It all begins with Eric and me standing in his bedroom as he is preparing to set off for Spain. I eye up his Tom Waits CDs and check out the paintings that hang on his wall. He picks up his guitar (an acoustic flamenco) and walks me to his patio out back. We sit down, I press "record" and he begins to strum.
Eric McFadden: I tend to be much better at expressing myself through this instrument than I do with words.
Kayceman: Well, you seem to be a good songwriter.
Eric McFadden: Well with lyrics the music makes up for what the words can't say, they work well together. It's like the words say something and the music says the rest, and with the combination you get the complete message.
[More strumming, light melodies.]
Kayceman: I think that there is probably a younger audience that hasn't been properly introduced to you. So I would like to get a little history on you first. I know you were born in New York, is that correct?
Eric McFadden: Yes, I was born in Manhattan.
By Marcy G.
Kayceman: How long were you there for?
Well we actually moved from there when I was about eight years old, so I didn't really see much. And we moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico and moved back to New York when I was seventeen. That's when I started getting exposed to a lot of things. We'd always been into a lot of different things, my parents and myself, musically speaking. But when I moved to New York I met some freaky jazz cat and we started a punk rock jazz band called Crisis when I was seventeen. And then I moved back to New Mexico when I was eighteen.
When did you start playing music?
I started playing when I was ten years old, ten or eleven. It was my fifth grade class, my teacher played guitar and one week she was offering to show kids a few chords, but my dad had a guitar and I kind of pretended to play his once in a while. And at that point I decided, "That's what I'm gonna do."
At ten years old you had a pretty good idea?
A pretty good idea, I think when I was fourteen I was pretty convinced [chuckles a bit].
By Jon R. Luini
You were playing electric guitar by then?
I finally got my first electric guitar when I was about thirteen I think, some SG copy [Gibson SG guitar model]. I started out on a nylon string classical guitar [begins to strum the aforementioned acoustic nylon stringed guitar]. Which is my preference once again, I went back to it years later. It's what I play quite a bit, primarily amplified, and often going through a wah-pedal and some distortion, minimal effects, but just over-drive it a bit.
Did you receive any musical training?
I took some lessons from this guy named Stan Hirsch. He's this great guitar player, and he does this solo blues thing these days, just at festivals in Europe and around the states. He taught me a lot of theory and we would just kinda hang out. I was his last lesson of the day and he would always extend my lesson a couple of hours. We would check out all kinds of stuff, you know Zeppelin and Hendrix, some blues guys, started to get into some of that fusion stuff like John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu and all that. And we would just jam after the lesson for a while and he opened up a lot to me. He taught me music theory so I learned scales, modes you know, and all that sort of jargon. So once I understood how music worked and operated I kind or grew, I had a few epiphanies as a result of that. It helped my songwriting, and I kept discovering new things like The Dregs and the Pixies and stuff.
Who was the first band that really grabbed hold of you?
Well, I started playing because of The Beatles. That's really what started it all. You know, classic Beatles and Stones stuff, which led to some Cream and Hendrix, and Frank Zappa and you know, just kept going... Bob Dylan.
Now you moved to San Francisco in '94 with Liar, is that right?
Why did you guys choose San Francisco?
It chose me really. I was on tour with my band, The Angry Babies. And at that point in my life, my bass player and myself were raging alcoholics, and he was bi-polar and a depressive schizophrenic, whateverthefuck you wanna call it. And my drummer was on pharmaceuticals because he had this carpel tunnel, so we were all pretty much out of our minds. We failed to follow through with some good business opportunities. Like we had some interest as far as some record labels and some European touring opportunities.
Most of that interest was coming from here [San Francisco]?
From various places, like Beavis and Butthead. MTV was big and they wanted to do something. But we didn't have our shit together. We were young and wasted so we disintegrated. And at that point my band was over with and all my friends in San Francisco kept trying to persuade me to move out here. And they basically just persuaded me. They said, "Oh we'll put you up." And the Paradise Lounge offered to give me some regular gigs to get me going, which of course I regret to say is no longer operational. It's a sad thing; we've lost a lot of good clubs here.
[Breaks into song.]
Yeah, so I moved out in '94 and was staying on my friend Michael Dean's floor and basically I just met this great drummer, Paulo Baldi (now with Frog Brigade), in Albuquerque. And we'd play together a bit, and he joined my band, Alien Lovestock. But then I moved out here very shortly after that. My friend Mead and I were on the phone and we were looking for a drummer. And I said, "I know the guy, he's in Albuquerque. This kid Paulo, he's a phenomenal drummer." So we called him up and asked him what he was up to and a week later he was out here. And I had started Liar also in Albuquerque and we played a few shows, but then of course I moved a few months after that inception. But we would do the long distance band relationship thing; I'd go out there and do a couple of gigs, they'd come out here and do some shows. And eventually they all moved out. You know, Paula O'Rourke our bass player, and Marisa Martinez on violin. And things started to work out. We were having a great time with the band. I was really happy to start off in a new city with a new band and things were going well. We had the whole "Whammies" and "Bammies" [local San Francisco music awards] thing going, and toured around, and put out a couple of CDs. But when that ended, I guess three years ago...
By Jon R. Luini
Why did Liar fall apart?
There were a few reasons and some of it has to do with being in a relationship in a band. I don't even think that was the primary problem, but I know that was a contributing factor, the fact that myself and Paula were involved. Paulo was doing pretty well with Deadweight, and they felt like they were more focused and committed as a band. I think we got to a point where we peaked out. We were doing really well and all these labels were calling us and we were doing really well in the city headlining some big shows, but we didn't know where to go after that. And word got around that we had been "shopped" in the industry. Which we hadn't, there was just a lot of confusion. And we became kind of discouraged at the lack of follow through. I don't know, there were several reasons but I think it just had to end.
By Jon R. Luini
Sometimes it's just time.
Of course I have no desire to be on a major record label at this point in my life, so it wouldn't even be a concern of mine now. But of course at that point I was.
But then I had already begun to work on and off with George Clinton and some of the P-Funk guys in the studio and sitting in. But then at the end of that year I ended up joining the band somehow, I don't even know how.
By Marcy G.
That was one of my questions, I'm kind of curious how that all happened.
Well, it was just one of those sit-in things. Every time George is around he's like, "Hey you want to sit in?" Or we'd be in the studio tracking something, whether it was on my record or one of his projects. So I was on the East Coast about to start my own solo tour and I was there a couple days early, and they [P-Funk] were starting their tour in DC so I sat in that night and the next night. And then he just didn't let me go home. He's like, "OK we got you a bunk, you're on the bus." So basically I was in the band. You know I'm just hanging out in his hotel room getting ready to leave and I'm like, "I'll see ya around man." And he's like, "Where you goin'? You're not going anywhere. You're in the band." So that was that.
You know I hung out with Jerry Joseph for an extended period of time and he speaks extremely highly of you...
Ah man I love Jerry, he's fuckin' great.
Well he loves you too, clearly. And I'm kind of curious how the two of you came to be friends?
It was accidental. I know he and Dave Schools go way back and are very tight, so you would have thought that Dave Schools would have introduced us. He had spoken of Jerry to me but I didn’t meet him through Dave. What happened was Benon [Eric's manager] booked a gig for me in San Diego, in Ocean Beach with Jerry Joseph. I was like, "Oh yeah Jerry Joseph, I'll do that gig." Because I had heard about Jerry, and Dave was just talking about how he produced his record [Conscious Contact]. So I went out there doing my opening thing and he dug it so he was like, "Why don't you sit in?" And we just hung out after the bar closed and we sat around and talked. And we did another gig up there a little while after, same thing, I played a good deal of the set with him and had a damn fine time doing it. And we hung out after and talked some shit, and basically we're on the level. I really related well to him as a person, and really enjoyed what he did musically. We had plans to do other things, which haven't panned out yet because, you know, we are doing other things. Certain things get in the way of other things. If we were to stop doing some of the things we are doing now, we would make room for those other things.
[Laughter ensues – as does guitar playing from Eric.]
That's quite a lot of things.
Eventually we'll get to that, I'm hoping.
Me too. How about Schools, how did y'all meet?
We met through Paula, Paula O'Rourke, our bass player. She used to live in Athens, Georgia so she knew Vic Chesnutt, and Dave Schools, the B-52's, R.E.M. and that whole crew from up there. So I think in '95 or '96 I met Dave. Just go to some shows and go hang out at the house.
Another good guy.
He's a real good guy; it's a real pleasure knowing Dave. And I love being a part of his project.
Ya, I really like Slang a lot.
It's a great project man, I'm really honored that he asked me to be a part of it because it is such a cool thing. And Layng Martine, his partner is a great guy. And Dave and Layng are such a pleasure to work with. It's like easy, you go into the studio and everything runs so smoothly. Just relax and have a good time but get work done.
That's the key to balance it all. Your bands tend to have a lot of variation in their sound and repertoire. When you start out with a new project, is it ever a conscious decision to develop a different part of your sound?
It's like this. When I started Liar I thought, this band is not going to sound like my last band, it's not going to sound like anything else I know that much. One of the things that added to it sounding unique is the players in the band. So just the fact that I had less testosterone in the band, I had two females and two males. And that added a lot of sensuality to the sound.
Now when putting the band together, is that part of what you are thinking? That you want it to be different?
It's about chemistry, you know. It's about the person's ability, but it's also about the feel, and how they work with the other components of the band. And that kinda fell together. It started out as Paulo, Paula and myself, and then we added Marisa on the violin and later Sheila. I was writing differently so the songs lent themselves to a different instrumentation. I was thinking that there was more of that Middle-Eastern, flamenco vibe, with the country and the rock thing. And the violin just seemed like the obvious, suitable choice for a fourth instrument.
Also in a lot of your music, either lyrically or even sometimes the feel of the music, there seems to be a recurring theme involving the circus and clowns and this freaky aspect. Obviously you are aware of this.
Yes, the clowns. You do know they are watching us right now.
I don't doubt it, actually I'm sure of it.
[Laughter from both.]
Well, that's part of why I wanted to talk to you. Does that come from anywhere in particular? And I apologize because I'm sure you've been asked that many times before.
Most often it's just using the circus or the carnival as a metaphor for the things you go through in life. That's really the extent of it. And also my fascination with certain artwork. Like the artwork of R.K. Slone. That imagery has spawned a lot of ideas, it was the seeds of many a song. But then your imagination tends to run away with you. And then they start coming to you in your dreams. So I don't know, this clown thing just sort of kept growing and developing over time. And it's almost like running away with the circus or joining a band and going off on the road. It could be equated with that. I know that playing with P-Funk is very much like traveling with the circus.
And I like to think that all the world forgives a clown [a sinister laugh follows].
Well, and I think it fits the music too. There is definitely a twisted element to it.
Yeah there is, but I do have a fascination with that whole side. The dark, seedy underworld of it. And also what goes on behind the scenes, the whole carnie barter thing. Think about what they're doing when their shift is over.
You know what are they getting into? [More sinister laughter.] What do the clowns do when their shift is over?
Well, it's weird. I had this nightmare when I was young. I had this clown light in my room that hung from the ceiling. And this happened a couple of times, and I was actually convinced that it happened. But I have this image in my head of sitting in this chair that was in my room, and there was this window right here, and I have this image of this clown jumping up and down (the same clown that hung in my room, of course) and appearing in my window.
That actually did happen, I was there.
By Gina Hall
You're probably right, my mom told me it didn't, but I knew that shit was real!
Of course, she was trying to comfort you. That could have scarred you for life.
Cleary it has.
You know, there is nothing worse than a clown gone bad, my friend.
I don't doubt that for a hot second. Now you are headed for Spain tomorrow correct?
Yes, thank you for reminding me.
What is this trip going to bring you? You're touring, right?
Yeah, this is going to be a solo tour but it's a double bill. It's myself and Pat MacDonald, who is an extraordinary songwriter and musician. We've toured Spain a couple of times already. So we are going to do our separate sets and then also play a set together.
By Marcy G.
And it's going to be about a month long?
Yeah, a month long. Mostly Northern Spain and the coast.
Something else I had in mind, are there any younger bands, or bands that are touring now that really turn you on?
Yeah. I love some of the local bands like Deadweight, the Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Birdsaw, the Broun Fellinis, and Tin Hat Trio. There's a lot of great local talent. Garaj Mahal is kickin' ass. And I could go on and on. Oh, and Mark Groudin's Electric Piano, you gotta check that out.
I sure will. Of all the music that you've recorded, especially for fans that might not be as familiar with your music as others, is there something in particular that you'd like them to check out? Is there an album that you feel is particularly representative of you?
I'm still trying to make that record. But I would say that I like, The Eric McFadden Experience record, Our Revels Now Are Ended, I like Alien Lovestock Planet of the Fish, and I think the record I'm working on now with my Eric McFadden Trio, with James Whiton on acoustic bass, and Jeff Anthony on the drums is gonna be the one. But it's hard to say because the records are so different stylistically.
When is that going to come out?
That'll be out in July. So you know, we are just constantly trying to reach the next plateau and explore all of the possibilities, and put together new things and shape ideas and do things in a different way. Keep things interesting, progressive. And of course to have a good time doing it, that's the primary goal. Of course I do this for a living, but I have no choice, it's not like I'm going to do something else in my life. This is what I do. And I'm certainly OK with that.
Catch the Eric McFadden Trio:
5.30 | Blue Lamp | Sacramento, CA
5.31 | 4th Street Tavern | San Rafael, CA
6.04 | Absinthe | Santa Barbara, CA
6.05 | Winston's | San Diego, CA
6.06 | Smiley's | Bolinas, CA
6.07 | Cafe du Nord | San Francisco, CA
6.10 | The Viper Room | West Hollywood, CA
6.11 | Mogollon Brewing Company | Flagstaff, AZ
6.13 | Club Rhythm and Blues | Albuquerque, NM
6.18 | Aggie Theater | Ft. Collins, CO | with new monsoon
6.19 | Dulcinea's 100th Monkey | Denver, CO
6.20 | Fox Theatre | Boulder, CO | opening for Maktub
6.23 | Neurolux | Boise, ID
6.27 | The 3B Tavern | Bellingham, WA
6.29 | Dante's | Portland, OR
7.05 | High Sierra Music Festival | Quincy, CA
Be sure to check out Eric's solo performances at the High Sierra Music Festival on Saturday, July 5th: solo at 11am and Troubadour sessions at 11pm.
Interview by The Kayceman
JamBase | HeadQuarters
Go See Live Music!