ERIC ROBERSON: A STATE OF INDEPENDENCE
Generally acknowledged as America`s biggest-selling independent soul artist, New Jersey-based singer/songwriter/ producer Eric Roberson will break new ground this coming autumn by headlining a triple-bill at London`s Indigo2.
With the four-hour show also featuring his fellow Dome recording artists Anthony David and Angela Johnson, the exclusive one-off date is set to attract a Europe-wide audience of contemporary soul lovers who have devotedly followed Eric`s music since the 2001 release of 'The Esoteric Movement' - the first of six self-financed albums he has released independently Stateside (through his own Blue Erro label) and which, along the way, have seen him impressively outsell several of today`s major-label soul guys.
Having initially been signed in the mid-Nineties by Warner Brothers (which saw him score a US Top 40 single before being dropped), after graduating with an MA from Howard University Eric later went on to successfully write songs for the likes of Will Downing and Jill Scott before, in 2000, becoming a member of Jazzy Jeff`s Philadelphia-based A Touch Of Jazz production company. Having since then quietly built up a massive underground following as an artist through his independently-released albums, including 2007's '…Left', Eric also recently performed at the 42nd Southport Weekender. Where backstage he filled 'B&S' in on his current activities, while living up to his reputation as one of contemporary soul`s most genuinely likeable characters.
What have the reactions been like to your latest LP, the April 2007-released '…Left'?
“To me '…Left' represented just another level of me searching deeper inside myself to find more personal stories to tell. And I`m now seeing the rewards. Because, having toured a whole year with the album, I`m seeing how people are RELATING to those stories. You know, they`re like `Oh, this song helped me get through this situation`; or `This song reminded me of a particular situation I was going through`... Which to me is really enjoyable, because my whole thing with '…Left' was about SHARING my stories. So that other people could hopefully learn from it, or connect with it in some way. And the fact people have given me so much positive feedback, and had something to say about almost every song, has really meant a lot.”
So what can we expect from the next Eric Roberson album?
“The concept right now is just trying to find how lost I really can get! I`m trying to go as far out-there as possible before reeling myself in. I`ve done about 25 songs this year so far, and my goal is to do 60. I`m really just writing as much as I possibly can, and then we`ll allow the inspiration to define a direction. I`ve done house songs, deep soul songs... For me right now it`s just about seeing how deep I can dive down in the stories and the music. It`s about rediscovering the enjoyment of writing and just having FUN with it. In the studio I have a sign that says `Focus on process over product` because, once you start creating, the direction tends to define ITSELF and you just start leaning towards a particular vibe that feels good. So you might have a house album next, a more acoustic-version album… Right now I`m just following the inspiration.”
How did your early background influence your music?
“The beautiful thing about New Jersey - being so close to New York but also being a distance away - is you have so many STORIES! I grew up in hip hop; I grew up in house music, club music... Growing up in church of course I heard gospel music; my father would come home with so much vinyl soul music… So it made sense that, when I started doing music, I`d try to incorporate all those influences into one gigan-tic bowl! And, when I got to Howard (University), the BUSINESS part of it all came in. Because we`d regularly see people leaving school and actually making a living from doing music, it all suddenly became a realistic career-option. And that`s when I became introduced to real studios and real production. I had a ton of equipment in my dorm-room. We`d just go from dorm-room to dorm-room recording… And a lotta those guys I`m still working with to this DAY!”
What are your thoughts on today`s independent soul scene?
“Right now I think it`s thriving, but I also think we need to share more information with each other and just continue to NETWORK! You know, it`s the gaps in between - the East Coast artists may not be established enough on the West Coast, and vice versa. So we do need to leave the door open to each other. Because, while I believe we`re in a good place today, I don`t know where, as a whole, the independent soul scene will be in two-to-five years. So we have to be responsible for it, treat it like it`s ours, and just SOLIDIFY it a little bit more. Because we are still having problems in terms of radio-play, distribution... You know, we need to re educate people like the big chain-stores that it is QUALITY MUSIC! Because it`s almost like some people still feel that, because you`re independent and not on a major, your music can only be SO GOOD! So, while the digital, world has levelled the playing-field a little bit, there`s still more we can learn and more we can figure out.”
The album '...Left' is out now, while Eric also features on the Angela Johnson single 'Let Me Know' out this week, both through Dome. He headlines at Indigo2, London on Saturday, October 4
Words PETE LEWIS