There’s a very valuable playlist in my music library entitled, “Music That Makes Me Happy,” and Eric Hutchinson has been on it for years. While playing his first album for the 500th time, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if he had a second album? Where’s he been? I want more Eric Hutchinson!” So I googled him, and my prayers were answered. He released his follow-up, Moving Up Living Down, on April 17th, and he achieved the rare feat of surpassing the quality of his debut. Because I’m The Dishmaster, and I have an insatiable need to pick the brain of everyone I admire, I requested an interview with the man himself — and he kindly agreed. Read below, and catch the video for his hit single, “Watching You Watch Him,” at the end.
I was a huge fan of your first record. I know you did the first record on your own and now you’re on a label. Do you have a preference?
I still consider myself an independent artist, but this way was a lot easier. I got to concentrate on the music and the writing and the singing a lot more, and I got paired up with some really great producers. I worked with Martin Terefe and lived in London for a month, and Mike Elizondo who I lived with in LA for a month.
Does the creative input from a producer ever create friction?
You have to find the right person. We had a few people that didn’t work out, but the most important part is the creative flow with the producer. Mike had pictures of The Beatles all over his studio, and The Beatles are probably my favorite of all time, so I had a feeling right off the bat that we would get along. It’s a really fun, creative vibe. Never for one second did it leave my head that here I am making an album for Warner Bros. Records, and how is this my life?
It’s been a few years since your first record. What’s the reason for the time-gap?
I toured for so long with the first record. It was sort of an unorthodox release, because it kind of came out on its own, and then it came out again when Perez Hilton sent it out, and then Warner Bros. picked it up. So I was just touring and touring. And then finally I came home to New York and got to process everything and started writing my record. I know from the outside it probably feels like a while, but I’ve been busy the whole time.
Did you know that Perez’s post would create such traction?
I was in LA and went to sleep, and the next morning I woke up, and my phone was blowing up. Within the day it was in the iTunes top five. It was a really great moment. Perez has been very supportive and continues to be very supportive.
I read that you went broke making your first record. Was there a definable moment where you thought, “I can make a living doing this.”
I had been making a living, but I went a little too far making that record. I feel a real privilege to be able to do this, but I got a lot of very lucky breaks.
One of my favorite songs on your record is “The People I Know.” It’s a really upbeat song with sad lyrics. Is that an intentional juxtaposition?
Yeah, it’s something I learned from The Beatles. It helps the medicine go down, if you will. I try to cram big ideas into a three-minute pop song, and if you do it with an upbeat feel it’s easier to process it all.
There’s a lyric, “I’ve got a sister who I barely see,” in “The People I Know.” Is that a literal lyric? Did she hear it and say anything to you about it?
I had a talk with her about it. It’s sort of true. My sister did live down the street from me, and I didn’t see her because I was on tour all the time. And then one day I ran into her on the street, and it was a weird moment. It’s a weird moment when you recognize someone that is that close to you and you see them on the street out of context. But I get along with my family really well, and they have been very supportive.
But you gave her the heads up before you released the song?
I did, yeah. She likes [the song]. The other thing that’s really cool about that song is I play it live and people come up to me afterwards and say, “I have an estranged relationship with somebody.” That’s when the music really feels special.
Do you ever have a revelation about your lyrics in hindsight and think, “Wow, I must have been really sad and not even known it?”
All the time. There are certain songs where I think, “I don’t even know what I’m writing,” and then I look back, and it’s so clear. That’s one of the good parts about the album. Having some time to release this album, I got a lot of perspective on it, and I could look at it clearly and think about which songs I like and what I wanted to say.
When you play live, do you have a venue preference? Do you prefer a smaller, intimate venue to a large stadium?
As long as the crowd is excited, that’s where the magic comes from. I could play to 50 people or 5,000 as long as they’re are excited about the tour.
You’ve performed on some really great late-night shows. Do you have a favorite performance?
The first time I played The Tonight Show. It was my first time on TV. It just felt really cool.
Do you still get nervous for those performances?
Not really anymore. I’ve performed so much at this point that I’m kind of used to playing. I really want to play Saturday Night Live. Maybe I’d get nervous for that.
What music are you listening to now?
A band I got really into is Los Lobos. My plan is to get them to come play on my next record. I love Vampire Weekend, the new Black Keys record, and Kanye West.
Who chose “Watching You Watch Him” as the single for the record? Did you write it and think, “That’s the hit?”
A lot of times I’ll have to [do something] and stop writing, but every now and then I’ll write a song and I just can’t leave it. I was supposed to meet a bunch of friends to watch a football game, and about ten minutes into writing “Watching You Watch Him,” I just knew I couldn’t go anywhere, and I called them and told them that I couldn’t come. I really love that song. To me, I can just picture driving through the desert on a road trip and blaring that song really loud.