Eric Hutchinson Reflects on Modern Happiness
Oct 11, 2018 04:00PM
● By Brian Saucedo
By Cate Reynolds
Eric Hutchinson and his band The Believers have been entertaining audiences for over a decade with their genre-blending sound and lively concerts, filled with humor, storytelling, and, of course, great music.
The Maryland native gained popularity in 2007 when his debut album, Sounds Like This, gained the attention of gossip blogger Perez Hilton. The album, which Hutchinson independently record and released, peaked at #5 on the iTunes charts and became the highest charting album by an unsigned artist in iTunes history. Hutchinson has toured and performed with several well-known artists including Jason Mraz, Amos Lee, Ingrid Michaelson, O.A.R, and Michael Franti.
A few years and a few record label changes later, Hutchinson has released his fifth studio album, Modern Happiness—the first album he’s ever recorded with his touring band, The Believers. Beginning in January of 2018, the album was uniquely released one song at a time over 10 months. With the entirety of the album now released, Hutchinson has kicked off his 25-date Modern Happiness Tour. Eric Hutchinson and The Believers will be performing at The Lincoln Theatre on Friday, October 12th, 8 p.m., and Rams Head on Stage on Saturday, October 13th and Sunday, October 14th, 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 for the Lincoln Theatre concert and can $35 for the Rams Head concerts.
I want to start talking about your new album, Modern Happiness, which you released one song at a time beginning in January of 2018. What made you decide to release the album in that way?
The biggest thing with this album was that I wanted to make an album that I would listen to, and I think we accomplished that. And then I wanted to release an album the way that I would like. The idea came from watching my wife get really into Game of Thrones, and every week, she had to wait for the next episode. We don't wait that much for anything anymore because everything's bingeable now. So, I decided I wanted to serialize the album release.
Every month became about each song, and we would premiere it on my fan club page and everyone would get excited. They'd hear the song, and then we'd share lyrics, and we'd share a podcast about the meaning of the song, and we'd do some behind the scenes stuff and an acoustic version, and we shared the demo version. It was a way for people to really get to know the song and appreciate where it came from. Doing that every month became like a fun ritual.
This album was also the first time you brought your touring band into the studio with you. How did that change the recording process and the energy in the studio, and even the sound of the album?
I love those guys, and we've traveled all over the world together, but we've never recorded altogether. I brought them into the studio and really the only goal was to enjoy ourselves and have fun. We got in the studio and we recorded it all live. We would do it all in one take together, my vocals, the drums, the guitars, the bass, everything. And it came down to what felt the best and which take had the best energy. It wasn’t about being perfect; just about which take felt good. And that kind of just became the vibe of the whole album.
How would you say this album differs from some of your other albums? How have you and your music evolved since you first started performing and recording music?
I think this album, in a lot of ways, is connected to my first album, Sounds Like This, just because I feel this was the first unadulterated album I've made since then. After I made my first album, I got signed to a major label, and there were a lot of pressures that I allowed to get into my music. This was the first time [since my first album] where I was making these songs just because I wanted to.
To me, this album was really about making something that reflects the kind of music that I love, the modern music that I love, which are bands [and musicians] like Brandi Carlile, and Alabama Shakes, Michael Kiwanuka, and Lake Street Dive.
Which artists and musicians do you feel have influenced you the most throughout your life and your career in music?
Well, the Beatles were like holy in my family. We studied the Beatles the way some people study scripture and stuff. My parents were always quizzing on which Beatle was singing the song, and what the stories behind each song were, and they were just my introduction to all of pop music. And then I worked backwards and found out about the Motown stuff and Chuck Berry, which also influenced me so much, but I feel like the Beatles were the beginning of everything for me.
I really began finding my own voice was when I discovered Stevie Wonder and I was like, ‘This is a person that's just all joy’. Everything he sings is about joy. One of my favorite things is that he has a lot to say, and he has a lot of political views, but he does it in a really unifying and positive way.
Did you always know you wanted to pursue music as a career?
Music was such a big part of my life that I never even really considered it. And I didn't know that not everybody was like that until I got to be a lot older. I was writing my first song when I was eight years old. I just loved music. Music was all around, and I think there was a high premium placed on songwriters in my family. My parents loved musicals, too. We talked a lot about like Rogers and Hammerstein and Cole Porter. And like I said, the Beatles wrote their own music. So, from the beginning there was an importance to having an idea and writing it down.
I think I did it for most of my teen years to blow off steam, and now it's really about, ‘What do I have to say and what do I want to share?’ Obviously, there's so much music out there and it’s easier than ever access it. So, I'm like, ‘What do I have to say that no one else has said or that is worthy of taking up even a little bit of space in this musical universe?’
What would you say, for you, is the most difficult part of the song writing process?
I don't feel like any of it is difficult anymore. I look at it like a craft, like being a baker or a tailor. I know the rules, I know how to do it, and to me, it's more about having something to say when I sit down to write. Sometimes what's fun to me now is to break the rules. Not to say I can write a great song every time I sit down, but I know how to make a song every time I sit down.
Now, the main reason I sit down is I feel like I have something to say. So, the songs on this new album talk about monogamy, and religion, and immigration, and a lot dealing with my depression and going on Prozac, and medicinal marijuana, and I kind of just think it was all sort of bundled up into this one big thing that felt like modern happiness. One of the most personal songs on the album is a song called “Hands”, which I wrote for my dad who has myotonic muscular dystrophy. It was a song really that I wrote as an ally for the disabled community and that I've been performing every night, and it's really been, I think, the heart of the show and the album really.
Do you ever find it difficult to kind of make yourself vulnerable and put all of those emotions out into the world not knowing what the response is going to be?
I think that's something that's definitely changed [over time]. In the early days, I was a little bit vulnerable, but I felt I had to be funny or witty or something. Now I'm much more interested in just raw vulnerability, and what that looks like, and hopefully what that encourages in other people. I'm willing to be honest about who I am and where my life is.
Sometimes I get in my head, but then I have to remind myself I'm not Lady Gaga. I'm going to put a song out and a few people are going to care, but there's not going to be an uprising on Twitter about it. Sometimes I have to remind myself that nobody really cares that much what I'm doing, and that's actually very liberating. I can do whatever I want.
You’re returning home this weekend for a show in and The Lincoln Theatre in D.C. and two shows at Rams Head in Annapolis. What are you most looking forward to about returning to Maryland? What can fans expect at the shows?
I always love coming to Rams Head because in my earliest days, I was sort of known for just bothering everybody and anybody to give me a gig, especially an opening slot. And most promoters and clubs got really annoyed with me, but Rams Head Tavern was one of the few places that would actually put me on shows, was really responsive to me, and tried to help me out. So, I always love when we get to go through there and play that room again. It feels like a direct line to the very beginning of when I started trying to do this professionally.
The way we're doing this tour is playing the new album in its entirety in order for the first half of the show, which has been a very vulnerable thing with the audiences because not everyone knows the music. But, so far, everyone's just been so responsive and respectful. We come out, and we play these songs, and people want to learn them. It's been a really cool way to start the show, and I've been really happy that the audience has been willing to take that risk with us.
I made this album with my musical brothers and I felt it was worth sharing it as a whole piece with the audience. And then we play the songs that people know. But to me, it's really about showcasing this new music and, again, this sort of new vulnerability. So far, the shows have been really fun. I just feel really thankful and grateful that I get to do this and that people are willing to come out and check it out.