Cindy Emch, songwriter, guitarist and vocalist for the Secret Emchy Society, opens her band’s latest album, Gold Country/Country Gold, with a radical reimagining of Willie Nelson’s hit, “Cowboys Love Each Other Often, Secretly.” It’s a fitting introduction to the album and another essential track from one of the Bay Area’s leading queer country bands.
“This song has a long history hidden behind it, much like a lot of gay stories,” Emch said. “Wille made him famous, but I dug around to find the story behind it. It was written by Ned Sublette, a Latin country music songwriter. It is one of the only songs he wrote that is widely known. I thought it would be great to start the album on a familiar note and bring my own sense of pathos and drama to it. It’s a well-known tune, but my way of doing it is different from Nelson’s sparse, ballad version. I’ve had feedback in the past that despite being a queer person making country music, my music wasn’t queer enough. It seemed like the perfect answer to that. I wanted to revisit the song and make it the first anthem track on the album. The way I do it brings a bit of gay melodrama to the old west.
The rest of gold country is equally convincing. The band’s core members – Emch on electric and acoustic guitar, Tolan McNeil on lead guitar and backing vocals, Hans Winold on double bass, and drummer and backing vocalist Michele Kappel – are joined by special guests to complete the arrangements. “We leaned into kicking the door in spots, for a harder advantage,” Emch said. “Something About the Moon” is a rock ballad, with distorted guitars and a funky backbeat. Emch sings it with quivering passion. “I Wish I Was in Texas with You” is a waltz-era love song, with bright, heavy guitar fills. Emch yodes the catchphrase of “Think I Do,” country-flavored blues, with an exuberance that suggests a ’50s radio hit. Winold’s cheery acoustic bass and Emch’s bright vocals make “Oceola” perfect for dancing. in line. This is Emch’s sentimental look at his childhood home.
“Early in my college years, I came out to my friends as queer. I had a crush on all genders, but mostly identified with lesbians. No one was surprised. Friends and teachers told me they were glad I understood. They said they had always known I was gay. Once I knew there was a word for what I felt, I never hesitated to come out, in any situation I was in. country.
“Maybe I grew up with Willie Nelson and Leonard Cohen, but when I go to write songs, they always start in a quiet, vulnerable place. It’s kind of hilarious, in a way, because once things are ready for the shows and I perform on stage I tend to be louder I’ve been in a bunch of bands Vagabondage was an Americana/Roots band with old school leanings Rhubarb Whiskey, Feral and the Oakland Wine Drinkers Union were solidly country It seems that no matter how inspired or sparked a song, once the music crosses my creative heart, it will eventually turn country.
As she prepares for the May 20 release of gold country, Emch is ready to embark on the next phase of her musical journey. “Right now the biggest challenge in my life is trying to balance everything. I have a day job that takes 40-60 hours a week, writing music and rehearsing with the band takes about 25 or 30 I also program a monthly radio show on Gimme Country radio—Emchy’s Outlaw Americana. That takes time. The band starts touring and playing again, which grabs my attention a lot. Also, I have my wife and my friends, and I’ve chosen a family to follow, so it’s quite difficult. I wish I could clone myself multiple times to sleep more. Since the band is still in place, it’s a constant bustle to spread the music and stay connected to people. Now that we’re on Broken Clover Records, it helps, but we’re still working, all the time.
“That’s why I’m happy to live in Oakland. I’m close to the ocean and the redwoods and love the diversity of people. The arts, music and LGBTQ2+ communities are accessible and amazing. The feeling of friendship and community nourishes me, personally and artistically. As things open up and I’m more and more out in the world, interacting with people, it keeps me spinning, creatively.
The Secret Emchy Society can be found at emchy.bandcamp.com and listen Emchy’s Outlaw Americana at gimmecountry.com.