For Vincent Neil Emerson, it’s the songwriting that’s most important

The East Texas-born country artist admires folk luminaries like Townes Van Zandt.

By Shelly BrisbinNovember 29, 2023 4:52 pm, ,

Vincent Neil Emerson thinks of himself as a songwriter first. Though he has been influenced by the punk, rock-and-roll and country music he absorbed growing up in Texas, he says he feels the most profound connection with folk-inflected troubadours like Townes Van Zandt.

You can hear that heritage in Emerson’s new album, “The Golden Crystal Kingdom.”

You can also hear something of his Native American roots, though the artist doesn’t dwell on that aspect of his makeup. There are jangly guitars, too, and a singing voice that’s definitely inflected with a country you might hear in a Texas dance hall. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Congratulations on “The Golden Crystal Kingdom.” With a title like that, I bet a lot of listeners might not know quite what to expect from an album. But what was the inspiration for the title and could you say more about it? 

Vincent Neil Emerson: No, I can’t. I’m sorry. I’m going to leave it up to speculation. But it’s fun to say, isn’t it? The Golden Crystal Kingdom.

It is!

It’s got a nice ring to it, huh? 

See, now you’ve just you’ve just opened up a whole world of speculation. Folks are going to have to listen and put it all together for themselves, I guess. 

Yeah, it’s just a title. It doesn’t matter. 

 Well, you’ve got a title song here, and it definitely seems like a callback to the old country music dance halls of small-town Texas. Am I far off base there?

You’re not, it’s kind of my ode to playing some of those places. 

Let’s talk a little bit about a song on the record called “The Man from Uvalde.” It tells a story of someone you met who experienced the shooting at Rob Elementary back in 2021. How did hearing that story affect you? 

I’m a father. I have a three-year-old back at home, and the whole thing just broke my heart. So I wanted to write write a song about it, you know? It was heartbreaking. It was hard to write about. And sometimes, some things just kind of come over you.

When you were growing up, what sort of music were you listening to? 

I was into a lot of punk rock, I guess, and a lot of rock music. I don’t remember the bands, but I knew I liked that kind of music.

And then I got into country music a little later on when I was a teenager, and I kind of got into that through folk music, like Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. Naturally, you start digging around and you start finding guys like Hank Williams, you know. 

And country music sort of became a kind of an outlet for you that popular music or rock-and-roll really wasn’t?

You know, I never even really thought about the genre. I just loved Townes Van Zandt. I liked Guy Clark, you know, and it’s really about the songwriting for me. I just love the craft of it. And it happens to be that those guys kind of favored folk and country music. It’s a great backdrop for those themes and those words, you know. 

Thomas Crabtree

You know, it’s surprising to me sometimes how few people know of Townes Van Zandt. He’s such an incredible songwriter. I know you’ve heard the old saying from Steve Earle that he would stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in his cowboy boots and proclaim Townes to be the best songwriter that ever was. You feel that way about Townes? 

I love that quote from Steve. Townes is my favorite songwriter of all time, for sure. You know, I love him. 

You know, Townes once said – it may have been Guy Clark, that asked him because they were best of friends – he was once asked how he came up with his music and he said he just pulled up the antenna and listened. How do you approach writing songs? Do you have a story in mind and you want to sort of capture it or you do a little bit of that raising of the antenna? 

I love that whole mythical thing about raising the antenna.

Well, I think the reality is, you know, guys like Townes, they poured hours and hours of hard work and musical research into what they did. And it was no accident that he wrote those really beautiful songs. I think everything that I’ve ever done is just an amalgamation of the things that I’ve heard and seen. So we don’t live in a vacuum. 

There’s a song that closes this album, “Little Wolf’s Invincible Yellow Medicine Paint,” that mixes a Native American story with a very country sound and rhythm. Am I correct in saying you have some Native American heritage?

Yes, sir. I am Native American. 

How do you think about incorporating that aspect of your life into your writing? 

I didn’t really think about it too much, to be honest with you. 

Tell us a little bit more about the song. 

I was trying to write a rock-and-roll song, really. I was listening to a lot of Neil Young at the time and some Stephen Stills. But I found a big stack of Western comics from the 60s. And there’s a story in one of those comics – I think the headline was “Little Wolf’s Invincible Yellow Paint.” 

Vincent, what do you make of the state of country music these days?  How hard is it for a working musician these days to get the kind of attention that allows you to sort of make a career out of this?

I mean, a lot of folks write music, they put it up online and they kind of do a little promotion and hope and pray that someone’s going to come along. How hard is it for someone like you to get attention when you’ve been working on these songs and pouring you sort of heart and soul into it?

It’s a miracle that I’ve made it this far. It’s tough out there for musicians, songwriters. I know a lot of great songwriters that aren’t getting any attention. So I feel very lucky, very fortunate to be doing what I’m doing right now. 

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support it here. Your gift helps pay for everything you find on and Thanks for donating today.