We may have our caps lock turned off for the Madison, WI, native-turned-Manhattanite Emma Witmer, but our radar is turned on. Her bedroom-pop project gobbinjr has warmed the hearts of many as she has managed to transport listeners into her daydreamy, whimsical world.
Inspired by aspects of her adolescence, Witmer’s lyrics touch on feelings of loneliness and self-doubt, her writing process mimicking the isolated sensation often felt by teens. She wrote, recorded, and produced her first full length “manalang”—out now via Infinite Best and Gold Flake Tapes—without help. The delightful result undeniably belongs to her and her alone. Listening to her 11-track debut is like opening up her childhood diary, except Witmer effortlessly manages to dazzle her all-ages audience.
BTR caught up with the voice behind gobbinjr to chat about her teen angst-inspired debut and the beauty hidden in Brooklyn junk shops.
BreakThru Radio (BTR): Why don’t we start with your musical background.
Emma Witmer (EW): When I was four years-old my parents signed me up for piano lessons, so that’s kind of where it all started. Both of my siblings were in piano lessons as well. My parents did this to give us a foundation in the creative arts, I guess. It kind of took off with me when I was nine years-old. I wanted to start playing drums. I think I really just wanted to be that spunky little girl who could be behind the drums.
Then I started getting into the rhythm part of it when I was in middle school. I was 13 when I started playing guitar and 14 when I started playing bass. At that point, I knew I wanted to do something involved with music for a career. I think I wanted to be a producer for a while, which is still kind of on my radar, but I’m not sure where I want to be in a couple of years.
BTR: And you’re studying music at school now, right?
EW: Yes, I go to NYU and I’m in the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music.
BTR: Is it difficult to balance school work while you’re working on your own projects?
EW: Certainly. I’m lucky that I’m in a good program where I can use my songs and get them recorded in a nice studio with nice gear. At the same time, it does kind of take the magic out of it when you’re doing it for a grade or on a deadline. But I’m handling it and I’m not failing. [Laughs].
BTR: Would you mind explaining your moniker?
EW: gobbinjr is named after my bong, which is silly. When I put out my music, I was just going to put it on Bandcamp and I didn’t think anyone would pay much attention to it. I didn’t think I would be asked what the name meant, which is stupid. I mean, it’s a crazy name. But, yeah, my bong’s name is gobbin, and I didn’t want to step on the name so I added junior. I don’t know what gobbin means, it’s just kind of nonsense, but I like that because nobody has preconceptions attached to the name.
BTR: Earlier this year you released an album. What was the writing process like for that?
EW: I played all the instruments and I recorded it myself. It’s kind of a weird situation. I’ve been writing music since I was 14. I was in a band back then and I was the main songwriter. I started writing these songs that just wouldn’t work out in the band setting. I think the first song that I really hammered out on the album was “Reason.” It wasn’t going to work out with my band so I produced it myself. Some of these songs were from when I was younger, and then others I wrote last summer and just got them done. It’s just kind of a compilation of all the songs that I wrote about my teenage years.
(Photo by Andrew Piccone)
BTR: What aspects from that time of your life inspire your lyrics?
EW: Teenage angst. It’s kind of a cliche topic but it’s also kind of true. Everyone can relate to it. It’s really nice to have that on my side. Also, mental illness. Depression is in my family, I’ve dealt with depression, a lot of my friends did, too. It was just a really big part of my teenage years. Those are the two big ones.
BTR: Do you draw influence from any musicians?
EW: Car Seat Headrest for sure. Once I got into them, just knowing that Will Toledo made all those albums by himself really pushed me to put my music out there. I’d been sitting on these songs for so long, and just knowing someone who killed it with all of his music definitely influenced me.
BTR: Speaking of influences, let’s talk about the album cover for managing.
EW: [Laughs] The little child. It was just a picture that I picked up at a junk store in Brooklyn somewhere and I really liked it. I thought it went along with the themes of adolescence and everything. I just kind of popped it on there.
BTR: Random things seem to excite you.
EW: For sure. I don’t think everything needs to have significant meaning. I think everything is better when it’s random and beautiful.
BTR: So, you recently played CMJ with a full band backing you. Do you prefer having that full sound behind you rather than playing solo?
EW: I definitely prefer to have the band. That showcase was the first time I played full band, and it’s just way more fun to have my friends up there with me. I am going to keep doing solo shows, though. I’m visiting my parents over winter break and I’m planning a mini solo tour around that. My bandmates can’t make it out to the midwest, so I’ll be playing shows on my own. But like I said, I do prefer playing with the band.
BTR: What can we expect from you in the future besides that tour?
EW: I was going to put out an EP, but the songs have been getting really good feedback from my friends and such. When I’ve been playing them at shows, people are pretty into them, so I think I’m going to save them for a full album. So, I’m working on another album right now. I do have ten songs in the works and I’m going to write a couple more just to make sure. Then the solo tour in the winter and hopefully I’ll be playing a lot of shows around New York. The live shows are my favorite part about music.
For more from gobbinjr check out her Facebook or BTR’s own In The Den.
Photo by Grace Witmer.