Eric McFadden: Let’s Die Forever

By: Andy Tennille

“It was around that time that I started hearing things in my head.”

Eric McFadden in Barcelona by Kayceman
Sitting on a bench in a bricked courtyard behind his apartment, Eric McFadden snickers a wicked little laugh as he casually strums a Manuel Rodriguez e Hijos acoustic guitar while discussing his most recent studio release, Let’s Die Forever… Together.

“Inspiration can come from anywhere for me, man,” the 38-year-old San Francisco guitarist and songwriter explains as dusk falls on another warm summer evening in the Haight Ashbury district. “It could be anything – a movie I saw, some book I read, something a girl says, a beautiful sunset, a sunrise after getting too drunk the night before, really anything. I hear music in pretty much everything.”

“There are, of course, the voices too,” he cracks, dispelling any notion that he’s abetting any rock star self-mythology. “I usually try to listen to them as much as I can but it’s hard when they all start talking at once. I don’t know which one I should listen to.”

Over a career that spans the better part of the last two decades, Eric McFadden has successfully navigated the ongoing clash between the sounds and voices inside his head to create a unique musical persona. Beginning with the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based punk rock trio Angry Babies in the late ’80s, McFadden’s raspy baritone, flamenco guitar rock and dark carnie balladry has served as the creative force behind bands such as Liar, Alien Lovestock, Faraway Brothers, Holy Smokes, IZM as well as the Eric McFadden Trio and Eric McFadden Experience.

McFadden’s reputation as a consummate musician’s musician, comfortable both fronting his own group as well as serving as a jaw-dropping sideman, has earned him respect and admiration from his peers as well as gigs working with rock luminaries such as Jackson Browne, Joe Strummer, Bo Diddley, Keb Mo’, Les Claypool and George Clinton. In 2004, McFadden recorded and toured with the Stockholm Syndrome, a five-piece rock outfit formed by Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools and songwriter Jerry Joseph. In 2005, rock legend Eric Burdon invited McFadden, bassist Paula O’Rourke and drummer Wally Ingram to join him on tour as The New Animals.

Eric McFadden by Jon R. Luini
2006 found the guitarist splitting time between the Animals and his own Trio, which includes stand-up bassist James Whiton and drummer Jeff Cohen. When his Trio got a few rare days off the road last winter, McFadden dropped by San Francisco’s Hyde Street Studios to lay some basic tracks for a few songs he’d recently completed.

“I started hearing things while I was laying the basic tracks down,” he recalls. “I heard an accordion on one of the tracks and some cello on another. I heard some trumpet on a couple of things. So that’s when I started calling people and asking if they’d come in and lay some parts down.”

Working with engineer Justin Phelps (Chuck Prophet, Cake, RatDog, The Mother Hips, The Court & Spark), McFadden began summoning various friends around the Bay Area to fill out the soundscapes he was hearing in his head. Cellists Sam Bass (Loop!Station) and Marika Hughes (Red Pocket, Charming Hostess), accordion player Isabel Douglass (Rupa Marya & the April Fishes), violinist Marisa Martinez (Liar), trumpeter Freddie Price (Rube Wadell), guitarist Pat McDonald (Timbuk 3), vocalist Robin Coomer (Loop!Station) and tuba player Ed Ivey joined a rhythm section consisting of bassists Paula O’Rourke, Seth Ford Young (Tom Waits) and James Whiton, and drummer Doug Port (Inner Ear Brigade).

“Some of them are people I’ve wanted to play with for a long time but haven’t gotten the chance and others I’d never played with before,” McFadden explains. “I’ve known Freddie Price for more than 10 years and always loved his band, Rube Wadell. They’re one of my favorite bands, so to finally get Freddie on a record is great. I didn’t even know Doug Port before he showed up for the session. Freddie recommended him and he came in and played only a kick drum, high hat and snare on the entire record and did wondrous things. I’d never played with Seth Ford Young, so it was really cool to have him in. He played on the new Tom Waits record, who happens to be one of my favorite artists. It’s good to work with other people and get their mojo on the stuff. It offers another perspective.”

It could be anything – a movie I saw, some book I read, something a girl says, a beautiful sunset, a sunrise after getting too drunk the night before, really anything. I hear music in pretty much everything.

-Eric McFadden

Photo by Chris Lea

Since so many of the songs were works in progress in the sense that new sounds and musicians were being added just prior to recording, McFadden says the atmosphere in the studio was conducive to achieving fresh takes.

McFadden & Schools – Stockholm Syndrome by Josh Miller
“Most of the musicians hadn’t ever heard, much less played, the songs before we recorded them,” he says. “Maybe we’d do them one time through and that was it before we hit the record button. I didn’t want anyone to know the song too well ’cause I didn’t, so it wouldn’t be fair if they did.”

The 14 tracks that make up Let’s Die Forever… Together encompass all of McFadden’s diverse influences from his love of flamenco guitar instrumentals and European gypsy folk music to his love of carnivals and clowns and his reverence of the dark genius of Tom Waits.

“The reason I admire Tom Waits so much is because he’s developed an entire sound and persona that is definitely his own,” McFadden says. “He’s gone from the seedy lounge thing to the weird, eccentric farmer carnie thing but he’s always been Tom Waits. Besides developing this character and persona that is so definitively him, he’s also written some brilliant, moving music. I love his ballads because they’re fucking beautiful. And of course I love all the other shit he delves into like the freaky Russian carnie weirdness. Ultimately, I’m striving to be unique and identifiable as an artist as well as being expressive and prolific. He embodies a lot of that for me. Tom Waits is one of many people that I admire but I place him very high on that list. I’d be happy to shake his foot much less his hand.”

Eric McFadden
Of all the various influences, McFadden believes Let’s Die Forever… Together hearkens back sonically to two early Eric McFadden Experience albums – 1996’s Who’s Laughing Now and 1999’s Our Revels Now Are Ended.

“Even a little bit of Devil Moon, too,” he says, referring to his 2003 solo album. “I’ve always had an affinity for Euro-gypsy sounds in music, like the accordion and flamenco guitar. I got into flamenco music when I was 14 years old living in New Mexico. Some friends of my parents had a kid who was taking flamenco guitar lessons. They asked me to take him to his lessons on the bus after school because they didn’t want him to get lost or roughed up. I was already playing guitar at the time and I’d heard flamenco music before but there was something about seeing it being played right there in front of me. It had a real big impact. A few summers ago, I jammed with some Spanish gypsies in Barcelona when Wally Ingram and I toured Europe. They were pretty shocked I had any knowledge of flamenco music whatsoever but we jammed for a few hours and I hung in there with them. They gave me the nickname ‘El Gitano Negro.'”

Eric McFadden by Jay Blakesberg
Lyrically, Let’s Die Forever… Together borrows heavily from the classic themes in all great art – heartbreak, misery and personal despair. McFadden says he hoped the record would help close a door on an extremely dark period in his life fraught with “emotional turmoil and tumultuous relationships, but it’s never that easy.” With life’s hellhounds nipping at his heals, the songsmith did what he does best – channeled his inner conflicts and personal demons into poignant, powerful songs that ruminate on love lost, the death of a friend, heartache, self-doubt, fear and the perils of life on the road.

“The album expresses a lot of the things I was experiencing emotionally and otherwise at that time. But isn’t that what all artists typically do with their work?” asks the tattooed, dreadlocked musician, resting his guitar on the table in the courtyard as the evening light faded to black. “I realize there are some people that like to write more outside themselves and depict certain situations or circumstances using characters. I often like to do that, too. Using metaphors can be an effective way of not having to fuckin’ completely lay naked onstage in front of the audience every night. But there’s nothing wrong with writing something straight up and really baring your soul. It can be therapeutic in a way. I guess there’s a lot of that on this record.”

While initially released only in Europe through France’s Bad Reputation Records, Let’s Die Forever… Together is now available through iTunes and has garnered favorable reviews from critics and fans, both domestic and abroad.

“My bass player in the Trio, James Whiton, uses a French press to make his coffee out on the road. I use the French press for an entirely different purpose – to write favorable reviews of my records,” McFadden says with a self-deprecating laugh. “The French press have always been supportive of my work but I stopped worrying about that stuff a while ago. I need to be true to myself as an artist and if people appreciate and connect with my music, I’m grateful.”

JamBase | San Francisco
Go See Live Music!