Interview: Chance Emerson Sheds Light on Songwriting, Inspirations, Aspirations

Yesterday morning

I saw this man who didn’t know his life

And if he did he chose to lit

He wandered in circles

Said who are you and darling who am I

Fictional and sleep deprived

“How Can I” — Chance Emerson

Chance Emerson has a folky, singer-songwriter, indie gift and “The Raspberry Men” is an immaculate display of his musical creativity.

Covering sounds from indie-folk to pop, The Raspberry Men isn’t specific to any genre but the genre of Chance Emerson. It is beautiful and real, and if you haven’t already you must give it a listen.

Tracking the narrative of a recent high school graduate, “The Raspberry Men” is merely a  response to the feeling we all get once we are placed into the real world — what the hell am I supposed to do now? The album’s hit single, “How Can I,” seems to be Emerson’s up-beat memory of this epiphany. 

The Raspberry Men is certainly a summer vibe. Emerson’s guitar sturms and charming vocals grapple with ideas of home, love, and relationships while maintaining a groovy rhythm that keeps the party going. This vibe is comforting in a similar way to when you lay in the grass for the first time in spring but is also rhythmic and makes you want to dance. 

When we sat down to talk, I uncovered some insight about Emerson’s process and inspiration for the album but also got the chance to get to know an artist who is on the come up. Chance Emerson is an artist in every sense of the word. He is doing things with the indie sounds we all love but better than we remember them to be — he is fantastic. Here’s some highlights from our interview with Chance; slightly edited.

Can you speak a little bit about your process? Were there any differences between creating your EP and the album?

For my last EP, The Indigo Tapes, I was working with my high school friend Finn, and it was definitely a product of both of our musical inspirations. I entered the collaboration with  my very singer-songwriter/folk influenced style and he came from a background that was dance music — more of an electronic background. So, it ended up being an amalgamation of those two things and I was really happy with it. 

One major difference between the two pieces stems from the fact that when I was working on the EP I didn’t know how to produce music. I just sat with him and knew what sound I was looking for; I couldn’t quite vocalize what I was searching for but together the two of us got as close to it as we could. As for Raspberry Men, Finn graduated because he was a year above me, I was like “Oh my God! I have to learn how to do this,” so I started to figure out how to produce my own music.

There are a lot of tricky things on the production side that can have a big effect on the way your music sounds and it has taken about three or four years of me learning and poking around with music production software to finally be in a place where I feel confident that I can create a product I can be proud of.

The EP was a very collaborative pursuit and it was the two of us putting our inspirations together; this particular album was solitary. I think that it is more representative of exactly what I am thinking now than the last one was. I wrote all the songs in Maine — I took a year off in high school — and was kind of just bumming around trying to figure myself out what I wanted to do in this world. That reflects in the album.

What inspired you to make The Raspberry Men?

I think right when you graduate there is a lot of worry, a lot of “What the hell! How did I become so old, so quickly?” If you don’t go straight to college you’re not surrounded by all that stimulus that sort of works to distract you from the fact that you’re aging, or in other words, you are slowly marching towards death. ”Am I making the most of my time?” — that’s a scary thought. There were a lot of big concerns on my mind that I feel are universal so I wanted to translate those into song and share an honest expression of my take on those worries and fears that I feel everyone has at some level. It is my experience. I moved around a lot when I was growing up and I’m still moving around a lot so [it’s about] trying to figure out home, grappling with relationships, getting older, this whole crazy world and my place. 

From the songs you have written, what song resonates with you the most? 

For me, the most important song is The Raspberry Men and that’s why I named the album after that track. I wrote it a year or two ago and I wrote the first iteration of it at the end of my time in high school and I’ve been playing with it ever since. I was not sure if I liked it or what to do with it because it made me feel really weird but then I was like “Oh wait! That’s a good feeling because none of my other songs hit me like that.” 

You have a song titled “Annabelle,” who is she? 

That’s a song I wrote the year after high school and I was missing my friends. Annabelle isn’t about a person, it’s about a collective of people you have — friends — that you’ll make through your life. I was thinking about high school; there are obviously friends in high school who I’m going to stay in touch consistently . There are also obviously friends I will fall out of touch with, but at the end of the day I’m going to hear from them again. But beyond those two groups, there’s a load of people who were a part of my life in high school. I’m probably never going to speak to them again — that blows my mind. You can have a relationship that is important and matters and all of a sudden, due to circumstances, it ends. I was trying to be more of an optimist. I wanted to write a happy goodbye, make myself feel better.

What is it like balancing school and your musical career?

I think it’s the same as trying to balance school and anything. Music is my passion and hopefully can also be my career, so there are definitely moments that I have to prioritize it over the academic side of things. For example, this past spring I was at a point where I had been working on this album for more than a year, so was I going to prioritize my engineering midterm that was on the same day as the album’s release? Probably not. I go with the choice that’s going to make me regret it least. I can always take an engineering course again but I can’t always release this album again, ao I wanted to do it right. 

Who are your top five artists right now?

Matt Corby, Noah and the Whale, Yola, Madison Cunningham, and Theo Katzman 

Who’s an artist you would love to collaborate with?

I think it would be really fun to collaborate with Theo Katzman. The way his songs grow and the arrangements are structured translate incredibly well to a live format. My newest music is not released just yet, but one big change that’s happened since I’ve gotten to college is in my arrangements. I started playing with a band in the early fall which has affected how I’m writing music now. For example, some of the songs on this last album have 100 instruments playing simultaneously and obviously that is just not achievable on a stage so I’m starting to write music that can be recreated more faithfully in a live setting. Some say that writing for live performance is a limiting factor but I’m finding that I write good stuff when I limit myself — it makes me focus more on exactly what each instrument is doing at any given time. I love playing live now and I’m chasing that sound in my recordings. Sure, I want things to sound polished, but now I’m also shooting for raw and real.

What’s your greatest musical memory?

My band and I got in all sorts of trouble when we tried to play a release show for the album. We had the event all set up at a loft in town — it was going to fit like 300 people. I was terrified that the police were going to show up and it would be a whole thing but then my worries rapidly shifted when last minute the loft guys were like “We can’t do it.” So, we moved the show and then kind of just had this idea of “What if we just set up in the dining hall?” And so, we set up the next day in the dining hall on the first year corner on campus and we played this set under bright dining hall lights and hundreds of people showed up and it was nuts. I’m banned from playing music in that dining hall now, but I’ve never seen anything like that and it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever pulled off. 

So, if you haven’t by now go listen to The Raspberry Men! Also, check out the official music video for “Annabelle” on YouTube. You can find Chance Emerson on Instagram: @chance.s.emerson 

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