BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
Singer-songwriter Eric Hutchinson currently finds himself in a very good place. The Washington, DC native is happy about the early success of his latest radio-ready single “Good Rhythm” and couldn’t be more pleased to be opening a long string of shows on his pal Kelly Clarkson’s recently launched Piece by Piece tour which kicked off this past weekend in Hershey, PA and runs through a September 20 concert in Camden, NJ. Go to Erichutchinson.com for a complete list of cities and dates, plus ticket information.
As if that wasn’t enough good news, Hutchinson has also scheduled 15 of his own headlining sets during his time on the road with Clarkson, while giving his most ardent admirers an opportunity to purchase VIP packages that include a free download of his feel-good single “Good Rhythm.” But if all of the above is good news, perhaps the best news yet is that Hutchinson has been working on an all-new full-length album slated to be released in late summer or early fall. Life is good for Eric Hutchinson, and as he revealed in our recent conversation, he’s far from finished trying to catch lightning in a bottle onstage, on-air and online.
Eric, thanks for calling today. I’d like to begin our conversation on a good note by asking you about your very good new single “Good Rhythm.” Let me quote a lyric and please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong: “Get off the floor if you’re not gonna dance.” Do I have that right?
You got that right, and that’s a lifestyle I subscribe to, I guess. You know there are the ones that write themselves and that one definitely felt like that. I sang an idea into my phone and a few weeks later I was recording the song. You know I wasn’t even planning to make an album but these songs just came together really quickly and it was really fun and the reaction has been so good so far. We’re not working it yet but we’ve had a couple of stations add it – KINK in Portland and KPRI in San Diego – and it’s been cool to see the Spotify and the Shazams and stuff like that; the reaction there. That’s the part that’s fun to me, you know when I actually get to share it with people.
You anticipated my second question. I was gonna mention that I understand a certain Southern California city, San Diego, and station, KPRI, as you mentioned, has already started to spin the song a lot. And you mentioned the other station, KINK in Portland. Now as far as this song, the way I describe it is the intersection where gospel, pop and hip-hop meet…
Ah, I could kiss you! That’s the song I’ve been trying to make for 10 years, I guess, so maybe I’m finally there.
OK, good. I was gonna say, how do you describe it, but I guess we’re on the same page, huh?
Yeah. I’ve always loved hip-hop and I grew up with a lot of R&B music. I grew up in Washington, DC which is a very diverse area so I was exposed to a lot of different kinds of things and I’ve always had a real kinship with that music and I think it’s a big part of the way I write songs.
As I mentioned before I hit record here, your publicist and my longtime friend Judi Kerr told me a couple of days ago, in anticipation of our conversation today, that I am the only journalist who has received music from your next album, White Lightning. If that’s true, I’m certainly honored, but that said, in this conversation can I ask you about some of the other songs, the five songs that I’ve been spending time with over the past week?
Yeah, definitely. And that is true, by the way. My mom hasn’t even heard it yet, so you are in a very small list of people, I guess.
Wow! I’m certainly even more honored. Well I mentioned the album title, White Lightning. Is there a release date yet?
We’re hoping to get it out probably in the fall, maybe sooner, I’m not really sure. We’ve been talking to some record labels and, you know, I’m just trying to find the right home for it. I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this but I feel like this is the best album I’ve made. I produced it myself and got to make it in New York where I live; I’ve never actually gotten to work where I live, to make an album, so it was a very natural process. I’m really proud of the songs and I think they’re different. I think it’s my most soulful album yet and it sounds like you picked up on that in “Good Rhythm.”
Yeah, definitely. Now before we talk more about the music let’s share the exciting news about you hitting the road with Kelly Clarkson, on her Piece by Piece tour. Talk about the history you and Kelly have between you, song wise and touring wise as well.
Yeah, Kelly’s been a friend and supporter for many years now. She recorded one of my songs called “Why Don’t You Try” on her [2011 Stronger] album and that was just a really fantastic process to get to hear Kelly sing the song. I sort of had it done and I thought it was gonna be on my album and then I heard her sing it on a demo and I was like, whoa, this is her song now, there’s no way I can try and do this (laughs). It was a real honor. Then we went to Australia together to do some shows, so I’m looking forward to getting back together and she’s invited me to come up onstage and sing with her. So, I keep saying I’m going on summer camp all summer, so it’ll be good.
The last time I saw Kelly in concert was a couple of years ago in Reno and Matt Nathanson was opening for her on that tour. But man, the girl can sing (laughs)!
She can really sing! Yeah. She’s not America’s Idol for nothing!
Definitely. Now you’ll also be doing a bunch of headlining dates while out with Kelly. Do you wanna give us some ticket information and [details] on any special packages you might be offering your fans?
Yeah, we’re able to squeeze about 15 shows in, so it’ll be a busy summer but I like to stay busy out on the road. We’re playing a bunch of places we haven’t played in a while and I started doing these VIP shows beforehand which has been a lot of fun and really great to connect with some of the more diehard fans. We do requests and some of the songs we’re not gonna play later that night and we do them acoustic, so that’s been a really cool experience to spend some time with people before the show starts, when I have a little more time and I’m not quite as sweaty as I am when I get offstage (laughs).
Speaking of fans, the internet has made it much easier to interact with your fans, but what’s your opinion on how much easier or maybe harder it is to get your music heard and obviously sold?
I think it’s never been a better time to make music, really. The ways to spread the word are amazing and I think now there’s no room for just good music; it’s gotta be great. And I really had that in mind when I was making this album, like, you know, can this song sit on the radio next to Bruno Mars, can it sit on the radio next to Kelly Clarkson? It needs to be big. No one’s got time for just okay anymore, you know, it’s gotta be something that’s worth passing along to somebody and I personally find that exciting and a challenge to make music that way.
And speaking of music, you gave me the green light, Eric, so let me ask you about some of the tracks on White Lightning, your next album. I think fans will find the reggae-infused “Lost in Paradise” somewhat infectious. What was the inspiration for that one?
I really like that song. I’ve got this thing where I go on vacation and I kinda think, well, I could live here, couldn’t I? And then I think, well, for how long, and how long before your problems catch up with you, no matter where you are? I thought it’d be fun to make a vacation song that was about that. I’ve got these, great, great singers on it and it was just so much fun when they came in the studio and added all their stuff and the song really just came to life. To replace my demo vocals with these great soul singers I think just really took it to another place.
Throughout the record, one of the things that I really enjoyed – and I mentioned it on the first track, too – was the background singers, the gospel flavor, the soul, the rhythm.
I saw those singers in an off-Broadway play, in a musical that I fell in love with and went to see it twice. And then I just hit these people up on Twitter and said, I love your voice, I’d be honored if you’d come sing with me, and they said yes and they came in and we all knocked it out in a few hours and they were so professional. That was my most fun day as a producer, just to kinda let them do their thing and give ideas and kind of direct and, yeah, that was really fun.
There you go, another benefit of the internet and social media, for sure.
This is a song I’ve been trying to write for a very long time. I have sort of an aversion to ballads. I used to write slow songs and then I’d start playing them live and then I’d get bored at my shows, so I started writing fast songs, and those are more fun but I’ve been trying really hard to write a ballad that can hopefully stand up for a while. This song just kind of came to me and it’s about second chances and opening up and allowing someone to try again. It takes a lot out of me when I sing it; I got sick after I sang it in the studio cuz I just went for it so hard. It was worth it though. I’m really happy with how it came out.
It was definitely worth it. We’ve mentioned here in the conversation some of the pros and cons of the internet, or at least I asked you about it. That said, I guess, thank you, for writing “Bored to Death” (both of us laugh) which, to me, is a spot-on snapshot of the times we’re living in. Tell us a little bit more about that one.
Yeah, you know, it’s a fine line because – and I’ve written about stuff like this before – but you know my phone, personally, is just such a huge part of my life now. In my day-to-day life, it’s the first thing I look at when I get up, it’s the last thing that I look at before I go to sleep and I realized that it’s just kind of like a mirror, you know. It’s reflecting everything about myself back at me. I wanted to write something that was a little tongue-in-cheek, but in the end the song is a cry to go out and experience something. I love going to dinner because it’s the one time I put my phone away and I can just communicate with people and have a real connection again. So yeah, it’s sort of just about a cry for help, like, let’s go out and do something real for once.
A lot of times in conversations I bring up the point of are we really more connected via the internet or are we in fact far less connected as human beings.
You know I used to have these debates a lot and I was kind of more of a traditionalist, but I’ve really done a 180 and I think it’s really affected the way I make music and think about music. I just think, to me in the end, I can argue about it and say we’re not but it’s not going away any time soon. It’s now and it’s the future and I feel like that’s what will hopefully keep me young is to try to keep plugging in to what’s new. I always used to scoff at things and lately I’m having a lot of fun being able to just embrace something new and figure out how it can inspire me.
I’m with you. I’ve totally embraced it and it’s here to stay, there’s no question about it.
Yeah, for sure. I used to argue with people all the time, ah, that’s not the way they used to do it, and then I had a realization that I was trying to make albums like The Beatles, and I said, oh, those albums are 50 years old. The Beatles were all about cutting-edge technology, so I need to embrace these things and not just try to do it the way they would have done it.
Well speaking of The Beatles, I wanted to ask you before we ended the conversation if you had your proverbial Beatles on Ed Sullivan moment? Looking back now, did you have one of those moments where you can say, that was the moment you knew you wanted to make music?
Um, let’s see. Yeah, I think mine was when I went to a family reunion/barbeque/party and there was a ton of people and they’d hired this cover band and they were playing and somebody suggested I should get up there and sing and the only song I could think to sing was Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” So I got up and I led the band and I sang the song and everybody danced and I got offstage and I thought, well that was pretty fun and everybody paid attention and I was having a good time. And I guess I was just sort of hooked after that. I was probably about eight or nine and I’m sure there’s a video of it out there somewhere; I’ve been trying to find it. I actually got to go see Chuck Berry in concert about two years ago – he still plays once a month in St. Louis – so I flew in to see him because it felt like something I needed to do, and it felt cool to see him sing that song.
Yeah, you went right for the top. There would be no Beatles without Chuck Berry.
Last question for you, Eric. I’m quoting another lyric here: “The same old thing is just old.” I think we were just kind of dancing around this subject earlier, but is there anything you want to say about “Same Old Thing?”
Yeah, that’s my protest, rebellion song, I guess or something. You know a lot of my lyrics I don’t know where they come from, I’m just writing them and then I look back and go, oh yeah, but I was just going through a funk and looking to change things and finding some freedom in that. I talk about meeting one of my heroes in that song and them kind of letting me down, and that was sort of a big moment for me of, like, getting over the hero worship and realizing that I could make music as good as any of my heroes if I really keep at it and try to keep growing.
You gotta aim high.
Yeah, you got to.
Absolutely. Well is there anything else, Eric that I’ve missed or didn’t ask you about that you might want to cover?
No, I don’t think so. We covered it but I think that the reaction has been pretty good so far to “Good Rhythm” and it’s been really encouraging and I was really excited to see that some of these stations kind of on their own wanted to get involved with it just from hearing it on the SoundCloud page. Like I said, I’m just really proud of this music and I think people are gonna dig it if they get to listen to it.
Of course you’ll be spending a lot of time on the road all across the country opening for Kelly and also the headlining shows you’re gonna do, the more intimate stuff with fans, is gonna be exciting as well. Thank you again.
No problem. It was good to talk with you. Thank you. Have a good day.
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