Welcome to Magazine Sixty, Eric. Tell us about how your love of music and the piano came about, where you first remember hearing it being played and how you feel it expresses what you want to articulate through music?
I have loved music since I can remember. Some of my earliest memories of music are from a walkman my dad had and I would listen to tapes of Billy Joel, Van Halen, Foreigner, etc. I started playing piano when I was 7 or 8 years old and that led to a lifetime of music discovery for me. We always had a piano in our house and I remember my uncle would play it on Christmas day when he would visit. Those were always special moments that live eternal in my memory. When I was 14, I wrote my first song on the piano and it clicked with me how the lessons and time spent could help me write my own music. For me, this opened doors to express my feelings about everything through music, whether it is ambient music now or the thrash metal band that I played for in high school. Today, as a father, music is often a way for me to express my own feelings of growing up and watching my children grow into their own personalities and lives.
Your breath-taking new album: Post Mortal sees a series of themes explored each lending a piece of music its title. How would you seek to guide the listener through the experience? What should they prepare themselves for?
I think the wonderful thing about music, especially instrumental music, is that it can take on a lot of different shapes and meanings. For me, this album was written to explore the idea of the afterlife. More specifically, my thoughts around being a father of 3 small children and recognizing my own impermanence in their world. I think this album is best listened to from front-to-back as it is a story and a journey. Each song is a chapter and it all connects together as a whole.
Can you talk us through the process of conceiving and then creating a piece of music by describing how one of the tracks was made?
For this album, I actually wrote most of the song titles out before I started the music and that informed how I wanted to go about creating the pieces. Remembering, for instance, starts with a simple piano riff that is a little bit off kilter, much like you would feel when remembering someone who is gone. It is pretty, but there’s an unease and unsteadiness to it because we never remember things as clearly as we think we do. The song eventually disintegrates into a wash of sound where the piano is barely audible. Most of the sound design here was made in Vital or Pigments and really the entire song is based around that one, simple phrase on the piano. Everything else is ornamental.
How important are electronics in your music? Which effects do you value most? And can you tell us a little of how you create the sound of the keyboards/ piano you play so evocatively?
For me, the electronic elements are important in how they marry with the acoustic elements. I love straddling that line between a piano and purely synthetic noise, because in the end it’s all just sound waves, but how they hit our ears and how they feel is important. Some of my favorite VSTs include Noire (piano by Nils Frahm), Stratus (Olafur Arnald), Arturia Pigments (sound design, synth sounds), Vital (Matt Tytell’s beautiful wavetable synth for sound design), Newfangled Audio’s Generate (synth with attitude), and Baltic Shimmers (sound design). As far as effects, a little reverb can go a long way. I use reverb and delay on almost all of my songs, but I think the real magic happens in incorporating noise and field recordings into the song and playing with saturation. I try to give my music an element of humanness because working in the box can sometimes produce a very clean and artificial sound, which is the opposite of what I’m trying to create.
Can music that is not obviously happy say more about the experience of being human?
I think William Faulkner said it best: “The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.” Conflict isn’t necessarily happy or sad, but it certainly drives much of what we do or say and how we act. I’m a somewhat optimistic person and, even if my music sounds a bit somber, it is really rooted in hope. There is a lot to be grateful for, even when the human experience can be trying and difficult. I don’t think that sad music has a monopoly on the human experience, but it is certainly easier to dig into because that is often where the conflict is.
More broadly speaking, is creativity/ moving forwards hindered by the concentration of too much nostalgia both culturally and musically?
I don’t know! It could be in some instances, but it can also bring forward a power in music. We love and hate the past, but we can’t necessarily escape it or pretend that it doesn’t impact how we act and create today. I think where it can get in the way is by focusing too much on how other people have created music and been successful and thinking that you can replicate that and unlock the secrets of success. Some of it, maybe, but I think that can lock artists into a cycle of not wanting to change and leads to stale music.
How do you feel about the future in terms of how artists will survive making music?
I think artists are survivors by their very nature. I believe the pandemic has opened up possibilities for artists that weren’t necessarily seen as viable before, such as live streaming or online music festivals. I believe the pandemic has forced us to connect more with each other and use social media in a social way and not just as a billboard. I think the future is bright, especially as artists that treat this as their sole income can return to touring and playing shows. I don’t think the streaming giants will change anytime soon, so those are really just tools for sharing your music and hopefully connecting with fans (unless you’re on one of the major labels with a billion streams).
And finally. Do you think music ever has the power to effect change?
Someone wrote a note to me the other day that said my album had really helped him melt away some anxiety that comes with seasonal depression. It was the first time someone had vocalized that my music had helped them in a way that I never really thought about and it was the best thing I could hear about my music. I believe that music has the power to connect us rather than divide us. I think most musicians, especially indie artists, are creating because they love to create and there is this hope in each one of us that our music will connect with that one person. That is change and it is powerful.