Staying up late in a quiet desolate room in South River with candles and a guitar, Val Emmich writes songs about broken relationships, desperation, paranoia, and finding hope.
Those are the major themes in his new independent release Slow Down Kid. After a quick start in the music biz two years ago - landing commercial acting gigs and gaining notoriety in the hip New Brunswick area - Emmich moved to Los Angeles for more acting opportunities. There, he spent many nights in his apartment thinking about his life while awaiting work. What he eventually figured out led him to move back to Jersey and re-examine his career.
"The year after I graduated college was a confusing time," said the 23-year-old Emmich. "All of the sudden there was no path laid out in front of me. I believed I could go any direction I wanted. It was both liberating and terrifying. I started having panic attacks for the first time in my life. I didn't even want to go to Los Angeles but I didn't know what else to do. I wanted to do something creative, but I was too scared at the time to follow through with my music. It was like I had nothing invested emotionally in acting and everything to lose with my music. So I played it safe."
Slow Down is a personal collection of poems-turned-songs. It has a radio-friendly pop-rock edge and Emmich sounds like early Beck trying emo for the first time. The autobiographical title track is the singer's answer to all his worries. He writes: "The pressure...it is so great / It's hard to get your foot on the break / Cuz nobody wants to get left behind / You have no choice but to get trapped in the grind / Slow down kid."
"It was the one song that was optimistic. I decided to call the album Slow Down Kid to maybe spread that little bit of hope over the whole CD," Emmich said.
In the album's two catchiest tracks "Selfish Blues," and "Privacy Attracts A Crowd," Emmich approaches relationships with teenage angst and aimless frustration with a point. He is angry but under control.
"I wanted to put my experience to good use," he said.
Wayne Dorell (Tonic, Yo La Tengo, Jawbox) from Hoboken's Pigeon Club recording studio produced Slow Down, and Emmich brought his friends P.J. Adamo, Anthony Bianco, Rob Fitzgerald and Eric Micali to play on the album. With a modest promotional campaign, Slow Down is creating a buzz, and Emmich's April 5 appearance at Maxwell's in Hoboken is dubbed as a homecoming show. He has been touring for the last two months.
Emmich grew up in Manalapan. His grandfather was a concert pianist and his mother encouraged his artistic interests. He spent many summers at the shore with friends and he picked up the guitar in high school while sidelined from soccer due to an injury.
He was engaged so deeply in music that he never returned to the soccer fields. He focused solely on writing and performing.
"The guitar and the piano have become tools for me to release tension in my life. They are channels for me to vent through," he said. "They allow me to exorcise my demons. Lyrics are the most important part to me, then the music. The music is only there to give the words a context and a mood."
He attended Rutgers University to study philosophy and American Studies. When he was not in class, he played the local scene relentlessly. He developed a fan base of mostly young ladies obsessed with his good looks and charm. And like any attractive guy in his early 20s, Emmich pursued acting after graduating in 2001. He appeared in commercials for milk, AT&T, and Burger King. He also had a small role in NBC's Third Watch.
"Acting is a way to make money and to help support my music," Emmich said.
Childlike Records President Mike Iurato caught Emmich in 2001 at an acoustic set in New Brunswick and offered him a small deal. The Fifteen Minute Relationship (Childlike) was released soon after and it included six tracks. Around this time, Emmich stopped acting and teamed up with Andy Gesner to start the Artist Amplification group to record more music. They recruited area musicians from the Ben Trovato band and Hero Pattern and went to work on Slow Down. Many late-night studio sessions and 11 songs later, the album was finished. It was released in stores earlier this month.
"Val is a gifted musician with a lot of discipline. He is doing all the right things," said Gesner. "He is showing results. The album is gaining exposure."
Gesner's firm provides publicity for up-and-coming local acts. In addition to Emmich, he has worked with Hero Pattern, small a.m., Hoboken's Mary Ann Farley, Little T and One Track Mike, and the Swimmies. In January, Gesner coordinated the three day festival Amp Fest 2003 at Maxwell's. He received rave reviews.
Emmich will perform at Maxwell's at 1039 Washington St. in Hoboken with special guest The Good North at 9 p.m. on April 5. Tickets are $7.
For information call (201) 653-1703 or visit www.valemmich.com. q