By Alan Brostoff
There is nothing better than reconnecting with an old friend. Sometimes that connection occurs when you walk into a record store to find something and you hear music playing in the background. Something that you have not heard before, but sure sounds familiar.
A few weeks ago I walked into Total Drag Record Store in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and I heard a song playing that really connected with me, not just the sound but the lyrics. However, I could not recognize it. I was informed by Dan, the store owner, that this was the most recent release from Wreckless Eric. That would have made me happy enough but then Dan told me that Eric would be performing in-store in a week at Total Drag.
I was able to catch Eric at two performances, Sioux City and Chicago. Each show saw a different style crowd and allowed Eric to interact differently with each audience. After wrapping up his tour, Eric was nice enough to talk about the life he now lives.
GOLDMINE: What have you been up to lately?
Wreckless Eric: Well, as you know, I have done 41 dates across the United States and that was the last part of the tour to support the new album … well, it’s not so new anymore, I suppose. It’s my latest album and it’s called “amERICa.” It’s been me in a car with one amplifier and two guitars, peddles and stuff like that. Yeah, so I finished that now. It was a long tour. There were some gaps in the tour, because you can’t just keep playing night after night. If you do that, soon you don’t know what you are doing anymore and your body does not have time to recover. It’s quite strenuous but my voice held up. I’ve been on tour for over a year, starting before the album actually came out. I went to the U.K., Europe twice and all over the United States.
GM: What has the feedback been from your fans on your most recent album, “amERICa”?
WE: Well, you know I have a small but devoted fan base. I’m very lucky. I’ve resisted all kinds of overtures to do stupid things on the TV and to do revival kind of stuff, like nostalgia stuff. I had an offer recently from an Austrian promoter and he asked me how many of the old songs do you do in the set? I asked him “How old?” He said “You know, the good stuff, the Stiff (Records) stuff.” I told him I would do a few and that it depends how I feel, I might do a few and that was a deal breaker for him. So I gave him the big heave-ho and told him to f*ck off nicely. It’s no good. The one thing, the only thing I got out of nearly 40 years of making records and being like a, you know, a pro musician, is my credibility. I don’t have much else going. If I do something dumb, like go on a gameshow or something then everyone in the world will come and see me because I have been on the TV and they won’t get it. I prefer to play for 20 people who get it than 500 people who are just perplexed, to be honest. I mean I would love to play for 500 people who got it, but unless we get a miracle that is not going to happen.
GM: I had the opportunity to see you twice on your recent tour, once in Sioux City and once at the Owl in Chicago, and each performance saw quite a different type of crowd.
WE: Well, Sioux City was like maybe 15 people, it was extremely intimate. At the show I offered to start a web site for the people and we would meet back there regardless of what night it was in seven years. We won’t make a big deal about it, we will just be there. The ones who have survived. Maybe it will be a Thin Lizzy tribute night or a disco revival night, it does not matter what it is, we will be there.
GM: Knowing that from show to show you can have very different types of crowds how do you play off of the energy of the crowd?
WE: The crowd sounds like a rabble … the first thing you have to do is get the rabble into focus and turn them into an audience. They might be off standing over the venue and the first thing I might say is that I traveled 3,000 miles to come here, that’s an awful long way, and the least they could do is take five steps forward for me so that I can play to you, so that we can be all together in the same room and communicate. That is very important to me. I really want to play to people not just blurt it out to people who could be doing anything; playing pool, pouring beer over each other, telling each other their interesting things about what happened in the supermarket the other day. I mean that’s no good. They have to be focused. I get really pissed off when people are standing in front of me talking, you know. There just talking to each other. You can do that anywhere. So that’s the first thing. In Chicago it was quite full, but there were quite a few talkers and I had to shut them down. You know, the best I could. Sioux City was being empty and it being kind of an out of the way place, really, and sometimes people are a little bit frightened of me. I don’t know, there’s a kind of thing because of who I am and where I come from, there’s a kind of awe sometimes which I probably quite cause. My wife is reminding me that sometimes people seem a bit standoffish, they’re in awe, they don’t know what to do. And I get that quite a lot. The audience has changed. Sometimes the people, you know, there’s more young people and sometimes I get a crowd of people like you and me, like older people. Yeah, it’s across the board for who I get. It used to be that there were blokes who would come along, but I get much more women now.
GM: At the show you talked about the first record you bought was “Globetrotter” by The Tornados. What music are you currently listening to?
WE: I’m listening to the new album by Robert Rotifer and he is an Austrian songwriter and I’ve known him for a long, long time, maybe since the beginning of the ‘90s. He makes albums and works as a journalist for the Austrian Broadcasting Company and he lives in Canterbury in the southeast of England and he writes these fantastic songs, so I have been listening to that. He just sent it to me, it just came through the post and it sounds fabulous. Apart from that I have been listening to a Richard Swift LP/EP from the Secretly Canadian label and I’m trying to ween myself off the tour. I get tour habits, like stuff that I play, that I listen to when I’m on tour. In Europe last year I got obsessed with the Neil Young & Crazy Horse album “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” which is from 1968. I would listen to that record two or three times every day in the car and then rather than it becoming part of the wallpaper I got into so much of the detail with it. I got inside it. Yeah, it’s the sound of amplifiers, that record, so I got into that one. Then after that, I was listening to an album by a man called Mickey Jupp, an album called “Moonshine,” which I used to have when I was first writing songs back like near the early ‘70s. I had this album and I rediscovered it so I was listening to that and I could hear where I got stuff from it which is quite weird but I had an obsession with that and I’d be listening to that two or three times a day. You’ve got to remember that I’m driving miles and miles. I mean there will be a five or six hour drive every day. That’s a good reality of touring, the drives are huge usually. So there is like a lot of time to listen to stuff. I never put the iPod on shuffle or anything like that. I listen to albums. The latest one on the American tour, I don’t know how it happens, I’m sure it’s arbitrary but I’ve been listening to “American Beauty” by the Grateful Dead. And I would listen to that again and again and again. I know it better than I ever did. I know those are terribly unfashionable choices, you know, but that’s just how it happens.
GM: When you are going out to purchase music now, are there any stores you like to visit?
WE: I always like to go to Goner Records which is in Memphis, and there’s Lagniappe Records done by friends of mine in Lafayette, LA. I played in a really great record store in Los Angeles called Wombleton. You know I sometimes play in record stores, a lot of record stores put shows on now and they don’t always work really well. I just did one at Total Drag in Sioux Falls. They put shows on. That was a great show and I like the record store. I like their vibe. There are record stores dotted around that I like to go to. I have to sort of limit myself. I’ve driven around on tour with more vinyl in the car and stuff then I have to ship it home eventually. Then I have equipment and I come home and there are sort of packages of vinyl, so I stopped doing that a long time ago.
GM: Your most recent release is on Fire Records, why Fire Records?
WE: Fire records is one of Europe’s biggest independent labels, unfortunately they don’t have much of a presence in the United States. I wish they had more of a presence over here, but in Europe and the U.K. they are huge.
GM: You recorded “amERICa” in your own house, correct?
WE: I have a studio, yes, it’s in the house and the house is big enough. I live in a somewhat ramshackle house and I can do anything I like with it because I own it. So, yeah, the studio is here and it’s quite small but it’s very well-equipped, and yeah there are stories about amplifiers in the kitchen but unfortunately our kitchen sounds great recording guitars for some reason. They just seem to sound great there, so there is usually like trying to cook dinner over an amplifier and a microphone … things like that. The bass amp is in the guest room. Stuff like that. People come to stay and I tell them “I hope you don’t mind sharing with the bass amp, do ya?”
GM: If there was a person out there that you could either write with or record with right now, is there someone specific you would like to work with?
WE: I always want to write with Amy Rigby, she’s my wife. We have done three albums together and the first one sounds like the demos, the second one is an album of cover versions (“Two-Way Family Favourites”) really a lot better than the first and the third album (“A Working Museum”) was the absolute triumph of the three where we got all the stuff we wrote together. Then after that we figured as an act with Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby, which was the name of our band, it was only worth as much as one of us out on our own because, you know our price goes down when we play together. First we thought we could double the money and go on tour together, we loved touring together and always had such a great time. Amy is a very creative songwriter. She is a hugely talented songwriter and a very creative musician and I think we complement each other. We used to say between the two of us, we make one good one. We are in the middle of Amy’s new album. She is doing a solo album as well. So, right, yeah, that’s really what I want to do and we are also in the middle of rewiring the studio at the moment. That should take a few more days and then we will be back on to her album. One day I will actually get a rest. I don’t really know what I would do if I was not doing anything. Some people talk about retiring. How will I do that? I won’t have any money to live on if I retire, you know. I’m a musician I don’t have a pension or anything. If I stop working I would probably die because I would hardly have a reason to exist except to be a grandfather. I got three grandchildren, the last arrived while I was still on tour.
GM: If you could only play one last song live what would it be and why?
WE: If I could only play one last song live … why would I only be able to play one last song?
GM: I don’t know, they just came to you and said you have time to play one song and that’s it.
WE: Well, I mean at the end of my set, the whole time I have been touring I don’t get bored doing the same old thing night after night. So the end of the set has been a kind of a medley, it’s quite hilarious. I play “White Bread,” “Life Eternal” and “Have a Great Day” and they join up into one piece of the “amERICa” album and I would probably play that, the medley. Yes, I would play that. I mean its three songs but they would have to deal with it because there’s no breaks in it.
GM: The final question, something that people may not know about you?
WE: Something that some people should know about me because I deal with sound engineers when I’m on tour and some of them are no good and some of them have an attitude, you know. They think they know what they are doing and I don’t, I’m just a musician, but I used to be a sound engineer. I worked in England and did county acts and that’s how I learned. I have been tinkering with making my demos at home at that time. I wish I would have trained as a recording engineer but then again I go into recording studios now and sometimes I don’t know as much as those sound engineers do, the really good ones. They know more than I do. Same as the live sound engineers. Some of them are fantastic, but, I wish the ones with the attitudes would realize they are not a good as they think they are. I was a sound engineer and I can see right through them.