Interview: Eric Sommer

Can you tell us about the origins of your musical journey? What initially inspired you to pursue a career in music, and how did you get started?

Who are some of your biggest musical influences, and how have they shaped your unique sound? Can you share a specific instance where one of these influences had a significant impact on your music?

Touring can be an incredible experience. Could you share a memorable tour anecdote that stands out to you, whether it was a challenging moment or an unforgettable performance?

That’s a tough one, because I have so many I could mention…

Imagine pulling into a gas station in central Mississippi, in a night so dark even the shadows went home. There’s a steady rain, and at the pump is a white van, and on the side of the van is an image of a church and the words “The 5 Blind Boys from Mississippi”! I had heard of them a few years earlier when I was working in a record store in Boston, it was them and “The Mighty Clouds of Joy” … anyway, I met them all, we had a few bottles of RC Coal, and they drove off into the night.

When I was living in Boston, we had rehearsals in Brighton, and I was standing on the corner of Comm Ave and Beacon Street with my thumb out trying to get a ride, and a black Porche pulls up, the door opens and it’s Joe Perry from Arrowsmith! He was the kindest, nicest guy and he gave me a ride all the way to the rehearsal space – he wanted to know all about our band, what we were doing, where we were playing and what kind of sound we had going on… amazing!

I was in Terlingua, Texas, waiting to play at the Starlight Theatre the following evening, and I stumbled into a small amphitheater made out of shale rock and it was a beautiful pale tannish brown in the fading Far West Texas light… there were 20-30 people sitting on the shale steps and on stage were Guy Clark, David Bromberg, and Jerry Jeff Walker, all holding a guitar, and just trading songs, making jokes and having a wonderful time…

Many musicians have a pre-show ritual to get into the right mindset before hitting the stage. Do you have any special rituals or routines that you follow before a performance, and if so, what’s the story behind them?

I have been doing this long enough that when it’s show time, I am ready to go.  However, I always take a moment and stretch out my arms, get centered, and calm my emotions and internal noise so that I can give the best show I can.

I pick up influences everywhere I can, take ideas from all over the world that work for my songs, but I make the final decision on what goes into my songs. 

Collaborations can be a powerful creative force. Could you tell us about a memorable collaboration you’ve had with another artist and how it influenced your music or expanded your artistic horizons?

I appreciate the idea of collaborating and working with other songwriters, but at the end of the day I like to author my own material. I am influenced by all the music I hear, all the interactions I experience in a day, and these influences are rich and creatively exuberant.

While I appreciate the collaborative approach for songwriting, it’s not something I find useful when writing my material.  

Over the course of your career, you’ve likely encountered various challenges. Can you share a particularly difficult moment you faced in your musical journey and how you overcame it?

One of the craziest moments I had was on the way from Boston to Washington, DC for a show. The train had a malfunction in the middle of rural Connecticut and everyone had to leave the train and get onto the buses which took an hour to arrive. It was a train siding, and all the passengers had to exit the train, walk across three train tracks, hike up the embankment in the dark and wait for the busses.

Not only that, I had to get the five guitars, cases, show gear and road cases up to the busses on my own. I had to do it in three stages.

Once I had everything in the bus, and all the gear in the bins under the bus, we headed out for the next stop where we could get back on the train. When we got to the next stop, two hours later, I had to move all the gear from the bottom of the bus to the new train – and then we headed to Grand Central Station, where I had to move everything from the pick-up train down the main stair way to the concourse, across the plaza to the escalator and move everything down the escalator to the new Accela platform to take me to Washington DC.

That was a physical nightmare.

Musically, when I was starting out in Boston, I couldn’t play the way I wanted – and I was determined to be a good player, so I got the Berklee Guitar Books 1. 2 and 3 and sat in the front room of our place on Winthrop Road in Brookline and sat there for two years, smoking Winston’s endlessly, doing all the scale exercises til my hands hurt and, with incredible frustration, I slowly developed my skills; but that amount of woodshedding has paid off in spades years later. Many thanks to Hilary Nicholson for putting up with that nonsense.

Your latest album has received critical acclaim. Could you take us through the creative process behind it, from conception to completion, and the overarching themes or messages you aimed to convey?

Our methodology for recoding depends on the costing of the studio and the sessions. If we have loads of time and a deep budget, we take our time and work thru the material with deliberation and make all sorts of creative additions as we go.

We try new sounds, new studio techniques, add voice doubling and focus on the highest quality production values we can. When it’s a tight budget, we run thru our current set, which generally includes new material that we have worked up in a live format.

Touring can be both exhilarating and exhausting. How do you balance life on the road with your personal life and creative process? Any tips for aspiring musicians who are just starting their touring journey?

I am not sure I believe in the idea of “balance”… the thing that drives the musical experience is “chaos”, and balance has nothing to do with it and, in many cases, it is a dulling blanket of passive complacency. The creative process is all about conflict, conflicting ideas, and audio, all looking for an way to be heard.

Every artist has goals and dreams for their musical career. What are some of your long-term goals or aspirations, both in terms of your artistry and your impact on the music industry?

The focus of my musical life is to create – write music, write songs, play shows and share my thoughts and music to as wide an audience as I can find. Playing live shows is the best way I know of the connect with my fans and audience.

The music industry has undergone significant changes in recent years. How do you see the future of music evolving, and what role do you envision yourself playing in this ever-changing landscape?—

I have no issues with the new changes coming in the future to the music business, and I will continue to do exactly what I have been doing. The music business survives on music, and I will continue to make music.

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