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Secret Emchy Society
September 26, 2022 @ 7:00 pm$10
From the first notes of the lead-off track to Secret Emchy Society’s new album, Gold Country / Country Gold, you realize that you’re not in Kansas anymore. It’s a gothy, spaghetti western version of “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond Of Each Other,” written by Latin country musician Ned Sublette but popularized by Willie Nelson. It’s also widely recognized as the first LGBT-themed mainstream country song by a major artist. Par for the course if you know Cindy Emch’s previous work. As the First Lady of Queer Country, she is known for her distinct voice and ability to blend Americana, California Country, Hellbilly, Goth, and Honky Tonk, spinning radically distinctive tales from her singular perspective.
Emchy’s not only a highly regarded musician in the Bay Area—nominated three times for Best Local LGBT Band by Bay Area Reporter—but she’s also a seasoned student of the history of LGBTQA musicians dipping their toes in genres that have always been “off-limits” for non-hetero participants. She was the founding editor of Country Queer and still hosts Gimme Country’s popular Emchy’s Outlaw Americana show. She’s also worked with the original queer country cowboy Lavender Country, the award-winning singer-songwriter Amythyst Kiah (from the all-women-of-color supergroup Our Native Daughters), out transwoman folk-punker Shawna Virago, and Haitian-born / UK based Alt-Americana Country-Noire singer DeLila Black when Emchy produced the 2021 National Queer Arts Festival Showcase. Her previous albums have landed her on the road with some of the most popular acts in the genre: Mercy Bell, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, and Karen & The Sorrows, led by the originator of the Gay Ole Opry herself, Karen Pittleman. Needless to say, Cindy Emch has become well-known to anyone paying attention to the increasing popularity of turning old tropes on their ear by melding classic twang with a punk ethos.
Emchy’s first taste of music was from her mother, who played standards on accordion. She grew up with a love for Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, but when she hit her 20s, a college radio show introduced her to country legends like Yoakam, Cash, and Lucinda Williams. Throw in partiality to a smattering of post-punk bands like X and Black Flag, and it’s easy to see what led Emchy to the Bay Area in 1995, where she honed her sound when she co-founded two well-regarded punk-country bands, Vagabondage and Rhubarb Whiskey. After cutting her teeth as a side player for years, it was a lucky accident one night when she ended up at the front of the stage, taking the reins to act as bandleader, only to realize that was where she had belonged all along.
Emchy’s music, created with her longtime band Secret Emchy Society, has been compared to songwriters like Ray Davies, Marijohn Wilkin, John D. Loudermilk, and Cowboy Jack Clement, who wrote the early hits for African-American country pioneer Charley Pride. SES’s debut album, 2017’s The Stars Fell Shooting Into Twangsville, swings beautifully from accordion-drenched waltzes to slow ballads to high-tempo roof shakers with lyrics soaked in long-standing country tropes, from day-drinking to painful love to oversized ambitions. It was followed by 2019’s Mark’s Yard, a sparsely recorded collection of cover versions from singular songwriters like Tom Waits and Hank Williams Jr. In 2020 she released The Chaser, a classic honky-tonk album both dark and light, ominous and joyous. It landed her positive coverage in No Depression, Wide Open Country, Ditty TV, NPR, The Boot, and Americana Highways, just to name a few.
So, where to go from there? Well, more GUITAR, of course, to amp up her shitkicker attitude.
Ry Warner is an experimental country musician from the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio, currently based in northern New Mexico.
He has collaborated with artists such as legendary pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, trance-punk painter Arrington de Dionyso, Tara Jane O’Neil, Karl Blau, Karima Walker, Jef Brown (Jackie-O Motherfucker), Bob Jones (Eaters), Jonathan Sielaff (Golden Retriever), Dimitri Manos (Dr. Dog), Mark Hosler (Negativland), Phil Elverum (Mount Eerie), Sig Wilson (Dommengang), Ray Raposa (Castanets) and many others.
For over 10 years he led a fluid group called OHIOAN, where he developed a style called High Country that drew on free jazz, country, noise, drone, north African assouf, and Appalachian folk. The bands final recording, EMPTY/EVERY MT, was a concept album based on destructive mining in America, and brought together the influences of Tuareg blues and American banjo music to create a Desert Appalachia sound in order to represent the eventual barren wasteland of coal country.
Since dissolving the band, Warner has formed a new group named Natural Lite and shifted the focus of his High Country to classic honkytonk and rockabilly. The new sound explores subtle ways to twist, distort, and subvert the those traditions that hopefully confuse and unsettle the listener – especially in a live setting – while still presenting the patina of a regular-ass country songwriter.