Emily Oppenheimer slaps the bass hard, hits the books hard, and yet maintains some of the chilliest vibes I have ever encountered. She’s sharp, but let’s just say she has a warm and fuzzy side. Very fuzzy. I met Emily through the music scene, and then (like many I am sure) fell in love via social media with her late bunny Taco. Now she has an equally adorable cat whose photos I love to peruse.
Originally from a farm in the southwest, Emily seamlessly transitioned into the Brooklyn music scene, debuting in Total Slacker, later forming Debbie Downer with Heliotropes’ Jess Numsuwankijkul, and now playing in Nicole Mercedes’ backing band.
Emily brings her own style to every project she’s a part of, and her unique flare also carries over to her life as a pet mom – as is evidenced by some of the Halloween costumes she’s concocted for her fur babies. Emily may have gone from farm life and guitar to cityscapes and bass, but her love for animals has remained consistent. Check out all of the wonderful stories about (and pictures of) her pets over the years, keep an ear out for her next show, and sneak a peak at some of her book recommendations!
AF: What made you choose bass guitar over other instruments?
EJO: It wasn’t intentional, really. I grew up playing classical piano and then classical guitar. When I started playing rock music in Brooklyn, I thought I’d do it on electric guitar. But the first band I played in needed a bassist, and I figured it would be an easy enough transition. By the time the opportunity arose to switch back to guitar and find someone else for the bass, I had become attached to it. I used to be pretty shy and wasn’t confident performing; I liked that playing the bass allowed me to mostly hang back with the drummer when I wanted and to focus on creating texture rather than having to worry about executing flashy melodies.
AF: I think we all remember a special furry friend named Taco who passed away (RIP). Can you tell us a little bit about Taco, his personality, and how you came to be his Mom?
EJO: I had been in New York, pet-less, for two years before getting Taco. I’d grown up around animals, and the biggest culture shock I experienced coming to college in New York from New Mexico was definitely the lack of animal contact. After cycling through apartments and roommates for a while, I finally felt settled enough for a pet. I worried that my place was too small even for a cat, and was inspired by memories of a rabbit I’d had as a kid, Hopper Hoppenheimer. He was so cool. He used a litter box and lived cage-free in my room, and would do things like bite my bedclothes and run to the foot of the bed with them to wake me up in the mornings.
I started compulsively checking rabbit breeder websites and by the time I came across Taco’s baby picture, I had racked up enough baby bunny photo viewing experience to know that he was definitely, objectively the cutest. So, I put down a $15 deposit over PayPal and got on a train to some place upstate. He had been bred for show, but the pattern on his coat was asymmetrical (there was a smiley face on his left side!), so he was spared that particular indignity and came home with me. His personality was like that of a grumpy, disapproving uncle. He liked getting pets – especially cheek rubs – but only on his terms, which usually meant I’d have to lay on the floor to get on his eye-level before he’d share my affection. But he could be silly, and surprising, too. For example, he caught me off guard with his keyboard skills one night!
He was my emotional rock for over six years, the most consistent source of comfort through the weirdness of my early twenties. It was pretty devastating to lose him in October 2016, but I know that he was simply too pure a soul to withstand a Trump-era world. I’m glad that he is remembered.
AF: What was Taco’s favorite Halloween costume (and please share with the world some of his genius get-ups)?
EJO: I can’t say that he was very pleased with any of them, but I can show you my favorites.
Here he is as a San Loco Guaco Loco Taco (w/ Stupid Sauce), or alternately, “Sexy Taco Belle”:
And here he is as the world’s cutest pumpkin patch:
AF: I know you currently have an adorable ginger fur baby. When did you decide to adopt him, and did you choose him or did he choose you?
EJO: A couple of months after losing Taco, my boyfriend and I moved into a new apartment. We had decided to wait until the place was completely furnished and we were done feeling sad about the little guy to get another pet, but I knew our place wouldn’t be “home” until we’d found another fur-ball friend to share it with us. We had talked about another rabbit, but it was Too Soon and my bf convinced me that we were ready to start moving up the food-chain, so to speak. It wasn’t long before I found myself carrying cans of cat food around on the off chance I’d find a neighborhood stray to lure home (and in one case, unbeknownst to me, someone’s pet). How quickly I became THAT lady. So, to the shelter we went. We made a lap around the room, but didn’t feel a strong connection to any of the cats there. We did another lap, just to be sure. And I saw a cat we’d missed the first time: he’d been sleeping in the back. He made his way drowsily to the front of his cage, plopped clumsily onto his side, and as he let us scratch his chin, he slyly passed his paw under the bars of his cage to try to get at his neighbor’s food, as if he thought that by rolling over and purring he would distract us from his true goal. He made us laugh and stole our hearts. He has a terrific sense of humor. We have a photo of the exact moment we decided to adopt:
It was exactly a year ago this week! This is my tubby little Garfield tiger tabby baby son, Hugh (a.k.a. Huey Lou, Huey Lewis, Hubert, Huberto, Hubert Eleanor Rigby, Mr. L, etc.). He sleeps, cries for food, eats, and sleeps. He has 3 English words in his vocabulary (yes, really). “Mom,” “now,” and “no,” all of which he uses exclusively for “food” and “more food.” His squishy little face is unusually human and expressive. He sleeps with his head on my pillow and sprawls out over half the bed each night. He spends all day lounging on the sofa like the sitcom trope of a guy who’s unemployed, hogs the remote, and eats chips in his underwear all day. He’s an egregious cat-man-spreader. He greets us at the door like a dog and cries when we go out. He loves attention, and does not at ALL conform to the stereotype of aloof and superior cats who don’t care for their owners. His favorite toys are a stuffed lobster, with which he cuddles, and a piece of string. I’ve had cats before, but none to whom I’ve been so closely bonded. I can’t believe he’s only been with us a year.
AF: Does he have a favorite brand of cat food? Any human foods that are his guilty pleasures?
EJO: He is pleasantly plump already, as you can see, and has a few missing teeth (and stiiiinky gingivitis breath), so we try to keep him on a diet. He’s a Frisky’s wet food guy, but I can’t imagine he’d turn much away. He’s curious about everything we eat, and runs grunting to the kitchen every time we’re in it. Every now and then he gets a bite of chicken, and for X-mas we gave him a few pieces of shrimp, but no other people foods.
AF: Have you owned any other pets aside from bunnies and cats? Who was your first pet?
EJO: I grew up on a horse ranch, so, yes. In addition to horses, we had dogs, cats, chickens, geese, a mini-burro, a rabbit, a tortoise, and the occasional cow, turkey, and goat. Lots and lots of pets. Here I am with the burro, Yard Art:
I was born into a fairy-tale world of animals, so there wasn’t a first pet. But the first pet with whom I had an intractable bond was Ruby, a Rottweiler that we got as a puppy when I was just a baby. Here’s a photo of me picking her out of the litter:
In contrast to the reputation Rottweilers had, and maybe still have, she was the most sensitive and caring dog I’ve ever known. She was incredibly gentle. She would let me crawl on top of her and ride her around the house, and always let me win tug-of-war games. She even shared her dog snacks with me under the dinner table (ok, gross, I know, but it was only once and I was four!) Do you know those Good Dog, Carl kids’ books? She was like Carl. She was the best. But really, there were too many to mention here, though they all deserve a mention. I could fill an entire book with character profiles of all the great animals I’ve known and that have shaped me as a person.
AF: What made you choose the particular species you’ve parented as companions?
EJO: Space wasn’t an issue, then [on the ranch]. Both of my parents are animal people, and indulged (almost) whatever curiosities my brother and I had about animals and pet ownership. To this day, it’s one of the privileges I had growing up that I’m most grateful for. I wouldn’t feel right having even a small dog where I live now (unless it’s like, eensy weensy designer dog small), without a backyard, and can’t commit to a reliable walking schedule. Cats and rabbits are relatively independent, so that’s it for me until I move out of state, one day. Which I will do, eventually, if for no other reason than for room to accommodate the pets I plan on having in the future: a pot-belly pig named Pjörk, a pair of black velvet Rex rabbits named Merricat and Constance Blackwood (after the sisters in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson), and a silkie-breed chicken I’ll call Brenda.
AF: What was the first song you remember hearing that referenced (non-human) animals?
EJO: Probably the soundtrack to The Jungle Book. It was my first favorite movie. I think my first word was “book”, and not because I loved to read (though I did love to read).
AF: Would you say your personality is most like a cat, bunny, or dog or a combination of the above?
EJO: In reference to prevailing stereotypes about the nature of each, I share qualities with all of them; I’m loyal like a dog, independent like a cat, and scatter-brained like a bunny.
AF: How have your pets inspired your creative side?
EJO: I attribute a lot of my intuitive, emotional, and cooperative strengths – skills that I think are essential for musical collaboration – to the practice of silent communion with animals. They’ve taught me how to listen in a way that requires all of my senses and attention, and to respond instinctively without overthinking or having to rationalize my response.
AF: I noticed you are in a feminist book club. Do you have any recommendations for our readers?
EJO: Yes, I’m full of them! My favorite book club reads from this year were The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson; Hunger: A Memoir of My Body, by Roxane Gay; and The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward. I’d also recommend Her Body and Other Parties: Stories, by Carmen Maria Machado; Chemistry, by Weike Wang; Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story, by Angela Saini; When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele; and Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women’s Pain, by Abby Norman.
AF: Who are the top three female musicians who have inspired your songwriting?
EJO: Brody Dalle (The Distillers), Kim Deal (The Breeders), and Joan Jett.
AF: If these women were any animals other than humans, what do you think they would be?
EJO: Brody: hyena. Kim: red panda. Joan: raven.
AF: Can you tell us more about your current band?
EJO: It’s Nicole Mercedes’ project; she writes all the songs. They are very beautiful hook-filled dream pop songs, but still commanding, not just background music. It’s nice to step away, a little, from the more straight-ahead rock music I’ve played to this point to something slightly more dynamic.
AF: Do you have any upcoming shows where we can catch you in action?
EJO: Catch me playing with Nicole Mercedes at Our Wicked Lady on April 26th and El Cortez on June 1st.