Eric Roberson: In Good Company

When Eric Roberson is recording, even his family has a hard time reaching him. The singer/songwriter has been spending weeks at a time burrowed in his New Jersey in-house studio, putting together what may be one of the most anticipated independent R&B albums of 2006. While some still scratch their heads when they hear his […]

When Eric Roberson is recording, even his family has a hard time reaching him. The singer/songwriter has been spending weeks at a time burrowed in his New Jersey in-house studio, putting together what may be one of the most anticipated independent R&B albums of 2006. While some still scratch their heads when they hear his name, any music lover has surely heard one of his songs, if not through his own tenor, then through some of R&B’s hottest artists.

Although he released the successful single “The Moon” in 1994 while he was still a student at Howard University, he chose to continue his studies before pursuing the music career. He graduated with a B.A. in Musical Theater, and went on to pen songs for the likes of 112, Case, Musiq, Carl Thomas, Jill Scott, Floetry, Will Downing, Dwele, and most recently Charlie Wilson, to name a few.

It was not until 2001 when he released his debut album The Esoteric Movement that Eric was recognized as an equally talented singer. His follow-up projects, The Vault, Volumes 1 and 1.5, and his rigorous tour schedule introduced many to his potent lyrics infused with House, Hip-Hop and classic Soul. Alternatives got some rare time with Eric during one of his binge recording sessions to find out about the man behind the honest music. Alternatives: Some people are in the studio for weeks at a time, and other people can only steal away time for record. Do you have certain flow when you’re in the studio?

Eric: There’s definitely a rhythm, but there’s so much outside of the studio I have to take care of. I appreciate my time in the studio – when I get in the zone, the world is like a blur. I reach a point when I’m no longer tired. Now, there are too many things that pull me away from the studio, but the last couple weeks I’ve been like a madman in that room.

AHHA: Do you ever resent being an independent artist and having to take so much time out to do things outside of the studio?

Eric: No, because the advantage of being an independent artist is that you really don’t have someone telling you what to do. When you’re with a major label, you have to conform to so many parties and nothing is guaranteed. With independent stuff, you have an idea, or a vision or an opportunity to carry out your own thing and be you’re own boss.

The hard part is that kind of freedom takes a lot of work. It is very profitable, but it’s a lot to maintain. In the beginning, it’s hard to get people to commit, because it wasn’t financially rewarding. But if you order a CD from my website, I’m the one who wrote the address on the envelope and took it to the post office. I’m driving the van to pick the band up. The Hollywood part doesn’t exist. But you can make a living for the rest of your life off of this, but not the quick way.

AHHA: Your fans are very personal with you through your message board on your website [] and at your shows. Why it so important to you to establish a close relationship with you fans?

Eric: I think the fans are beautiful. When people bring good energy, it helps me give good energy. It’s crazy because I am an artist because of them. I’ll do a record on the side or somebody will read the credits on a CD and ask, ‘Who’s that guy?’ When people share those kind of stories, it inspires me to be an artist.

It’s also part of what I try to change about the music business. This business doesn’t care about music. I know the fans are starving for something different. I try to make it a family…after the shows I’m signing CDs, and when people share stories, I always appreciate it.

AHHA: It seems like you’re always doing a show, how many do you do in a course of a year?

Eric: I have no idea – I would say 9 to 10 shows a month. Some months are really heavy and some are quiet. That’s my radio, for me to do what I do, I have to stay on the road.

AHHA: On your first album, you have a skit that talks about you having to choose between singing and songwriting. Is it still tough choosing between the two?

Eric: I wasn’t happy with doing just songwriting. I still wrestle with it, because there’s an entire world familiar with me as an artist. But the people who’ve worked with me in the business so long had no idea I was a singer. I was introduced to so many people as a songwriter. When I first started out, I started writing songs for people. Now, I write because a song is on my heart, and if you like it, holla at me. I’m at the point now where I don’t shop my songs around. I have a song on Charlie Wilson’s new album, and I’m honored because he found out about me. Somehow, I’ve been blessed to maintain my career as a songwriter.

AHHA: Are there any songs you wish you wouldn’t have sold?

Eric: I wish certain songs would have been handled differently. For example, “Previous Cats” was one of the biggest disappointments because it wasn’t a single. I felt strong about that song because it’s such a conversation piece. The message is still important and the song means so much. I was very fortunate and blessed Musiq chose that song, but the label didn’t see it for what is was. When I perform it now, people still sing along and are moved by it. If that many people still react to the song like that to this day, I know it could’ve been a big hit.

AHHA: Do you think people still want Soul music? If you look at the Billboard charts, you’ll see less and less honest Soul music.

Eric: Let’s look at it as, music is food. You’re cruising down the street, and everything is McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Popeye’s; you don’t have an option. You have to drive out of town to get something healthier. Many people don’t have time to dedicate their life to something else. That’s the music business. It’s all about marketing. That’s the reason why McDonald’s or Burger King is more successful than the vegetarian spot. It’s you’re job to search for something for you. It’s clearly not that people don’t want it, it’s just the way the market is set up. Labels are trying to make music like cheeseburgers. That is the problem with soul music. Erykah Badu will change with every album, but the label doesn’t want her to grow. The label wants “On & On…” That’s what happened with Maxwell and D’Angelo; they wanted them to be like mainstream artists.

AHHA: It seems like the radio is in favor of production over substance sometimes. I hate being able to hear a producer before I know who the artist is.

Eric: I’m a fan of balance. Give me the simplest, oversimplified song in the world, and it deserves to be on the radio. But people who do something different should be welcomed to do music that’s not for 16-year-olds and be able to stay in the industry. A 28-year-old, or 30 or 50-year-old has money too.

AHHA: Tell me about your upcoming projects. I know you have one with producer J. Rawls on his album The Essence of Soul Vol. 1 that isn’t available in the U.S. yet, but I hear people are importing it for like $50.

Eric: I met J. Rawls traveling through Columbus, and he always showed so much love and I really liked his beats. I was chillin’ with him and his family and he put this beat on and the song was already in my head. I laid the hook there, and took it home to record the rest of it.

I’m excited about all of the new music we’re putting out in the next year. In September I’m releasing The Appetizer, which will be some new and some old songs to hold the fans over until the main course. The new record will be out in February, and it’s untitled at the moment. But I’m pretty much finished with it. It’s all coming together rather beautifully.

AHHA: What’s your favorite song to perform?

Eric: That depends…that’s a hard question to answer. They are like my kids, and I have so much love for them. I guess it’s more about the reaction I get from songs. It’s no better feeling in the world than to have somebody sing along with you. I spent so many years on tour, and had so many songs no one knew. But people gravitate toward certain songs…that’s the best feeling in the world.