“My Mandarin is pretty bad at this point,” says 19-year-old songwriter, Chance Emerson.
Still just a teenager currently attending college in Rhode Island, Emerson's rusty Mandarin is the result of being away from his homeland for nearly two thirds of his life now. Born in Taiwan to a Taiwanese mother and American father, Emerson moved to Hong Kong at seven-years-old.
“The concept of home has been very fluid for me,” he confesses. “Music has ended up being a huge part of how I ground myself in a place.”
The songs on Emerson’s upcoming debut album The Raspberry Men (March 6th) will ground you, too.
They speak to the most relatable aspects of the human condition in a manner that is empathic and world-traveler wise. Even so, the humor, high-energy, and edge of a youthful artist with baked-in chops are ultimately uplifting.
In other words, Chance takes chances.
In 2017, Emerson posted his self-produced EP, recorded in his high school music building’s attic, to his Facebook and Instagram.
“I thought maybe four people would listen to it, and I have an immediate family of five,” he jokes.
But as things go with music that moves, a few more than four listened in.
The word spread, local radio got on board, the EP ascended the iTunes charts, and over the past couple of years, songs from the “The Indigo Tapes” have racked up nearly a million Spotify plays.
“All of my friends shared it,” Emerson says, still seemingly surprised by the response.
They’ll likely share the new collection, too, though being his own best critic, Emerson doesn’t let all of his tunes see the light of day. More songs were cut from The Raspberry Men than made it on to the final, nine-track album.
“I cut 11,” he says. “They didn’t say enough. They weren’t honest enough.”
That fidelity to honesty is a big piece of what makes The Raspberry Men pop. It immediately feels real, or more candidly, it’s devoid of bullshit.
The album’s opening lines, from its first single “How Can I,” perfectly set that table:
Yesterday morning / I saw this man who didn’t know his life / And if he did, he chose to lie
He wandered in circles / Said who are you and darling who am I / Fictional and sleep deprived
No spoilers, but the song goes on to provide resolve to this conflict in the satisfying way that damn-catchy songs do. It’s one of those tunes that brings you back, that becomes attached to personal memories and aspirations.
Emerson plays almost everything you hear on The Raspberry Men, mostly recorded in a wooden shed on his grandparent’s property in Maine.
“The songs maintain a lot of summer imagery because Maine is where I find my sense of place,” he says. “It's humid, too hot, and smells like pine.”
The guests that do appear on the record add to Emerson’s quest to maintain that sense of “home.”
“The steel drums on ‘How Can I’ are played by a friend in a local steel drum band. The auxiliary percussion, and ‘Hey!’ on the song, are my cousins, Alex and Pickle Emerson, who I play in a band with during the summers.”
“It’s a strange combination of incredibly local small town energy mashed up with the roar of Hong Kong,” Emerson says.
A shed in Maine and the chaos of Hong Kong don’t seem to share much in common, but increasingly receding Mandarin skills aside, these disparate locales make Emerson’s musical, and actual world.
Listeners longing for their own front door can play The Raspberry Men on the way there.
The Raspberry Men by Chance Emerson is scheduled for release on March 6th preceded by the single “How Can I” on Jan. 24th.