Posted On 13 Oct 2017
Meet the Austin-based. blues/rock guitarist, Eric Tessmer, who is performing at the Los Angeles venue, Hotel Cafe TONIGHT!
Creating his own brand of ‘blues-rock soul-chedelic’ sound, he has electrified festivals such as Montreal Jazz Fest, Summerfest, and MusikFest with dialed-in precision and delivered polished performances at clubs, pubs and venues across the land. Sharing the stage with notable musicians such as Dick Dale, Anders Osborne, Tab Benoit, Monte Montgomery, Gary Clark Jr. and Chris Duarte; Tessmer has created a buzz among the blues-rock community that is quickly swarming with devoted disciples. His upcoming album: being produced and recorded in New Orleans with Anders Osborne in October.
Tessmer is actually named after guitar giants Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, is an extraordinary guitarist, musician, singer and songwriter hailing from Austin, TX. He is widely considered one of the most vibrant guitarists to follow in the footsteps of blues-rock legends such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and his namesake predecessors.
His live shows have captured audiences’ attention across the United States as power-packed sessions of wickedly fast and precise licks that can light the house on fire without the need for lighter fluid.
Born and raised outside of the small town of Richland Center, Wisconsin, Tessmer began playing at a young age, inspired by his father and grandmother. In 2000, he moved to Austin at the age of 19 to play gigs with numerous musicians and bands, earning local credibility as he honed his craft of riffing with speed, power and control. He later formed his own power trio, the Eric Tessmer Band, in 2003. Through a battered ’59 Fender Stratocaster producing vintage-correct tones, Eric kickstarts the engine left idling by guitar players of the past.
Known as one of the hardest working musicians in the area, Tessmer continues to travel the U.S., Canada and Europe.
Learn more about Eric Tessmer in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you?
Hey, thanks! Happy to talk to ya! As we speak, I’m riding in the back of the band van, headed to Wichita, KS.
Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it?
Gian (Ortiz), our bass player, is driving and BLASTING some old Cream CDs he brought along. I’ve got my headphones in and I’m listening to a live Charlie Parker album I forgot that I had on my iPod. So there’s options and they’re both good. haha
What music gets you instantly out of a bad mood? What is a song you are loving these days?
Old postwar electric blues every time. B.B. King’s stuff from the 50s and early 60s, Johnny Guitar Watson, Albert King and Elmore James. The best of the best.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician?
Yes. I come from a family of guitar players and it has likely contaminated my DNA somehow.
Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
Probably falling asleep as a little kid in the bottom bunk, listening to my dad playing guitar somewhere in the house.
Was there a time where you thought of doing something completely different?
I know for a while I wanted to be a hobo and ride freight trains everywhere, camp in the middle of nowhere, make stew from whatever hobos make stew out of and see things no one else ever sees, but I remember that a guitar was always involved with that plan.
Musically, did you approach this year any differently then you did last year?
Yes. This year I’ve been traveling a lot more, playing my home base in Austin much more selectively. I held a residency on 6th St in Austin at a bar called Friends for almost 14 years and I ended that this year. When I started that the goal was to play all the time because I just loved to play all the time. I didn’t know the business, I learned as I went. There wasn’t really a strategy for expansion other than just play all the time and see what presented itself. A lot of opportunities presented themselves and I pursued the ones I felt comfortable with. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that per se, I learned a lot and grew as a musician. Now I’m all in to see how far I can take it.
How has 2017 been treating you and your career?
It’s been a trip! I’m still learning, that never stops- which is great because that’s the fun part, and my world is rapidly expanding. The people I’m meeting on the business end and the folks I’m having the chance to collaborate with musically are equally inspiring. It all makes me wish I had 48 hours in a day or something: time has become much more valuable to me and I realize how very limited it is, so I’m perpetually in a love/hate relationship with sleep!
What are you most excited about for in 2018?
That’s a tough one. I think the safest answer is my wedding and festival season. So basically, the opportunity to continue to grow and become a part of something bigger than myself. Does that make sense? It does between my ears. haha
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your hometown in Wisconsin and now your home in Austin has affected you and your music today?
Wow! That’s a big question! Growing up where I did (Richland Center, WI) and when I did (before the advent of the internet, cell phones, etc.) was great for isolating myself socially and focusing on guitar. There wasn’t really a music scene there then and so I was left to my own devices, namely my guitar and my dad’s record collection to figure it all out. When I got to Austin it was a total immersion situation. There was inspiration and competition everywhere. This is where great music CAME from. The place had a musical history and it was alive and breathing it into me. I learned nuances and depth to music that I had been oblivious to before. It was like everyone I met ALREADY knew who Elmore James and T-Bone Walker were. It was pure magic and I couldn’t get enough of it. I feel much the same way about New Orleans.
How do you think the music scene in Austin has grown over the years and since you’ve been living there? How has SXSW transformed it?
For better or worse, Austin has definitely become more crowded and that means expensive! So the music scene has grown slightly more commercial. When I got to Austin you could go out every night and recognize most of the people you ran into, even if you didn’t know them on a personal level. I think with online platforms taking off like they have and home studio production taking the leaps that it has, a lot more happens out of sight- as opposed to open windows on 6th St. with the sound of live music pouring out into the street for blocks and blocks. SXSW has definitely helped make Austin into a destination. People see Austin during SXSW and the amazing energy that the city already has combined with the amazing energy that all the visitors during that time bring and all they know is that they want more of that feeling and the only logical answer is to move to Austin. It definitely feels like sometime around 2010 or 2011 a festival came to town and never really left, and it’s still growing. The one thing about Austin music though, is that it has that organic nature to it. Nashville and LA can really get you into the commercial rabbit hole where people lose track of who they are, but Austin usually helps you FIND who you are. It did for me.
What was it like recording your upcoming album in New Orleans? Why did you decide to make it there to begin with? What can you tease us about this collection? What was the inspiration for these songs?
It was a great experience all around. I chose NOLA because I wanted Anders Osborne to produce the EP. Anders, besides being a total bad-ass in his own right, has been a great friend and mentor to me over the years and I’ve covered one of his songs “Love Is Taking Its Toll” for several years now. Many of our fans have requested that song on a recording, but I didn’t want to do it without his involvement, so one thing led to another. Anders has been a great positive influence for me as well in terms of sobriety (I’m almost 25 months sober right now) and the song I covered is about that struggle through metaphor. I feel like I’ve been going through a massive personal growth spurt on the heels of sobriety and the series of EPs that I’m releasing feel like a housecleaning of sorts. Sorting out all the random thoughts, joys and frustrations involved with that sort of thing.
What will the lead single of the album be?
A tune called “Song & Dance”. I started out musically trying to write something that Hendrix would have written in the vein of Curtis Mayfield, if that is possible. By the time I got the lyrics done it felt like I was beating the rugs of my sanity haha. Does that make sense? I remember being a kid and having to take rugs outside and beat the dirt out of them when we had to clean the house. (Sidenote: I should TOTALLY have a song lyric about “beating the rugs” hahaha!) Anyway, back to New Orleans, I hung out with Anders on our one day off from the studio. We drove to and played a festival together in Bogalusa that day. Our conversations about life and sobriety got me to thinking about all the frustrations of being seemingly stuck in the same goddamn situation over and over, how it just feeds on itself as you get older and how 10 times out of 10, we’re just doing it to ourselves until we give ourselves permission to stop. We got back to NOLA late that night, Gian picked me up from Anders’, we got some legit Po’ Boys and I wrote the lyrics while everyone else was sleeping.
You have performed at a ton of music festivals throughout your career so I am curious to know what have been a few favorite to play at?
There’s a festival in Johnstown, PA called the Flood City Music Fest. I’ve played it three times in the last 11 years. I love the town and the people, it’s been a great experience to keep going back to see them. They’ve definitely seen me grow up! In fact, that’s where I first met Anders.
Another standout festival was JazzFest in Montreal. Amazing and beautiful city, festival was unreal. Wish I could remember it better, I was pretty sloppy at the time, aye-o!!! Sorry, mom!!
One last one was a “blues fest” somewhere in Holland. I can’t for the life of me remember where it was exactly. I remember we were touring around in a borrowed box truck that had “IDIOT PROOF” painted on the side and no windows, we rolled up to this “festival” and it was inside a school, but all the lights were off so it was like playing in your junior high in the middle of the night. It was a scene, man!
What artist or artists do you think that you have learned the most from while sharing the stage and performing with them? Who have you been really star-struck with?
Learned the most from? Alan Haynes. He. Is. The. MAN. He is a complete gentleman and the most amazing musician and guitarist you’ve never heard of. The only person I remember being star-struck around was the first time I met Doyle Bramhall II backstage at Antone’s. That guy is something else. Texas music royalty and on a whole different level than everyone else.
With the summer days over, what was something fun or new that you tried this summer?
I tried wearing shorts one day. It was weird. I’m not ready for it yet.
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? Do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these hard times?
I think that music, REAL music, music that resonates with the collective conscience of the people, will always reflect the environment in which it was created. It’s a real tough call right now. It’s very confusing when a large group of people seem to want to destroy happiness or safety for other people based solely on greed, hatred or dogma. It can be infuriating and discouraging, but to let it take you there makes you identify with those negatives. You have to stay positive and do what makes you feel alive and love life. That’s where music comes in. Music is that intangible thing that can help connect the dots for people who are trying to make sense of it, it brings comfort, respite and hope.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
Well, as a guitar player the obvious ones are SRV, Jimi, the three Kings, etc. but Sam Cooke’s voice is everything. John Legend’s songwriting fascinates me. I’ve been trying lately to rethink 50s and 60s jazz horn players over a half-time hip-hop beat with a fuzzed-out guitar sound. I’d like to jam with Brain, the drummer from Primus. He made a drum instructional video years ago about playing funky Go Go beats that I still pull up on YouTube and watch it and I don’t even play drums. That would be cool with the jazz thing I just mentioned.
What do you hope fans take away from your music? Do you think that your music has an overall message at all?
I hope they take what they need, if that makes any sense at all. I could write a song about a break up or something and someone will reinterpret it to fit whatever they’re going through. How cool is that? Tell me music isn’t magic… If my music has a message, I think it’s that everything is temporary, everything will eventually resolve. Embrace the emotions and struggles while you have them, you never get to take same breath twice.
What advice would you give to a young person who is thinking about becoming a musician one day?
Cut your teeth on the old school stuff, then everything new is just old news.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourself or your music?
Make big plans and then keep the dream supreme.