Eric Roberson speaks in poetic paragraphs. A big fan of repetition, alliteration, and emphatic sentences, he spins a story designed to engage and enchant whoever may be listening. His voice often quiets when he explains a particularly beautiful thought, almost as if he has forgotten where he is and has entered a dream-like state. So it should come as no surprise that the singer-songwriter-producer has a dedicated fan base, painstakingly built over more than a decade. Over one well-nursed bowl of soup, Eric Roberson spent an hour sharing his life, insights, and motivations…plus one or two sexy secrets.
Q: What did you today? Give us one day in the life of Eric Roberson.
I’m in between shows, I had a show in Philly last night and I have a show in Brooklyn tomorrow and my father has pneumonia –
Q: Oooh, I’m sorry to hear that.
-and I was on the road over the weekend when he was sick, so I got in last night from California, did the Philadelphia show, and I wanted to see him today, so I did. You know, my father works with a company, so he’s the head of shipping, so I went to the house to make sure he wasn’t up trying to ship packages. So I went to the house, I did some shipping for him, and ummm…I went and got a haircut because I am going back on the road over the weekend…I was looking quite homeless, so you know…
Q: I guess living out of hotels will do that to you.
Right! So I had my barber tighten me up a little bit, and uh…and now I’m home with a bowl of soup from Quiznos and I plan to rest and pack and get ready and spend some time with my girl. My girl’s away on business and she’ll be flying in soon and we’re probably going to go out to dinner and enjoy a nice quiet night. And then I’m back on the road again.
Q: It must be exhausting traveling all the time –
It is, but you know, it pays the mortgage. And I’m doing what I love – it’s not like I’m on the road selling vacuum cleaners or something. You were going to ask another question?
Q: Yeah, I was going to ask how you find time to maintain a relationship with such a hectic schedule? From the artists I have interviewed, touring kind of seems like a long death – it’s back to back, city after city…how do you find a spare minute?
Well you know, that’s one thing – prioritizing. I probably tour more than most independent artists – most artists in general – you still work on finding time to prioritize and spend time. The one thing about being in the music business that is pretty cool is learning how to work hard and play hard. I work really really hard, but when I’m home I’m home. It’s a trade-off, you know? I still want the family thing. I wanna grow old doing this and [at the same time] having little Eric and Erica’s running around and stuff. So you gotta learn to share. If you give your all for the stage, it’s only right to try to attempt to give your all in your personal life as well.
And one thing is also finding the right person to be with. Not everybody can handle [dating an artist] – that’s one of the main things. If you have someone like “When are you coming home?” and da-da-da-da-da…”I was in the line waiting!” It’s going to be really tough, and either your relationship’s not going to last long or your career’s not going to last long. You just need someone that makes you want to go home to them.
When you’re gone for a week and a half and you’re home for two days, you have to want to invest that 48 hours in them, and that it’s going to be fun.
Each relationship takes some level of work. If you ain’t got no drama in your relationship at all, God bless you because you are a rarity!
Q: Let’s switch gears and talk about your background a bit. How long have you been in the industry?
Q: Thirteen years?
Yeah, I mean I…I wore many hats at different times. I signed to Warner Bros back when I was at Howard in ’93 or ’94 and I put a song out called “The Moon.” It was a big learning experience for me. I went back to college and I kept placing songs and landing songs for other artists which helped keep my name in the circles of the music business. When I graduated, I came to it full time, and there was really no turning back. The career part, from the independent side, that happened over the last 6 or 7 years. I really started [singing] as a hobby, as a relief…but then it took off and became more of a full-time job. And writing songs for other people became more of a hobby.
Q: What’s with the name Blue ERRO Soul?
If I could do it all over again, I would probably pick an easier nickname. Especially if [the first part stands for] Believe, Live, Understand, and Enjoy. That’s where we got the name – being artistically too deep.
Q: So what is your affiliation with Raiders of the Lost Art?
Raiders of the Lost Art is my production company. It goes back to me just being a music fan. I feel that a certain part of music has been lost – A certain part that we love and enjoy, from the process of how it is created to the process of how it’s performed. I consider myself a raider of [music.] I search for it, I teach it, I am a student of it. The other part [of the name] is ART, which stands for African Rhythms and Tones. Every music form in the world is derived from African Rhythms and Tones. So it’s like, let’s pay homage to where it came from.
Q: What do you think about the current state of black music?
It’s not balanced – that’s the main thing. I have no problem with any of it. I get my collar poppin’ to “Buy You A Drink” just like anyone else. But at the end of the day, I just feel that the industry has sold out and neglected other demographics that love music, as if there was only one style of music fan. Now our parents are being pushed out. They are not allowed to enjoy music any more. Of our parent’s peers that performed for them, only the top – the Earth Wind and Fires, the Stevie Wonders – are still around, the rest are pushed out. They aren’t allowed to do music anymore. So that’s the sad part, it’s not really balanced. back in the day, there was music for everybody. Let’s look at the birth of hip-hop – in the seventies, my father had music he could listen to, and I had music I could listen to, but now the industry only focuses one main thing.
Q: Fair warning: I read your blog.
Oh really? Ok…
Q: You reference issues that artists face on your blog, particularly soul artists. What do you think are the biggest obstacles artists face when trying to release their first album?
Uh, it depends. From the independent side, it’s the learning curve. To maintain the hustle…it is a difficult thing to understand. I have still have friends and family who still don’t understand what I do.
Q: Even after thirteen years?
Even after thirteen years! They feel that it should be bigger, or it’s like “man, you should be
here!” and it’s like -wait a minute, I’m happy! I still have a life. It might not have been my calling. The independent game just might have saved my life – I was a neglected major artist. I was one of those “lost arts” that we talked about. There are incredible artists that are signed to majors everyday that are never heard, that you never hear their music and that’s just one of the real unfortunate parts of this business. For every Chrisette Michelle that makes it out, there are five Chrisette Michelle’s that we never hear. And that’s the same for the Maxwells and D’Angelos…and that’s not to say that those guys aren’t special and amazing. But at the same time, there is someone who is special and amazing who doesn’t get that opportunity for whatever reason. It could be personal problems, it could be timing or the industry, it could be whatever. [Going major] might not be for me! For those independent artists promoting that first album, that money is not going to flow in right away.
Tomorrow – case in point – we got a show in Brooklyn. I’m driving the van to the show! It still happens. I just finished a show where I was pampered and loved and was able to kick my feet up because everything was taken care of, the very next show might be something very different. You really have to roll your sleeves and let them people learn you first.
Q: So why did you name your new album Left?
There were so many different reasons. I know the main reason is that this is what I was left to do. This is the album that I completely gave myself to. This is me now, as an independent artist and independent soldier. A major deal would be nice, but there is where I am. The door is left open behind me as well, so pay attention and let’s get it – let’s do it. The symbolism on the picture on the cover is that there is room left for us all. The chair is an obligation and an opportunity.
Q: So what were you trying to accomplish with this release? What inspired you with the creation of this album?
Hmmm…so much of life, you know? There is so much life around us, and I try to be an observant person. The theme of the record is just me observing. The album almost was called “Beautifully All Over the Place.” Really! I so love that title and people fought me and fought me and fought me. But really, that’s what I felt! The record was beautiful, and it was all over the place with no structure whatsoever, but it is beautiful.
One day I walked into the studio, and my boy Rick is talking about his wife and his first child. I mean this cat likes to talk about John Madden and boxing [but] he’s having his first child and he’s excited. I can’t even get a word in because he’s like “Aww man this baby, it’s kicking in the womb!” It was just inspiring. It was a beautiful moment, I decided to capture it, take a picture of it, put it to music, and put it on the album. Same thing with the “Man Who Had it All” which was the rock-out song, the crazy joint. I felt it, it felt good.
I wanted to just let the music fall out of me. There’s fourteen songs on the album, I’ve only written seventeen songs in the last two years, which should show that I created when it was there. When the song just fell into my lap, that as the song. The three I didn’t use are on other people’s albums. That’s just been the process. The next album might be a complete story, and complete theme, but for this record, that was where we were at.
Q: Your songs seem to be about some rough topics to tangle with, especially on the flip sides of relationships. I am going to ask you about a couple songs and you can talk about the motivations behind them. Just say whatever comes to mind when you think about those songs.
That heffa! Haha, sike naw…I gotcha. I understand.
Q: Pen Just Cries Away.
A true song of my life for a few years. My first album was titled Esoteric. It was a very sad and blue album, a very painful album for me. It took me a long time to understand when I met people, and they said it was a beautiful album. As painful as that was, I slowly realized how much it helped people. I realized I don’t have to write a happy song all the time to inspire someone. I can write a sad song, and we can relate. It’s almost as if I broke up with my girl, you broke up with your guy, and we got together and said “let’s listen to music, let’s talk about our lives. ” I don’t drink, but let’s say pull out a glass of wine and just have a conversation. We’ll share stories, and we’ll both feel better after our meeting is over. And that’s what this song relates to. That song is saying “I write this song, this sad song, but if this song helps you heal, then you and I are healed. ”
Q: So what about Been in Love?
Whooooo! Well, I can’t say haven’t we all been there, but…umm….
Mmm, mmm, mmm, this soup is banging! Let me stop, back to the question…
Umm…it’s a concept I’ve played with for a long time, because it’s a lesson I’ve learned through my years. And that’s to be patient about what you’re getting into and understanding and being honest with yourself about what you’re getting into. Sometimes, it’s respecting what you have. I’ve been in love with being in love. I’ve been in love with companionship. I’ve been in love with consistency, I’ve been in love with routine, I’ve been in love with just being too lazy to leave, you know what I’m saying? But a lot of times, we have to ask ourselves if we are in love with that person we are with. What are we really in love with? Are we in love with being comfortable? Sadly enough, some people are in love with settling.
Been in Love specifically speaks about falling victim to your emotions.
On my first album there’s a song called Morning After. And Been in Love is probably part two of Morning After.
Q: What about Too Soon?
It really kind of goes off the same aspect. Being honest with ourselves, and being honest with our emotions. I know I’ve felt something strong for somebody – Oh my God, I’ve never felt this way in my life! I freaking love you! This is it, I don’t need anything else!
And it’s been only one week, you know what I’m saying?
I’m still trying to be perfect in front of her, and she’s still trying to be perfect in front of me and we ain’t let our guards down. We ain’t really taken apart the history we both carry, the bags – or we’re acting like Hercules. Girl, you got baggage? I’ll carry your bags with you. C’mon girl!
It’s the parts of learning those lessons, being real. It’s too soon. As much as I feel you, as crazy as I am over you, we just need to be smarter. It’s part of the conversation that a lot of couples in the beginning stages need to do that we don’t do.
I have a friend of mine who is in California, and he just started dating this girl. When they get off the phone, instead of saying “I love you,” they say “too soon.” How cute is that? Let’s just enjoy, let’s take our time and let’s continue to grow. It’s a song about growing in love rather than falling in love.
And none of y’all little R & B singers try to write that! That’s my hook! Growing in love, not falling in love! That’s my hook!
Q: I’ll make sure to put that in the interview. Note to R & B singers – don’t steal that hook.
Make sure you add the LITTLE R & B singers.
Q: Oh, so the big guys can snatch that?
Right – if you’re over 6″2, I can’t say nothing. You aren’t going to beat me up!
Q: A couple more questions. As a live artist, you tend to shine by building an intimate connection with your audience during a show. How do you manage to do that?
Well, it comes from treating your fans as if they are friends. And understanding that this is partnership – you and I make something work together. And this entire thing was really built by all of us sharing something together. So sure, they may feel they have a personal attachment to me, because in all honesty, they do!
At the show, we sign CDs and we make ourselves available, but – and I can’t stress this enough – it starts with songs. It starts with the music. If I’m up there singing about nothing there’s no character to portray. There’s no story to relate. I am always quick to break the music down and talk for a second, and tell somebody where the song really came from. Who was the person behind it? How did this inspire me? Explaining the lesson I learned from the song. I think people relate to that.
It’s all about living and not hiding, and not compromising musically. And that kind of builds a fan base. It’s a relationship with the crowd, and people who come to support. If you come to support, I owe you – I owe you already. So let’s be a team, let’s build this thing together.
Q: I noticed some rock influences in your live shows – so how do you incorporate such a difference into your music?
Well, it’s me being a fan of music. I’m a fan first. And I love all different forms.
I really enjoy opening up people [to different experiences]. We (African-Americans) were doing rock music, so don’t get it twisted. Don’t get too far off of it and forget that’s a part of us as well. That’s why I call it honest music. What I do is honest music, and it’s about just giving in to what I feel.
I’m not trying to convert the world, I’m not trying to change the whole world. If you feel it, join in, enjoy yourself.
If you don’t feel it, don’t like the album, you think my songs suck, that’s cool. I respect your opinion. Just move out the way, and let the cat behind you who might enjoy it come up and get some. So I’m not really trippin’ on having to create something to impress someone. It’s a movement, and its a moment, and it’s a feeling. I enjoy it and I invite everyone to come along on the journey.
I can’t even tell you how much I’m enjoying this.
We do house music, we do soul music. I mean, people are begging me to do a house album. If I go another year without doing a house album, I’ll probably get boycotted by half my fan base.
Q: You should do house collaborations. With people like Blue Six or Miguel Migs…I would cop that album.
Yeah! It’s really about trying to explore. People are open to growth, and that’s the crazy part we’ve gotten away from. People forgot that we used to grow with artists. Look at Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, look at when they first started. I mean, the list just goes on and on and on. We’ve been able to grow and allowed them to transform into the movement and the moments that they were feeling.
I’m offering a front row seat – I say, yo, if you wanna rock out, you wanna dance, you wanna move, you want to shed tears with me, I’m here. I’m willing to do it. Let’s do it together.
Q: In your opinion, what do you think makes a woman a woman?
First and foremost, God makes woman a woman. Even in the most rotten apple rooted part of her, there’s still a woman in there, there’s still a level of respect that should be passed on, regardless of any choice that a woman has made to make herself out to whatever.
However, [in] the woman that I completely respect, completely enjoy and pay homage to everyday, [just holds] a sense of understanding, a sense of truthfulness with themselves. A person who is willing to leave themselves room to learn, and leave themselves room to lead. I’m completely open and willing to learn from a woman, and I’ve been learning from women my entire life. I’m completely willing to lead a woman. I am completely willing to walk beside of her. I am completely willing to be her rock. I am completely willing to understand when I am weak and need to lean on her.
So to me, a woman is that equal, that person who understands at the same time there are times when she will have to lead, there are times when she will have to follow, there are times when she will have to listen, and times she will have to teach. That’s the beautiful thing about women today, when you really find that one who understands what it takes to really be called a woman.
Q: What makes a woman sexy?
Individuality. That person who knows themselves, and knows what they like and what they feel good about. I’m a different kind of cat, I love women in long dresses. If we’re in a club, the woman that catches my attention among all the girls who got there booties out – and that’s nice, I’m looking! Best believe I’m looking! I’m a man, and I enjoy it as much as the next person. But at the same time,what pulls me in would be that elegance. The idea “I’m here for a different reason.” Standing out. I find that very sexy. Ponytails, short hair, I find those sexy.
When you carry your own thing. That’s sexy.
Q: What would people be surprised to know about you?
I don’t like to go to clubs. I don’t like to go to parties. I’m very much a homebody. I love to get with some friends and go eat, go down to a restaurant, and just talk. Play spades, maybe something like that. That’s more my speed. Being in a club is not really an environment I’m comfortable in. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, never have. But at the end of the day, I’m not like a goody-tooty-poochutty, you know what I’m saying? I like to have a good time. When I do go out, I probably act up really, really bad.
Q: Like that blog entry about going to Hedonism [with Michael Baisden?]
[Note: Here’s the link to the blog entry: http://blueerrosoul.blogspot.com/2007/06/hedonism-and-michael-baisden.html]
Hey, I was calm! I was calm! I was there for work. I didn’t wild out too much. They brought me there as entertainment.
Q: I seem to recall you writing something about wanting to get baptized again…?
Look at you! You better stop it! Stop!
If anything, I would say that people would be surprised that the person onstage and the person offstage are two totally different people. I’m probably a little more shy personally, until I get to know you. When I get to know you, I’m probably the loudest, most rambunctious person in the world. But until I get to know somebody, I am very shy, reserved.
Q: Last question. For Clutch Magazine, we normally ask the women we interview “What’s in Your Clutch?” But I’m assuming you’re not walking around with a clutch purse…
Yeah…I’m in touch with my feminine side, but I’m not THAT in touch with it, so…yeah. What is a clutch purse? Is that one of those little small things? My girl has a foolish collection of those things. But I will say this – I have a bad problem. I carry a lot of stuff with me, so I usually have some kind of bag, book bag, or briefcase, or something with me. In that bag will be everything – there will always be a pad, and several pens. I am a very big pad and pen collector. I will never have a shortage, and you will never, ever catch me without something to write with and on. Ever.
Well, except when I’m onstage.
But most of the time, I’ll have a pad (or pads), pens, I’ll have my laptop, my two cell phones, and both chargers for both the cell phones. And probably bottled water. That’s the guaranteed stuff. And inside the pad will be my to-do list. And maybe an Ipod or camera – I have that stuff too. I literally leave the house as if I am not coming home.
Q: I guess you never know…
You never know. You could get that right call. Erykah Badu wants me to open up in Africa – I’m coming! I could perform in my underwear. It’s gonna be hot anyway, it’s not like I need clothes…
Q: Anything else you wanted to say to the readers of Clutch?
Everybody hit up Eric Roberson music, holla at me on MySpace – www.myspace.com/ericroberson, come see me at the show! See you soon…