He’s a Real Life Mister Nice Guy

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 8:00

An Interview with Eric Roberson

By: Casey Pukl

I think I’ve found my new best friend. I’m not even close to kidding. Mister Eric Roberson might have to be my new bestie. We have all the makings of a match made in best friend heaven. We agree on the important things in life— showing people that nice guys don’t always have to finish last, really embracing the characters that we write about in songs, how awesome the Robert Glasper Experiment is, and the need for a massive vinyl collection. Oh, and did I mention that his music is awesome?

Read on to find out what inspired his latest record, just what his “Honest Music Movement” is really about, and what he’s aiming to do in 2012!

CP: What gave you the inspiration for your latest record, “Mister Nice Guy”?

ER: It’s funny. I started recording the album more just passing the time. I came off the road for the first time in a long time expecting my son, and it’s been a long time since I had time like that (laughs). So I was just writing. I don’t think I was necessarily trying to write an album. I always just have a good time writing and recording songs. And then my son came, and I just kept writing and recording. It was just a fun time. I think a lot more comedy and light-heartedness showed up in this album. As far as the title, it was really inspired by a good friend of mine named Wally. He’s a spoken word artist who actually has a poem called, “Mister Nice Guy”. I used to always have him say the poem all the time, and I was really inspired by it. That started the talk of the whole Mister Nice Guy Coalition. Let’s bring the nice guys back into play! Let’s dispel the myth of nice guys finish last.

CP: Something else you’ve been talking about a lot lately is what you like to call the, “Honest Music Movement”. Can you tell me a little bit about what you mean by that?

ER: Well, for me, music has never really been about genres. On top of that, for me, this has always been about following my heart and just following when I feel that it’s the right time. Honest music to me is just music that I dig at the time. I’ve kind of followed that process for a long time. It’s what works for me and a lot of other artists that I’m friends with. I just try to lean towards that. That’s what attracts fans as well. I’m trying to grab music lovers who really like this kind of music. That’s what I’m trying to share with people.

CP: You write pretty much all of your material, right?

ER: Yeah, for the most part.

CP: Tell me a little bit about your writing process. Where do you usually start from?

ER: It really ranges. The majority of the time it really starts with the music. I’m writing lyrics all the time. I’m chasing inspiration pretty much 24 hours a day. That’s my main 9 to 5. I’m just trying to find something on TV or something a friend said or pulling from something that I went through. You can really start from wherever! I can start from anywhere in the house— the bathroom, the studio, the dinner table (laughs), wherever whenever. It can start when I put my hands on the keyboard, or just when I type something into my iPhone. This record was really done with my just going downstairs, turning the equipment on, and then sitting in front of the mic and starting, I wrote the majority of this album, 95% of it, without a pen or a pad. I was just being the character that I was portraying. My last three albums I really started leaning towards that more. It’s about process and product. The more I try to sit down and work and quickly write something down, I get in the way of the original objective that the character in the song had.

CP: Have you been listening to anything or anyone lately that has really inspired you?

ER: I’m still always stuck on some old acts, but lately, that Robert Glasper project has been burning in my car and all that. That’s a tight record. Then there’s Phonte’s new album, which I’m happy to be a part of. I still play that a lot.

But I’m always listening to my old Stevie records or Bill Withers. There’s just so much creativity in those records. I’m still listening to them, and have been for over 20 years.

CP: You’ve been in this business for quite a while now— at least 14-15 years now, right?

ER: Yeah, it’s been a while now. I’ve been really fortunate.

CP: Have you found yourself changing the way you do business over the last ten years or so to adapt to the changes and challenges in the music business now?

ER: The crazy thing is that in the early part of my career, I got signed to Warner Brothers in 1994. I understood that part of the business, but I also didn’t work too well in that business. I had a good career as a songwriter for other artists, which I was really fortunately and blessed to have that opportunity to write songs for other people, but about ten years ago, I just started to put out my albums independently. It’s so much easier with Twitter, Facebook, and a lot of the other social media things that can really help now, but this was a little ahead of that. A lot of people looked at my like I was crazy then. The business has now really turned more toward the direction that I was really already in, so it hasn’t been that crazy.  I didn’t have to adjust too much compared to other artists who had been with big labels and then had to step out as independent artists. I just try to adjust to the changing times. I saw the time where 90% of my albums were sold as hard copy cds, and then I saw the next album where 20% of them were digital, and then 40%, and now 70% of the stuff we sell is digital. It’s still the same thing though— we still do shows, get tour support, people buy records from me at shows, and we stay in touch with the mailing list or Twitter and Facebook. I had to adjust a little bit, but it was a much bigger change for the majors. They’re still figuring out how to adapt in the new culture of listening and buying music. I think our kids and nieces and nephews have a whole different approach to learning and buying music than I did.

I grew up in the time of record stores, you know? I don’t know how old you are (laughs), but I had records. We were buying records for the house then.

CP: I’m still holding onto my records for dear life (laughs)!

ER: You’ve got to! You still can’t beat the sound of vinyl. It was also amazing to read the liner notes and see who played bass on it, who sang backgrounds. I’m a credits fanatic. To download something and not know who is playing on it, produced it, wrote it, that’s sad. One of my greatest pleasures I got from buying music was reading the credits. Then I’d study the artwork while I was listening to the music! I loved that!

CP: I’ve got to ask— are any of your records currently available on vinyl?

ER: Oh man, I wish! That’s been the one challenge from a distribution standpoint. If I had one challenge though for this year, it’s to make that workable. With the resurgence of DJs right now, I think it’s something that is more doable now than ever. It was actually one of the first things I ran into when I went indie because it’s a difficult process. It was a lot harder to sell vinyl on the road and tour with it, plus, the distribution is just so much more limited. But I feel like the resurgence of DJs and some of the vinyl shops will help in the long run and we’ll get there.

CP: I’m looking forward to that! That has to be one of the most awesome things I run into— when people bring vinyl with the rest of their merch, I find it pretty much impossible not to buy it (laughs).

ER: (Laughs) You know what’s funny actually? I’ve been bootlegged, and I’m actually a supporter of this, but there is actually some vinyl of me, but it’s nothing I’ve actually made! As much as I could make a big deal of it and get all mad about it, I think it’s helped me grow. It helps get me out there.

CP: That’s awesome, but you’ve got to get the bootleggers to send you some copies!

ER: Yeah! At least send me a couple copies (laughs)!

CP: What are you most looking forward to about coming out to San Diego and playing Anthology?

ER: I actually did a show there last year, and it’s a lovely venue— really a beautiful spot. I’m looking forward to playing there again!

We’re looking forward to having Eric back! Be sure to get your tickets now since they’re moving super fast!

Oh, and Eric, if you’re looking for some new friends to discuss your awesome record collection with, I’ve got some sweet old Stevie Wonder records, the entire James Taylor collection, and the essential Dazz Band’s, Keep It Live, to start with. And I promise that when I come across a bootleg copy of your stuff on vinyl, I’ll send it your way.

Eric Roberson on Spotify

WHAT: The Mister Nice Guy Tour ft. Eric Roberson
WHEN: Thursday, April 26, 7:30 pm
TICKETS: $10-$46 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile