SXSW Picks 2 Click 2008

Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

"He invented emo, you know," a friend jests at a recent Zookeeper show. Although he wouldn't be credited with the invention of the genre, Chris Simpson penned his share of emotive choruses in local 1990s troubadours Mineral.

"When we were starting Mineral, we never really knew what emo meant or thought about emo, so we were just playing music," the soft-spoken vocalist and songwriter relates. "It's funny to have that sort of reputation."

Mineral famously dissolved after four short years in 1998, and the Gloria Record formed, marking Simpson's transition from angst-ridden to more melodic. The Record disbanded in 2004, and for the first time in a decade, Simpson was without a band. A catalog of songs was already minting, however.

"You have some leftover fans who are interested in what you're going to do next," he explains. "But for the most part, you're starting over. I didn't want to have to do that anymore, so hopefully whatever music I want to do for the rest of my life, I'll just call it Zookeeper."

It's an irrefutable alias. Cutting from a rotating swath of local musicians – Zykos' Kevin Bybee, the Trapdoor Band's Alex Dupree, Sad Accordians' Seth Woods, et al. – Simpson catches fire atop a gritty freedom procession, a million-instrument serenade, a spontaneous sing-along. Last year's debut LP, Becoming All Things (Belle City Pop!), skips from beautifully controlled chaos ("Snow in Berlin") to discomfiting dissonance ("On Madison Way") to grand expressions of emotion ("On High"). Every note voluntary, every word organic.

"I think that potential for unplanned magic is the most important thing, in the studio or live," posits Simpson. "Some nights things don't come together that well, and that's the nature of working that way, but I think it's worth it due to the amount of times it does come together in some unexpected way that you couldn't have planned or arranged."

Simpson is a blithesome conductor. He writes to his heart's content, calls impromptu songs out onstage, and is always fluttering at the mic. Ruminations on life ease from his pursed lips. Newly married with a slate of songs preparing to go down on tape for a hopeful summer release, Simpson drifts easily down a lazy river.

"I just want to continue to write songs and play music," Simpson shrugs. "It's tied in with continuing to live and have more and better and greater relationships with other people. Everything you learn in any aspect of life is applicable to anything you do. It's hard to separate living from songwriting for me, or vice versa."

SXSW showcase: Wednesday, March 12, 9pm @ Central Presbyterian Church

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