There’s a buzz happening in Brisbane at the moment, but Jarrod Mahon is somewhat detached from it. Despite being a part of the scene in pop band The Creases over the years, Jarrod’s dreamy solo project Emerson Snowe is more befitting to the air of places like Paris, where he recently spent three months.
Jarrod’s woozy, dreamy, pop project began when he was a teenager, although it took a backseat until the right time presented itself – and it did – as shows with Ariel Pink, King Krule, and headline dates of his own in London, all seemed to just fall into place, and nobody is more taken aback than Jarrod himself.
After following a formula and trying to decipher where the songs he wrote stood in his life, he let go of the wheel and found Emerson Snowe is not so much a character or something greater than himself, but a reflection of the artistry he was so unsure of for so long. Writing a song a day as a document of self-discovery and exhibiting his art through Snowe’s single and EP covers and videos, Jarrod is feeling more and more like himself; like Emerson Snowe.
Clementine Zawadzki: You recently spent some time in Paris. Was the plan to always film the video for Sunlight there?
Jarrod Mahon: Well, the trip basically happened because my girlfriend, Tina, lives there at the moment. I did Ariel Pink’s Australia tour last year, and then I did the King Krule tour at the start of this year, and then I just had this break afterwards and realised I could go and see Tina and see Paris. Sunlight was released when I was over there, and I knew I wanted the video to be filmed on a Handycam and not be too polished or anything. So we just set off and took loads of footage that we cut and pasted later. I watched it the other day and I’m stoked with how it’s like a visual diary. I’m glad there’s an essence of it I can look back on, because I think I struggled being present at the time. It’s cool how it’s a representation of that trip and where I was, but also all of this stuff happening at the same time too.
CZ: You make it all sound so easy.
JM: [Laughs] It’s just really strange how everything kind of happened when I was over there. I had nothing planned for those three months, and I came back with a finished single having played a headline show in London, it was the most natural thing. Being in Australia now, it took me a couple of weeks to readjust to where I’m living at the moment because… I don’t know… I was actually a bit afraid to come back.
JM: Because it looked like I’d done so much stuff overseas, I kind of felt coming back to Australia would be… because Australia in a sense has tall poppy syndrome, so there was a worry it’d look like I’d done all this stuff on purpose, but that’s just my self-confidence.
CZ: Emerson Snowe has been going since your school days – and you’re also in The Creases – so how has this particular project drifted in and out of your life over time?
JM: It started out as a way to show friends my music under a different name so I could get an idea of if they enjoyed it or not. The stuff I was doing at seventeen was probably a lot more influenced by Sufjan Stevens and Bright Eyes or something like that. After I moved to Brisbane and met Joe [Agius, The Creases] and started doing Creases stuff, it took a back step. I wished I could keep doing the Snowe stuff, but looking back now, if I fully committed to it at that point it wouldn’t be the same as it is now. I feel I would’ve put something out and then instantly regretted it a few years later, because my interests have changed so much. It’s a strange thing, when you get to an age thinking you know who you are and you’ve figured it all out, and then years later you look back on it like, “Ahhh, different.” Artists like Beck and Dev Hynes inspire me, it makes total sense to keep changing.
CZ: Has being in The Creases had any effect on your solo development?
JM: I think because of all The Creases stuff I was over-analysing what I wanted Emerson Snowe to be – is it a character? Is it a bigger than I am? It went through a few stages, and the stuff I was writing was so layered there was no emotion to it in the end because I was over-thinking it. Two years ago, I stopped drinking and I just had way more time to do creative things, so I started making simple songs – guitar, drums, and two vocal lines (one high, one low) and by the end of one week I had an album’s worth of songs that sounded cohesive. It got to a point where I realised that was the project; doing these diary entry songs that I could write and record within fifteen minutes and that would be it, just so I knew I did something that day. It became a compulsive thing in it’s own right. I feel it’s a lot like how Lou Reed or Patti Smith were, just being creative to do it, with no purposeful goals.
CZ: Have you figured out who or what Emerson Snowe is?
JM: Yeah, it got to a point where I was just merging who I wanted Emerson Snowe to be with who I am as a person. It didn’t feel like I was creating a character anymore, it all just fit together. I’ve done all the thinking the past few years with my self-esteem and trying to be comfortable with how I look and sound, now it’s just about letting it happen. I just try to be genuine. I think that’s a hard thing to do, but I try to be as genuine as I can. Even in London for a couple of the shows I did there, I just performed with a tape, and about halfway through the tape just cut off and it was an awkward thing, but I kept singing and making jokes about it, a bit self-deprecating in a way, but instead of thinking, “Oh, why did that happen? That sucks,” it was just like, “Well, that’s the show.” Every show will be unique – that’s an Emerson Snowe show.
“Every show will be unique – that’s an Emerson Snowe show.”
CZ: Right away the idea of ‘Emerson Snowe’ is visually striking. Do you do all the artwork?
JM: Yeah that’s all myself. Like the Could You Love Me? video was shot by my girlfriend on the same video camera we used for Sunlight, and that’s just behind my house. Even that was like, we were sitting together in my room one day and I was like, “Let’s go and film the music video,” and she was like, “Okay” – in one take. I just wanted one take and that’ll be it. The banner in the single artwork with the faces on it, Tina and I went to Spotlight one night and bought this curtain, and the next day we were like, “Let’s go shoot this.” It’s strange to think we could just do this, because it’s just so simple. It’s different to any band dynamic and I’ve got this cool opportunity now – if it’s this or that, it’s fine – that’s just how it is. I’m so thankful I’m able to do this; all from songs I did in my room in ten minutes.
CZ: You mentioned Ariel Pink and King Krule before. What have those experiences meant to you?
JM: Man, those Ariel Pink shows were so amazing to me because Ariel is like another chameleon, whatever he produces has his sound, but they could all be totally different. These wacky pop songs that are still listenable somehow, like it shouldn’t make sense, but it does. So getting that was insane and we’d go on walks and chat and stuff. He was so nice to me on that tour and I feel like he didn’t need to be. There was part of me that was like, if he doesn’t like my stuff, that just adds to my view of Ariel Pink, you know? [laughs] Like, “Ariel Pink fucking hates me,” “Oh, cool,” but he was sitting down with Tina and I, asking questions about what I was doing and wanted to do, analysing my songs. He was just very genuine.
CZ: This might go against your spontaneous nature, but do you know what’s next for Emerson Snowe?
JM: I’ll release a few more singles and then an EP early next year. I’ve got loads of songs to choose from. The funny thing was, going into the studio; I had to relearn these songs, because I don’t know how to play any of my songs. I kind of put this UK band together online, and I hadn’t met them and they hadn’t met each other before, I was like, “Oh man, I hope they don’t ask me how to play a certain line of something, because I just don’t know,” because when I did it, it was just recorded and that was it. With the band, they’d be like, “Is this right?” and I’d be like, “Yeah that could work…” [laughs] I know how to play those EP songs now, but there’s still another 300 or something I just don’t know how to play, but I’ll get to that point when I record them.