It's hard to keep Nelson Emokpae down. The Baltimore singer/songwriter, who leads the band Nelly's Echo, is perpetually upbeat — both in person and in song.
A Nigerian native, Emokpae has lived in Baltimore for the past several years, writing sunny music and gigging around the country, mainly at colleges. (Saturday, he performs at Boordy Vineyards.) After releasing two albums, Emokpae decided to take his time with the third.
Instead of rushing into a recording studio, he has spent the past several months tinkering with the songs and arrangements, and he doesn't yet have a release date — or a definitive title — for the new album. But Emokpae does have an ear for a hook, and a loyal fan base in Baltimore. He recently talked about his songwriting and the tentative name for his next effort.
You've been playing a lot of college shows lately. Are you getting tired of them?
Prior to the end of this spring, I've been playing college shows nonstop for the past 21/2 to three years. After this spring was over, I played like 60 dates in 21/2 months. That was just a toll on my body. Mentally, physically, spiritually, I just needed a break. But everyone needs a break. Right now, I feel rejuvenated after a month off.
Are you able to pay the bills with these shows?
So far, so good. Breaking even is what I'll call it. By the time you pay this guy and that guy and fixing the car — this and that — thank God, I'm breaking even. A lot of musicians in my shoes don't get to experience what I'm experiencing. There's no complaints from me. I'm doing well.
What's your new song, "Goodbye," about?
"Goodbye" is a song that's going to be on the next album. I won't give the title of the album away just yet, because I'm not sure if I can use that title. But "Goodbye" is going to be on the next album, and it's about a breakup. Two people who are involved know that the relationship is going nowhere but choose to stick it out for whatever reason. At some point, someone has to say something, before the relationship snowballs into something worse. So "Goodbye" is me saying, "I love you, I care about you, and that's why I'm breaking up with you."
Why can't you can't tell us the name of your coming album? Is it already copyrighted?
It's a phrase, and it rhymes with "bictoria's leakrets." I want to use that phrase not in any sense of that company, but because I want to write the next album from a woman's perspective. I want to address the world from a woman's perspective, based on what I've observed and heard and been told.
The premise of the album will be, in today's society, they tell a female she has to look a certain way, she has to dress a certain way, she has to act a certain way to get to a certain place. And Victoria's Secret is everything she's done that she's proud of or maybe not so proud of to get to where she is now in life. That's the whole idea behind the album. But I have to get permission, obviously — or maybe just release the album with that title and see what happens. We'll see.
The first single from the new album is "I Love You." What was going through your head when you wrote that song?
I was with my loop system at home, just playing through some chords and trying to figure out how to write a song that pretty much says just that: "I love you." All I could come up with that day were just two chords. I could have come up with a thousand different chords for that song, but there just two chords, and it just flowed — it just came out of me. It wasn't something I tried to write. It's a very simple song, and the chorus is just "I love you." Sometimes we make it so complex — that simple phrase or that simple emotion, love.
Is it hard to keep it simple sometimes as a musician?
It is very hard. Think about it as a music lover — you want to go to a show and see a guitar player who can play guitar licks up and down the neck. You want to see the drummer go up and down his toms and get really crazy. But sometimes there's that beauty in simplicity, when you can just strip everything down and just play a song in its bare form and still connect with people. That's what I wanted this song to be. I wanted it to be as simple as possible, so you get the point.
If you go
Nelly's Echo performs Saturday at the Gunpowder River Artfest at Boordy Vineyards, 12820 Long Green Pike in Hydes. The festival runs from noon to 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for teens and free for children 12 and under. Go to nbcaf.com.