Jackson Emmer Likes It Simple, With a Twist

Jackson Emmer
Jackson Emmer Olive & West Photography
When it comes to doing interviews, Americana songwriter Jackson Emmer stays humble. "I'll try to be extra-eloquent, but I can't guarantee anything," he says. Such tongue-in-cheek responses are typical of the 32-year-old Carbondale resident, who has a penchant for turning phrases and surprising audiences with roots-inspired ditties about life and love.

Emmer, who released an album titled Jukebox last April, honed his folksy chops in the barrooms of Aspen before capturing his sly brand of musical grit in the studio. For the most part, his recorded sound is pleasantly stripped down to highlight his acoustic guitar playing and gently countrified voice.

The tall and slender troubadour's looks land somewhere between Chris Isaak and Lyle Lovett, while his vocals are fluid and familiar, with a touch of a sandy drawl that serves to tie his songs together.

"One-dimensional music is not that interesting to me for repeated listening," says Emmer, who graduated from Bennington College in Vermont and admires the work of songwriters including Tom Waits, Todd Snider and John Prine.  "A lot of popular music has a performance element to it that feels like a bit of a charade. I'm looking for a more authentic approach. Stuff that I like the most will make you laugh as much as it touches you straight in the heart. Artists like Prine, who figured out how to thread that needle, are incredible. It's an approach that fits my voice and the things I like to write about. That's what I'm chasing."

Emmer grew up in California, moved to Colorado in 2001 for high school and then spent some time in North Carolina and Vermont before returning to the Rockies.

"I had family and other connections in all those places," he explains. "I was trying to decide where I wanted to be, but I've always known that Colorado feels most like home. A lot of younger people go through a phase when they are deciding where to plant roots and weighing their options as to how they want their lives to look. That's pretty much what I was doing."

While he calls Colorado home, Emmer likes to go farther afield to perform in other states. Among other destinations, he takes an occasional trip to Tennessee in order to meet with other songwriters and craft new ideas in the country-music haven of Nashville.

"I grew up listening to hip-hop, Motown and '50s rockabilly and doo-wop music that my parents liked," he explains. "While I was working at a summer camp during my high school years, one of the counselors brought in the album Acoustics by Tony Rice. It's got some killer acoustic flat picking on it, and I'd never heard anything like that. I was blown away by it, and as a result started diving into more folk and bluegrass material after that. I heard the rootsy stuff, and I latched onto it."

Emmer's lyrics are straight up, but usually with a quirky twist that might make the listener smile and feel the humanity of the character depicted within the tunes. On his track "Dreamers and Fools," he reveals his subject's failed relationship and then artfully drops an unexpected punchline: "For 35 years he had managed the store/Then he got fired, then got a divorce/Now he's moving to Fiji and buying a horse/Thank God for dreamers and fools..."

The song's refrain goes on to depict a kind of existential seat-of-the-pants, happy-go-lucky life from which Emmer takes inspiration and comfort: "Thank God for dreamers and fools like you and me/Hopeless romantics and wild-eyed wannabes/Taking their chances and breakin' the rules/Thank God for dreamers and fools."

As one might expect from an artist who pays careful attention to his lyrics and playing style, Emmer prefers the intimacy of smaller venues or listening rooms when performing.

"I typically play house concerts," he says. "I feel like an ambassador for house concerts. I do that all over the country with fans who want to put them on. It's really sweet. It's great. Every house concert is unique. I try to get the word out about this way of performing as much as possible. It's great for musicians who are looking for other options, and it's great for listeners who are tired of going to bars where it's too loud to play or listen properly."

Jackson Emmer, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 15, Songwriter Hour at Still Cellars, 1115 Colorado Avenue, Longmont, $15.
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Nick Hutchinson writes about music for Westword and enjoys playing his guitar when not on deadline.
Contact: Nick Hutchinson