The Secret Emchy Society plays foot stompin' heart breakin' cowboy songs about good friends and hard times. Frontwoman Cindy Emch has been recently dubbed "the First Lady of Queer Country" by the Huffington Post and listed as one of the "Ten Queer Country Artists Music Fans Should Know" from TheBoot.com. She sings deeply personal, fearless, and passionate tunes for the marginalized and festive alike. Pairs well with whisky and hitting the streets.
Recently dubbed East Oakland's First Lady of Queer Country - Cindy Emch (or “Emchy” as her friends refer to her) could never be labelled as ordinary. No Depression christened her “Equal parts June Carter Cash, Nick Cave and Murder By Death.” From Under the Basement magazine summed her up by saying, “Imagine Bill Monroe and Sid Vicious having kids together.” Common Folk Music went a step further, suggesting a sound equivalent to “the glint of a switchblade held to your throat.”
Consequently, while Emch chose to dub her latest project the Secret Emchy Society, the truth is she’s always remained clear and concise when it comes to her convictions. A singer, songwriter, author, poet, radio host and outspoken advocate for causes affecting the LGBTQ community, she’s pursued both cause and craft since first opting to become a performer from the time she was a child, while singing classic cabaret songs with her mother. At age 14, she picked up her first guitar and learned to play via the Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen songbooks. Since then, her career has blossomed, thanks to time with her bands Vagabondage, Feral, Sinners Tonic, and her bluegrass band, convincingly titled Rhubarb Whiskey, whose offshoot Oakland Wine Drinkers Union, Local 88 helped broaden her musical palette. At the same time, she found herself sharing stages with other Bay Area favorites, including T Sisters, 5 Cent Coffee, Mark Growden, Pony Hunt, Foxtail Brigade, and more.
After a succession of albums, EPs and guest appearances with such standout artists as Juno-nominated singer Carolyn Mark, the band Unwoman, and longtime collaborator Sean Malroy, Emch expanded her ambitions and founded the aforementioned Secret Emchy Society, a loose collective that features a revolving group of like-minded musicians who hop on her bandwagon during various stops along the tour. The cast currently includes Emch on vocals, guitar and accordion, Hans Winold on bass, Dillie Dauley on viola, and Eric “Scratch” Ingerson on drums.
Despite the contributions of her talented co-conspirators, the band’s first offering, The Stars Fall Shooting Into Twangsville qualifies as Emch’s official solo debut after years of playing and songwriting with others. She describes it as “an album of hard earned heartbreakers and foot stompers about good friends and hard times." Emch wrote all the material either in whole or with occasional input from her collaborators, making for a series of songs that rejoice and reflect, ruminate and reminisce about times both good and bad, and especially the importance of being true to one’s own ideas and identity. The music celebrates a variety of vintage styles, from rowdy barn-burners and old time honky tonk, to tears-in- your beer ballads, zydeco rave-ups, and brassy collusions of country and cabaret, aiming to strike its appeal with both the mainstream and the marginalized.
As her collaborator Carolyn Mark said of Emch’s music “It pairs well with whisky and hitting the streets.”
Based on initial impressions, the critics seem to agree. “From the very first listen I loved this album, after which I loved it more and more with every listen..." said Mike Morrison of AmericanRootsUK.com. "The songs on The Stars Fall Shooting are pretty and gritty, sexy and sad,” writes Jessie Lynn McMains aka Rust Belt Jessie, Racine, Wisconsin’s Poet Laureate. “The music is a mix of everything from honky tonk to alt-country, to jazz and zydeco and punk, and it slides into your ears like a good blend of rye whiskies sliding down your throat. Sweet and warm, with just enough of a burn."
None of this ought to come as any surprise considering that Emch’s literary endeavors have closely paralleled her musical output. A well recognized writer and poet, she has published five chapbooks, founded / hosted / curated the Queer Open Mic for five years, and featured at dozens of spoken word showcases including Sister Spit, the Radar Reading series, K'vetch, Writers With Drinks, as well as co-hosted a queer radio show with Lynn Breedlove. She has been interviewed on PirateCat Radio, FCC Free Radio, Revelator Radio, OutsiderWriters.com, ReadThisMagazine.co.uk, Drinks with Tony (Radio Valencia) and on NPR for her writing, her music, and, she claims, “her propensity for being in car accidents that are not her fault.” Notably too, she has also been featured in the Accordion Babes Calendar and was notoriously Francis Bean Cobain’s favorite ‘babe’ of that year.
Nevertheless, The Stars Fall Shooting Into Twangsville was borne from less than assuring circumstances. After burning out from years of day-job overtime, the loss of friends and family members and watching her own health decline due to the stress, Emch found herself sitting in a haunted bar in New Orleans, her spiritual second home. There she met a “grizzled and gorgeous” old woman who told her, “Come on honey, this is New Orleans. You gotta shake your ass!” The musician took the women’s admonition as a sign – it was time to get down to her real work as a musical artist.
The Stars Fall Shooting Into Twangsville was recorded at Lucky Mouse Studios in Victoria, British Columbia, with the help of vocalist/guitarist/producer Tolan McNeil and singer/pianist Carolyn Mark who trades vocals with Emch on “Had Enough.” “She was the first person to put me solo on a stage with a guitar in my hands,” Emch recalls. In fact, it was Mark’s decision to enlist Emch as her opening act for a show at the Epicurean Connection in Sonoma, California that launched the Secret Emchy Society’s first official performance. Mark also recruited members of her own band, bassist Dennis Siemens and drummer/guitarist Joel Fernandes, to assist on Secret Emchy Society’s debut. Other contributors include Grayson Walker on piano and accordion, back-up vocalist J. McLaughlan and Olivier Clements on brass.
“I flew from Oakland to Victoria and spent four days teaching the band the songs, laying down the core tracks, and making sure we were all on the same page,” Emch recalls. “What we came up with was an impressive array of harmonies, accordion, piano, upright bass, horns, drums, a whole passel of guitars, and a deep sense of satisfaction.”
Emch, who cites Hank Williams, Hazel Dickens, Shovels & Rope, Johnny Paycheck, Charles Mingus, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Bob Wills, and the Corn Sisters as key influences, went all out when it came to gathering material for the album. “There are scraps and orphans of songs that made it onto this record that were years and years old,” she explains. “There are songs on this record that were less than two weeks old when they were recorded. All I know is that I threw every bit of myself into it.”
It’s little wonder then that the results are both highly personal and wholly contagious.
“What I have to offer the world is music, stories, and finding ways that I can throw the most powerful parts of myself into a few muddled chords and some danger,” Emch insists.
Given those efforts, it’s also clear that she’s succeeded.
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1: What artist would you most love to work with?
T Bone Burnett
2: What instrument brings you the most joy?
3: What was the worst advice?
Try to sound happier.
4: What was your first concert?
5: What/where is the best road food?
TATOR TOTS! or Fresh cucumbers and tomatoes.
6: What’s the best music advice you ever got?
Tour with people whose music you like.
7: Who is your most surprising inspiration?
My friend who founded and created her own soap company from scratch.