Secret Emchy Society Interview

 Secret Emchy Society Interview by Christian Lamitschka for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show

It’s the voice that hits you first. It’s big, a bit boisterous.
It’s a voice that makes you grin, but it’s also sad and wise, and very
observant. It’s a voice that stands you to a shot and a beer, kicks you
out onto the dance floor despite your silly misgivings. It’s Cindy
Emch’s voice – in every meaning of that word–that comes through on the
pioneering queer-country singer and songwriter’s new album The Chaser.

Recorded
with her long-running band, The Secret Emchy Society, The Chaser gives
Cindy’s funny, deep songs an equally big voice. It’s a record of exact
portraiture, country style. Cindy Emch knows how human beings behave
when they’re in bars, when they’re lonely, and when they’re in love. And
when they’re out of love. The Chaser is the work of an original who
looks beyond Saturday night, toward an eternal present.

The
Chaser finds Emch – the y was added by an emcee who couldn’t pronounce
her name without another vowel – making a stopover in California country
on a tour of modern, old-school country. Recorded at Cindy’s home
studio in Oakland, California, the album embraces the totality of
country: Nashville to Bakersfield, Houston to New Orleans, Tulsa to
Oakland.

 

Lamitschka:
Music has many new fans throughout Europe who may be hearing about you
for the first time. How would you describe yourself and the music you
play to someone who has never seen or heard you?

I think of
my music as outlaw Americana. What does that mean? It’s music that has
invokes the spirit of the old outlaw country of the late 60’s / 70’s
while holding firm to that rootsier acoustic sound of Americana music.
It’s music for boot-stomping and heartbreaking, to drown your sorrows
and raise your glass, it’s the kind of music that reminds you of the
good old times gone, and the good new times to come. In the end, to me, I
just try to write the best songs I know how – and somehow they end up
being country music.

Lamitschka:  How did you choose the title for the new album?  Is there a story behind the name?

Well,
I had a list running for the last two years of pretty much everything I
could think of that sounded cool and resonated for me. Then one night
the wife and I were out at a Petunia and the Vipers show down in Santa
Cruz, we were full of good music, dancing, a bit of rye whiskey, and we
got to talking about some old bandmates I’m always chasing down trying
to find out how they are. She joked to me ‘You’re just a chaser, that’s
how it is.” and I got to thinking… she’s right.

I’m
often just wrecked by nostalgia and trying to chase down those old
friends, those old memories, but also chasing after my music dreams,
chasing after happiness… hell, sometimes just even trying to chase down
the old smells of Lake Superior and cherry pipe tobacco on the air to
remind me of home. So I went home and wrote the song. As soon as it was
done I knew that it was the title track for the record. It really just
sums up so much of who I am and what I believe my purpose is in the
world. You just have to go for it. So here I am… still a chaser.

Lamitschka:  Do you write the songs yourself? If not, how do you go about finding the songs for your album?

I
do. Live I’ll occasionally do a cover or two if a song particularly
resonates for me – but primarily I write all of my own material. This
album is all mine. Songs often start scrawled on old receipts, bar
napkins, or whatever I can scrounge up when inspiration strikes.
Thankfully I’m left-handed since inspiration often strikes when I’m
driving and then I can just jot it down on my leg until I pull over.  I
have a few folks that I’ll send drafts to as I go, and once the song is
80% solid I may post it over on my Patreon to get a sense of how it
plays in the real world. I started out creatively as a poet – so
songwriting just feels like home to me.

Lamitschka:  What is the difference between your last album and your current one?

This album has a much stronger California Country / Bakersfield influence. My first album Stars Fall Shooting Into Twangsville
was written while I was in a day job that was pretty hard on me and I
was just longing to hit the road and spend more time on music, and the
songs are full of the longing for travel with musical influences from
New Orleans and New York. In between albums I got laid off and spent a
lot of time touring the North American West Coast – and there is no
better driving music than those old Buck Owens records. Plus, I think
actually being on the road and logging so many solo hours driving
through the mountains, redwoods, and desert – it made my songs more
alive and in the moment.  This album is much less philosophical and much
more visceral. There is something about driving through wildfires to
get to the next gig that really makes you be right in the moment.

 Lamitschka:  Do you have any interesting stories about how fans have been affected by your music?

There
was a show I was playing once up near Mendocino, CA. It was a tiny gig
that some friends had pulled together for us in an art gallery right at
the end of our tour. We had been on the road for a while and driving all
day and while I tried to give it my all I just really felt like my set
had not been my best. The audience clapped and was nice – but in small
towns people are usually pretty nice regardless.

While
I was putting away my instruments and getting my stuff cleared away so
the next band could start, a woman in her late 20’s came up and asked if
she could talk to me for a minute. I took a second look at her and
noticed that her eyes were a bit wet – and immediately put aside what I
was doing and we had a chat in the corner. She told me how much she had
needed the songs I sang that night. I had written some of them about
losing family to illness and this was her first night out after losing
people too. She told me how much it meant to feel connected to me in
that moment of song, how it pushed some of her grief and despair away,
how my song had made her feel less alone, and reminded her to hold onto
the good memories and not just the pain. I was stunned, honored, and
humbled. And I realized – that even if you’re not at your best – it’s so
important to go out there and give it everything. Because sometimes the
songs really can make a difference – even when you’re least expecting
it.
 

Lamitschka:  What moments in your career stand out in your memory as highlights and achievements which you are proud of?

Three moments immediately come to mind.

One:
The night I opened for Sarah Shook and Jason Hawk Harris at Bottom of
the Hill to a sold-out crowd. There were a million cell phone cameras
filming, and people dancing, and the band just killed it. It was like
all of the performers caught lightning in a bottle that night – plus I
got Jason Hawk Harris to finally teach me to two-step – so that was a
huge win.

Two: The first time I went on tour with Carolyn Mark. She is such a musical hero and inspiration to me. I had her Corn Sisters
album she did with Neko Case. I had all of her solo albums. And then
when we went on tour – I was just amazed that she was even more fun and
talented in person! That started a friendship that still lasts to this
day – but I have to admit – I still feel a little star-struck sometimes.

Three: Playing the opening night of the Accordion Noir Festival
in Vancouver, BC. I shared the stage with three of my accordion heroes –
Geoff Berner, Jason Webley, and Amy Denio and I was just so humbled by
the whole thing. It was at the WISE Hall which has the most gorgeous
ballroom – and there’s me and my bassist, Terri, playing my little
drinking and heartbreak tunes. I felt like I was in a fairytale.

Lamitschka:  When you get time off, how do you like to relax?

Time
off, what’s that? In all seriousness, I’m pretty lucky to live in
Northern California so that when I do have a day off we can drive to the
oceans, or to wineries, or to the forest pretty easily. Mainly we like
to grab the dog and hit a beach where he can run and we can relax a bit
in our hoodies and scarves. (Beaches in Northern California are almost
never warm). Usually, we’ll follow that up with a coffee from somewhere
and then hopefully a walk in the woods or some time in our garden.

Lamitschka:  Is there any place you haven’t played that you would like to?

I
cannot wait to play Western Europe and the American South. I’ve played
New Orleans once – but American is so large – it’s hard as an indie
musician that books all of my own shows to do a run that is long enough
to hit the whole country in one go. That said – I have some friends who
have been doing short 2-3 week country music tours in Europe and may try
to hitch my wagon to theirs in the near future.

Lamitschka:  What’s your favorite song that you wish you could have recorded?

It’s
funny – when I’m up on tour in Canada one of my favorite parts is the
post-show sing-a-long that usually happens in the yards / kitchens of my
friends. This is how I’ve ended up hearing some of my favorite songs in
the world – so in 2018, I ended up making a ‘campfire covers’ album
called Mark’s Yard where I gave myself the opportunity to record
them all. We tried to keep the late-night vibe by recording everything
with a ‘one microphone in a room’ sort of setting. So really – I had a
whole album of songs I wanted to record so badly that I just did it. Of
those my favorite – ah it’s so hard to pick! – my favorite is probably
Tolan McNeil’s ‘The Faith.’

Lamitschka:  Fans are always hungry for good road stories. Do you have one you can share with us (come on don’t be shy)?
There
was a great show I played once on the Gulf Islands in British Columbia.
It was this great place called Cortes Island that you had to take two
ferries to get to. We were just past tourist season so it was only
locals around and the house show we were doing was the only
entertainment happening. The house shows I had done before were pretty
sedate affairs so I was expecting the same, folding chairs, some
acoustic songs, some red wine and done. Boy was I wrong. The entire
island came to the show. Our hosts made a huge batch pasta for everyone
using fresh oysters, mussels, and salmon that was all caught fresh that
day. Some of the guests made wine and brought so much to share, and the
house was packed and full of loud, drunk, happy people from 6pm to 6am
the next morning. Even when the official bands were done there was never
a moment where someone wasn’t playing a guitar. I threw in the towel
around 4am and ended up sleeping in a trailer next to the house that the
chickens kept trying to get into. The next morning we got paid in cash,
homemade rhubarb champagne, and some dolphin bones that had recently
been found on the beach. Best. Show. Ever.

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