Photography by Sonya Belakhlef
gobbinjr—aka, Emma Witmer—tries to find the humor in everything. Her cheery voice floats over jangly bedpop melodies, chirping out Lynchian lyrics about everything from heartache to misogyny.
The Brooklyn-based musician’s latest album, ocala wick, is mostly a world of whimsy: On opener ‘afraid of me,’ she coos, “I’m going to work high / I’m smoking at work…Hi, nice to meet you,” as starship synths rocket underway. Yet Witmer allows darkness to glisten here, too—tracks like ‘joaquin’ and ‘sorry charlie’ feature her airy soprano dipping into a somber register as she tackles anxious thoughts and the weight of loss. Three years after her playful debut, manalang, gobbinjr is leaning into these intimate moments.
AdHoc connected with Emma ahead of tonight’s June 15 record release show at Baby’s All Right to talk about this newfound vulnerability, sexism in the music industry, and the power of honesty on social media.
Be sure to grab a copy of ocala wick, out now via Topshelf Records.
AdHoc: A lot of publications have referred to your music as “childlike,” or “girlish.” That’s always rubbed me the wrong way; it infantilizes you and your work. You recently took to Twitter yourself calling this problem out. Are there any other ways that you feel you’ve been reduced or poorly understood as an artist?
Emma Witmer: I think the child thing is definitely just my main issue right now. I’ve worked really hard to not be sexualized, and the child thing is the other end of that coin, you know? You’re either sexy or you’re childish if you’re a woman. And I think now, some people just don’t want to approach me because I will speak out on Twitter.
The “childlike” thing is also bizarre since your music consistently addresses adult themes, like heartbreak and misogyny. Are those things that you purposefully set out to address on your new album?
Yeah, it was just what I was dealing with these past few years, and [when] taking time to make the album, I realized that half of it was about all of this stuff— being mistreated by men, not being viewed correctly, not being respected. It wasn’t intentional, but it’s obviously on my mind a lot. It’s tough being a woman in music. Which sucks—I don’t really want to have to say that about myself: “A woman in music.” I just want to be a musician.
Speaking of your new album: ocala wick was just released. You tend to come up with your titles from wonky, hilariously mundane sources. What’s the story behind this one?
It was actually just a hat that I found! That hat on the album cover is the reason it’s called ocala wick. I thought the sound of the name was really nice. I looked into it and the hat is actually from Ocala, Florida and it’s from a construction company, I think. I can’t find it anywhere else in the world! That’s really it.
I love the deep analyses that people come up with for your titles, when their inspirations are really as simple as that. Do you like poking fun at that?
I do really like fooling with the publications—I like having things that are hard to explain and it’s really funny seeing other people try to explain them, when there’s really no explanation. I love it.
And that humor is really present in your songwriting, too. Your lyricism often diffuses tension with funny moments; do you find this to be a mode for you even beyond your songwriting?
I don’t want to say it’s a coping thing, but it makes things easier, you know? It’s much easier to go through something hard with a smile on your face even though it can be tough to do that; but once you get there, it’s a lot easier. I think that’s just how I deal with things in real life in general, it’s kind of how I was raised: when things get tough, just laugh at it.
That’s all not to say that this album doesn’t have its darker moments. I definitely hear a lot of melancholy on “sorry charlie.” How was that transition for you?
I think that song in particular was definitely a level I hadn’t yet gotten into emotionally. I wrote that song a day after I found out that someone that I’d known since childhood had committed suicide. It was really just me mourning, and trying to put my feelings down and make sense of them in some way. It’s something that came naturally; but it was also like, should I put this out? Because it is extremely personal and there is a line that I don’t want to cross. But I think a song like this is pretty important.
It’s interesting hearing you talk about crossing that line of vulnerability, especially since you share so much online— you’re really active on Twitter, for example. What’s the virtue for you in social media and being able to be vulnerable on those platforms?
I think the virtue is showing that I’m just a person. I think a lot of what’s been coming to light lately shows that people who have these power dynamics— people who you look up to and you think are great, wonderful musicians—once that is formed, a lot of people take advantage of it. I don’t want people to so quickly jump onto that bandwagon and be like, oh my gosh you make good music, you’re a god, you can do no wrong, and you can’t hurt me. That’s super untrue. I really don’t want anyone to see me as that, and I want people to start doing that with other people they view: Not just putting people onto this pedestal where they’re not dangerous, ‘cause they still can be.
For sure. A lot of that is tied into ideas of responsibility as an artist, too, and I think you do that really well. Even beyond an ethical stance— you do it creatively. You write all of your own songs, you’re self-produced, and you’re your own booking agent. Is that something you enjoy having control over?
I have had people help me with management in the past, it’s been good; it also had its ups and downs. But now, it’s just me booking my own stuff and making all the shots. It’s a lot of pressure, but I do like control [laughs,] which is why I produce and mix all of my own stuff. Having a booking agent would definitely be the next step, but I’m having a lot of fun booking my own tours right now.
And having people on Twitter helping you out is a really sweet thing to see!
Yeah, it’s so cool! I kind of consider Twitter as my booking assistant now— I’ll just be like, “Where should I play?” and people will just fill in all the blanks. It’s really, really dope.
You’re about to go on tour super soon— I know you’ve been prepping your tour muscles, playing shows with some awesome artists like Speedy Ortiz and Soccer Mommy recently. Has anyone imparted any touring words of wisdom?
Every time someone tells me to just keep going, that really helps me out a lot, just to know that people are rooting for me.
Do you ever struggle with imposter syndrome, then?
I think part of me is still there, just because a part of me stays with that to keep urging and striving to be better. I do to some extent feel pretty okay with where I’m at, pretty well-deserving. But still always working to be better.
What are you looking forward to now? Any places you want to go to next?
I’m in the process of putting together a West Coast/Southwest tour. I’ve never really played the south before—I’ve only done some small little west coast jaunts. I’ve been dreaming about the desert a lot lately [laughs,] so I’m really excited to go to Arizona and drive around in the sand a lot.
Do you think the dreams are premonitions?
Well I don’t know which came first— the dream, or me wanting to go to the desert.
Or maybe it’s the law of the attraction!
Yeah, definitely! One of those self-fulfilling prophecies [laughs.] It’s gonna happen!