Chances are if you've been to a bar with anything resembling a stage in Philadelphia, you've heard the haunting picking and crooning of Emmett Drueding. "I've played Kung Fu Necktie, I've played Silk City, Connie's Ric Rac, JR's Bar, Trocadero Balcony, I've played the M Room, I've played The Fire, the Arts Garage, Cha Cha Razzi, The Bookspace," lists Drueding, who has had plenty of time to get such an impressive catalogue under his belt. Drueding, though only 21, has been writing, playing and performing music since his early high school years. "A buncha' house parties," adds Drueding, chuckling. "I've played a lotta' house parties."
No stranger to recording, Drueding has been spent time in the studio as both a solo artist and band member; in 2010, Drueding's punk group The Chill Nazis (whose eventual dissolution he jokes had a lot to do with the too oft-misinterpreted name) released their first official and final self-titled recording. Following the group's disbandment, Drueding dusted off and has continued to perform and record as a solo artist, his punk roots developing into more of a fingerpicking style, reminiscent of what a city born, 20th century Blind Willie McTell might sound like. "It's a little stripped down [compared to my other work]," says Drueding. "It's the sad homeless guy on the street, strummin' his guitar."But after some lonely years by the side of the road, Drueding has found a new panhandling companion in his music.
Philadelphia producer Zach Sewall (aka Grave Goods), who has worked with numerous acts including chart-toppers Chiddy Bang, met Drueding a mere two months ago, but the two have been collaborating and working tirelessly since their introduction, and hope to release a 6-song EP before the new year. "I just wanted to do something that was completely different than anything I'd ever done before," say Drueding, on making music collaboratively again. "It's going to be hard to recreate live what we've done in the studio," admits Drueding. "I can go out on stage and I can put my whole heart out there, but what I'm trying to do in the studio is … give you everything that's going on in my head.
"I've never been in a more comfortable environment musically in my life," observes Drueding, "[To] be perfectly frank, I'm a decent musician, and I'm also not a producer." Since they began collaborating, Grave Goods has made great strides to build upon Drueding's writing, rather than force it in any predestined direction, creating what Drueding calls "a temple of concepts."
"[It's] really honest," Grave Goods says of Drueding's writing. "They're very well crafted, but apart from the craft, there's a lot of real honest feeling there, and I know that's something I always want to listen to." The concepts behind his music are vast and varied, as Drueding's influences stretch from the 1920's all the way up to Beach House; from his punk days, Drueding recalls the influences of Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground, and the Misfits, whilst more contemporary artists like Kurt Vile, Radiohead and even Wu-Tang Clan have also left their mark on him.
"I have rhythm in [my songs] that are undoubtably influenced [by hip hop], one of my songs literally takes the rhythm of Liquid Swords, it's a straight rip from that," laughs Drueding. His largest influences however, will always be the blues men of the 1920's and '30s.
"Mississippi John Hurt was my first country/blues album, and he's made me realize the dynamic of what a singer-songwriter can be. What I realized with blues guys like Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, Skip James, is that these are people who have their guitar and their vocals, and … a lot of pain." Drueding's music has always reflected that pain and emotion, drawn from his life in Philadelphia.
"Philly has undeniably influenced me." Drueding, Mount Airy born and South Philly resident, has been to each corner of the city of brotherly love, and lived in more than a few of them. "You wanna talk about the content of my songs, it's always gonna be about Philly, no matter what." Philadelphia's many facets, not just it's violence and pain, have left a profound imprint upon Drueding's style, and he recognizes the many qualities of such a varied cityscape, not resigned to becoming stuck in the sad and somber "XPN," as he calls it, image of a singer-songwriter.
"Mississippi John Hurt's actually very lighthearted, a very interesting character," Drueding muses. "He would smile when people would say 'Hey boy, pick up the guitar,' … he'd say 'Sure.' He must've been so confident in his ability and so involved in his music he didn't [care] about anyone else. It's like, f*ck all that shit, who cares, I'm gonna pick up the guitar and I'm gonna blow you're f*cking mind, whiteboy.
Although Drueding will always worship the likes of John Fahey and Leadbelly, he understands that his music is traveling in a slightly different direction. "My music's not the same," he admits. "I'm not just gonna do straight blues. It's not my time or place to do that, I'm not trying to bring back the music of Mississippi John Hurt, but I will do a cover here and there. But I'm not gonna sing it like John Hurt did, cause I can't." Of what this new project with Grave Goods will bring, only time will tell. So the next time you find yourself in a Philly bar, wondering from where the plucks and bluesy moans of a 20th century, inner-city bred Robert Johnson are coming, take a look around. You might just find Emmett Drueding standing there, hat in hand.