Eric Roberson has record and released a new album when almost nobody else has. And he’s done it in record time, discovers Chris Wells.
Monday, March 30, 2020.
Indie soulman Eric Roberson calls Peter Robinson at Dome Records and informs his usual UK outlet that he has a new album ready to go. ‘How soon can we get it out?’ he asks. ‘In about three weeks’, comes the answer. ‘No, that’s not fast enough – how about Friday?’
And so, on April 3, Hear From Here was streaming worldwide.
The story of how Roberson put together this new set, when most everyone else had been pulling product, is remarkable. He’d begun writing and recording on March 5, under Covid-19 lockdown at his New Jersey home. He completed it three-and-a-half weeks later. It includes contributions from Josh Milan, Avery Sunshine producer-writer Dana Johnson, DJ Kemit and various of his band members past and present, but it’s mainly all about the artist – a man stuck at home with unexpected time off the road on his hands and a sudden, irresistible burst of creativity flooding through his veins. Here’s how it happened.
“We adjusted to the situation with the virus quite early on,” reports Eric. “I’d say we were on the cautious side. I teach at Berklee in Boston – fly up there once a week – and a lot of my students are from China, so when school started they were telling me what was happening in their country. The big thing was trying to sell my family on the situation. A lot of them were resistant – like, my sister was carrying on with her appointments – and I was telling her just to stop and go home.”
At this point Hear From Here wasn’t even the album Eric had in mind for Spring 2020.
“No, I had an album already done, titled LMS. I did that last year, ready to release this.
“What happened was, I had a small break where I was going to be off the road for a week, and I decided to record a couple of new songs to add to LMS. As usual, I recorded five or six so I could pick two. And I was sharing them with my team, getting their reactions.
“Also I had an aunt pass away. I visited her in North Carolina one week, spent three or four days with her and flew back. Then she died a couple of days after that, so I went right back for the funeral. That was my ‘isolation’ moment, sitting with her while she was sleeping, out in ‘Country Town’. I started having ideas for songs. Then I saw on the news how the situation was changing… and next thing Berklee said, ‘Don’t fly up this week’. I could see where we were at and where we were all heading. I was three songs in at that point.
“The following week, staying home, with the kids who were on Spring break, I was up to a song a day. I’d start around nine o’clock at night and get through about three in the morning. I’d have a song – maybe even two – every night. And about two weeks ago I was doing a song at about four o’clock in the morning and I realized it was the first song I had written about how this new situation had made me feel. I posted it on Instagram and when I woke up later that day and could see the reaction online… I could see it was helping people.”
From that point on Eric knew he had to complete the new project as fast as possible and put it out. He called his mixing engineer in Dallas to alert him to the urgency. He sent tracks out to musician friends, band members, producers, all of whom added their colouring. The project wound up rapidly over the next 72 hours – it would have been quicker if only everyone in Eric’s neighbourhood hadn’t been home putting extra strain on the local wi-fi.
So how come he’s done the opposite of what most everyone else is doing? The rest of the industry having ground to a halt.
“People are in shock,” he responds. “But they’ll get over it. They’ll come around. I think you’ll probably see in the next month an explosion of music like we have never seen before. The shock that our artists, our musicians, our producers are feeling right now will wear off, probably over a couple of weeks, and they’ll start turning on their home equipment and they’ll adapt. The creativity will be amazing. They’re going to realize that everyone is home and everyone needs something. Maybe in a month from now you’ll have some key people releasing material on how they feel about the situation. I think you’ll have a lot more to write about than just me in a month or so.”
Hear From Here is out now. It really is.