Posted On 17 Jul 2019
Meet Val Emmich!
He is a writer, singer-songwriter and actor. He’s released more than a dozen albums, has been called “one of the finest songwriters in the Garden State, [and] also one of the most prolific.” He’s acted in shows like Vinyl (HBO), 30 Rock (NBC), The Big C (Showtime) and Ugly Betty (ABC) and been featured in a bunch of commercials. His debut novel, The Reminders, was a Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers selection. And his newest book, Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel, is a New York Times bestseller based on the hit Broadway show.
His latest music video is for his song “Worry” – it’s off his recently released album, Tizzy. The record highlights his openness with depression and anxiety, something he’s dealt with all his life.
You can check that video out here: https://youtu.be/TI9zZ6l0CTs
Connect With Val Emmich Online Here:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you?
You find me sipping coffee with a five-month old rescue dog at my feet. The coffee is necessary every day but especially when you’ve just adopted a puppy. Please send help!
Now that we are half-way through the year, how has 2019 been treating you? What are some goals that you have for yourself this year? How close are you to reaching them?
It’s been pretty good. I released a new album, Tizzy, and finished a new novel that will be published in 2020. But to tell you the truth, I’ve been working hard to set less goals for myself. I think a good portion of my angst is based on me trying to do too much and that comes from this deep need inside to constantly prove myself (I’ve only recently learned this in therapy). For example, a few weeks ago I decided I wanted to record a second new album this summer, and I had to take a step back and remind myself that I was doing it again, not taking a moment to breathe. I was rushing to the next thing when there was no reason to. I constantly feel like I’m racing against time, we all are, and it’s hard for me to just sit down and do normal-people things like appreciate a new dog. So I scrapped my recording plans (for now) and I’m trying to just sip my coffee.
Growing up, how important was music in your life? Can you recall the moment when you decided that you wanted to be a musician? Was it an easy or difficult choice to make?
I was always in awe of musicians but I never thought I could actually be one until I started seeing live bands perform around my hometown. These were just local teenage bands but seeing them perform made a huge impression on me. More than the performance, the idea that I could write my own songs was intoxicating to me. Learning guitar was difficult, because I hated practicing, but the songwriting came naturally. That’s not to say my first songs were good, they weren’t, but that writing songs has never felt like work to me; it’s freedom.
Was there ever a time when you thought about doing something else? If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing? Would you be as fulfilled in life?
There was one point in my life when I thought of myself as only a musician. Now I think the umbrella term for someone like me is probably just “artist.” I create art in multiple forms, all under my own name. Music will always be one of those forms. Songwriting is extremely important to me. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it helps keep me alive.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
I’m not really surprised by anything anymore, just because at this point I’ve been through so much. But when I was first beginning, the music industry was such a different thing than it is now. Digital music was just beginning. Radio and MTV were still huge factors. The biggest surprise happened when I was in my early twenties and I signed a record deal with a major label. I thought my life was about to change, that I would quickly become this huge rockstar, and it was a shock to learn that it doesn’t work that way. Many artists get record deals and very few of those deals work out. My deal didn’t work out and I was crushed.
How did you stumble into your acting career? What would you say that you enjoy doing the most right now at this point in your life? And what about writing? How have you able to successfully balance all of these careers?
It was a true stumble. I was home from college for the summer and working at a used bookstore. My boss’s son was an actor and she introduced me to her son’s agent. I had never expressed any interest in acting and yet my boss must have sensed something in me, because pushed me to give it a try. A few weeks later, I’m acting in a Sony commercial. It happened that quickly and randomly.
I probably enjoy acting the least of my three fields, but only because I’m a control freak and with acting you have the least amount of control. You’re a cog in the wheel and that can be a beautiful thing, being part of something much larger than yourself. But with songwriting and novel writing, it’s all coming from just me and there’s something really satisfying about that. That said, I feel lucky that I can express myself in all these different ways and I wouldn’t want to give any of them up.
Let’s talk about your newest single called “Worry.” What was the inspiration for this track? How would you say that it compares to the rest of your latest album, “Tizzy”?
I had a tough 2018. It was hard to explain because I had a great year professionally. My latest book, Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel, had debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at #2. It was a dream come true. And yet, I was more depressed than I had been in a long, long while. I had also begun therapy for the first time in my life and it was unearthing all these long-buried emotions. Those emotions found their way into my new songs, most of which were written on a freshly acquired upright piano. “Worry” was written one morning, just me tapping on a single piano key, over and over, saying just one word to myself, worry, worry, worry. It was like I was trying to push the feeling out of me, exorcise it from my being. “Worry” is one of the few upbeat songs on Tizzy and had it been written for another album it probably would have been turned into a more traditional guitar song. But I kept it on piano and I’m glad I did because I think it adds to the spooky uneasiness that is anxiety.
How creatively were you involved with the making of the music video for “Worry”?
It was a total team effort with director Rob Fitzgerald and me. We’ve known each other for two decades now so we have an easy working relationship. We just kept bouncing ideas off each other on the phone, sending links to other videos we liked, slowly refining and refining our idea. We had a low budget so we wanted to keep the concept very simple. For this video it was all about the planning. Finding the right paint colors for the walls, the perfect toy piano to use (and smash), deciding to keep the camera position fixed the whole time. The actual shooting was very quick, just a few hours. Then Rob spent a few weeks getting the edit just right. Because the video is one static frame, the challenge was to cut the video in a way that it was always building and evolving over the entire three minutes. Rob killed it. It’s one of my favorite music videos I’ve ever done.
How do you think you have grown as a musician since you first started making music?
I’ve become way more efficient. I instinctively know where a song should go, what kind of song it wants to be, almost immediately. I used to try to lead a song instead of letting the song lead me.
What has it been like keeping up with your social media accounts and all of the different platforms? Is it hard to stay up to date on it all? What would you say is your favorite way to connect with your fans now? What has social media done for your career so far?
I miss the days when artists were mysterious and you knew almost nothing about them. I don’t understand the over-sharing thing. I guess I’m just old. So needless to say, I’m not a big fan of social media. Some days I love it, but most days it fills me with panic and dread. And as a father, I fear it.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
The artists who inspire me the most are the storytellers. The ones who can offer insight into the world with a mixture of wordplay and vulnerability. Conor Oberst. Phoebe Bridgers. Car Seat Headrest. Julien Baker. All these artists are currently inspiring me.
If you had an unlimited budget and your schedule was free, what would your dream music video look like?
More than expensive set pieces and effects, I’m looking for innovative ideas. So my whole budget would go to hiring one of the great directors from my childhood like Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze. I once worked with director Mark Romanek on a Mountain Dew commercial. That’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to working with a music video legend.
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
I want people to hear my songs and say to themselves, “Wow, someone out there gets me.”