From Tennessee to Tennessippi, Brian Emerton makes the world his stage without censorship.
“I’m a laid-back guy… I try to love everyone and respect others like they’re the same no matter who they are. Kindness and respect will get you farther in the world than anything. The world is your stage, you just gotta get up and perform. [I like to] get the attention of the room, [you] never know what’s gonna come out my mouth – no censorship…The cicadas are listening…”– Brian Emerton
Hailing from Cookeville, TN, the southern-born musician-songwriter, Tennessee Songwriter, aka Brian Emerton, self-admittedly dislikes “waiting on people.” This is why it is now a lighthearted running joke that the drafts of this feature were not always delivered (by me) in a timely fashion. Between you (dear readers) and me, however, this allowed me an opportunity to delve even more deeply into his self-definition as a “laid-back guy.” Indeed, I have come to learn and know Brian as a bright, talented, funny, and above all empathetic and sensitive human being, for whom I have much respect, in both his music and his character. Through an exploration of his music, I’ve discovered why he maintains that “Kindness and respect will get you farther in the world than anything.” To Brian, that world is a stage… And he is here to perform. And he performs it well.
Musical Background and Influences:
“I was 12 years old and never really paid attention to music until Guns n Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” video came on MTV. I was hooked instantly! My mom and dad were divorced when I was 2 so when I got to see my dad, he would always be listening to bands like The Doors, Queen, Black Sabbath, Kiss, etc., and living with my mom, I got to hear Hank Williams Jr. and Sr, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Culture Club, etc. So, I got the best of both worlds.”
At the age of 12, Brian was playing football, and for his 13th birthday, Guns and Roses came to Knoxville, TN, and his cousin took him to the show. Football was left behind, and Brian never looked back, as he turned his sights on music. He recalls the moment at that show when “Welcome to the Jungle” began, the house lights came on, and “it felt like it was a big earthquake.” It was from that earth-shaking moment onward that he knew music was what he wanted to do. He subsequently quit football and told his mother he wanted a guitar, which he received for Christmas.
He recalls having two lessons, learning chords G, C, and D, which he tried for six months to perfect. After another six months away from the guitar, and having almost given up, he met a peer who introduced him to Metallica. A self-proclaimed loner, with friends who had all moved away, or passed away, Brian began to pursue the guitar. He first learned with a pick, then his fingers, and despite the requisite blisters, he “never quit…never gave up,” which is when his friend showed him how to use distortion and how to play scales and arpeggios. Brian then read a few books on music technique, started on the path of doing finger arrangements and chords by himself, and began writing his own music. The first piece of music he wrote alone, was with “We and the Others.”
Speaking to his musical versatility and overall talent, Brian now plays five instruments. Humbly, he states “guitar is my number one instrument and I’m ok, I guess, at it. I don’t consider myself great but I’m more of a creator than wanting to be good at it if that makes sense. The second is bass. I played bass for 10 years in a metal band, and I love the groove you can get with a bass. 3rd are drums, 4th is piano, and 5th is mandolin.”
Musical Self-Definition / Description of Own Music
When I asked Brian to define his own sound, he stated:
“I create a folky blues I like to think. It really depends on what kind of mood I’m in that decides what comes out of me. If I’m down and out, then I’ll write something sad or pretty and vice versa.”
Motivation and Creative Process
“Just knowing I have the ability to create motivates me more than anything… I was born to write music! It doesn’t matter if I get famous or not, just knowing I can create beautiful music is a reward in itself.”
I asked Brian to describe his creative process when writing new music. He made special mention of how singers influence his music more than instrumental musicians. “I’ve always enjoyed singers more than musicians, so that’s something different about me.” To that end, of particular importance to Brian is a song’s melody.
“I’m always writing melodies based off my moods”– Brian Emerton
Creative process must originate from somewhere, as I have found. It’s rooted in some life experience or another, and in Brian’s words,
“Drugs play a big factor in your life, especially as a musician. I think a true musician needs to get messed up at least once, and I mean, completely out of their soul…it takes something like that to truly find yourself, when you feel left all alone. Dark thoughts are in everyone’s body, in anyone’s soul.”
“There’s really no process to it. I sit down, write a melody, and I pass it to the singer with maybe a song title or a few lines to start off with…” This aspect of Brian’s songwriting and musical sensibilities is a unique characteristic I’ve rarely, if ever, encountered before, so I asked him to elaborate on why vocals and vocal melody lines are so salient and integral in how he values a good song. A self-proclaimed difference in himself that sets him apart from other songwriters and music-lovers is his focus on the lyricist/vocalist, which penchant he describes as follows:
“The thing about singers is, well, everyone’s got their favorite guitarist…but for me, it was always the singer; the singer always gave the music life. You can have instrumentals all day long…but if you put someone’s soul behind that instrumental, it could be one of the prettiest songs ever. It brings the music to life… that’s what I always mean [when I reference] Jim Morrison, Freddy Mercury, Axel Rose…it could be kickass music all day long playing in the background but as soon as you put vocals on that sonnufabitch, it just brings the music alive.”
This insight into Brian’s songwriting values and process prompted me to ask Brian about his own vocal proclivities and how he sees himself as a vocalist. His response was interesting and colorfully descriptive:
“I never really considered myself a vocalist, I like to sing along in the car or the shower like anyone else, I always sing how I’d like someone else to sing it but with better tone and better control, someone who can hit their highs when they’re supposed to, and their lows…me, I sound like a cat getting drug by a damn streetsweeper cleaner…But I never have considered myself as a vocalist, just someone showing you how the song goes, so maybe they can go off of that, or do something better by example.”
For Brian Emerton, the essence and definition of creativity, in his own words, is: “Every song that I create or that I help create, I leave for the singer or the lyric writer to use their imagination to help create the song. Even though I hear it going one way, they hear it another way sometimes and I’m never disappointed in the end. That’s what creativity is all about.”
As we can see, the lyrics and vocal execution of others are paramount to his songwriting. Brian sees and hears a good vocal melody as “whatever comes natural…calms me down, takes the anger away…my mood sets the tone for the melody… Melody comes from the soul.”
I couldn’t agree more. Melody, as with all music, comes naturally, and from the soul.
So what’s next for Brian Emerton?
“I love my kids too so I’m glad I’m still here for all that”
Although he claims to be “never really serious,” he informs us that he is “always working on new material. Right now, I’m associated with two bands and two artists. The bands are We…The Others and Them Damned Ol Hillbillies and the two artists I’m currently writing with are Anthony Merrick (aka veganzombie87_) on Bandlab and Gary Lindsey (aka elvis_roxxx_) [also] on Bandlab“.
Brian cites a change recently in his approach to life as informing the state of his soul, and evidenced in the music he now creates:
“I’ve lived like a rockstar, I’ve trashed hotel rooms… it’s been a wild ride… I don’t even know who the fuck I am now…I’ve changed, my life’s gone 180 degrees…from hillbilly…to family dude…come home watch the news, look at the weather… write music on guitar… it’s kinda overwhelming, this lifestyle, even though I’ve lived it about 14 years…I miss all the […] and the drinkin’ and boozin’…I miss all that…but I love my kids too so I’m glad I’m still here for all that.” It seems that many of his demons are exorcised through music. “If you talk about it, it seems to have some kind of healing effect”
So, for Brian, the future looks melodic, and bright. And soulful.