(Photo by Chris Boarts Larson)
Featured Guest is where I interview artists, musicians, authors and various cool people I have crossed paths with over the years. Tonight we had the cool opportunity to interview long running, world renown veteran multi instrumentalist and all around very cool guy, none other than the great Erik Larson. Calling RVA home, Erik is known for many well loved bands and projects from ATP to his solo albums, The Might Could and holding down the drums these days in Backwoods Payback. I hadn't connected with Erik in a long time and it's been a real gift to speak with him and hear his news, talk a little about his past and history. Check out this awesome interview and enjoy. - G
1. Hey Erik and how have you been?
ERIK: Hey Gideon, i've been well. Trying to stay productive.
2. Right on, thats great dude. When you were growing up, what inspired you to begin playing in bands and what continues to inspire you today?
ERIK: Well, i kinda fell into the life so to speak. I was always interested in playing an instrument as far back as i can remember, but never with the intent of being in a band per-se. It was more of a compulsion. I think my first attempt at an actual instrument was trumpet, school band type thing. i was probably 8. That lasted about as long as it took my parents to figure out i would be practicing at home a bunch. Not into it. So, i was encouraged to find something that sounded less like a dying animal. So, about age 9 i went for the guitar. My folks got me a student sears type guitar, a US Strad (which i still have and was used on the newest Backwoods Payback album), and signed me up for lessons. I took one lesson. The teacher was very similar to Ben Stein's character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off in intonation and energy level. We spent that one lesson, 40 minutes or so, going over every part of the guitar. never actually learning how to play anything. It felt like a scam to me even then, like he was padding his hours or something. i never went back. At some point in the next couple of years i got obsessed with the Beatles and acquired a pair of drum sticks for some reason, just the sticks. I would set up an approximation of a drum kit with books on my bed and play along to the records. Still, i had no inclination or knowledge even that playing in a band was the thing you did. i just wanted a kit, so i mowed a shit ton of lawns and by the time my 12th birthday was arriving, i bought my first drum kit. Wasn't long before some older kids in the neighborhood recruited me to join their band, and so began my entrance into band life. That first band was called Vicious Cookie. We wrote originals and did some covers- DI, Velvet Underground, Wild Thing. Mostly the singer (Sander Hicks -google him!) was obsessed with all things Ian MacKaye, so we tried, and usually failed to sound like Embrace or Egg Hunt. That band only ever played in the garage and 1 talent show at a church, but it gave me the foundation to put other bands together as i moved into my teen years. I'm not sure if i would say that i'm inspired to be in bands, it's just all i've ever known. i'm constantly inspired by good players and songs though. Sincerity is the key for me. i may not like your songs, but i can totally give credit to you for being a good player/band. It's important to be humble and know that there is always going to be a better player or someone who shreds harder than you. It's not a competition, for me it's always been about the song in the end, not the technical ability.
3.Yes for sure, it is all about the song. Were there any concerts or stand out albums that really influenced you and in what ways?
ERIK: As to live shows, my first punk show was pretty eye opening. It was a locals only show in a basement of a community center. The 2 bands i remember playing were M.O.M. and Spiny Norman. the latter of which singer ended up throwing a lot of chicken guts all over the audience in the closing song while singing on the floor with us. May not seem that interesting, but it did "break down the walls" between band and audience for me. I didn't go to a lot of coliseum type shows growing up, still don't. but i did see the Justice for All tour. i bought my ticket late so i ended up sitting by myself while my friends had better seats below. i was tripping hard though, so it was still really fucking great and i was the only one who could find the car after. I'd say that certain bands showed me how to just let go and be in the song over the years. Watching Jason Ferrell play w/Swiz was always inspiring, still one of my favorite bands of all time. VoiVod always kills it every time, always has! I could go on and on about bands that delivered live...Born Against, Rorschach, VReverse, Catharsis, Orange Goblin, Man is The Bastard, the list is endless in a lot of ways.
4.Yeah cool stuff. What about favorite books?
ERIK: Man, it's only really been in the last few years that i started reading for fun, and i feel like i've been missing out on so much. In university i had a writing intensive major, so a lot of what i read was pretty dry academic stuff and Political/Religious discourse. That kept me away from reading for a long time once i got my degree. Now, i'm pretty voracious about it, so it's hard to pick favorites. I don't really stick to a genre either, so sometimes it'll be non fiction, and other times novels or collections of short stories. To put it in perspective, i read over 120 books in 2016. Some of the ones i enjoyed the most were Jerusalem by Alan Moore, The Life and Death of Zebulon Finch (pts.1 and 2) by Daniel Kraus, I am Radar by Reif Larsen. Those were all super fun. I can tell you that one of the things i've learned since i started diving deep into reading is that taste is certainly subjective. What a lot of folks consider "Classic" or "mandatory" must reads, don't always appeal to me. I don't like Lovecraft stuff. i hate his style. i know that he's mandatory reading for metal heads, but i find him irritating. Faulkner and Twain are also on my shit list. terrible. I utilize the public library though, i don't feel the need to hold on to everything i read. My wife does that enough for the both of us. It's really hard to pick Favorite all timers.
(Photo by Chris Boarts Larson)
ERIK: Ok, movies are also super subjective and it's hard to list favs of all time since i'm usually turned on to new/old films all the time. With that in mind, i'll list some that i truly love and could watch multiple times.
Harold and Maude
The Dark Crystal
Most Wes Anderson films
On The Beach
Terry Gilliam films
Most films by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
I like quirky films, films that don't always have happy endings, but you can walk away from saying to yourself "ok, i get that, that's believable within the context" Newer movies i really liked that i saw this past year were The Lobster, Swiss Army Man and Look Who's Back (though 2 of those were 2015 releases).
6.You are a multi instrumentalist. What instrument did you pick up first and do you feel most inclined and expressive through one in particular after all these years?
ERIK: Technically started on guitar first, but i put that aside for about 13 years before i started to really play it seriously. I have been playing drums consistently longer, but at this point i'm not sure if i feel a leaning to either, i enjoy both for different reasons. Drums are obviously more physical and consequently visceral in an immediate way, but they are no less musical than guitar in my way of thinking. Guitar is a more vocal instrument to me though. It has a more pointed way of conveying a emotion or concept where as drums are kinda the muscle (most of the time). For a while now i havn't viewed what i do as one or the other ie:Guitarist or Drummer. Especially when working on my own music outside of a band context. I pretty much just consider myself a song writer. I'd like to try exploring the Bass more in the future. Having only played it on solo records, i havn't had the pleasure of doing that in a band. Piano too, i have one, and i hunt and peck with it, but i'd like to understand the instrument better. There's always new things to learn right?
7.What are some of your favorite concerts you played in your personal history, shows and stand outs in your own music?
ERIK: Wow, well stand outs aren't always the nice memories. I've had some near death experiences while playing and had too many shows where i was too drunk to play properly. There was a band i did for a short while here in RVA called The Ghost Run. It was basically an ex members of type thing, we were playing almost alt-country stuff, had a fiddle player and everything. Well, our first show was the first time i had really gone out socially since my son was born, so i was stopping in at the 2 bars i worked at/frequented prior to parental exile before the show. Got back to the show and decided to take a cat nap before we played. woke up just in time to set up and play. once i was behind the kit mind you, all the booze kicked in hard and i was lost in the bourbon seas as i call it. i had no idea where i was, what to do, but i kept playing. needless to say i train wrecked the show and that was the end of The Ghost Run. Probably for the best. I would say some highlight shows for me would be Avail playing w/Muckspreader in South Hampton UK 1994, Kilara playing the fireside bowl in chicago w/Assuck, Alabama Thunderpussy playing Waken in 2002, The Might Could playing at The Clermont Hotel in Atlanta in 2011, The first Parasytic tour where we drove into Mexico and toured all the way down and back to Mexico City, the only Birds of Prey show at MD Death Fest 2010, Playing for Morne for a couple tours. There's a lot, i don't want to discount anything i've been fortunate to be a part of, every tour every show has something that makes me present and aware, most of the time in an appreciative way, and there's still more to come!
8.As a songwriter, what inspires your lyric writing?
ERIK: Well, i never start a song with lyrics. The music is always done first and the song usually dictates a mood or theme that will spark a thought process. i write things down a lot. usually words or phrases that seem random. once i have the general idea for what the song is going to be about based on the moods/vibes of the music, i can go back to those random scriblings and the right words jump out at me. I don't like cliches or fantasy lyrics. not my thing or style. I mean, just exactly how many mountains can one come down kickin' dust with a wiskey bottle in hand? just can't feel it you know? Maybe that's due to me starting w/the music over the words. i read Janis Ian's autobiography Society's Child, and she talked about how she wrote a song a day for a long time, and that approach always confused me, because i couldn't figure out how you write anything of real weight or merit or differentiation if you crank it out that fast. then i realized she meant she was writing lyrics everyday, not necessarily the music (my argument applies to both scenarios i think). I get stuck on musical patterns sometimes, but i try really hard not to make songs sound the same from song to song, record to record. The only bit of pride or back slapping i would do is to tout that.
9.Any advice for young bands just starting out?
ERIK: Don't worry about what everybody else is doing or what they say you should be doing. Write songs, play them for yourselves and other people, record them. Repeat. Most importantly though it should be an enjoyable experience. If you're not having fun, you're in the wrong band or playing w/the wrong people. BTO had some real band life lessons in that annoying ear worm of a song.
10.Yeah man for real. Any last words of news for the reader?
ERIK: For the reader, Thanks for paying attention for a bit. I appreciate it for sure. I finally got with the times and had a friend walk me through the process of setting up a bandcamp site for my solo stuff, so check that out if you're curious. Thanks for your time Gideon.
Thanks to you man for the interview and look forward to hearing your new music. Always cool to catch up with you and wishing you well bro, G.