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Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Eric Hutchinson Interview

Editor's Note: I sat down with Eric Hutchinson before his latest Boston appearance this Summer. He was appearing at the Roxy with Missy Higgins. The 28-year-old Hutchinson was relaxed and it proved as an easy-going interview about songwriting, personal goals and the artist's source of inspiration. Since we spoke, Hutchinson had a song appear in a motion picture, he played before thousands of more fans including a nationally televised performance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Hutchinson's songs are funky, witty soul-filled affairs. Eric is fiery and a spontaneous live performer, but the following interview demonstrates - he is sensitive to the needs of others and has some introverted tendencies. This is one musician who isn't flashy - he's down to Earth - and just a good guy. We chatted and laughed through much of our time together. Special thanks to Jen P for transcribing all our dialog. Eric and I talked for a long time. Best of luck to Hutchinson and his tour mates in the coming year.

The RSL Interview with Eric Hutchinson


Ryan (RS): Hey Eric, welcome back to Boston. I understand you went to Emerson, so this is like a homecoming of sorts?

Eric (EH): Yea, It’s really exciting to be here. I literally lived over here on Boylston and Tremont, so it’s one-minute walk from where I lived for four years.

RS: Did you go out for a stroll?

EH: We got in last night so we’ve been all over and I took the band around to some of my favorite restaurants and stuff so…

RS: Okay, who’s got the best food and beer in town, in your mind?

EH: I’ll tell you what, I think we’re going to try to go after this over to Charley’s over on Newbury, I swear that’s the best hamburger I’ve ever had, maybe anywhere.

RS: Excellent. So, talking about the new album, Sounds Like This, it’s really good. I wasn’t that familiar with your work that long ago, I’ll be perfectly honest with you, and I listened to it straight through and I went back and listened again. This album is great.

EH: Thank you.

RS: What kind of album is in your mind?

EH: It’s funny you say that. To me, it is an indie album. You know I made it on my own, and I happened to have sort of pop sensibilities and stuff like that. It’s an album that takes the last couple years I’ve had and tells the story. It’s kind of like a snapshot of what my life was sounding like at the time.

SOUNDS LIKE THIS


RS: Let’s talk about the road to get this album done then. Tell me about the last two years of your life now.

EH: A year ago, I was just finishing up the album. Two years ago, I was waiting around to for my old label Maverick (a Warner Brother imprint) Do you know about this story, or not so much?

RS: Not really. Let’s run through it, if you don’t mind

EH: So I was signed to Maverick Records, which is Madonna’s label. I got really pumped, and I was like, “Here we go!” At that time, I’d been doing it for about four years, so I was like, “Finally got my break.” And then I went to start making the album and I was like maybe a week or two into the demos and then Maverick folded into their parent company of Warner Brothers. And they said, “Well, don’t worry. We’re going to figure out what to do with you…” Then they put me on the shelf for about six months while they decided if they were going to keep me or not. They ended up dropping me. So I went off and made the album myself.

RS: I didn’t know that. That must have been pretty tough.

EH: Yeah, yeah. So I did it myself and then (blogger) Perez Hilton got a hold of it. A friend of mine from high school randomly sent it over to him. And Perez put it up on his site, and within the day, it jumped up into the top 10 of iTunes. I just independently had it out.

(Editor's Note: related story)

RS: And then suddenly you get contacted by…

EH: Within the day, we had two or three labels all calling and so that month, I was meeting with the presidents of music labels. The last one to come back to the table was Warner Brothers. And they were like (shrugging), “you know how it goes…”

RS: So, suffice it say, you like blogs? (laughs)

EH: Yeah! (Smiling) It was an amazing lesson in the power of the internet and stuff like that because I could really see it, the power to introduce someone to new music: they can listen to it, like it, buy it and be a fan. And it all took place in like a half hour.

RS: A webpage can do that; a magazine can do that; a book can do that; TV can do that; movies can do that. But the beauty of the blogs is that it’ an immediate thing. You get the music out there but if its not great people will see it immediately.

EH: Right.

RS: So, you get the deal, and all of the sudden now, you’re seeing some success. You’re going all around the country—you’re touring now with Missy Higgins

EH: Yeah, all the time…

RS: So what’s that life like, versus where you were a year ago?

EH: (laughs a little, rolls his eyes.) So a year ago, I started working with a different manager. A lot of little things were different. I am working with some really good people now. I feel like the stars were really aligned to make things finally – finally - start to get going, you know? The label this time is really excited about it; and I’ve just been on the road all year. Things have been busy, We’ve only had a week or two off since last November. My goal during that time has been to touring, putting on good shows and being committed to the fans. We have had some great shows. I’ve learned that if you get a song on the radio, it’s cool. But the people that really care are the ones that make it out to a live performance for an actual interaction.

RS: I was just out front of the building. There’s a lot of girls out there now waiting to get in.

EH: Really? (smiles and checks his watch) That’s a good sign... Every week, there’s a good amount of people that buy this album. It’s a crazy thought to actually try and process in my brain. These people are buying the record and coming out to the shows to see me play! It’s awesome. I just want to say, “Thank You.”

RS: Are you writing while you’re touring?

EH: Yeah. I’m always writing. It’s funny now, I get time off and that’s what I do: write and write and write. I’ve got about half an album of a new one done.

RS: Really?

EH: I’ve probably written 70, 80 songs since the last one was finished, but I’m really picky, and I think that’s what makes an album good. It’s gotta start with the songs.

RS: For my recent interview with the Counting Crow's Adam Duritz, I posed this question to him. Can you take us through one of your songs and let us know how it evolved – from writing to performance? My guess is that the song might be played considerably different on the record than they are today live on stage.

EH: Oh cool… That’s a good question. A lot of these songs—I wrote these songs and put them on the album while I was still getting to know them. I think the biggest change has probably been to “You Don’t Have to Believe Me.” There are two versions, and I like both. The way we play it now is a little funkier and a little more…like almost—this is like a bad word—but like BeeGees. Kind of like “Jive Talkin’” or something like that, you know? It’s like a little more of that.

RS: It kind of sounds a little bit like it has a Stevie Wonder–influence in it.

EH: It’s an extreme compliment. I appreciate it.




EH: When I wrote that song, I was in a relationship with a girl that didn’t really have great self-esteem. It was sort of just a song I wrote for her, but I don’t think she actually heard it until it was almost done and on the album. I wanted to do something a little different. I was trying to write a respectful dance song towards women, which sounds silly… But, if you go back and listen to all the Motown stuff, that stuff was always about putting your mate on a pedestal and respecting them.

RS: Is this a song you enjoy playing live?

EH: Definitely. You know - It’s not very often where I start the show not in a good mood, but if it does happen that way, by the time we hit that song, it’s always like I’m finally up and running all the way. It’s like the top of the mountain and I can cruise down the rest of the way.

RS: Take a song like this one.... Do you right the words first, or do you write the music?

EH: Almost always the music comes first. But, like I’ve got a piece of paper in my hand, in my pocket right now I wrote down a couple of ideas. To me, there’s nothing worse than having a good melody and having nothing to write about. It’s tough right now because I’m happy.

RS: I think maybe that’s a good problem to have.

EH: I’ve made a conscious effort I don’t want to write songs about relationships really if I can avoid it because I feel like there’s so many other things to talk about. I think there’s lots of good stuff out there to write about out there.

RS: Absolutely.

EH: Mainly, I’m on the lookout for a good topic, you know? Because that’s the best to me, when I’ve got an idea in my head and I’ve made a mental note, “Okay, the next time I come across a good melody, maybe I’ll try that. I’ll make that work.”

RS: So are you writing short stories?

EH: Kinda, yeah. To me, they’re more like observations. I’m really more interested in the Gray Area of life. I feel like a lot of times in movies and music, everything is very black and white. It’s like, “I love you,” or “I don’t love you.” In reality, there’s, “I love you, but I’m married.” Or, “I love you, but you’re making my life fall apart.” There’s a lot of gray area. And, I think that’s the main theme that kind of ties all my songs together.

RS: It’s sounds like you are becoming a bit of a poet.

EH: (laughs) I am not a poet…I don’t think so, anyway. No. I think of myself as a songwriter. That’s the thing I have the most pride in, actually. I think of myself as a songwriter/singer. And a distant third: musician.

RS: I would disagree, after listening to the album. The performances are great. But when you sit back and listen to the songs—how do you feel?

EH: Well, I got to be honest. I don’t really listen to my own stuff all that often. It’s weird to me, because I talk about the songs, and you probably knows these songs better than I do at this point, at least the recorded version. I can’t remember the last time I actually listened to the album.

RS: The songs take on a new life on the road. That’s very Ryan Adams. He does the same thing. Dylan did that, too – he moved on.

EH: Right. It’s two things: I know if I sit there and listen to it, it’ll eat away at me. Listening to an old recording or the album is like listening to a photo album. I could remember all the stuff and who was playing what and how that part happened. The song, the performance has got shapes, and it shifts. And it’s a moment in time. To me trying to record a song is like getting a kid all put together to go out. You put a tie on him, trying to get him to look the best he possibly can in the picture. You take the shot, knowing he’s never going to look like that again. He’s going to grow and he’s going to change. To me, it’s like a snapshot of what I was able to do at the time.

RS: I like that analogy. The spontaneous art is a little more important to you than the planned footprint.

I think it must be tough to be both original and not to steal creatively from... To not keep writing the same song again and again when people like what they are hearing.

EH: Yeah, there’s such a fine line between having “a sound” and being redundant. To have a style where people can hear your music and know it’s you, without being like, “I know it’s him cuz it sounds exactly like the last song he put out.” I have a lot of respect for the craft of songwriting.

VIDEO: "ROCK & ROLL"

RS: I know you are touring the old material and focused on Sounds Like This right now, but when can we expect some new songs?

EH: I don’t think the album would start to get recorded until next year. We’re pretty much just touring all year. So hopefully sometime in ‘09. In the meantime, when we’re the headliners, we’re road-testing new songs.

RS: Now this is the fun part of our interview. If you could play with any musician alive, who would you like to jam on stage with? And what would you play?

EH: The problem is, all the people I really love I still don’t think I have any business being on stage with them... I would love to play with Stevie Wonder have him do a quick harmonica solo on it or something. Let’s see…Kanye West is somebody I’d really love to collaborate with. I really really love his albums.

RS: If you were going to cover anybody stuff, either on an album or live, who would you like to cover?

EH: I’ve been looking for a good soul song. A song that people like and gets them excited. But one that’s not too played out or too familiar. I haven’t found it yet. I’m trying to figure it out.


ERIC HUTCHINSON
Myspace (tour dates) / Web (streaming media)

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