Interview: gobbinjr Makes Playful Pop About Not Wanting To Play

Posted: by The Editor

Photo by: Sonya Belakhlef

For a few years now, Emma Witmer has been writing uniquely clever pop songs under the name gobbinjr about the fleeting nature of emotion. Her excellent 2015 debut manalang navigated the tribulations of teenage depression with a rare sense of self-awareness and precocious musical tact. Her 2016 follow-up vom night (this writer’s favorite EP of that year) explored how feelings can fully consume as quickly as they completely dissipate. Although she’s sung about preferred solitude and tongue-in-cheek pleas for the human race to die, her unfiltered sentiments are channeled through kooky, stylized, exceptionally catchy pop songs that’re as misanthropic as they are personable.

On ocala wick, her long-awaited sophomore full-length, Witmer continues to sing about mental health and the frustrations of romance. But a large majority of the songs also deal with the gross/misogynistic/shitty behavior of men, a subject that she’s been writing about her whole career—though never with this much fervor. Her candidness is unparalleled, firing a direct shot like, “I felt you press your dick against my thigh / when we hugged / I didn’t ask for it / you’re not the one I want” in the shimmering single “fake bitch.” Album closer “politely” spells it out for those in the back: “the only gaze of a man that I’d like to meet is that of a man who has respect for me / and I don’t want to be part of your fantasy / keep your eyes to yourself if you can’t act politely”

Although the record was written before the #MeToo movement came to fruition, its landing does feel timely. However, nothing on ocala wick sounds like gobbinjr reacting to trends—sonic, lyrical or otherwise. Her music is proudly outlandish, and her lyrics are nothing but gutsy re-tellings of some of her most difficult real-life experiences. As she sings with a yippy, delightfully catchy inflection in the pitter-pattering standout “november 163,” “is it that hard to see? / I just don’t want to be cool.”

Regardless of what she thinks, though, ocala wick is cool. It’s one of the most distinct records of the year thus far, and another supreme inclusion to one of the decade’s most imaginative discographies.

Last Friday, the day the record dropped, Witmer spoke to The Alternative about her blunt lyricism, her brave Twitter clap-backs toward blogs that misrepresent her art, and some of the most affecting parts of ocala wick.

Read our Q&A below:

So ocala wick is finally out today. Were you nervous for people to hear it?

I don’t think I was super nervous. I was nervous about the blogs cause they’re less forgiving. I feel like the people who listen to my music kind of, like, this is what they were waiting for. I guess it’s cause I’ve gotten a lot of good responses so far. I was definitely a little bit nervous.

What about the blogs make you nervous? 

I think this record is definitely a little different than a lot of records a lot of the blogs are reviewing right now. It’s not that super clean studio sound. It’s a little more real life than that. It’s not really “in” at the moment. Clean sounds is what you want. People aren’t really looking for the DIY stuff. People are, maybe not so much with the kind of music I’m doing. Like kind of more poppy music. Rock’s kind of the DIY. Pop is a little more clean and pristine. I don’t think my album sounds dingy but compared to the studio stuff. . . 

As a music journalist, I always really admire artists who aren’t afraid to take the press to task on Twitter or in interviews. And you’re definitely someone who’s very vocal online about the issues you have with certain critiques of your music. Explain to me why you like to be open about that stuff?

When someone says something that you don’t really want to be viewed as. I’m not really going to go along with it. I think there are definitely blogs, like yours and a couple others, that are definitely, like, great representations and individual writers who are really great at finding out who the artist is and what the album is about. It’s tough when people say you’re writing songs about things that you’re not writing songs about. 

I think a lot of people just kind assume songs are love songs. When a lot of times it’s something not really quite like that. Even though the word love is used. I guess what I’m thinking of right now is the song “joaquin” on this album. Someone called it emotional, kind of romantic. It’s about crushes more in general moreso than a single romantic event. It’s analogous to a hurricane on the East Coast that was supposed to be big and detrimental to everyone but it never hit. And that’s what crushes are like for me.

What are the most annoying things someone can say about your music?

I think really “childish” is like the number one thing that is bugging—at least this cycle. I kind of have the option with the publicist to have, “these are some things I don’t want people to say.” Lo-fi, I don’t always like. It’s just another thing, like, not really expressing all the work I put into it to try and make it sound good. Even though when people are using the word lo-fi they don’t always mean lo fidelity. They mean more of a genre thing. That’s a term I  don’t like especially. “Cute.” But cute I can get that a little bit because it’s kind of sonically cute. Childish is really a big one right now.

What do you think is fair game if someone were to write a negative review of your art?

I’d say it could be bare. I could see that. I could see some people not liking the parts where it just kind of repeats. It is sort of trying to be a little wearing on the listener at some points but I could definitely see people not liking that part of it. Wearing sonically. Lyrically it’s a little more fun.

I know last time we talked you used the phrase “mean pop” to describe your music, which I think is so perfect. But I saw you tweet somewhat recently that you now disavow the song “bb gurl” from manalang, which is, in my opinion, your meanest and most savage song. Do you not like that one anymore cause it’s too mean or?

The problem I have with that one especially is cause it talks about being violent toward a woman. Even though it is a hypothetical violence—or not a named person or even a real person. It’s something that’s such a huge thing in music. When you turn on a radio there’ll be a song playing and it will have a little lyric that peeps in there that’s pretty misogynist. And I don’t really want to be contributing to that anymore.

Are there any other older songs that you don’t stand by anymore? 

I stand by most of them. There are definitely the songs where I was like, ‘wow I was a really depressed 15-year-old when I wrote that.” But I stand by it, that’s who I was.

Obviously songs like “fake bitch” and “politely” are super straightforward strikes toward shitty men, and a lot of your other songs are super straightforward. To an audience it sounds like you’re really dishing it to the subjects in your songs, but are you actually holding back? Like, do the songs begin even blunter than where they end up and you’re like, “eh nah I can’t say that.”

I think there are some parts where I kind of wish I did that. Usually I keep the bluntness. If a song is like a little bit too much like that I might just, like, ditch the song. Maybe I could change a verse. But usually if the first idea comes to me, it’s probably very blunt and it’s probably going to stay like that.

Which parts do you wish you did that for? 

Like “afraid of me.” I think that’s a really good song to start the album but I do kind of wish that first line of it wasn’t about weed. Just cause the album deals with so many different things and weed is such a small part of the whole album.

Are your friends and family surprised at how candid you are in your music, or are you also like that as a person?

I think they think it’s funny but I don’t think it surprises anyone really. Maybe people who don’t know me quite as well. Acquaintances might be surprised. Definitely my friends and family are like, ‘ah yeah that’s you.’

So I know you tweeted a little bit about this, but today is unfortunately also the day that Anthony Bourdain passed away from suicide. The song “sorry charlie” is seemingly about someone you know taking their life, but I was wondering if you’d be comfortable opening up about the story behind that song in particular? 

That one is definitely the most emotional song on the album. That song was about someone I was friends with as a child that I kind of grew apart with. But we still went to school together. But he’s someone who was such a good guy. He started volunteer clubs and he was so active and was such a good guy. And he was never mean to me even when a lot of people didn’t want to talk to me in highschool. But a couple years ago I heard on Valentines Day that he had killed himself the day before. And it was definitely really crushing and he was someone that  I wished I could’ve known more. Why did it have to be him? That was the first time I had ever really mourned and I wrote that song the night I heard the news.

I know that you played nearly every instrument on here and did all the boardwork yourself. And I know you’ve said that you’re very particular about handling the making of your music. Do you think you’re at a point where you’d want to collaborate with a producer on your next project or no?

I didn’t master it. Sarah Register did. She’s great, she’s done a lot. The next album I really wanna do have more people playing on it. And I’m more thinking of the idea of doing a studio type thing. Definitely have to be with people I trust. A really important thing to me is I want to work with a female engineer. Because audio engineers, like 5 percent of audio engineers are women. It’s just like a really, really tough industry. I really want to support that 5 percent and try to get that to be a bigger percent.

What are your favorite parts of the record? 

I really like “bap.” I’ve never featured anyone before and I really like [Heyoon’s] voice with my voice. Also “sorry charlie” I love a lot. Just cause it means so much to me. And I like “juaquin” too. I really like the progression of that song. The different sounds and different quality of sounds.

ocala wick is out now via Topshelf Records.

Eli Enis | @eli_enis

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