A couple of years ago I was watching my favorite web TV show, “Live From Daryl’s House.” The program, if you don’t know, features the otherworldly Daryl Hall—owner of one of the best voices in pop history—singing with artists not named Oates. On this particular episode, his guest was a young, sorta obscure singer named Eric Hutchinson …
… who absolutely blew me away.
Eric’s pipes are great. But, for me, it’s about the songs. The texture. The detail. In an era where too many radio stations are overwhelmed by manufactured, paint-by-number pop bullshit, Eric is a craftsman; a genuine singer/songwriter/musician who puts thought and care into his projects. He has released four albums (his latest of which, “Moving Up Living Down,” came out in 2012), and tours regularly.
Here, Eric talks KISS, songwriting, opening for Kelly Clarkson and why he’d rather lose part of his body than join Celine Dion’s upcoming ode to Tesla. You can visit Eric’s website here and follow him on Twitter here.
Eric Hutchinson, welcome to the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: Eric, because this is the Quaz, and the Quaz is all about weird nonsense, I’m gonna start with an irrational, oddball question that I’ve long wanted to ask a musician. So, in 1998 KISS released an album, “Psycho Circus.” It was their 18th studio album, but their first with the four original band members since, I believe, 1980. Because they were back together and in makeup and all that, I bought the album—and liked it. It felt cool that they were reunited, etc … etc. Anyhow, long question short—it turns out Peter Criss and Ace Frehley barely played on the album. Hell, Criss played drums on, literally, one song. Yet, when this was ultimately revealed, nobody seemed to care. Gene and Paul were like, “Uh, yeah.” Fans bought the album, painted their faces, etc. To me, however, it really felt like a bait and switch; like a complete and total bullshit lie to fans. Eric, I ask you, does it matter? Like, does it matter who plays drums? Who’s playing guitar? Should a fan care?
ERIC HUTCHINSON: I can see being upset that it wasn’t a “full band” album, but really it comes down to if the songs were good. Flexibility and inventiveness usually make the best records and sometimes having different guys on a recording lends that energy. That being said, I’m not a huge Kiss fan so you may be asking the wrong guy.
J.P.: Five years ago you were a pretty obscure singer-songwriter when—of all people—Perez Hilton wrote a Sept. 5, 2007 endorsement of your self-released album, “Sounds Like This.” Then—BOOM!—you’re in the Top 10 of iTunes, peaking at No. 5. I’m sure you’ve been asked about this a gazllion times, so I apologize. But I’m genuinely fascinated—when was the moment you first felt the impact of this? When were you like, “Holy shit! This guy just put me on a whole new map?”
E.H.: It was one of the best days of my life! I went to sleep in Los Angeles and woke up the next morning, with my voicemail maxed out and my email blowing up. I had lots of people come out of the woodwork who I hadn’t heard from in a while. The best part was seeing people respond to the music. I had a show that night and it felt very electric at the club. I’m still friends with Perez and I’ll always be grateful he shined a light on my music when I needed it most.
J.P.: Your plight is a relatively familiar one in the record biz, in that you were a young artist signed to a record deal (Maverick), then were dumped in 2006 when the label collapsed. You recovered, obviously, but how awful is the music business as a grand entity? It just strikes me as, well, sorta evil and awful and soul-sucking? Not the artistry, but the business itself.
E.H.: The labels are made of amazing people. Seriously, everyone you meet got into the music business because they love music and used to study the liner notes and music videos just like we did. Sometimes, the label as an entity has to act in its best self-interest, which I’ve learned not to take personally. But to me, the music business is getting to write, record and perform songs for a living. Which is pretty amazing!
J.P.: I love “Rock and Roll.” Just a joyful, upbeat song that I can listen to repeatedly. But I’m wondering—you first released the song in 2003. That means 10 years of playing it over and over and over and over. I know singers are required to say, “Oh, I find new meaning every time I play a song” or something along those lines, but are you ever like, “Dear, God, can I please never play this again?”
E.H.: Ha ha. It’s definitely one of my older songs, although I just put “Breakdown More” on my new album which is even older. I like to think of songs like pieces of clothing. Sometimes you try that old sweatshirt on and it still fits great and you love wearing it. Sometimes you put those jeans on from college and think … “What what I thinking!?” I love playing “Rock & Roll” every night. I never get tired of watching a group of people light up to a song I wrote.
J.P.: In 2008 you performed on Leno, Craig Ferguson and Conan. I’ve never asked an artist this, so I’m glad you’re here: In performing a song on TV, for a studio audience, fun or torture? Obviously, no one’s standing up, screaming, clapping, dancing. So it would strike me as semi-stilted, and contained. And yet, it is national television …
E.H.: The late night shows are some of the best days for me. They feel like what I dreamed the job would be like when I was a kid. I love hanging around set and watching dress rehearsals and meeting the other guests. As a musician, you arrive at 8 am, do a soundcheck, a camera run-through, break for lunch, do a second camera run-through, get dressed and then suddenly you hear David Letterman say your name and you’re singing and then its over. It’s a rush and before you know it, you’re packed up and outside in a car going home.
J.P.: After I wrote a few books, I had some people tell me how I must be financially set because, hey, books published. And I was like, ‘Uh … you have no idea.” Do people assume, because of radio play, late-night appearances, etc, that you’ve “made it” and live on easy street?
E.H.: I’ve got a lot of friends who are TV writers, filmmakers and comedians, so they understand the business and its ups and downs. Because I’ve got long hair and am wearing jeans and not working on a Tuesday afternoon, people probably just assume I’m out of college and looking for a job.
J.P.: You’re 32, which strikes me as an odd age for a musician. I remember hearing Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks once say, “When you’re 30, pop radio starts having nothing to do with you. You’re an adult.” Do you think the age of the performer impacts audience, radio play, marketability, tour venues, etc?
E.H.: I feel like I’m writing my best songs now. Paul Simon made “Graceland” when he was 40 which gives me eternal inspiration. I’m gonna make the music that resonates with me and hopefully it speaks to other people, too.
J.P.: You were raised in Takoma Park, Maryland, attended Emerson College. I read the bio. But I’m fascinated—where did the love for music come from? When did you first develop a genuine passion, and when did you realize, “This is what I plan on doing for my career?”
E.H.: Music was very important in my family. My grandmother was a concert viola player and paid for my piano lessons when I was a kid. My parents loved show-tunes and rock and roll. The Beatles were gods in my house. My dad used to play the records and my mom would quiz me on which Beatle was singing which song. I always liked listening to music and as a kid, the next logical thing in my brain was starting to just make up songs. Then I taught myself guitar in high school and never looked back really.
J.P.: In 2009 and 2010, you opened for Kelly Clarkson. I’ve always been fascinated by opening acts, because they’re there and present and important, but not really the reason one attends a show. Do you like opening? Is it exciting or taxing? And can playing an arena be even remotely as gratifying and fulfilling as playing an intimate club?
E.H.: I spent many years opening for anyone and everyone I could. I always enjoy the challenge of going out onstage as a stranger and trying to win over a crowd and leave with them as fans. I’ve also learned a ton from being around all different kinds of artists and seeing how they run their tours and shows. Venue size doesn’t matter as much as the energy of the people attending. I’ve had awesome shows in front of 10,000 people and awesome shows in front of 40 people. I don’t think audiences ever truly realize how much better they can make a show. Like home-field advantage in sports.
• Five things you can tell us about appearing on Daryl Hall’s web TV program: 1) His house was amazing. 2) His band was killer. 3) We had a big Thanksgiving-type dinner afterwards with the whole band and crew. 4) Daryl was super nice. 5) For the rest of my life, I get to tell people I sang “Private Eyes” with Daryl Hall.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, please explain …: I’m usually sleeping on planes.
• Would you rather spend the next eight years playing keyboard in Celine Dion’s Las Vegas show, “Celine Presents the Music of Tesla,” or slice off two toes on your left foot with a rusty saw?: Two toes. And it’s not close.
• Given the chance, one question you would ask Daniel Inouye?: Who are you?
• Five reasons to make Takoma Park one’s next vacation destination?: You love hippies, lesbians, Washington DC, small towns and your parents live there.
• This is my all-time favorite song. Would love to know what you think: I toured with Blind Melon a few years ago, when they had gotten a new lead singer. I have a hard time listening to them since then.
• I’ve never understood how The Thing possibly goes to the bathroom. Any insights?: Adult diapers.