An Interview with Eric Bibb
by: Casey Pukl
Modern day troubadour Eric Bibb has certainly had a great 2011. His last release, a live album titled Troubadour, brought him significant exposure in the US, and also earned him a nomination from the Blues Foundation. But never one to stay still, Bibb is hard at work on his upcoming release, and fortunately he gave me the scoop, as well as a preview of one of the tracks! Take a read to see what’s next for one of blues’ finest singer/songwriters and guitarists.
CP: What have you been up to this year?
EB: I’m actually release a new CD in March that was recorded in Louisiana with some wonderful musicians. It’s called “Deeper in the Well”, and I’m really looking forward to sharing that for sure. I had a chance to work with some wonderful musicians some from Louisiana, and a few from other parts. Information about it that will be posted to my website soon, but it will be released in North America on Stony Plain Records.
Other than that, I’ve actually just returned from a trip to Bali in Bamako, where I had the chance to record some music with a lovely musician from there named Habib Koite, who is very well known in world music circles.
CP: That sounds like a very exciting time.
EB: Yes, it was eight days of an amazing experience. I’ve never been to [inaudible] before, so I felt at home in some ways.
CP: I know you tour all over the world. Do you have any particular favorite place to play?
EB: That’s a question that I get quite a lot, and it’s funny. I find that I’m meeting similar music lovers that seem to belong to a world tribe, and I’m meeting them wherever I go. Doesn’t matter if it’s Scandinavia or Australia or Canada; there are similar people in some way everywhere. It’s hard to pick a favorite place because I meet my kind of folks basically everywhere I go, and I think it’s the music that glues people together that are of a certain mindset or heart-set. It’s nice. Traveling so much can be a little disorienting, but meeting so many friendly people makes the whole thing easier.
I really enjoy Australia. I’m getting ready to go back there next month. That’s one of my favorite places to play.
I actually also particularly like the Southwest of the United States. My mother is from Albuquerque, and I know the area. It’s a place that I really enjoy as well as the Pacific Northwest. Those are two of my favorite zones in the United States.
CP: I can’t disagree. Albuquerque is an absolutely incredible place. I’ll never forget driving through it on my way out to California.
EB: Yeah. If you could just fluctuate between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, you’d be alright (laughs).
CP: (Laughs) Absolutely. There’s nothing quite like it.
EB: Very true.
CP: I’m curious about your writing process. How do you usually start?
EB: It’s very difficult to really analyze it because I don’t have a set way of writing songs. Very often, just sitting around with the guitar will spark an idea. A phrase on the guitar or a chord progression will lead to a lyric idea, and then the melody will follow. It’s very difficult to say what comes first, but I’m certainly not one of those writers who can come up with a finished set of lyrics and then set it to music. That happens very rarely. Usually there’s some kind of simultaneous arrival of words and music. I really can’t decipher the mysterious process that it still is, but I do know that a lyrical idea can be sparked by something I’ve read in a book. And if it’s a rich idea, it’ll spurn a whole song— just one sentence. Coming across that one sentence or having that sentence pop up in your head, that’s what I wait for. It’s hard to say why they arrive and why they don’t arrive.
CP: It sure is. Working on this latest record, “Deeper In the Well”, what sparked that for you?
EB: It actually started with a desire to make a certain kind of music in a certain kind of environment. I was looking for an acoustic ensemble of players who were familiar with various strands of the American roots tapestry. I was pointed in the direction of a wonderful musician, Dirk Powell, a multi-instrumentalist who lives in Louisiana and plays any number of instruments very well as well as sings. That worked out. I met him first in Scotland at a BBC sponsored project called “Celtic Connection,” and I discovered a musician who I was very compatible with right off the bat. I brought along a harmonica player who I’ve been working with for some time, Grant Dermody, from Seattle, Washington. Other people who joined the project were Michael Jerome Brown from Montreal, Canada, and a Creole fiddler from Louisiana named Cedric Watson, who’s also a wonderful singer as well.
The songs that ended up fitting that ensemble’s playing came to me, and they’re mixed with traditional songs, a Bob Dylan cover, and they all kind of speak to deeper issues, social issues. They speak to things that are challenging a lot of people right now— topics like homelessness and other serious world issues. I wanted to do it without beating it over the head. I wanted to do a little bit more than entertain, and that became this latest collection.
CP: Sounds really fantastic.
EB: Thank you. Definitely keep an eye out on the website; we’ll be shouting pretty loudly about it. Already, I believe on Youtube, a video from one of the songs called “Bayou Belle” is on there.
EB: Yes, thank you! That has been very exciting. The awards are in May, and I think I’ll get to Memphis for the awards ceremony, and we’ll see what happens!
CP: Well, best of luck! I loved listening to that record, but there was one thing I wanted to ask you about. There is a moment on there where you chose to leave on a little false start where you started and stopped a song to restart it. Personally, I really enjoyed that little moment on the album. What made you choose to leave that on there?
EB: Thank you for addressing that. That caused a bit of controversy. A lot of people at the label weren’t sure that I should leave that on there. You know, I could delete it and let everyone think that every time I start a song, I’m perfectly centered and it’s perfect, but the reality is that most of the time, yes, I’m ready, but not every single time. But I wanted to show people what really happens on stage. It’s not always perfect. I was very comfortable with that audience, and I really wanted to let people know that I felt very at home there. I’m very glad that you commented on that.
I’d been living in Sweden for many years prior to that recording. I don’t live there anymore, but at the time, I was very at home. I felt very at home in that venue with the audience. We had a very good night, and I wanted people to feel like this was sort of a snapshot of my life on the road being a troubadour.
Special thanks to Mr. Bibb for fitting in this quick interview on some seriously crummy cell phone reception! It was such a pleasure learning about his latest record, and I hope that you’ll all come out and join him at Anthology on February 1.