Arts & Culture

Chance Emerson ’23 debuts album, ‘The Raspberry Men’

Student singer-songwriter grapples with themes of home, childhood memories on first album

By
Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 10, 2020

On "The Raspberry Men," Emerson discusses his teenage years split between Taipei, Hong Kong and New Hampshire.

Sporting summery attire despite the unexpected snowfall outside, Chance Emerson ’23 and the Clementines turned Andrews Commons into a makeshift concert hall on the night of March 6. The band enlivened the large crowd that turned up with songs from Emerson’s new album, “The Raspberry Men.”

Emerson has been releasing bright indie folk-rock songs since 2017, and upon arriving to Brown formed the Clementines with four other first-years: Jack Riley ’23, Jacob Vietorisz ’23, Satch Waldman ’23 and Will Beakley ’23. This month, the band is playing a string of shows both on- and off-campus to promote the “The Raspberry Men,” which features nine songs written and recorded by Emerson over the last two years.

Emerson describes the album as a “microcosm” of his life from the age of 17 to 19. It is an exploration of his anxieties about getting older and the uncertainties that come with being on the cusp of adulthood. For him, growing up has meant reckoning with the notion of home. His adolescence unfolded across the globe — in Taipei, Hong Kong and New Hampshire. As a result, he said, “I never know what to say when people ask, ‘where are you from?’”

The songs on his album embody the times and places that have shaped Emerson. They were recorded in a wide variety of locales, not only studios but organic environments, including a wooden shed on his grandparents’ property in Maine. There, Emerson allowed external sounds — his brother yelling, dogs barking — to remain in the songs. “I liked having little artifacts that reminded me of (that) summer,” he said.

Emerson also inventively explores place-bound memories in the music video for the breezy single “How Can I.” To create the video, he had his 12-year-old brother film himself wandering the Hong Kong neighborhood where he grew up, allowing viewers a look at the area as he may have experienced it when he was his brother’s age.

As he has matured as a songwriter, Emerson said, he has gotten more comfortable with making his lyrical imagery specific and strange. His music is catchy and easily accessible, yet also shows a dexterous play with language. “There let it freely burn / as the raspberry men in turn / burst saccharine caviar and liqueur,” he sings on the album’s titular song. On “How Can I,” he manages to pack in references to both Brutalist architecture and the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea.

On Friday, Emerson sang his literary lyrics with earnest energy, echoed by his bandmates and reflected back by the enthusiastic crowd. A few small mosh pits even erupted on Andrews’ carpeted floors.

While he finished recording the album before arriving at Brown, Emerson fine-tuned it over the past few months with the help of Palmer Nix ’22, sometimes spending entire days in the studio. “It was a very funny freshman fall,” Emerson said. “Like, when do I do homework?”

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