Eric Roberson: Independently Yours
Widely acknowledged as America’s Number One independent soul/R&B artist, Rahway, New-Jersey-raised Eric Roberson has this month released his sixth studio album, the aptly-titled ‘Music Fan First’. Which features duets with the likes of seasoned soul/jazz songstress Lalah Hathaway, T3 of Detroit rap outfit Slum Village, and indie soulstress Sy Smith.
Meanwhile, Eric’s ongoing creative association with US writers like Osunlade and guitarist Curt Chambers sits alongside first-time input from UK co-writer/producer Colin Emmanuel (Jamelia/Beverley Knight) on said 17-song set. Whose musical moods range from the funky, bass-prodded single ‘Bad For Me’ and head-nodding opener ‘The Newness’; to the Minnie Riperton-sampling ‘A Tale Of Two’ and undulating, wistful ‘Howard Girls’ - which features input from Eric’s fellow musically-inclined Howard University graduates Brandon Hines, Geno Young and Aaron Abernathy.
Which in turn brings things full-circle for the singer/songwriter/producer often referred to as simply ‘Erro’, who actually released his first single - ‘The Moon’ - for Warner Brothers back in 1994. Having gone on to also record an album for Warners which never got released, in 1995 Roberson returned to the aforementioned Howard University to complete his studies in Musical Theatre before landing a songwriting deal with EMI and eventually hooking up with Philadelphia-based artists like Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild and DJ Jazzy Jeff (most notably contributing to the latter’s 2002 LP ‘The Magnificent’).
Setting up his own record-label Blue Erro Soul in 2001, in the same year Eric independently released his debut album ‘The Esoteric Movement’. Which he has since followed-up with five further studio albums; the last two of which (2007’s ‘… Left’ and the current ‘Music Fan First’) have also been released in the UK and Europe via respected British indie Dome.
In the midst of his hectic UK promo schedule, an ever-warm and forthcoming Mr. Roberson reacquaints himself with Pete Lewis to discuss his aforementioned new LP (his first in over two years) plus his forthcoming five-date October UK tour.
PETE: Why have you titled your new LP ‘Music Fan First?
ERIC: “For me it’s about getting back to basics. As a kid growing up in New Jersey I listened to all different kinds of music. And, when I started to approach CREATING music, for me it was really just all about that pure sense of dedication and saying to myself ‘Throughout all the business and other processes I have to go through, I’m just a MUSIC fan first. And I wanna celebrate what I love about music and incorporate it into everything I do’... Then I guess the OTHER aspect of the title deals with understanding the marriage and the partnership between art and its fans. You know, I understand that, without my fans, I wouldn’t be able to DO this music. I wouldn’t be able to make a living creating what I love and sharing it with people. So, in that way, it’s also showing an appreciation to the people that are, like me, fans of music.”
PETE: So how did you approach this album musically?
ERIC: “I just wanted to incorporate all the different types of music I grew up with - that helped me develop into the artist that I am - while maintaining a consistent theme throughout. And, because that theme was about being a music lover, the mission was all about being creative and changing things up as we went along. Like maybe having some hip hop sample or some kinda chopped-up sample here, some live instrumentation there, adding some horns... You know, just really getting caught in a creative zone, trying to find what works and just putting those different ideas together with an open level of expression. The whole mentality wasn’t about ‘What will get played on the radio?’ or ‘How will people view this?’... It was more about feeling like a kid in a candy store; about walking into a studio and saying ‘With all the technical stuff I know now, what if I went back to just the pure excitement and love of trying to put all these different ideas together?’… And that was pretty much the basis and theme behind the whole album.”
PETE: You’ve dedicated the whole album to the recently-departed Michael Jackson…
ERIC: “In my opinion, Michael Jackson was the greatest onstage performer, musically, that we’ve ever had. I pretty much, from Day One, grew up listening to and idolising him. My parents will tell you that the first artist I ever imitated in my entire life - when I was a little boy, running around the house when we had company over - was Michael Jackson & The Jackson 5! And so, as we already had this song called ‘Celebrate’ on this new album - which was about celebrating musicians who’ve passed and keeping them alive by playing their music - it was crazy that, as we were finishing the record off, Michael Jackson would pass! So, to my mind, dedicating the album to him is only RIGHT! It’s almost like I should dedicate my whole CAREER to him, because he played such a great part in the development of what I DO! I mean, to me the creativity he was able to pull off throughout his entire life - even as a pre-teen - will probably never be matched again. So while yes, unfortunately he has recently passed, we still have to celebrate the powerful message that he left with us.”
PETE: So what can we expect from your October UK live dates?
ERIC: “Well, I can remember when - in the UK - I could only play London. So one great thing about this upcoming tour is that we’re now actually performing in four different cities! And I think what people can expect is just a celebration of music, exposing every ounce of energy that we have. I mean, one thing I love about the scene here in the UK is that it’s a wonderful example of SHARING energy. You know, we give out a certain energy, and then the crowds give it back so much that sometimes we feel like THEY’re performing for US, rather than the other way ROUND! I remember once doing a show at The Jazz Cafe where our encore was as long as the actual show, and then we had to come out for a SECOND encore - simply because the crowd just didn’t wanna leave! So yeah, you can definitely expect a good time! We’re practising the songs right now, to make sure everything SOUNDS good. And, from that moment when we hit the stage, we’re gonna find those little creative lanes we can turn down and bring everybody along WITH us for a while. So I really think these shows are gonna be a lotta fun!”
Eric’s ‘Music Fan First’ UK tour runs October 7 (Soda Bar, Cardiff); 10 (The Drum, Birmingham); and 11 (Band On The Wall, Manchester)
The album ‘Music Fan First’ and single ‘Bad For Me’ are both out now through Dome
Words PETE LEWIS