When it comes to making music, eclecticism for its own sake can be confusing for potential listeners. But when it’s executed with authenticity, casting a wide stylistic net can lead to compelling end results. And that’s the goal of self-described folk-wave group Emma’s Lounge. In celebration of the release of its new album, Confluence, the Asheville-based band is hosting an interstellar prom on Saturday, Oct. 13, at Asheville Music Hall.
At that show, attendees will vote upon and crown a nongender-specific prom king and queen, and festive, space age-themed attire is encouraged. “It will be interesting to see what we’ve got cooking for that,” keyboardist Meg Proffitt Heathman teases. “It will be a good time.”
In fact, from its cover song choices to genre influences, Emma’s Lounge is hard to peg, and what the musicians will do onstage is anyone’s guess. That wild card spirit might come from the band’s genesis. While Emma’s Lounge is in fact a group — featuring, along with Heathman, guitarists Logan Venderlic and Brendan Bower, drummer Mackenzie Richburg and Emma Forster on fiddle — its origins are hazy. Essentially working solo in 2017, Venderlic, who lives in Asheville, wrote an album’s worth of songs and traveled to an Ohio studio to record them. Before releasing his collection of new tunes, the songwriter decided to assemble a group.
“That [album] was made before he even knew we existed and before we knew he existed; it had already been mixed and mastered,” Heathman explains. “We needed a foundation to start on, so we came on, and we just all fell in love with his music.” When Heart Heavy came out in late 2017, the album was credited to Emma’s Lounge (more about the band name — no connection to fiddler Forster — in a minute).
A year later, Emma’s Lounge includes the creative input of all its members (along with Venderlic, Heathman is a primary songwriter), and that character is reflected in the title and sound of Confluence.
But the group’s makeup is now far more diverse than the Americana-flavored folk-pop of Heart Heavy. To capture the live feel the musicians wanted, Emma’s Lounge returned to that same Ohio studio and cut the album live with minimal overdubs. “We wanted it to sound the way that we sound,” Heathman says.
Two of the cuts on Confluence — the dance-funk “March” and the blues-with-fiddle “Breakdown” — sound as if they could have been recorded by two different bands. Elsewhere, “Arvilla pt. II” evokes power-chording arena rock.
Two styles of music that don’t enjoy significant representation of Confluence are folk and new wave. So what’s with the folk-wave label? “Lyrically, our messages are rooted in folk,” Heathman offers. “It’s more of a perspective of where we’re coming from.”
The collective’s “come as you are” doctrine gave rise to its moniker. “The name comes from a Charleston [S.C.] dive bar that no longer exists,” Heathman says. “No matter what you were going through or dealing with, there was always a warm reception as soon as you came through the door. And we want to have that same kind of vibe with our music.”
That easygoing vibe lends itself especially well to festival gigs. To date, Emma’s Lounge has played at quite a few festivals up and down the Eastern U.S., including the local French Broad River Festival; the BIG What? in Shakori Hills; Soulshine in Green Mountain; Toronto’s NXNE; and the Sweetwater 420 Fest in Atlanta, among others.
Heathman calls the festival scene a “creativity explosion. More than likely, festivals have had the biggest impact on the direction that we’re headed,” she says. “I feel like we’re in a music renaissance now. A lot of people are bringing authenticity and coming up with really unique ways to express themselves musically. It’s inspiring to get into that festival scene, meet other bands and listen to what they’re doing.”
Onstage, Emma’s Lounge can stick closely to the studio arrangements or extend the tunes, jam-fashion, seemingly at will. “At one show we might sound like the studio [recording],” Heathman says, “and at the next show our songs might be mashed up with a cover.”
When Emma’s Lounge does play the songs of other artists, they’re generally unlikely choices. “Logan recently did a really awesome mashup of Justin Timberlake’s ‘SexyBack’ and Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer,’” Heathman says. “We’re really all over the board.”
WHO: Emma’s Lounge with Screaming J’s
WHERE: Asheville Music Hall, 31 Patton Ave., ashevillemusichall.com
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 13, at 9 p.m., $10