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Monday, October 23rd
The Hot Sweat
Hana Pestle
Hana Pestle
The old cliché tells us that we never know what we have until we lose it—the truth of which was revealed to Warner Brothers, who signed singer/songwriter Eric Hutchinson to Madonna’s Maverick Records, but dropped him after the label folded and before any material was released. Hutchinson released two independent records, and after a friend sent his material to Perez Hilton, a blog entry appeared promoting Hutchinson’s music, complete with a few sound clips. Within 24 hours, his album skyrocketed from chartless obscurity to the top 10 on iTunes, which was all it took for Warner Bros. to welcome him back to stay.

Last Wednesday, I got the opportunity to speak with Hutchinson—who also bears the distinction of being my second major-label interview, and my first-ever phone interview—and I must say that Alan picked a winner for me this time.

People have tossed around Jason Mraz comparisons, which initially left me rather skeptical (being a tremendous Mraz fan myself, which Alan knew full well).  But within the first verse of the first Eric Hutchinson song I heard—his single “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which was featured on the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants soundtrack—the comparisons were justified in my mind in the best ways possible; like Mraz, Hutchinson spouts clever and hip-hop-flavored lyrics while maintaining amiable pop sensibilities. However, Hutchinson’s music also has a strong Motown/Stevie Wonder/Billy Joel edge that contemporary mainstream music seems to be severely lacking; in fact, “Rock ‘n’ Roll” is the most conventionally “pop” out of all the songs on his major-label debut, Sounds Like This. He is the sort of artist whose talent and musical curiosity cannot be summed up in one song alone.

But it was the tone of his voice on the phone that truly sold me on the awesomeness (for lack of a more appropriate word) of this rising star.  When I let it slip that he was my first phone interview ever, he said, “Oh, NO!  Are you FREEEEAKIN out?” in a way that reminded me so much of one of my best friends from home that my heart skipped a beat or so.

Well, maybe you had to be there.

Ashley Wool:
If my calculations are correct, you’re calling me from Atlanta right now?
Eric Hutchinson: No, I’m calling from Boise, Idaho, actually.

AW: Okay, I’m wrong. How is the tour going?
EH: It’s going well. I’m actually doing some promo shows, radio shows, stuff like that, and we actually start the tour in Atlanta next week.

AW: Any favorite cities or venues?
EH: I think every city and every venue has the potential to be a great show, you know, it all kinda depends. You can tell when you come out onstage, sometimes people are really excited, sometimes they take a little warming up.

AW: Have you been outside the States yet?
EH: We’ve been to Canada this year, but it’s pretty exciting that I’ll be going to Japan in January, and Australia as well.

AW: Any weird or awesome fan experiences yet?
EH: Nothing too weird—most of my fans are respectful of me. But it’s always crazy to go to a city that I haven’t been to before and have people come out and know the music and know the songs.

AW: I told my friends I was interviewing you, and a few of them knew you from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
EH: Aw, cool! Cool! They called me up, said “we liked the song and we want to put it in the movie,” and I said “cool,” and then they called me back a little later and said, “Well, it’s doing so well in the movie, we want to put it in the trailer,” and I said, “Great,” and then they said “We want to put it on the soundtrack.” So it was really exciting to be a part of it.

AW: One of my friends was wondering how, as a guy, you feel about being featured in “such a chick flick.”
EH: [Laughs] Well, my whole thing is that I make songs that I believe in, so whatever it takes to get them to listeners.

AW: What did you go to Emerson for?
EH: I was a film major at Emerson, and I did music as a hobby, and when I got out of school, I decided to switch and so I started doing music full time after that. I’ve been doing this for six years full-time now.

AW: So you have experience in film, and you had your song in a film, so let’s say, hypothetically, if you had a movie whose soundtrack consisted solely of your songs, what kind of movie would it be?
EH: Hmm, interesting. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Dan in Real Life?
[I hadn’t.] I like the idea of, at some point, writing a soundtrack for a movie like Garden State, or a movie that matches the kind of songs I write, interested in what’s going on in people’s minds.

AW: I watched your “Behind the Scenes” account of making the “Rock ‘n’ Roll” music video, and you concluded by saying, “Everybody was cheering at the end, but nobody knew who I was this morning, so I know they’re all full of it.” You really think that?
EH: Well, it’s a big country, and even though I’ve been touring all year, there are millions of people who have never heard of me before, so there are always potential fans out there to be made. It keeps me humble to meet people, and they don’t care at all what I’m doing, and that’s fine…

AW: You can make them care.
EH: The fun about it is trying to make new fans everywhere you go.

AW: So you mean to say you met all those extras that very day, and they had no idea who you were or what they were in for?
EH: Yeah, they just kinda showed up for a music video shoot, and had a lot of fun.

AW: And Perez Hilton was there?
EH: Yeah, he had a couple shots there, a little cameo at the end. It was sort of a nod, because he gave me a lot of support with my songs on his blog. When I was making the video I called him and asked him to be in the video, so we could go full-circle.

AW: I was reading the blog and saw how your album jumped a million places into the top 10 on iTunes, and that’s amazing. That’s something that wouldn’t have happened ten years ago.
EH: Well, it’s like I said before, I believe in the music, and these days, there are all these new and different avenues to get people interested in it.

AW: I’d really like to hear your thoughts on how the Internet has changed the music industry, because obviously you’ve been at this for long enough to see the change. You were signed to Maverick Records at one point, and then Warner took you back, but in between, I think it’s incredible how you seemed to get more success from one simple blog post than from your initial major-label deal.
EH: Yeah, people hear that you’re on a label, and they tend to think that you get to kick up your heels and you let the label make you a star or something, but it’s a ton of work. People aren’t aware that, being on a major label, I work harder than I would have as an independent artist. I’ve got a lot of people scheduling things for me…it’s nice, because I did so much of that on my own when I was first getting started, that it’s nice now to be able to focus on writing and performing, which is the stuff I really love.

AW: One of your independent EPs was called “Before I Sold Out.” How exactly do you define “selling out?”
EH: I think the only way you can sell out these days is to do something that doesn’t feel real to you. I always think of a quote that Stephen King said; they asked him if he got mad that people made all of these horrible movies out of his books, and he said, “Hey, the books are still good.” That’s why I said it was so important for me to like the songs and the music, because who knows how they’re going to be used after that, or who’s going to listen to it? Directly, all I can really control is how the songs sound...I always try hard to maintain some independence within the label; sometimes people are afraid of the “big bad label,” or something like that, but on my side of it, I work very closely with people from all different parts of it, in the radio department, the publicity department, the video department, and these are real people who are working really hard and have a passion for their job, so when you see “the label” on a day-to-day basis, you remember that these are people who love music, and that’s why they got into it also.

AW: Is there any music that you like that has nothing to do with influencing your sound? You have a lot of really eclectic influences from all decades…
EH: I love bands like Rage Against the Machine, but I don’t think you hear a lot of them in my music. I really love hip-hop, which I think does influence my music somewhat, but people might not necessarily hear that initially.

AW: I noticed on your MySpace page that you have “Rock the Vote” in your top friends. I’ve asked this of bands before, but I think it’s a very applicable question considering the imminent election—how political do you think it’s appropriate for public figures to get, or for artists to get in their music?
EH: It’s tough…I personally am not taking a position where I publicly want to talk about politics or tell people what to think. That’s why I have Rock the Vote, as opposed to one of the candidates, because what I’m an advocate for is people actually speaking up and getting involved, because that’s where you can make a difference. I think apathy is a big issue in the country, so that’s the side I think is interesting and important, and that I have some influence on. But I don’t really like it when people tell me how to think about an artist or a politician, so I don’t feel the need to tell other people how to do things. There are certain causes that I’d like to get involved with, and maybe use my music to help raise awareness for, but I think it’s about presenting people with the facts and letting them make their own decisions. People are still making up their minds about whether they like me or not, so I don’t think I’m in a place where they even wanna hear what I think about that kind of stuff.

AW: They can listen to the music first.
EH: Yes.

AW: You’ve toured with a heck of a lot of people, like Pete Francis, Rachael Yamagata, G. Love, Blind Melon, Jason Mraz, and you’re with Jack’s Mannequin right now. What’s the vibe like with them?
EH: Jack’s Mannequin’s really cool. That tour doesn’t officially start until next week, but I did a few shows with them earlier this year which went really well. Every tour I’ve done as an opener is different—sometimes you’re really involved with [the headliners] as an opening act, and sometimes you don’t even see them a single time during the day.

AW: Who did you see the most?
EH: I did a tour opening up for Missy Higgins, and we were sharing a tour bus, so I obviously saw her a lot. That was fun.

AW: Whose fans liked you the best?
EH: I like to think that all fans could like me given the right opportunity, so that’s why I try hard to tour with all different kinds of musicians.

AW: What is your philosophy on music?
EH: My philosophy on music is that it’s unlike anything else in its ability to create memories and make you feel things that are unexplainable. It’s the soundtrack to our life.

AW: On your web site you have “Eric’s Favorite 7 Things (Right Now);” how and why did that little feature begin?
EH: I wanted to make the web site as personal as possible. When I go to check out new artists, I want to see what they’re doing, so that was a fun way for me to talk about things I’m into right now.

AW: Like avocado?
EH: Love avocado.

AW: Avocado sushi?
EH: Oh, yeah.

AW: Why is Eric Hutchinson just “pretty good?”
EH: [Laughs] A friend of mine made those shirts, and we’ve heard people say, “Have you heard of Eric Hutchinson?” “Well, yeah, he’s pretty good.” It kind of plays into my self-deprecating humor…and it’s kind of true.




Ashley WoolAshley Wool is a staff writer in the East Coast region for Musiqtone.com...OK kidding, actually she's an intern who needs this for class credit. You can reach her at ashleywoolt@musiqtone.com.




(C) 2008 Musiqtone. All Rights Reserved. Any part of this interview cannot be used without written express consent from both the representatives of Eric Hutchinson and Musiqtone.
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