Interview with Grammy-Nominated Singer Songwriter Eric Roberson
Talks New Album, Playing City Winery
New Jersey native Eric Roberson, or Erro as he is often called “every place I go has some kind of nickname for me, whether it’s Erro, ER, Tricky Rick or something like that,” has been called America’s #1 independent soul/R&B artist. To be honest, I do not listen to much soul or R&B, but that will all change now, after listening to The Box, Erro’s 10th album, which drops nationwide August 12th. I had the lucky opportunity to speak with Erro on the eve of his release, as he begins his travels to Chicago to play City Winery Wednesday night.
Soundcheck411: You are releasing The Box within hours! Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. This must be a pretty cool time for you – how are you feeling?
Eric Roberson: I’m feeling great! I’m more satisfied with the finished product more than I’ve ever been with any of my albums. Now, I’m just ready to give it to the people. My hopes (for The Box) are for people to feel the way I feel about the music.
SC411: What was the inspiration behind The Box?
ER: A mature sound with a boom bap mentality. That defines the music as well as how we’re dressing and performing.
ER: I believe this album is more musical. We are using more live instrumentation than we have on any other album. I think people that have my earlier work can relate to this album, but will feel growth with this one.
SC411: You have been teasing releases on your social media pages this week, and you can hear more instruments in the songs, than I think we are used to seeing from you. Who plays them all? What instruments do you play?
ER: I’m horrible at keys and guitar, but I can get an idea out on them (laughs). The great thing about this album is, my entire band produced and played on almost every song. Far too many musicians to name that contributed, but each and every one of them are family and their love shows on the record.
SC411: And your family literally DOES play on this one! You have released albums both on major labels (Warner Bros) and independently – what is the biggest challenge going the independent route?
ER: The biggest challenge is proving that your independent album is the same quality as the one released on the major labels. It’s recorded in the same studios and mixed by the same engineers; we just don’t have the bigger budgets as the majors.
SC411: Really interesting point. I wonder if people are just almost programmed to think that because an album comes from a label they have heard of, they expect that it will be better than an independent, and why does that have to be true? What is the biggest reward of the independent route?
ER: The biggest reward is that I can chase the ideas in my head and put them to music without having to compromise in any form or fashion.
ER: Not at all…(laughing) I’m 40 years old and I’m watching the major labels trying to get rid of their older artists who have been successful for them. I don’t think the way I do music fits with how the major labels are structured currently. I want to grow and try new things. The labels want to find what’s successful and want you to stick to that. That’s been one of the things I’ve watched D’Angelo, Maxwell, Erykah Badu and others struggle with over their careers.
SC411: Let’s go back…In 2011, you were nominated for your first of 2 Best Urban/Alternative Performance Grammy’s within two years…where were you when you found out you were nominated? What did you do to celebrate?
ER: I believe I was lying on my couch with my son who was just born, in my lap. My phone started going crazy with congratulation texts. I went online to see for myself and there it was, clear as day. The following year, I can’t remember where I was, but I couldn’t believe they nominated me again. I realized that with it came an even bigger responsibility to the indie movement. I celebrated with my staff quietly and humbly. We pretty much partied a bit and got back to work.
SC411: A new son, a Grammy nomination..quite the year! Who inspires YOU?
ER: My parents. They were high school sweethearts. I’m sure not everything has worked out like they planned, but they’ve rolled their sleeves up and did their best. That’s what my wife and I try to do every day. I try to take inspiration from everything I observe. Good or bad, I personally believe there’s no reason to have writer’s block. We are constantly surrounded by inspiration. We just have to be open to it.
SC411: MY parents were high school sweethearts too! I’ve always felt that it was a lot to live up to….maybe that’s why I’m still single? Let me in on the start of a new album…What is your creative process like?
ER: I pretty much never stop writing and recording. The creativity usually dictates the directions and the start of the albums. We catch a groove and knock out a couple of songs that really speak to me. That’s usually how I know it’s time to do another album. The creative process ranges. I spend a lot of time writing in all sorts of ways to stay in shape, but when it’s time to go in the studio, I go in bare with no pad or pen. I just sit at the mic and try to be the character I want to write about. I’ve done that for the last three albums.
SC411: I love hearing stories about what sparks creativity or how other people seem to feel it strike. Some performers have superstitions or rituals when they’re performing, do you have any?
ER: I follow the three P’s…pray, plug up and play. A shower before a show is always nice. Mainly I’m focused on having my voice a hundred percent every time I go onstage, so that day is filled with vocal exercises and hydrating myself. Outside of that, I keep it pretty simple.
ER: Anything and everything. I pretty much look for soul music in anything I listen to. Whether it’s rock music like Radiohead, hip-hop like A Tribe Called Quest, classical, jazz or whatever, it has to feel soulful to me. There was a Sting album called ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’ I believe that I use to listen to when I wrote poetry.
SC411: You have said that fashion is almost as important to you as music – who are you wearing right now?
ER: I am addicted to Hugo Boss. The majority of my clothes are from that brand. For one the quality is amazing, but they also do great style for us thicker guys. Shoes range, but I really like a brand called Grenson…check them out.
SC411: You bet I will. And so will a million people reading this now! I like Hugo Boss as well, the lines are very clean and classy. Who will you be wearing Wednesday night?
ER: Already got it figured out. A pinkish blazer and burgundy slacks all by Hugo Boss and some black shoes by Grenson. We have a week full of shows so I have the whole week mapped out. If an outfit isn’t comfortable, it doesn’t make the stage, that’s my only rule. But I will be just as silly and energetic no matter what I’m wearing.
SC411: I would love it if fans that are reading this and coming to the show, now come color coordinated to match you, knowing what you’ll be wearing! Your father performs with you on The Box. What was that like?
ER: It was my favorite part of making this album. My parents came by to listen to the album and I told my Pop to go into the booth and do something. He was crying while he sang his verse to my mother and she was crying while watching him. It was a beautiful moment.
SC411: What a beautiful moment! That is definitely something neither of you will ever forget, I’m sure. You’re coming to my hometown, Chicago this week– what do you like most about playing in Chicago?
ER: The crowd is always special. Chicago never lets us down when it comes to energy. It’s gonna be nice to see how Chicago responds to the new songs.
SC411: Well, THIS Chicagoan is really liking them. I’ve even added a couple to my running playlist for tomorrow’s gym visit. What can fans coming to City Winery expect from the show Wednesday night?
ER: A really good time. They can expect their favorite songs, some new songs, some laughs, maybe some tears, as well as the unexpected. This is the first time performing at City Winery so I think it’s gonna be a really special night.
SC411: I don’t doubt it! Thanks for taking this time with me. I can’t wait to see everyone’s reaction to The Box.
Wednesday’s show is currently sold out, but keep checking the website of City Winery for information about tickets becoming available. Doors are at 6 pm & the show starts at 8 pm.
Interview by: Lucy Rendler Kaplan