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What's so Rock 'n' Roll about Emerson Snowe?

Emerson Snowe at The Great Escape

(All photos by Liza Mikhaleva)

Spoiler—nothing but a guitar in his hands (an acoustic one, though). Emerson Snowe travels with an Australian passport in which the 'name' states: Jarrod Mahon. The 25-year-old musician from Brisbane has been on the radar of indie-rock admirers as a guitarist of The Creases band. He has been working on his solo project since he was in high school too, occasionally teasing the Internet with home-recorded songs, exploring themes of family, friends and getting to know himself (the demo EP Vivid was released in 2012). He also supports fellow musicians like the opening act for King Krule and produces touching covers. In May, the artist finalised another chapter of his journey and merged Mr Mahon and Mr Snowe into his official debut EP That's Rock 'n' Roll. With it, he has toured around the UK, Europe and native Australia.

Jarrod is pretty fluent in the language of sarcasm. He likes to create contradiction, playing around with people's perceptions of him—such as his peculiar looks with chipped off nail polish. The confusing name of his first EP isn't an exception either—it's just another joke. The singer confesses that the reason for this is because he kept on saying 'That's rock 'n' roll!' at shows last year, and it has nothing to do with the genre of his music. Spotify defines Snowe's creations as indie-rock, Apple Music puts them under the 'alternative' category, while he believes it to be more 'romantic freak-pop.' However, this doesn’t really matter. What does is that Emerson Snowe isn't afraid to be different and share his self-reflection with the world. The seven songs from his EP form a puzzle of love and brightness, erasing boundaries between reality and fantasy. Each component is like a dream from different nights (the time of the day when Mahon recorded most of the tracks), but all experienced in the same bed. Through those dreams, his study of self-doubt leaves us with no doubt that being open is the key to understanding—both yourself and those around you.

The first time that I heard Emerson's freakish romances was more than a year ago. They immediately moved me with their honesty and pure naivety.

The first time that I heard the shaggy-haired musician outside my AirPods was at The Great Escape festival in Brighton this year. He had three shows to play over three days and one voice, which he had lost. At the earliest afternoon concert, he performed Human (sing along—'I want to feel like a human…') in neon blue lights. The audience was quite shy, but listened very carefully. Then followed Jarrod's favourite, most crowded gig, in a 'real club-like setting', with little oxygen but much love in the stuffy air. He greatly escaped the festival at his final beach show where the waves competed with his band, which was formed specifically for the UK tour.

The next time that I saw the Brisbane talent was backstage at his first headline show at London's independent bar The Islington. There, I got to document the moments before Emerson's show—him painting abstract faces, smudging dark eyeshadow, and FaceTiming his girlfriend Miriam (to whom many of the songs are dedicated). As the performance began, nervous but sentimental Jarrod showed his courteous self and good customer care—he thanked the audience and even shook some hands. Neither did he forget about his team—synth and bass player Josh, drummer George, guitarist Matt and manager Simon. During the soulful performance, the fans thanked him back in the best way they could: dancing and absorbing Snowe’s poetry. Even the guitar string couldn't resist the mutual appreciation—it snapped and turned the smokey-eyed rockstar into a rock 'n' roll Harry Potter. The scarlet blood from the cut perfectly matched the scarlet velvet background.

After so many live interactions with Emerson Snowe, I'm even more impressed by how his inner debates concerning self-awareness, relationships, medication, and love have avoided dark materialisation and have been instead embodied in radiant melodies. His answer—he is simply writing love songs, and we should just deal with it.

Read the interview below where we discuss accepting oneself, Patti Smith, stream of consciousness, and mental health to go backstage in Jarrod's head.

Emerson Snowe at The Great Escape

You have done quite a few song covers in the past, and your visual projects always attract new artists. What do you think of relations and collaborations in creative industries?

I think they’re very important; for me⁠—for sure. I have an opportunity to work with so many great people and take advantage of it. When being a solo artist, you should feel comfortable collabing with people. There are relationships where you have an idea that you’ll get along. And luckily, everyone who I’ve worked with was that way. For example, directors like Alexander O. Smith, who did If I Die, Then I Die. I talk to him every day⁠—he’s great. It’s special to have a relationship which is ongoing.

In ‘Sunshine’, you state that you ‘need a break from your phone and computer.’ What is your relationship with social media? Is it significant for artistic connections?

I think it is, when you're ready to reach out. For me, it's reached that point now. Instagram is such an easy thing— follow, follow, follow—but last year I unfollowed a lot of people and left like ten⁠—one of them was Patti Smith. I removed myself from so many things so I could focus on what I wanted. I don't even use Facebook anymore; it gets too much. Once you start getting comfortable with your art, with your view, with what you enjoy and don't enjoy, I think it's a lot easier to interact with others because you're more real. If I'm spending time on social media now, I'm only spending time on stuff that will influence me rather than on those things that aren't going to make me feel good. I believe that it was really important to isolate myself. Now, because I've done it, I've met great people whom I'm very similar with, and I love what they do. I'm not trying so much to please everyone. I used to change usernames—my name, then my surname—and then it went back. At some point I thought that I would keep it as a proper thing⁠—Emerson Snowe. I don't have a reason to have a personal account because Jarrod Mahon and Emerson Snowe are exactly the same thing.

Could you share something about the art you make? Do you consider the videos you create to support the musical part of your art?

I’ve been doing art since I’ve been doing the Emerson Snowe project. I think that everything is interconnected, but I don’t think about it too much. It’s also easy for me to say this now because I’ve done art for years and I’m cool with how I am and what I create.

Emerson Snowe performs his first show at The Great Escape

Not a long before your UK tour, the Extinction Rebellion protests took over London. What is your position towards the climate change crisis? Do you find the role of art crucial when used as an activist tool?

I come from a family where nobody believes in climate change. I do, of course, I do! (laughs) In terms of art, if it’s used the right way, and the art is intentionally created for that purpose, then it’s good. But if it’s just a piece of art, which someone is grabbing onto and giving it the meaning that it didn’t have before, I disagree with it. It’s like when they play a song at a protest rally which has nothing to do with it.

Who is your favourite artist? Interpret the ‘artist’ however you want.

Someone like Daniel Johnston or Patti Smith. Her Just Kids changed everything for me. I started reading it when I stopped drinking, and I got obsessed with her writing. It made me realise that I have to make stuff happen rather than just wait for stuff to happen. Also, her M Train was really good⁠—a complete stream of consciousness. Patti has always been the same person, and she isn’t embarrassed of how she was when she was younger. Who knows, I will probably look back in ten years and think: ‘Well, that was really stupid.’ But right now, I feel good.

Another visual component of yours seems to be your style. What do you keep in mind when choosing outfits? Any thoughts on fashion?

My favourite subject⁠—I love talking about fashion. I feel like my style is a lot to take in for someone who sees me for the first time, in a humorous sense. We all look a certain way because of years of evolving. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think: ‘Jeez, I look pretty ridiculous. This would be a lot to take in!’ But then I realise that it’s because stuff has happened and I’ve taken influence from all over the place. Style should be a very natural thing, and when it’s not, it’s very obvious. Everyone has their own interesting look. I think that fashion, art, and music go hand in hand. For example, when I was growing up and listening to The Horrors, I probably wouldn’t have liked their music without seeing what they looked like first. I saw them, and I was like: ‘Who the fuck are these guys? These goths.’ They looked very interesting. Like Nick Cave and The Birthday Party, they all had such a hectic look that I wanted to see what it was all about, you know? There was no fairness in that.

​Emerson Snowe before the show at The Islington

You are talking about style, though, not just fashion. Fashion is undoubtedly an art form, but when it meets capitalism, it can be pretty pretentious. People in the fashion industry understand it but are still there because they want to create.

People will always want to create because people have to. That's why I’m still doing music when I could have a normal job. Because I want to, I have to, and I’m doing it. It’s just so much more real when you have something to show.

I also noticed that you like makeup, particularly, the red lipstick. When did you start experimenting with it?

I think I’ve always experimented with it as I enjoyed the way it looked just because I could do it. I'm not taking advantage of anything or any scene⁠—I wanted to do it, and it adds to everything. If you’re gonna wear something, the only person who’s going to think about it is going to be you. You can literally wear anything, and walk out and if someone sees you, they’ll think it’s just who you are. People are often like: ‘Wow, how do you wear that? Everything you wear looks so good!’ But you can wear anything because you’re gonna be the one thinking about this. The way you see other people and the way you see yourself is different. You don’t have to wear crazy shit if you don’t want to. Also, it’s not crazy shit to someone who’s wearing it.

Could this be a part of your androgynous look? You even have a song called ‘Androgynous’.

My whole life, I’ve always liked women’s clothes because they fitted better and had more options. But then people started calling me ‘androgynous’ because I have quite feminine hairstyles. I don’t see those as anything defining me. But other people see it, and they put it on you. This is when people second guess themselves. In reality, though, you can do anything. But androgyny, once again, feels very normal and natural to me.

Emerson Snowe performs at The Islington

How different is the way you look and feel on the stage or your music videos from the routine you?

Not at all different. I've added the makeup for live performances because I think there's an element to it, which I love⁠—like Siouxsie Sioux or Robbie Smith. If you saw an artist's appearance, you would have an idea of what the music would sound like. But then if you actually listen to my music, it's totally different. I love this contradiction of experimenting with people's thoughts. I find it really humorous. I also find a lot of things that I do as an inside-joke, trying to make people feel uncomfortable or something. It just adds another layer. Like, there's this guy wearing makeup, and he's so open, but his music is quite upbeat. It's like The Cure. Their stuff is so 'boys don't cry'. Or Christie and their songs.

My whole life growing up, I was always told that I was a weirdo. Now it's me kind of getting back at people. The element of making people uncomfortable pushes boundaries⁠—it's entertaining. When I first started my shows and doing makeup, I would do it to make myself more comfortable with myself. If I can do this, I can do anything. When I first started painting my nails, years ago, I would do it because I knew that people would probably be like: 'Why is he doing it?' I knew that if I got through it, it would make me feel more comfortable with who I am. I wouldn't mind what people think.

Your lyrics are very poetical, which is one of the things your fans seem to sympathise with. What kind of literature are you into?

I got into David Sedaris. His stuff is so literal and funny because he’s just being himself⁠—telling stories about his childhood, his husband, their relationship. It’s funny and real. Even with movies, I like Richard Linklater and his film Slacker. Nothing happens but following a group of people. A stream of consciousness as well, I guess. That’s how the lyrics happen for me too⁠—I literally do all the instruments, and then I sit down and say the first thing that comes into my head. There’s no second guess in me. A lot of it is like, 'I like that, and I like that', which is something you can do when you’re on your own or with people around who are very into what you are doing.

You offer your audience a sneak peek into your head through your music. How could you describe your connection with them?

The music itself is like a diary-entry, a stream of consciousness. There have been numerous times when people reached out to me and related to stuff and talked about it. But I'm just doing it because I don’t know everything⁠—I’m learning. I’m still learning about myself, how I can be better, how I can treat myself better and not self-sabotage. Everyone is trying. And If you’re open to it, then talk about it. There’s definitely no planning to what I’m doing. I’m not trying to do anything with being open, but it is something that a lot of people say about my stuff. I think it’s because the lyrics are pretty literal. It is what it is, you know.

Emerson Snowe after the show at The Islington

You speak about accepting oneself and self-confidence quite a lot. Do you think that the fact that our society is finally bringing a lot of attention to mental health could help people be more familiar with themselves?

For sure. For me, it's quite natural to talk about it online or in reality. Recently I've realised that I didn't have anyone to look up to when I was younger and living in a small town⁠—to understand that what I was feeling was normal. Most people feel like that. There are more conversations about mental health now, which is helpful. But also, not saying that it's a fact, but like with everything that gets big, people are going to take advantage of it.

Mental health is in fashion...?

Oh, yeah! Have you been on Tumblr? That shit is fucked. Obviously, people are mentally ill, but there’s a point where you should want to be better and not just sit there and be like: ‘This is relatable.’ This is how Tumblr was for my friends and me. Then I was like: ‘I need to get off it.’ For years, when I talked about mental health, I wouldn’t be taken seriously. But it’s real, and you can be creative about it, but you should try and do something about it too. It just really annoys me how mental health is fashion⁠—if it’s a cool thing to be fucked up. If you are dealing with your problems through an open conversation, it’s okay. But if you are seeking pain for attention⁠—it bothers me.

If Emerson’s typed words are not enough, you can DM him on Instagram for a link to his new private EP Berlin Rain Songs. It's a very personal diary-like musical collection about his girlfriend, recorded with iPod headphones straight into her laptop. What could be better than sticking your ears into one’s audio diary with their consent?

Edited by Alexia McDonald, Digital Editor

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