Sam Bodaryis the head behind Hello Emerson. He is 23 years of age and recently got a BA in literature at Ohio State University. His final thesis is concerned with the creative work of and the parallels between David Foster Wallaceand J.D. Salinger. To be more precise, he states that Wallace’s short story “Good Old Neon” was his take, one might say even a correspondence with, Salinger’s Glass Family Saga. Actual author, implied author, figural narrator, meta levels, correspondences,….
This seems like a lot to take in on the field of literature, however, the information is vital to get the full sense of Bodary’s music and his alter ego Hello Emerson. His debut album “Above The Floorboards”is filled with meticulously detailed narratives – equally youthfully naïve, humanist, and boasting with wisdom. And speaking of correspondences, “Ohio”, the first single by Hello Emerson, is also a correspondence of sorts among two songwriters, which somehow stumbles into New Orleans style-Big Band soundtowards its end. With so much emphasis on the lyrics, his divine, effortlessly melodic guitar playingshould not go unmentioned, as well as the incredible dynamics in most of his songs. Then, there is his voice, reminiscent of a young Conor Oberst or M.Ward. If you want to investigate the musical affiliations any further, think of Sufjan Stevens and Okkervil River, The Mountain Goats or Andrew Bird.
Bodary was born in Pontiac, Michigan and raised in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. After two rather austere and joyless terms studying music business at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, he decided to drop out, return to his home state Ohio, and study literature at The Ohio State University. This was the point when he got more and more into experimenting with his own songs. Then, his niece Emerson was born and named after his middle name, so he decided on Hello Emerson as a stage name. Hello, Emerson! Welcome to this peculiar world! He enjoys correspondences.
Hello Emerson now consists of a core trio: Bodary is joined by keyboardist Jack Doran and percussionist Daniel Seibert. However, producer of the album, Victoria Butash, let everything revolve around Bodary’s delicate guitar play and his voice. Despite of the enormous cast of 24 artists and musicians who contributed to the album, it never has the feeling to be overly flamboyant or cluttered. Listen to the sounds of a string trio, a lavish section of wind players, pedal steel guitar, piano, synthesizer, Wurlitzer, drums and double bass. All of this sounds magnificent indeed, but it also works with only guitar play and voice. The reason why: Bodary’s songs are extraordinary. They find their form within their narrative, and float into one another like a network of rivers and streams, they are intertwined by intros and directly connected to each other. The only actual separation is one into A and B side for the vinyl.
„Hello“ the opener is the entrance via a flight of stairs (it is actually recorded in one) there are string players and steps on old planks and every other song seems to be a new room of the house, which can be wandered step by step by mere listening.
Without a doubt, the almost eight minute „Lake“ is a key track on the album. It is so dynamic that it can only be experienced live to its full extent (however, the recording of the song is marvelous as well). It shines another light on the everlasting dichotomy of American pop culture. The extroverts, the jocks, parties and sex on the one side, outsiders and underdogs, introverts and people ridden with self-doubt on the other. “How can we know we know all that we know cause with each passing day I grow and I grow more and more lost I’m told ‘til I’m told ‘til I’m told I am repeating myself again.” And finally, the silent hope to be suddenly seen, found, recognized, and loved despite the closed curtains and being hunched over a book. This is how “Lake” floats into a wonderful free jazz epilogue with a little wink.
Another central song goes by the name “Uncle”. It’s the story of a father who travels with his son to see his dying uncle. The child experiences the trip as a family holiday, while the father knows it is going to be the last time he will see the man who has practically raised him when he was a kid. The song takes place within a mere nighttime drive on the interstate, but gradually unfolds its greater story through modest, subordinate clauses: “But he’s not sleeping on sugary bones, he’s jacked up on the candy from great uncle’s hospice home.”
Sam Bodary’s songs are “distinctively midwestern”. While east and west coast are always longing for the big statement, the midwestern mindset remains polite, humble, and discreet. In the same way, Bodary attempts to disguise his own greatness: