Soulful songwriter Eric Hutchinson
burst into public consciousness with his
upbeat hit “Rock & Roll,” and his fan base
has grown exponentially since. Onstage,
Hutchinson is equally adept at ivories and
guitar, but when he sits behind the keys, he
plays with the attitude and chops of a wellseasoned
piano man. His debut record,
Sounds Like This, was a long journey in
the making — but the end result is a wonderfully
melodic electric and acoustic
piano album that is both fresh and timeless.
And even if Hutchinson solely sang
instead of playing, his stellar voice would
still carry the music.
Sounds Like This is an organic record,
one that sounds neither processed to
death nor over-compressed. Keyboard sat
down with Eric before a show to look
deeper at the birth and development of a
truly rocking album.
The liner notes on your album tell of
many versions of your record before
Sounds Like This was finally made.
What was that process like, and what
I tried starting it so many times and it never
quite got finished. I started five years
before the album was finally completed,
and I was always trying to create a full
album. The only good thing that came out
of waiting that long is that I got more experienced,
and I think the songs ended up
being better. Every time I’d go to make the
album, the better songs would survive —
survival of the fittest. Even up to Sounds
Like This, a lot of my favorite songs are
ones I wrote while I was frustrated. As to
the songs themselves, “Rock & Roll” is the
oldest one and “OK, It’s Alright With Me”
and “Oh” are the newest — actually, a lot of
the piano songs are newer.
How do you feel now about the roadblocks
you encountered making this
As I look back on it more and more, I think I
probably just wasn’t ready for it. The product
I was coming up with wasn’t as good
[as it could have been], I didn’t know what I
was doing as much, but things ended up
working out. It’s given me some nice perspective
now when things don’t go the way
I want them to. I’ve learned from experience
that other options will come around.
How’d you know that this record was
I didn’t know. I’d been dropped by the label
I was on. I was going on instinct and putting
everything out there. I’d exhausted all
of my money and borrowed a little extra
from my grandparents to finish it. I had to
give it a try or otherwise I’d spend the rest
of my life wondering, “What if?”
How are the songs evolving live?
Right now, we’re a trio and we’re limited in
what we can do. I’m hoping to add another
member soon and open the songs up a
little more and extend the jams.
How are you evolving as an artist and
I want people who like this album to like the
next one, but I also want people who had
written me off to like the next album. I just
want to grow. Fiona Apple did a great job
of that. The difference between her first
and second albums was really great. You
have to take risks and make the album
sound different than anything else out
there. I have pretty “pop” tastes, so my
inclinations are relatively radio-friendly on
their own. I just try to write what I like.
That’s really what makes people interesting;
not that they were trying to please
somebody else, cause you’re never going
to get anywhere that way.
How has your approach to songwriting
changed, now that you know people
That’s an issue that I’ve had to learn to deal
with as I’m traveling and playing all the
time. I forget that I started doing all this
because I just like to play. It was a hobby at
one point and now picking up a guitar or
sitting at the piano feels like work — which
is not necessarily a bad thing!
Tell us more about what you want the
next album to sound like.
I want to make an album that sounds like it
was made now, but has a familiar feeling to
it. I really liked Amy Winehouse’s recordings.
They sound modern, but also very
retro. I’m excited to eventually work on the
next album and hopefully keep growing. I
knew it before, but I know it even more
now — it’s so important to me to make an
album that I really like. Picking the right
songs is like the difference between having
a friend and having a roommate — as in, I
like this song enough to see it once a
week, but I like this other song enough to
see it all the time. It’s really about putting
the songs on the album that can stand up
to repeated listens.
How has your music changed from
when you started?
Before, my music was slower and not quite
as influenced by soul. I just played at home,
or in the studio. Once I started playing out
live a lot, I hated the slower songs because
they felt boring when I did them solo. I
started to bump the tempo up because I
wanted a repertoire that was more upbeat
and would get people involved. Now I have
the opposite problem, where none of the
songs are slow early on the album, so I’m
trying to work on a few for the next one to
balance it out.
What has changed most in your life
It’s a paradox. On one side, I’m surprised to
see that a lot of things in my life don’t
change, if I don’t want them to. As long as I
keep real people around me and don’t buy
into my own hype, I don’t have to live that
sort of celebrity lifestyle. On the other side,
it’s been really great to see a whole lot of
people in my band, crew, and label working
in a concerted effort. It’s cool to see how
our efforts can really start to get the name
and music out there. It’s been exciting to
go back to cities and see if people found
out about me while I was gone.
Musical upbringing: I took piano lessons as a kid. I didn’t really enjoy them and felt
like I was being forced to do it. As an adult, though, I took piano lessons voluntarily. I
was interested in theory and chords, something specific. I kind of relate it to graduate
school — I wanted to apply [new musical knowledge] to what I was already doing.
Idols growing up: I always liked Billy Joel and Paul Simon because they were both
normal guys, not flashy rock stars. And John Legend and Jamie Cullum — I really
liked both of their first albums. Elvis Costello also had a huge influence on me. But
my first intro to pop was the Beatles. No matter what age I am, I appreciate a different
side of them. Everything you could do with pop music, it begins and ends with
them. I broke up with a girl once because she didn’t like the Beatles!
Current role models: Well, my manager wants Elton John-level success! [Laughs.]
Two artists I admire are Fiona Apple and Ben Folds. They have both done it the right
way, are well-respected, and make great music — they also have real fans and they
can do it live. “Independent” is a good word for it.
Favorite music right now: I love Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.” I’m trying to work it
into the show. Alicia Keys and Kanye West, too. With a lot of rock stuff, I find nameless
bands with the same exact sound in every track — I was listening to a Top 40
countdown one day and it was like the same song over and over again.