentation plays softly in the background. Big choruses and great left turns make this song a great and vital piece. Guitars once again rear their heads and bring the joyful sounds of clean, bright electric understatement. Another favorite for me.
Of course there are other great songs that I didn’t have time or space to add, but Val Emmich has once again proved that no matter how long he’s been doing this, he hasn’t run out of creative juice and won’t anytime soon. Between his simplistic and vital approach to production and his continued talent when it comes to composition and direction, Emmich stands tall in the creative saddle. This is an excellent record and one I would suggest picking up as soon as possible.
For further information on Val Emmich and Whatever’s Chasing You, head over to valemmich.com.