Interview: Eric Sommer

Can you tell us about your latest project? What inspired it, and what can your fans expect from it?

My latest project is working with Patch Boshell in London mastering and mixing two of the Piedmonts’ songs “Doin’ Wrong” and “Redneck Parking Lot”. We’ll use these new mixes to market the band for the Spring and Summer Festivals in the USA and in Europe, Canada, and Japan.

We are working with Patch for several reasons, not the least of which are his skills with drums and vocals. He has a good ear and a lot of experience in the London and EU music scene – we’d like to play there this summer.

Songwriting can be a cathartic process. What emotions or messages do you hope your music conveys to listeners?

Our hearts are the most sensitive and responsive emotional cyclones, and I try to tap into that energy when writing songs and general narrative work. And if I can’t find my way in immediately (which normally happens very quickly) then I can work. And by that I mean I just sit down wherever I am and just start writing. Anything, everything… it won’t matter since the goal is simply to get the engines warmed up.

There are a range of emotional connections I try to make with our audience. It starts with hope, then salvation – not in the biblical sense, but in the sense: emotional salvation – we’re all looking for meaning, some sort of resolve to the eternal questions we have about our lives, our struggles and the ever-present “Why” … so I try to craft songs where perhaps an answer can be found in the narrative.

The goal is to make a connection with my audience – connect with them somehow on some plane of experience that opens an internal dialog with their emotional center. Honesty, authenticity, relevance, all these come into the equation. If a listener comes up after a show and says one of my songs made a lot of sense to them, that is so valuable! It says I reached this person and they reacted.

And the same goes for someone who might come up after a show and go “What was that? It made no sense at all!” That is equally relevant and valuable – granted, you can’t reach all the people all the time, but at least they are listening enough to think “What was that?” and they keep rolling it around inside their head, maybe, just maybe… something will connect, and they’ll wake up at 4 am, looking straight up at the ceiling and think “Whoa! I see what that song is saying and now I can’t get it out of head!”

When I am writing, it is very much a personal experience, and there are many emotional checkpoints along the way. They keep me focused, they keep me involved emotionally in what I am thinking and what appears before me on the page.

How has your musical style evolved over the years, and what do you hope to convey through your music now compared to when you first started your career?

It has evolved, alright. But some of the songs I play today were written when I first started out on my musical and creative journey. You know what? They are still relevant, and the emotional context still makes sense now as much as it did when I first wrote them.

My newer material is very much drawn from people I know today, people in my immediate life who are in orbit around me and in many cases me around them. These days my sound is significantly more sophisticated. Not sure what happened but I think it is a natural progression.

And the writing is a bit more introspective – I probably have a lot more to think about and I am always looking for the trail of a unique narrative…

Many fans look up to their favorite artists as role models. What advice do you have for aspiring musicians who hope to make a name for themselves in the music industry?

There is are a few things I would tell anyone who is looking to have a career in music:
you need to be a good player on whatever instrument you choose to pick up. There isn’t room for mediocre anymore. And you need to know everything about your instrument and what the players are who came before you and what they played, what they wrote and what the history of their accomplishments is.

Being uninformed is no longer hip – knowledge is power and that couldn’t be truer today than 100 years ago. And here’s the kicker: you have got to be improving every day! The great Charlie Parker would wander around 42nd – 58th Streets and look to sit in wherever he could just to improve his sight-reading skills!

Whatever you may think of Taylor Swift, she has been playing and writing since she was 12 years old. That’s the way it is: you must be good at almost all aspects of your craft, depending on what your goals are. And the other thing they never tell you is this: you need a team around you, pulling for you, promoting you and talking you up. The competition is ferocious – and you better be in it for the long haul.

Look, talented people come in and out of the business all the time, and you need to be prepared. Look at Tom Brady, as a perfect example: he was passed over in high school, college and when he was drafted, he was picked #199 in the 6th round. But when he joined the New England Patriots, he worked out relentlessly and studied the plays, studied the films and he always said that when his opportunity came, he would be ready.

When Drew Bledsoe was injured, Tom Brady filled that spot, saved that game, and never looked back, becoming the greatest player in NFL history. When his opportunity came, he was ready.

The music business is exactly like that – when you get your chance you better be prepared. Work relentlessly on your craft, singing lessons, guitar lessons, whatever but always be ready. There is one more important piece to this puzzle:

You must love what you are doing.

And always remember there are many kinds of success in this business. You better have a thick skin, have clear, articulated goals, and be able to jump back from rejection – and there will be lots and lots of rejection. But you must persevere.

In the age of streaming and digital platforms, how do you navigate the challenges of making a living as a recording artist, and what advice would you give to aspiring musicians trying to break into the industry?

Take any job that comes your way. Take anything you can to get you in the door. Once you’re in, look, learn and above all, listen.

Don’t be in any rush – go slowly, work methodically, and be kind and considerate to everyone you meet. Here’s why: this is like high school: if you are nice, helpful, popular, and considerate, you will rise in the social order. While you MUST have a good product: songs, melodies, music whatever, if you alienate people with rudeness and bad behavior, you will find yourself in a rut fast and it can take years to get out of it because the people you meet as you start out will be growing their own careers alongside of you. As you become more established, so will they in whatever musical area they choose. They can bring you up, throw opportunities your way and help you along. If you are a jerk, it makes it that much harder.

Be nice to everyone. The biggest stars are usually the nicest.

Your image and style often become part of your brand as an artist. How do you approach your personal image and fashion choices to express yourself and connect with your fans?

I try to be authentic, which means I don’t pay much attention to show/stage wear; I have a great collection and sometimes I will mix and match but I try to remember what IBM did in the early years: the had blue suites (Big Blue) and white shirts and the reason was very deliberate: they did not want anything to get in the way of the sale, of to distract from the message.

I wear simple things, that don’t distract from what I am trying to communicate.

The future is always uncertain, but what are your long-term goals and aspirations as a recording artist, and what can your fans expect from you in the coming years?

More releases, more writing and hopefully songs that my fans can relate to.





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