Interview With Emma Witmer Of Gobbinjr
by Maggie Danna on August 1, 2015
Posted in: Music
gobbinjr’s manalang is some of the best homemade pop we’ve heard this summer. Lo-fi and jangly, it spans a variety of genres, and is closest to dream pop. It’s also witty and humorous. We talked to gobbinjr’s Emma Witmer about music writing, Wisconsin, the possibility of turning into a leprechaun, and more.
So I was wondering, how did you get your name and how exactly do you pronounce it? Okay, it’s pronounced “gobbinjr” (like goblin without the l, and then junior) and it’s two words but I like it as one stylistically. I like having kind of a gibberish name because it doesn’t have any connotations to it so no one really judges me before they hear my music with a name like gobbinjr. It’s also loosely named after my bong actually. It was kind of impulsive.
And what about the album name, manalang? With that one it’s kind of a joke. I go to NYU and last year they were sending weather alerts and the health center kept texting everyone. And for some reason they sent us this text that said “manalang” on it and no one knew why. I just like obscure references to things I guess.
Which artists have had the greatest influence on your own music? And did anything else significantly influence writing the album? That’s really hard. Influences get really hard with me because I try to work with as much as I can with really different genres. So hmm, which artists have influenced me a lot? I mean, I could just cop out and go with the easy answer, which is The Beatles. I grew up with The Beatles so they kind of taught me how to song write. I don’t know, I guess everyone that I listen to a tiny bit.
Who have you been listening to a lot lately? Lately I’ve been listening a lot to East Coast bands, a lot of bands that I found out about last year. Like Mr. Twin Sister, Krill, Ava Luna, Porches. Lots of bands like that. Celestial Shore for sure, Zula. And also I’ve been listening a lot to late ‘80s early ‘90s rap recently. I’ve been really into De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. J Dilla, stuff like that. The production of it is really interesting and I’d like to learn how to do stuff like that but I just can’t. I’m not good at it.
If you could, if you thought you were good at rapping, would you be interested in rapping? Oh I wouldn’t rap. No, certainly not. I like the production qualities of it and might try to mix in that at some point but I certainly wouldn’t rap.
Did you do everything for the album on your own, and was it intimidating to record and promote it? Yeah, I did do it all on my own. And I just recorded it all starting in my basement, but eventually just in my bedroom and sometimes in my dorm room when I was over in New York. And yeah, it’s a little bit intimidating but I’m a pretty motivated and ambitious person. And also I’ve been in a band before where we kind of did the same thing. We put out an album but we had help, and I just, I don’t like not having control of every aspect. We had a producer, and it just kind of annoyed me. We butt heads a lot so it’s actually a lot more freeing for me to do it all by myself.
Are you still at NYU, or did you graduate? Yeah, I’m still at NYU. I’m a sophomore.
Do you think you’re going to try to do a tour, or do you not really have time? I’m going to try to play around New York as much as possible in this upcoming year. I still need to get my live band together because I haven’t done that yet.
So, from my facebook stalking I see you were a Polyvinyl intern. How was that? I actually really love Polyvinyl and most their artists a lot. Oh they’re great, they’re really awesome. My parents actually moved to Champaign, Illinois right after I graduated from high school, and so that’s where the headquarters of Polyvinyl is, which is like really out of nowhere. It’s not really a huge music center or anything. They were really great, they were really nice people there. The work I was doing wasn’t the most complicated stuff but it was still nice to be there and working for the artists I really really like.
On facebook you describe your genre as “zit pop”, so I was wondering what exactly that meant. Was it intended to allude to the popping of zits, or was it supposed to be funny? I also really appreciated the humor in your album. Yeah, haha. Thanks for saying that. Yeah, I just have kind of a weird sense of humor. I like making people second guess and kind of confusing people. So zit pop was playing off that. Also, I think I like to kind of normalize those experiences. Everyone gets them. You know, it’s not such a negative thing for me.
That’s cool, yeah. I love how you can write in your own genres for bands on facebook. One of the other really interesting ones I saw was “psychotropic/buttermilk” this one surf rock group, Heaters, from Michigan had. I really appreciate that. For some reason there are a lot of really good surf rock groups from the Midwest recently. That’s really interesting. I’m actually from the Midwest. I’m from Madison Wisconsin. Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of surf rock from Chicago lately.
What is the music scene like in Wisconsin? How was that growing up there? The music scene in Wisconsin is alright, it’s just really folky and that’s one of the genres I can’t really get into. I just don’t really have a connection with folk. So that was kind of rough for me. There are also very few venues in Madison, Wisconsin for kids under 18, or 21. Really hard for young people to go to concerts. If you’re over 21 and you like folk then it’s great.
Do you feel like New York City is better for young people with concerts and stuff? Oh, definitely. New York City is worlds different. It’s crazy, I never was able to listen to local music before I went to New York and all the little bands there are just really great. They’re all so original. I don’t know, it actually really intimidated me, New York. I didn’t make music at all last year because I was just mind blown.
What inspired you to actually start writing and get over the intimidation with the New York music scene? I mean, last year was really rough for me and I kind of lost a sense of self, you know. I didn’t really feel like myself anymore and I knew I had to change something. So I just did summer, going home to my parents’ house. Got serious, and then made a good album.
Do you feel like NYU’s a really stressful environment? Especially this past year we’ve been having a lot of stress problems on campus at Middlebury. Yeah, it is pretty stressful, especially being in the city. It’s a new environment for a lot of people going there. It’s nice having a program where most the classes that I take are what I’m very interested in; that helps with the stress. But yeah, at some points like finals and midterms it’s definitely stressful.
What are 6 things you could never do without? Hmm, let’s see, 6 things. I can’t do without my iPod, or my phone, and earbuds for sure. I would say I can’t do without my dog, but I have to do without my dog because she’s a family dog. Milk, I really like milk. I like skim milk. I like platform shoes, I mostly only wear platform shoes. I like to be taller. And I guess my record player. I haven’t been using it that much this summer but usually, yeah. I’m really into records.
What is the most private thing you’re willing to admit? Let me think about this one. I don’t really hold secrets. I have embarrassing things, I embarrass myself all the time. Let’s see, I can’t think of anything recent where I really embarrassed myself. I haven’t really been around people this summer. But I guess when I was little I thought I was going to turn into a leprechaun. I had a really active imagination, I still do, but yeah. I was convinced that I was turning shorter, I do have red hair so I thought, I’m gonna become a leprechaun. It just never happened.
Were you excited to become a leprechaun, or were you afraid of it? Oh yeah, I was really excited. I love leprechauns.
What was the first album you really connected with, like when you first started getting into music? First album, ooh, Actor-Caster by Generationals is like the OG basically. That album is really important to me. It’s just a really great pop album, like it’s really jangly, really light. It also touches on some personal topics. It’s good, it’s really good.