Independent artist, Grammy award nominee, singer, songwriter and producer Eric Roberson will take to the stage of The Jazz Café, Camden for two consecutive nights on the 20th and 21st August with a full live band. A recent catch up with the New Jersey neo soul and rhythm & blues artist gave a wonderful insight into his career and proactivity in pursuing it and his perspective on the music industry.
You studied musical theatre in college, when did you decide you wanted to get into music as a career?
I have an older sister who is the just most talented person I know and she was really the one who was in theatre and was in a band. She did all that stuff and I was just the little brother who followed her around. It was probably almost when I became a teenager and at that point I was doing music and it was then I realised that it was something that I really wanted to do. So it was really just me following my sister around. When I turned thirteen I really discovered a love and appreciation for theatre and a love for music. My parents bought me a keyboard around that time and they really got me into writing songs and studying what I was doing. So I would say around thirteen.
Your music career started in college, you signed to Warner Bros, can you tell me about that time in your life?
Yeah, well it was my sophomore year when I was at Howard [University] with the help of a group called Shai and they passed my demo tape onto people. It was a great time, it taught me the business and I did have a great level of success early on. When I got into the whole record label craziness, it was a very humbling thing to go back to school after that but I appreciated it. You wouldn’t see the artist and person I am now but it was what I needed. At that point I thought I was going to change the world and be this huge multimillionaire. I got a taste of how tough the industry really was but I knew that I still wanted to be in it.
Then you got a songwriting deal with EMI which lead you to some great collaborations, how was that experience?
It was good because after the record deal when I finished school, I kinda jumped back into song writing and had many years of being a starving artist, trying to make it and I just collaborated with as many people as I could and it definitely led me to a publishing deal and helped build my studio and really, really focus on the music full time and I would tell everyone ” I am going into studio, leave me alone(laughs), I need to get these ideas out”. So it was really, really good. After that came the collaborations with my friends and a lot of my songwriting success came from Soulchild, Jill Scott and Vivian Green. Those are really good friends of mine and in my artist and writing circle. And then they started getting record deals and used songs we had recorded and it really helped out.
It’s definitely a nice side of the industry, seeing people you know and worked with making it.
Yeah, you see people’s dreams come true and my dream is still coming true! You see them walking off the street into the studio and then onto big tours and it’s good to be a part of that.
What I love about your story and what I find really interesting is the fact that you signed to a major label and you became very proactive about your career and set up your own record label Blue Erro Soul and since then you have released in excess of 80,000 CDs. How does that feel?
I think a lot of that is when I was a songwriter producer solely and I watched lot of people’s careers fail because of the label; the record didn’t come out or it didn’t do well and they think “man I am going to do a nine to five” and I didn’t want to be a part of that. I was going to be putting out music, regardless. The fans really helped me out by supporting me. They really challenged me to be more proactive and take a chance in the business. So when I saw the opportunities starting to come, I appreciated it more than anyone could and my goal was to make sure I didn’t let anyone down. For anyone who has supported me, I try and match their effort. Every time we go on stage we try and match the effort that the crowd is giving us and the energy, that amazing energy. I am like a kid in a candy store. So whether it is in a studio or performing on tour we try to match that energy. So we have nine, ten albums out and every album, every song, every opportunity to go on stage is an amazing experience.
That leads me nicely into asking about your current tour, which see you performing two nights in The Jazz Café, on 20th and 21st August. How are preparations going?
We have been touring pretty heavy. The songs are sounding great. I wish the Jazz Café shows were tomorrow and I am excited at how the people will respond to the new songs and how they are going to celebrate. The Jazz Café is one of the more energetic crowds that you are going to run into so it is something that I always look forward to in seeing us perform a song and see how they respond. In my shows we always pack in as many songs as we can so, you know, give our all for people. It’s going to be a great show. I wish it was tomorrow and I am excited how well we have transformed the song from the CD to the stage.
It is very evident how comfortable you are on stage and how much you enjoy being there. Do you find your musical theatre background to be a huge help and would you consider acting in the future?
Yeah, it’s tough to fit everything in and I would love to do it all. I have been able to show that more in what I do. I think in my shows more than anyone’s the acting background, it does show up on stage. There is a lot of little fun jokes and stuff, and it happens right then and there. It’s not something that we plan and every joke that you hear and everything you see was created on the stage. It comes naturally and with the crowd.
Can you talk me talk me through your personal creative process?
Since I have been doing songwriting workshops with kids a lot lately, it is pretty heavy and one of my main things is always write, keep it straight, and write in a journal and keep that creativity in shape. For me when I record a record, I pretty much don’t write anything anymore. I am always writing all the time, except in that moment. My last four albums have pretty much just been me sitting in front of a microphone and I think a lot of my theatre stuff comes into that. I think of who I am trying to be in a character and what the song is about and what I want to write about and I become that character. The history of that and the whole idea of that is and has come from my education. I am recording a lot but I am always writing poetry. My process studio wise, it’s a matter of getting behind a microphone and letting that be my stage.
Finally, do you have any advice for any aspiring musicians and those wanting to build a career in the music industry?
There are two things. The number one word to remember is completion. Focus on completion, it is the most important word in the music business. Completing a writing process or even vocal lessons or whatever. Even from a business standpoint, it is very important. The other point is networking. If you want to get into the music business, surround yourself with people who are already in the music business and want to be in it. That was very important for me and before I wrote songs with my friends, without having any idea who was and was not going to be in the music business. I have college friends who are huge music producers now and it’s all about networking and taking the idea of who is doing what and keeping in touch with those people. When I was a songwriter I remember I would take a meeting with a label and the intern would meet me at the elevator and walk me to the lobby and ask me if I wanted something to drink. I remember coming back five years later and that intern had a very high level position and now is managing some acts on tour. Always show everyone respect and always be open to learn and networking with someone as you never know where they are going, as well as where you are going.
– Miriam Doona