When Eric Roberson is recording, even his family has a hard time reaching him. The singer/songwriter has been spending weeks at a time burrowed in his New Jersey in-house studio, putting together what may be one of the most anticipated independent R&B albums of 2006. While some still scratch their heads when they hear his name, any music lover has surely heard one of his songs, if not through his own tenor, then through some of R&Bs hottest artists.
Although he released the successful single The Moon in 1994 while he was still a student at Howard University, he chose to continue his studies before pursuing the music career. He graduated with a B.A. in Musical Theater, and went on to pen songs for the likes of 112, Case, Musiq, Carl Thomas, Jill Scott, Floetry, Will Downing, Dwele, and most recently Charlie Wilson, to name a few.
It was not until 2001 when he released his debut album The Esoteric Movement that Eric was recognized as an equally talented singer. His follow-up projects, The Vault, Volumes 1 and 1.5, and his rigorous tour schedule introduced many to his potent lyrics infused with House, Hip-Hop and classic Soul. AllHipHop.com Alternatives got some rare time with Eric during one of his binge recording sessions to find out about the man behind the honest music.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Some people are in the studio for weeks at a time, and other people can only steal away time for record. Do you have certain flow when youre in the studio?
Eric: Theres definitely a rhythm, but theres so much outside of the studio I have to take care of. I appreciate my time in the studio - when I get in the zone, the world is like a blur. I reach a point when Im no longer tired. Now, there are too many things that pull me away from the studio, but the last couple weeks Ive been like a madman in that room.
AHHA: Do you ever resent being an independent artist and having to take so much time out to do things outside of the studio?
Eric: No, because the advantage of being an independent artist is that you really dont have someone telling you what to do. When youre with a major label, you have to conform to so many parties and nothing is guaranteed. With independent stuff, you have an idea, or a vision or an opportunity to carry out your own thing and be youre own boss.
The hard part is that kind of freedom takes a lot of work. It is very profitable, but its a lot to maintain. In the beginning, its hard to get people to commit, because it wasnt financially rewarding. But if you order a CD from my website, Im the one who wrote the address on the envelope and took it to the post office. Im driving the van to pick the band up. The Hollywood part doesnt exist. But you can make a living for the rest of your life off of this, but not the quick way.
AHHA: Your fans are very personal with you through your message board on your website [www .ericrobersonmusic.com] and at your shows. Why it so important to you to establish a close relationship with you fans?
Eric: I think the fans are beautiful. When people bring good energy, it helps me give good energy. Its crazy because I am an artist because of them. Ill do a record on the side or somebody will read the credits on a CD and ask, Whos that guy? When people share those kind of stories, it inspires me to be an artist.
Its also part of what I try to change about the music business. This business doesnt care about music. I know the fans are starving for something different. I try to make it a family after the shows Im signing CDs, and when people share stories, I always appreciate it.
AHHA: It seems like youre always doing a show, how many do you do in a course of a year?
Eric: I have no idea - I would say 9 to 10 shows a month. Some months are really heavy and some are quiet. Thats my radio, for me to do what I do, I have to stay on the road.
AHHA: On your first album, you have a skit that talks about you having to choose between singing and songwriting. Is it still tough choosing between the two?
Eric: I wasnt happy with doing just songwriting. I still wrestle with it, because theres an entire world familiar with me as an artist. But the people whove worked with me in the business so long had no idea I was a singer. I was introduced to so many people as a songwriter. When I first started out, I started writing songs for people. Now, I write because a song is on my heart, and if you like it, holla at me. Im at the point now where I dont shop my songs around. I have a song on Charlie Wilsons new album, and Im honored because he found out about me. Somehow, Ive been blessed to maintain my career as a songwriter.
AHHA: Are there any songs you wish you wouldnt have sold?
Eric: I wish certain songs would have been handled differently. For example, Previous Cats was one of the biggest disappointments because it wasnt a single. I felt strong about that song because its such a conversation piece. The message is still important and the song means so much. I was very fortunate and blessed Musiq chose that song, but the label didnt see it for what is was. When I perform it now, people still sing along and are moved by it. If that many people still react to the song like that to this day, I know it couldve been a big hit.
AHHA: Do you think people still want Soul music? If you look at the Billboard charts, youll see less and less honest Soul music.
Eric: Lets look at it as, music is food. Youre cruising down the street, and everything is McDonalds, Wendys and Popeyes; you dont have an option. You have to drive out of town to get something healthier. Many people dont have time to dedicate their life to something else. Thats the music business. Its all about marketing. Thats the reason why McDonalds or Burger King is more successful than the vegetarian spot. Its youre job to search for something for you. Its clearly not that people dont want it, its just the way the market is set up. Labels are trying to make music like cheeseburgers. That is the problem with soul music. Erykah Badu will change with every album, but the label doesnt want her to grow. The label wants On & On Thats what happened with Maxwell and DAngelo; they wanted them to be like mainstream artists.
AHHA: It seems like the radio is in favor of production over substance sometimes. I hate being able to hear a producer before I know who the artist is.
Eric: Im a fan of balance. Give me the simplest, oversimplified song in the world, and it deserves to be on the radio. But people who do something different should be welcomed to do music thats not for 16-year-olds and be able to stay in the industry. A 28-year-old, or 30 or 50-year-old has money too.
AHHA: Tell me about your upcoming projects. I know you have one with producer J. Rawls on his album The Essence of Soul Vol. 1 that isnt available in the U.S. yet, but I hear people are importing it for like $50.
Eric: I met J. Rawls traveling through Columbus, and he always showed so much love and I really liked his beats. I was chillin with him and his family and he put this beat on and the song was already in my head. I laid the hook there, and took it home to record the rest of it.
Im excited about all of the new music were putting out in the next year. In September Im releasing The Appetizer, which will be some new and some old songs to hold the fans over until the main course. The new record will be out in February, and its untitled at the moment. But Im pretty much finished with it. Its all coming together rather beautifully.
AHHA: Whats your favorite song to perform?
Eric: That depends thats a hard question to answer. They are like my kids, and I have so much love for them. I guess its more about the reaction I get from songs. Its no better feeling in the world than to have somebody sing along with you. I spent so many years on tour, and had so many songs no one knew. But people gravitate toward certain songs thats the best feeling in the world.