Aaron Embry has had an abundant musical journey. He played with legendary Willie Nelson, was the touring pianist for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and recently opened for Mumford and Sons. After years of playing with bands, Aaron is releasing his first album Tiny Prayers on August 18th. I sat down and talked with Aaron about his new album, his career thus far, and, most importantly, his music.
Aaron, unlike many musicians, knows exactly what genre he wants his music placed in. When I asked him where he would catagorize his music he stated that folk was most fitting -- "When I go into a record store, I'm usually catagorized under folk/country. Folk represents the people; I'd be proud to be folk." What about country? "Country almost always has something to do with family life, good wholesome values." Talking to Aaron revealed his grounded nature and his tendency toward the good natured, home life. To reflect the affection for his home and family life Tiny Prayers was recorded in Ojai California in Embry's home.
He started recording his album at a studio but found that the environment was too far from his comfort zone,"The studio is too isolating. There are no birds or nature of a quiet neighborhood." The ideals of folk and country aren't Aaron's only reasons for the fondness for the style of music --"A lot of folk is spearheaded for the by the words. My songs are simple; there are no deeply thought out metaphors. They're understandable."
While touring with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Aaron was happy to make music for a living. He focused on making music a 9-5 venture with plenty of overtime and coffee. With moleskin in pocket, he put himself on a schedule and when he had a moment, any moment, he would write music and digest ideas. When he realized, in true folk fashion, that his music represented "the people" more than he thought, he was given a sense of purpose.
"I realized I wanted to put these songs out but it was difficult leaving Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes," Aaron said, speaking fondly of the band. "I was always content with where I was, playing with others, but I am ambitious about sharing my music once I found it resonated with people."
The people he worked with helped him develop his method of songwriting. When I asked Aaron about the influence of people he played with, he was happy to share stories of his experiences, including an anecdote of a one on one convo with Willie Nelson about Django Reinhardt at the age of twenty. However, one artist stands out in his mind -- "Elliot Smith was probably the most influential," Aaron said, of the people he played with, "He worked on his words a lot. You really have to work on that aspect. I had to step back and look at my writing." Aaron's songs weren't always in the simplistic style we see in Tiny Prayers and much of the music that influences him has lyrical prowess.
"I listen to whatever has good words: Willie Nelson, Dolly Parten, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan. Artists I would love to play with, my dreams would come true. If it doesn't have words it's like Bach... [laughs] I love Bach. I would forever be in Bach's band." Right on man, who wouldn't be in Bach's band?
After listening to Aaron's adoration for words, I asked if he considered himself a poet. He decidedly gave me an abrupt "no." Reason: "I think poets work a lot harder (with words). I need music to back up my lyrics."
The music on Aaron's new record is completely accoustic. Instruments include the auto-harp, bass in almost every song, and the tenor guitar. "I was introduced to the tenor guitar by another artist in Nashville. The angels put it in my hands." I commented on the percussion on the album and Aaron revealed that there was no drum kit, just tapping on the floor, "The trick at this point was to not cut that out."
Watch Aaron play piano:
The musicians that play with Aaron have a special place in his heart. Even as a solo songwriter who spends most time figuring songs out by himself, he understands the importance of collaboration.
"You waste time getting stuck by yourself. You turn into your own monster. You still get stuck (with other people) but if you openly collaborate, most of time people pull each other out in creative volley."
With the release of Tiny Prayers on August 18th, Aaron has been playing at venues. He loves all venues -- "The big shows in New Jersey were like 10,000 smiling faces, one big wave of emotion, while you see every different emotion in smaller venues." Even the venue of the world wide web as Aaron and his wife put out YouTube videos of him playing. Aaron's favorite venue, though, remains the same: busking.
"Busking is my favorite kind of performing. Playing for people who are paying no atention. Playing on sidewalks just with a piano in a random place like a farmer's market or a sidewalk, no booking by an agent. It's always really neat to see how people react; there are usually sweet positive vibes. Playing for two people, that's special."
When I asked Aaron about his goals for the future, he gave me an unexpected answer.
"I would love to be a geriatric guy with a guitar and a song for every occasion. I know people like that and they really know how to put music out into the world. I definetely want to be old."
I have no doubt this will be the case. As for whatever other aspects of Aaron's music to come, we'll keep an ear out.
Watch Aaron perform the last song on Tiny Prayers, "Your Heart And Mine":