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|interviewed by robby sumner|
| Interview with Eric
January 19th, 2006
Eric Richter - Vocals, Guitar
Ben Balcomb - Bass
Jeremy Jones - Drums
|E: Eric, you were a key player in melodic rock's early years as the frontman for Christie Front Drive. Since then you've been involved in a few projects, and you're currently fronting a band called the 101... how, if at all, has your style of playing and writing music changed over time in your eyes?
Eric: How has my style changed... hmm. To me, it feels like it hasn't, but I think it's just one of those subtle changes. Like, over the years you listen to different things, and you don't realize your writing has changed. I mean, how different does it sound to you? Does it sound very different?
E: To me it sounds like there's less of a difference in songwriting style as much as there's a difference in the production.
Eric: Yeah... um, how so? *Laughs* Now it sounds like I'm giving you the interview, but seriously.
E: I've always thought that Christie Front Drive's sound was produced in a way that blended all the notes together as one piece, whereas Antarctica, another of your bands, included more discernable musical components, and the 101 has a sound similar to Christie Front Drive but it can be split into pieces more easily.
Eric: Sure. Yeah. I think that has a lot to do with it--the "three piece" [of the 101] is a lot different. I mean, if one thing's changed, you have to write songs a lot differently in a three piece band. I don't have another guitar player to fill in gaps, you know, when you just want to play some single notes or something. And that's definitely the dynamic that Jason and I had in Christie Front Drive, where the other one was making so much noise, it gave you a lot of room to do whatever you wanted, and maybe add textures of melody. But with a three piece like the 101, I find myself having to strum a lot more just to keep the power of the songs to a certain level. It's just, your options definitely go way down when you're in a three piece. But it makes it a little more challenging, I guess. We did try to get another guitar player on occasions, it just hasn't worked out. We haven't found anyone that really works out. But I don't know, I kind of like the dynamic of the 101, because luckily we have a bass player who plays pretty interesting parts and kind of keeps me on my toes, so he definitely helps out a lot. Hmm. This question is a tough one. *Laughs* But writing style-wise, I mean, I've always written songs the same way: I just kind of sit down at the guitar and noodle around, you know? And when I hear a melody I like, I kind of go with it. So my style of writing hasn't changed... I've heard a lot more music... since 19...94? *Laughs* So maybe that's how it's changed, I guess. But to me it feels the same. It feels like exactly the same way I've done it in the past, so I guess a style change is probably more noticeable to other people than myself.
E: Having written so many songs over the past decade, do you find it getting harder and harder to come up with new material?
Eric: No, not really. I mean, a lot of times I find myself throwing away songs that I've used certain parts of before... *Laughs* But for the most part, you always end up coming up with something kind of new. A lot of times, when you're writing songs, you'll find yourself being influenced by whatever record you're listening to, and you kind of don't even notice it. That happens, you know, and a lot of times other bands will give you ideas, or other artists. It doesn't seem to be a problem for me, because I'm always writing. I probably write a few songs a week. So it's never been a problem for me, personally--it's never been a struggle. That's one of the reasons I love doing it, because a part of me is writing music. A very important part... I mean, I think I'd go crazy if I wasn't sitting around writing songs. I would be just as happy sitting around with an acoustic guitar, not being in a band or in ever recording. I just kind of have to play. But yeah, it's never that difficult for me. And I wish I had a more eclectic back catalog of songs... I definitely stay in the same range, I think. Some people can write completely different styles of music, but I pretty much keep it similar. Antarctica was the closest to me really getting outside of my range, but still, it was basically there... just with a lot of keyboards added to it, you know? And another songwriter; a lot of times I was kind of the main songwriter, but in Antarctica, there was someone else who was bringing a lot of music, so that kind of helped. But yeah, it's never been a problem for me, I guess. Or it hasn't been yet. I haven't had any real serious writer's block moments, but I guess I'm not on a deadline, either, so it makes it easier.
E: How long will you usually work on a song you've been working on alone before you think it's ready to bring to the other guys and make into a full 101 song?
Eric: That varies. There are some songs that I have been working on for years, and never thought of bringing them in. Or I'll just come up with one part I really like, and I'll want to bring it into practice to get ideas from the other people in the band. But it really runs the gamut of time. It could be something I wrote that week, or something I wrote like a year ago that I just remembered... and was like, "Oh, shit! I forgot about that song. That'd work perfectly right now." Because at practice you can kind of feel where the band is, and sometimes you might remember some song that's like, "Wow, this exactly the stuff I want to do right now," so you bring it in. But yeah, there's no really set amount of time... there's just a million ways of writing songs, and you just kind of have to go with it. I think someone asked Paul McCartney, "How do you write songs?" And he said, "Why, do you know another way? Because I've done it every way possible!" *Laughs* It's kind of like that. Not that I'm comparing myself to Paul McCartney, or anything, but I always thought that quote was kind of funny. Because it's true. It just happens to me in so many ways.
E: As a singer and a guitarist, how do you think that vocals--which can be easily analyzed emotionally by looking at the lyrical content--compare to the other musical instruments whose emotiotions are less palpable?
Eric: I suppose it depends on the singer, you know? I have always liked to blend it in with music. I think with the 101, I've let them mix it up a bit... but I guess really, it's one of those things that varies from band to band. I mean, I think one of the most important things about playing music or being in a band is kind of knowing and feeling what's working... somebody might have a political band... and it might just happen naturally. More or less, you just have to let things happen naturally. However it happens, it happens. There's a lot of times, with lyrics, you want to be more with lyrics. Because I'm just so random with them, you know? I just let it come off the top of my head. A lot of times I write lyrics just for vowels I like and the actual melody of the vocals. I'll play a song and I'll kind of like certain vowels at certain parts, so I'll write lyrics around the certain parts that I like or words that come to my head. But for lyrical interpretation, I'm the worst person to ask about that, because sometimes I feel like I dropped the ball on that one. Because there's sometimes where you read these lyrics by these bands and you're like, "God, that's so clever!" I've never written anything where I was like, "Wow, that was clever." Nothing very poetic, you know? *Laughs* I kind of do more imagry-kind of lyrics. It's the only thing I can really pull off... I definitely wasn't meant to be a writer, I don't think. So yeah, that's how I do it.
E: A lot of your earlier releases, especially with Christie Front Drive, were released on 7" and 12" vinyl, and you've made the new 101 record available in this manner. These days, vinyl is becoming more of a nostalgic tradition than an active one, and less bands release on anything but CD's. What are your thoughts on what could be described as a dying art form of recording?
Eric: Well, I hope it's not becoming outdated. I mean, it seems like people are still doing it. At least the bands that I listen to. Because I picked up the last Spoon record on vinyl... it seems like as you get more into the more MTV bands--or even then; I've seen the Killers' record on vinyl. But I'm actually a huge vinyl whore. I collect vinyl as kind of a hobby... I've been doing that since I was little. I'm very into having whatever I can on vinyl, and unfortunately with Anarctica, it just wasn't really offered to us, even though I tried to push it. But when 81:03 came out, they were like... we're not going to put out a fucking double-record of this. *Laughs* And we were working with File 13, which didn't have a lot of money. I was really kind of bummed that we couldn't do it on vinyl, but as long as I'm doing something, I'll try my hardest to get it on vinyl. But for the most part, with independent labels, they're still trying. It seems like when you get to the bands that are real successful... well, even--if you take Jimmy Eat World, they're still putting out vinyl, I guess. Hopefully it's not going away, but a lot of people do believe it is. Maybe with the DJing, it's started coming back, or something. Even though they're starting those little CD DJ stations. You know, I'm not sure if I've noticed it going away, but I hope it doesn't, that's for sure. I would be very sad. *Laughs* But there's still a lot of old vinyl I haven't picked up yet, so I'll always be happy with that. That's basically what I do... I just go back and pick up records I haven't heard. You always hear people like, "Oh, that Van Morrison record is supposed to be amazing." So I go out and find it to try and check it out. But as long as I have a say in it, I want everything to be on vinyl. Definitely.
E: When starting a band like the 101, do you always know what sound you're hoping you'll get?
Eric: There was an idea. I did want to start a rock band--that's all I kind of do, because I think that after the second Antarctica tour, I realized I was missing playing rock music. But that's all I was thinking... it was going to be a side project, and I was going to keep Antarctica as my primary band, but we broke up and it made the 101 my primary band. But then the thing that sucked is that I didn't have it together yet, so it took me a long time to find people to play with. It was really a hasstle. I really had this skewed idea that it was so easy to get into a band and play and sound all right... you don't realize how much chemistry matters until you play with some people you have no chemistry with, and it's like... "Geez, this sucks. We're horrible!" You know? You're like, "Why are we so bad?" We actually had, at one point, a bass player, Ben, myself, and this one other drummer that we ended up getting rid of. We did this short tour with him, and we sounded horrible, and I couldn't figure out what it was. And he actually was technically an amazing drummer, but we ended up getting rid of him. He kind of had a bad attitude, too. *Laughs* Then Jeremy showed up at practice, and all of a sudden it just clicked, and it was just working then. And it's funny that a drummer can do that to a band, you know? It was just the way he was playing, and he actually got what we were doing, and his style just mixed with ours. It's definitely luck... sometimes you have the foresight to know that something's not working. That's why there's a lot of bad, really horrible bands... sometimes people just do bands with their friends, and they don't want to get rid of them. It can be fun if you just want to be in a band with your friends, but if you want to actually put out records, usually you have to find people you have chemistry with. Christie Front Drive was so lucky, because it was just people that I knew, and we just got together and it worked. So I had this really funny idea that it was just easy, and you could play with anybody and it would sound good. And it was years after, when I started playing with the 101 that I realized. Because I got lucky with Antarctica, too. I kind of got lucky two bands in a row, then started the 101, and it was like... "Man. Maybe it's me, maybe I lost it or something." Finally, I'm at least somewhere where I'm happy with it. We at least have some sound going... but no, I didn't put much thought into it. To make a long story short. I really make a point of not forcing a sound. The best thing to do is to come with what comes naturally, you know? You can tell when bands are forcing a sound. I think that's what happens a lot these days... especially with these new wave bands that sound exactly like other bands, and you know they're doing it on purpose. Antarctica was very derivative, but I'd like to think that we at least had our own sound of being derivative, because we didn't go, "We're going to rip off this song," which I think a lot of people do these days--they overplan these bands, and the image, and you can just tell it's happening. Sometimes it turns me off.
E: With Christie Front Drive being as influential as it was in the history of a lot of today's music, and with the 101 releasing records without much hype, do you think it's possible that you may actually be accumulating more new fans for your old band than for your current project?
Eric: That's a good question... I don't know. That's an interesting question, because the Christie Front Drive thing just doesn't seem to end, you know? That's the crazy thing about that band... it was just a right out of high school type of band, and it blows my mind that people still care about it. But yeah, that's an interesting question... I wonder if we're doing that. *Laughs* That would be backwards. But it seems to always work for me like that. Bands I'm in usually get bigger once they're broken up. Like Antarctica wasn't doing that great when we were around, but now I hear more people mention that they like the band. But when we were touring, people would just look at us like, "What the fuck are you doing?" They were showing up thinking, oh, it's the next Christie Front Drive band, and then we start this electronica thing, and a lot of people were just, "God, you guys suck." Because they were hoping for it to sound like Christie Front Drive. But that would be funny, if we were actually getting a bigger fanbase for Christie Front Drive now. I'm sure it does happen--I'm sure some people are like, "I wonder who this Christie Front Drive band is?" and end up liking it more than the 101. *Laughs* It's very possible. But that's very funny, I've never thought of that actually. Especially because I've let people people hype the Christie Front Drive thing as much as possible. Like the labels, like Limekiln will be like, "We should put 'ex-Christie Front Drive.'" We tried our best with Antarctica not to do that, especially because the other singer really hated emo music. I hate to use that term, to tell you the truth, because I never really considered Christie Front Drive "emo"... but he hated that whole scene, so just for respect for him, it was like, let's not hype that. But at the same time, people find out, and they start using it on every flyer. But now I'm like, just do it. So yeah, I guess we're probably getting the Christie Front Drive name out, probably even more than it was when we were around, because we didn't hype Christie Front Drive at all either, you know? That band just did well through reviews and word-of-mouth, I think. Especially over the years. But God, it would have been nice if that many people would have been into us at the time. It would have made things easier for us on tour. *Laughs* God, we were so broke on every tour. It was like... you could find a thousand pictures of me sitting in the back of a van with a room temperature can of Spaghettios, because that's the only thing I could afford every day--gas would take up all our money. But that's an interesting question... I'm starting to reminisce. I'm a very reminiscent type of person, so I'm sorry if I expand a little bit too much, because I don't always talk about it, so it's fun now and then to talk about it. I hope that's not the case... I hope that more people are like, "Yeah, I like the 101." It would be nice for a band I was in to get big while I was in it. That would be a nice change of pace. I would appreciate it.
E: Having been a strong part of a music scene that had so much influence on later bands that we hear a lot of today, do you ever hear parts of the style you were creating being emulated in music you listen to from this scene?
Eric: Yeah... I mean, especially with Dashboard Confessional and bands like that. I hear it in that. And the Get-Up Kids, maybe, though they had more of a rock thing. But yeah, I definitely hear it. And I don't know much that scene had to do with it... it's hard to tell what people are getting influenced by, you know? You definitely hear it. I wonder about that sometimes. I wonder how much that scene had to do with it originally, because there are just so many weird generations of "emo." When we were around, it wasn't really called "emo." But then after we broke up, suddenly there were these "post-emo" bands and then, like, "screamo" and blablabla. It just got weird. But I guess it probably did start from that period, then snowballed into whatever there is now. I would wonder if that kid in Dashboard Confessional even knows who Christie Front Drive is... I would be surprised. But maybe I'm wrong. The one thing I need to work on is I need more of an ego. But I would be surprised if he were like, "Yeah! Christie Front Drive!" And all these other great emo bands... I myself use that word, but I hate it. I've always had a problem with that word, and it's kind of haunted me... I always thought that Christie Front Drive was kind of an indie rock band, because that's where our influences were, I thought. During that time period, we were listening to Archers Of Loaf and Buffalo Tom and Superchunk and stuff like that. I always felt like emo was Rites Of Spring and Moss Icon, and I liked that stuff, but I didn't think we were doing that. It was always kind of a mystery to me with this band, with Christie Front Drive, because we kind of got pegged to this genre, and we didn't even know what it was. It's impossible for me to get away from it now, you know? If I started a country band, it would be an emo-country band. *Laughs* No matter what I do. It's funny. It's a weird thing. People always feel like they have to label things, you know? But we were just a lot softer than the bands we were playing with, you know? Because definitely, when we started off, it like... us. We'd play these shows, and these other bands would go up... and I liked all those bands, but we disappointed a lot of crowds. *Laughs* We would get up, and they were just like, "What is this shit?" There was some rage at some shows, some people were like, "You suck!" because we just weren't hardcore enough. But I don't know... maybe that's kind of a paving-the-way sort of thing. We were the ones who took the beating. *Laughs* We were the ones who got beat on. But yeah... it sucked. It wasn't fun, that's for sure... some of those tours weren't that much fun. *Laughs* Then towards the end, people started liking it, but those first ones were brutal, indeed.
E: As you've gone from Christie Front Drive to Antarctica to the 101, do you feel like you've had sort of a pattern of regression where you've allowed music to occupy less and less of your life? Has it become simply a hobby?
Eric: That's funny. I mean, I think the only reason the 101 is less active is due to my living situation, because once I moved to New York, it was much more expensive. In Denver, I could just work kind of a bullshit job, and leave it and go on tour for long periods of time, and now I'm actually a preschool teacher. I'm trying to do it the other way... I really would like for the 101 to become a lot more active, even more active than any band I've been in. But at this point, I'm kind of waiting for the green light to say it's a good time to do it. Because right now, I just feel like if we just hit the road and went crazy, it would be really hard for me to get by, living in New York. My rent's crazy... it's tough. And I've gotten older... *Laughs* But I would love the 101 to start touring constantly, you know? But I wanna see if it takes, first. Instead of Christie Front Drive, which went out and played shows and played shows and played shows, which is probably the best way to do it, but I'm kind of hoping I can do it another way now, and just put out records and do some light touring, and then hopefully it will catch on and then I'll leave my job in a second and go on the road. For now, I'm playing it cautious with this band. But I'm definitely not planning on leaving... I would like to keep this my main priority. Music's what I love doing the most. I love working with kids, because they're great, but I'd love to do this more. And maybe I'm kind of a pussy for sitting back and not going on tour all the time, and playing it safe, but it seems like the right thing to do right now.
E: So, there's something I've been real curious about... now that there's a big market for downloading single songs, a lot of songs from defunct bands like Christie Front Drive are being made available. I've seen that there are songs you can purchase from CFD records via several sites... how involved were you in the creation and revenue collecting of stuff like this, now that the band is over?
Eric: Well, the Crank! thing has always been a problem... Jeff, who ran Crank!, was very much a business guy. I would say he was probably outside of the scene I knew... we were very into the punk "do records with your friends"... and he was a nice enough guy, but it was the first time we ever saw a contract. He showed us a contract, and we were like, "What the fuck is this?" I thought he was just going to put out that split, and we'd split the money 50/50 eventually, but it never happened. He kind of had us sign this contract that I'm sure we didn't read very well. And there's points where he's told me that we owe him money, which is crazy. So I think he is sending out contracts to bands that are very lopsided in his favor, because were were stupid young kids, and we just wanted to put the record out with Boys Life because they were friends. We didn't really think about the fact that someone was going to try to shove a contract under us, you know? He once sent me a check for a very low amount of money, then claimed we owed him money, and blablabla... I don't know. We don't see any of that. Whatsoever. Especially not the Crank! stuff. That doesn't happen. Ernie from Caulfield... you could always call him and say, "You know, I think you've probably sold a lot of our records, you probably owe us some money," and he'll send the money, you know? Not that it's happened in a long time. But if I tried to call Jeff for money, it wouldn't happen. He might even sic some lawyers on me. *Laughs* But yeah, that's an odd thing. It's weird to think about. But at the same time, we weren't that much of a money maker, so it's not like anyone's getting rich off us. But it would be nice to see some of that money... just getting a fifty dollar check now and then would be nice. From my records.
E: When you look at a band like Jimmy Eat World, who started around the same time as you in a similar scene--in fact, you guys even co-released a split with the band near the beginning... did you ever think that maybe if you had held CFD together longer, you'd be as successful as they are now?
Eric: I'm glad I let it end... their hearts still in it the same way, but Jim had a lot more to say in that band than we did. Christie Front Drive definitely broke up because there was just a point where we weren't writing songs anymore, and Kerry, the bass player, was just like "I don't know if I want to do this." It just felt like we hit the wall. The stuff we did was pretty much the best we were gonna do... we actually had a chance to sign to Capitol, and that's kind of how Jimmy Eat World's contract came about. We more or less said we weren't interested, because there's always been a very "punk rock" attitude, especially then, it was just like, nah, I don't want to be on a major label. Which I'm kind of glad I did now, because the Jimmy Eat World time on Capitol was pretty horrific for them. And that would have been us, you know? There would have been a few members who might have committed suicide in Christie Front Drive because we are very delicate. *Laughs* The Jimmy Eat World guys were always a lot more laid back than we were, so they dealt with it better. But to be living off it? Would be nice. But at the same time, I think things work out the way they're supposed to, you know? For whatever reason. I like the fact that Christie Front Drive is kind of this underground entity, you know? Because we were really into the music, and that's all that mattered to us. Sometimes I think when you get on major labels, sometimes it changes a little bit, because you start worrying about paying people, and you suddenly have these people working for you... luckily for Jimmy Eat World, Jim's such a crappy songwriter, and it's really worked out for him, you know? *Laughs* At the same time... I don't want to talk too much about how they're feeling about things, but I can see there's some wear and tear on them, because touring like that is hard. And I wonder if I'd be up to doing that, living like they do. As well as they deal with it, I don't know. I have this fear that it would take the fun out of it for me. Because once you get on a major label, you're instantly dealing with a lot of shady people. There's just something about the music business, like when you start meeting with people who are the labels, and the managers--I'm not talking about anyone specifically, but a lot of times you meet these people and they just seem so sketchy to me. Like it's just this whole scheme of "How-much-money-can-we-make-off-you." Because there are a lot of bands who get on major labels, and the people who are working for them are making a lot more money than they are. Even the people in those bands still in the mid-range. The guitar tech is making more than the guitarist! You know? It's just odd. It's just a weird thing to think, how much are you going to let people bleed you. All of a sudden you become this money-making machine, and everyone's like, "How can we get a piece of it?" And that's what you have to deal with when you're on a major label, and I think I'd have a very short fuse with it. It would really piss me off, and maybe take some of the fun out of it. We just toured Europe, and we're just playing for these kids who show up to shows and they just loved music so much, and it was almost like it was in the early 90's, you know? We would just show up, and people were only there because they were excited to listen to music. It didn't matter who was playing sometimes--we had a jazz fusion band that opened up for us in this part of Germany, and the kids--any music that anyone's playing for them, they're just very grateful and there's always a lot of love. Those are the times... if those ended, I'd have a very hard time, because I just like playing for like-minded people, you know? I just love music. At the same time, it would be nice to quit my day job... it's such a dilemma. It's something I haven't had to deal with lately. But we were very quick to turn it down--Christie Front Drive was like "No way!" But with that band, it was a good idea. Because I think we probably would have imploded before we ever released anything, because I think tensions were running high a little bit towards the end. We left on a good note, but I think if we had kept going, it wouldn't have been a good note. Plus we probably would have put out a total hack record, you know? We'd probably have been, "We have to write a hit! Let's sit down and write a hit!" Which is a lot harder than it seems. *Laughs* So it's a good thing. But I'm glad it's worked out the way it have, and I'm happy to see Jimmy Eat World doing so well, you know? Bands like that, friends so mine... it's nice to see them doing well. Especially bands who are friends of mine who are actually good! Because a lot of the time you turn on the television, and you're like, "Gaw! Where are these fucking bands coming from?" These horrible fucking bands! Especially this new pseudo-punk shit? It's so annoying! And you can tell there's not a lot of heart behind their music, you know? And Jimmy Eat World is at least a band where what they're playing is what they're feeling, and it's good to see a band get big off of that, rather than some contrived, bullshit, pseudo-punk band. We wouldn't have been able to do that, though. It would have been pretty ugly, I think. It would have killed the legend. *Laughs*
E: Well hey, thanks so much. This has probably been my longest interview ever, and an incredible one.
Eric: No, hey, thank you.