Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass with Val Emmich




If America Ferrera’s love interest/musically-inclined neighbor seems like a natural on the stage during this season of ABC’s “Ugly Betty,” well, it’s because he is.832presspass.jpg

While Val Emmich will play Jesse, Betty’s beau-to-be in upcoming episodes of the award-winning, primetime show, his main line of work is in music. Since 2001, long before he began to catch breaks as a guest actor on “30 Rock” and “Cashmere Mafia,” Emmich has released six albums of perfectly palatable pop music.

The New Jersey-raised Emmich started out in songwriting in high school and continued it in college at Rutgers University. He made his mark after graduating when a video for his song “Privacy Attracts a Crowd” appeared on MTV’s “Total Request Live.” He was the first independent artist to ever crack the countdown, a territory usually owned by established, label-backed performers, a status he later enjoyed when Epic inked him to a deal.

Acting was more of an afterthought. He was introduced to it through a co-worker at a book store, who put him in touch with her aspiring-actor son’s manager. Eventually, Emmich took part in some ad campaigns and eventually upped his roles to bit parts on now-canceled shows like “Third Watch” and “Ed,” but he always viewed it more as a way to pay the rent, rather than his artistic calling. In fact, prior to auditioning for “Ugly Betty,” Emmich completely shunned TV show casting calls for musicians.

“When they write a musician into shows or even movies it just doesn’t ring true to me,” Emmich says, before adding another reason. “It seems that people’s perception of an actor that plays music is very poor. Normally, the music is not respected, and with good reason. It’s not very good usually. But I’ve been doing this forever and acting came second, so I was a little nervous.”

Ultimately, it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“The amount of exposure you have with one show, it would take you playing Madison Square Garden 100 nights to reach those same people,” he said. “I’m hoping it will lead people to the music.

“So far, every episode I have shot, I’m singing in. It’s a great opportunity that I couldn’t have designed, so I’m trying to appreciate it.”

If any of “Ugly Betty’s” 10 million or so viewers go searching for Emmich’s music, they’ll find a host of carefully crafted tunes comprising his latest full-length album, Little Daggers. With big melodies boasting hooks that catch in your ear for days at a time, Emmich proves that he’s a capable composer in his own right. He loves dealing with details, he says, and appreciates it when his listeners pick up on his songs’ subtleties – such as when he juxtaposes bright-sounding major chords with lyrics covering weighty, troubled topics.

“So much of this record is seeing what’s around me with friends family, my personal life and how hard it is to keep love going even though it’s painful at times,” Emmich says, explaining the relationship about which he sings in “Too Far.” “The idea of going ‘too far’ is a bad thing, but in the end it turns out to be a good thing, like we’ve come too far to let this go. I look at my parents relationship for example, the older generation seems to stick it out more. Even though it was hard at times, they weren’t going to give up on it. I find that to be a romantic notion.”

It’s with the kind of close consideration that Emmich – a consummate writer who has also penned a novel – scripts all of his songs.

“I really do care about every word that goes into them and I really like artists that do the same,” Emmich says. “I do this because I like it, and I work hard at it and I keep trying to get there.”

His dedication sustained him through some tough times in his music career, such as when Epic applied some pressure on Emmich to get him to squeeze out songs like “Privacy” that would be well received by radio. Easier said than done. Eventually, the record deal was dropped and each went their own way.

“Music is a business as well as an art; you have to marry those two together and you have to deal with it,” Emmich says. “It can break you and it almost did break me. Ultimately, I feel like I have a lot more appreciation to what I accomplished and what I can do.”

Now on New York indie label Bluehammock Music, Emmich is back on track and, with the opportunities afforded by his latest acting gig, he could be preparing to reach new heights.

Determination, emotional investment in his work, a sweet, serenading voice and long-lasting tunes that you can’t get out of your head? It’s easy to see why this Betty girl is so into him. There’s a lot to like.

  • Val Emmich performs at Jammin’ Java on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10. For more information on all aspects of Val Emmich’s career, visit www.valemmich.com.

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