Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Inside the mind behind Esmer’s music

The rising Filipino-American artist on his music and his future
ESMER performing at the UMass Filipino Student Association’s Bayanihan Ball this past month. Kalina Kornacki / Daily Collegian (2023).

“I was working as a barista and was very unhappy with my job. While working, I would dream of becoming a big and successful artist, but I had to be content with a nine-to-five. Big things don’t happen overnight, I had to be patient.”

Esmer (Justin Esmer) is a Filipino-American solo artist hailing from New Haven, Connecticut. He has recently graced the University of Massachusetts with his music, performing specifically at the Filipino Student Association’s Bayanihan Ball.

Abhiprit Saha, a junior resource economics major, described Esmer’s music as “highly emotional.” “It’s like he is pouring his soul out in song,” Saha said. Esmer’s music draws inspiration from Rex Orange County, Frank Ocean, Rich Brian, Daniel Caesar and several OPM (Original Pilipino Music) singers. Esmer sings and raps about deeply personal, relatable topics. His song, “deathbed,” explores themes of love, heartbreak and burnout. Sentimental and honest lyrics are paired with a deeply atmospheric tone.

Esmer, coming from a family of musicians, always grew up around music and learned various instruments at an early age. His father, a musician himself, would sign Esmer and his siblings up for classical music training.

“We [the family] were often short on money but our parents would work day and night to afford the luxuries of these extracurricular activities,” said Julian Esmer, Justin’s brother. “The three of us were all put into piano lessons as early as five years old. Kristina [Justin’s and Julian’s sister] and I took on band in public school, learning flute and trumpet respectively. Although none of us took lessons seriously at first, often feeling ambivalent to the parental pressure, the three of us are musicians through and through thanks to our parents.”

According to Esmer, he rarely practiced the piano and cello, as “it was too structured for me.” Esmer would eventually choose the guitar as his personal favourite. “The guitar gave me more independence; it was not classical. I could freestyle and improvise with friends,” he said. “I could pick what I wanted to play. I wanted to stick with it because it was independent and pressure-less. You could say I owned it.”

His music does not only feature guitar and is often accompanied with various synths and other string instruments. Esmer utilises all these elements to create an ensemble of atmosphere and emotion. His pieces are a genre blend of alternative R&B, pop, rap and rock.

He is currently pursuing music full time. “I was not really inspired by my classes. I would sit in class thinking of music all the time,” he said. “When I should be thinking about school I was instead thinking of music. I really wanted to try it out because it was what I wanted to pursue. I brought it up with my mom and dad. After my mom passed, music became my therapy and I ended up wanting to pursue it even more.”

One of his latest songs, “Ponyo,” deals with these personal experiences. The song was released in January, a day before his mother passed. If Esmer could embody his mental health in a single song, it would be this. “If Ponyo was a person he would be me.”

“Ponyo” features a line, “9-5 ain’t a dope life, but you can’t change a life overnight.” Esmer describes this line as the encapsulation of his desire to become a successful artist.

Esmer’s music puts you in his head, while also connecting with you, as the listener. His songs are embodiments of himself but also resonate universally with the listener’s lived experiences.

Andre Ayuyao can be reached at [email protected].

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