Interview: Eric Sommer

How are you today?

For those who may not yet be acquainted with your work, could you elaborate on the essence of your sound and elucidate upon the prominent influencers that have shaped your artistic journey thus far?

My sound has been developing for years: I began life as an acoustic player, and at 13 years old I was very much influenced by Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane), Davy Graham, Steve Howe (YES), and Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Pete Seeger. After years of being in that sphere, I discovered the singer/songwriter lioston when I discovered The Cars, and their fresh, highly crafted New Wave sound was the door I had been looking for, so I tried to blend the acoustic precision I had developed with finger style playing with the raw power of a Telecaster and a stack of amps.

It was freedom! It was sonic liberation and exhilarating and crazy and loud and expressive and at once joyous, joyful and held so much promise.

Then over the following months I tried to blend the acoustic with the power of the Eliot Easton type of New Wave beats, the exciting feel from Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds and the work they had done with Wreckless Eric and Bram Tchaikovsky and of course Elvis Costello. With various bands and ensembles I have fronted, the feel of those influences is always present in all the musical arrangements I write and all the songs I have written.

When I was very focused on becoming a strong electric guitar player and developing the technical skills to play what I wanted to play and what I hear, I listened to Charlie Christian. I found out about his sound by listening to David Landau in Cambridge, and I loved the fluid, triad-based lines that Christian was playing. So, I sat in the front room of my apartment in Brookline. MA and played 5-7 hours a day for two years and smoked 2-3 packs of Winston’s a day while I devoured the Berklee Guitar books I, II and III.

So I put my acoustic stylings in the mix with my love of New Wave rock-steady, added in the Charlie Christian stylings I’d been working on for years and the smooth groove of Robben Ford and Charlie Musselwhite and that’s my sound.

In what ways has your geographical surroundings served as a muse for your creative endeavors? Have you observed any discernible impact of your locale on the evolution of your musical expression?

I have been on the road long enough that I have learned to write anywhere. I am always keeping my notebooks close by. I have sheets and sheets of what I call “Road Prose”. These are my thoughts and impressions and when I catch a headline, hear a phrase I like, I start to put lyrics together and the music to it just appears; the surroundings influence the lyrical content, and then it all just flows.

Texas is particularly fruitful in the sense of lyrical and melodic stylings, primarily due to the evocative scenery. Far West Texas is a lyrical playground as well as North Texas. Then there’s South Carolina and Georgia – that geography and the Savannah heat seem to evoke a different kind of feel and a more downhome groove.

Those are just a few examples of time and place effecting my musical output. I am influenced by a gas station in Milwaukee, an empty building in Little Rock, a quiet drinking bar in the afternoon in Omaha or a small bookstore in Milwaukee… I can pull out a song, a story or a symphony out of the most obvious or the most obscure environment.

Your recent single release has garnered attention. Could you provide insight into the genesis of this record and expound upon the narrative that informs its creation?

I have played six tours in the EU and found a very open and exciting music scene in London, and a sound guy I have worked with name Patch Boshell at the Green Note in Camdentown, and I always wanted to have him on a project as an engineer/producer.

We have been playing and recording a few selections from our live set, and I asked Patch if he would like to mix and master a few of these for inclusion in our song portfolio and my song catalog. We thought we would put a group of these together and see if we can put out a new release.

This fresh collection contains a series of new songs that are a bit unlike anything we’ve done up to this point – odd meter, double-stops and stacked vocals, and Patch was able to add his magic to “Redneck Parking Lot” and “Doin Wrong” which turned out very well, thanks to Patch’s ear and technical skills.

The songs in this collection are more personal, dealing with frustrations in living in the modern world and the desperate realities of living in the material world. It’s also a showcase for the exceptional playing skills of Amanda Sycamore, our percussionist and Jimmy Four Fingers, our drop-dead bassist who holds down the bottom with perfect timing and clarity. There is also a lot of joy in these recordings, they were done in short time, and their essence comes thru perfectly.

How does your latest single distinguish itself within the context of your discography? Furthermore, could you delve into the significance it holds for you personally?

All my releases are unique – or at least I try to do something different in each one. This release – we don’t really have a name yet for it – has a slew of different things going on, but here’s the thing: every new ensemble has different players that bring their own unique set of skills to the project which makes the sound always changing, developing, and producing new sonics.

The thing is to keep growing, keep experimenting and keep writing.

Each release is a stepping-stone, in each release I try to have something to say that makes sense to my fans, listeners and especially other musical life forms, and it has to be authentic and relevant. Sometimes I miss the mark, and that’s ok, because it makes me try harder to be more directed towards the musical goals I have set for myself.

What aspirations do you harbor regarding the impression you wish your latest project to leave upon its audience?

I hope my friends, fans, listeners and detractors will all find something in this release to relate to. I try to write for myself, make sure I am happy with the results and that I can reach out musically to make a difference in the universe, however small and un-noticed.

In a perfect world, on a sunny day with blue skies and a soft breeze, I hope the impression my friends, fans and new listeners take from this release is one of joy, and an anticipation of more creative releases from me and The Fabulous Piedmonts.

Can we anticipate the emergence of a new EP or, perhaps, an album from your artistic repertoire in the foreseeable future?

We have a few things planned and in the works. I am currently working with my cello and developing songs to blend with its remarkable sound; there is are three new albums planned to present 36 new songs on a variety of subjects and in new and innovative instrumentations. I have a vision of a new ensemble with a standard horn quartet on top of a traditional trio that will pick up were Tower of Power left off… those are just a few of the projects I have on the board at the moment.

Then I will continue to expand on the themes set forth in The Twilight Narratives, and maintain my current teaching schedule. Stay tuned – much more to come!

Looking ahead, what milestones do you envision accomplishing within the forthcoming five years, both artistically and personally?

There’s too much to unpack there! And I am not going to give it all away now; let’s just say that I will be looking for a broader platform for national exposure, a more concerted effort to incorporate more traditional instrumentation into my compositional universe and to find and sample many more exotic coffees!