An Exclusive Conversation with Eric Sommer

What initially sparked your interest in pursuing a career in the arts for those who may not be familiar with your background?

I got my first guitar when I was about 5 years old. I worked on it a little bit, tried to learn a few songs from my father’s collection of folk records and slowly made progress… I was surrounded by music in those early years because I grew up in Bangkok, Thailand and we were always visiting the temples. I heard so much traditional Thai music, which is breathtakingly beautiful, that it inspired me to keep pushing forward.
There were a few people that I took lessons from in our circle and our neighborhood, that I slowly got more confident in my playing. I had to make a lot of it up because there was nothing in the Post Exchange or the Base Exchange that was guitar based in a musical sense. Then I found some Pete Seeger records, and that helped a lot.
On day my mom took me to a cultural event at USIS(United States Information Services), downtown on Wireless Road near the US Embassy. It was Addison and Crowfoot, a Folk/Americana Duo, and I got up and played “Stew Ball Was A Racehorse” that I had learned off a Folkways Record. My voice was just above a squeak, the guitar was big, but I did it and the waves of applause were overwhelming.
Yup, I was hooked.
I really liked playing, and performing, and I kept at it when I returned to the US; I ended up in Lexington, Massachusetts for the last two years of high school, and I was in wandering around Boston and Cambridge every weekend playing on the streets and in the coffeehouses which were everywhere in those days. I never stopped.
After 2 years in College, I went back to Southeast Asia, then worked my way around to Europe, busking in Amsterdam and then heading up to Aarhus, Denmark. I got a job playing in Denmark two nights a week and living in the empty dorms at the Design School. I rehearsed songs in the empty saunas and showers which had amazing acoustics with all the tiles, and made enough money to get back on the road.
When I made it back to Boston, I was tied in with Don Law, and began playing at the Paradise Theatre with everyone from Little Feat to Leon Redbone and dozens of other national acts!

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your latest single?

Our latest release is a binary – two songs inexorably linked by gravity and equilibrium – “Redneck Parking Lot” and “Doan’ Wrong”. They have a similar instrumentation, but a are two distinctly different compositions.

“Redneck Parking Lot” is a homage to all the houses out there with lots and lots of dead cars on the lawn, and in the backyard, and essentially all around the house. There are so many of these houses all across the country and I have seen so many of them that I was intrigued enough to put them into a song….

What themes or emotions are explored in this song?

Themes I seem to keep returning to: loneliness, adrift in a harsh world, my fascination with old building, old customs, weathered paper, parched by the sun, peeling off a wall; it’s something like Wabi-Sabi, but more personal. And in all that parched, weathered emptiness, I see reflections of my life, my struggle and they are road markers I have made on my journey…

These themes are as simple as daylight, or reality altering images of the universe shown to me at an odd time: pumping gas in the freezing rain on the way into Minneapolis: the triangulation between the gas pump hose, the vertical posts holding up the roof at this Exxon station and the light pole on the corner created a perfect triangle, out of the blue, out of the freezing rain the clarity of Euclid Geometry was laid bare to me in its purity by the Universe, and I alone was there to witness it…

How does this single fit into the larger narrative of your music career or your upcoming projects?

I am a writer of words and a maker of sounds, and in the wide-open fields of such a definition, everything I do fits perfectly into that evolving, changing and reforming cyclone that is my musical career. I am very wary of putting boundaries, limits or guardrails into the creative processes of anything I do; it robs you of your spontaneous creativity, interferes with the muse and can blind you to new avenues of expression and especially exploration.

Could you describe the creative process behind this single, from concept to production?

I wish there was some deeply meaningful creationist story behind this song, but it just come on very quickly, almost in a flash: I had heard a Dwight Yoakum song that had this very cool opening riff to it and I liked it and was just fooling around with it, added a simple blues feel and put a bit of chromatic rundown at the end of the chorus and BINGO! It showed up almost pre-written for me. The visual is one almost everyone is familiar with: a sea of cars in the front yard of some single-family stand-alone house, always in various states of disrepair. Redneck Parking Lot seemed an appropriate title, and the song pretty much wrote itself.

What can listeners expect to experience or feel when they listen to this track?

The beauty of the title and the subject matter is that everyone can relate to it, and it has a remarkable ability to resonate across a wide spectrum of listeners because of this accessibility. And it is well crafted and very well produced by our good friend Patch Boshell in London.

This little song has a joyful, driving beat and it’s deceptively energetic and up-tempo! When we do this song live it always gets a wonderful reaction!

Are there any interesting stories or anecdotes from the recording or writing of this song that you’d like to share?

We recorded this in a Carrboro, NC Studio behind a music store and we did 6 songs in 4 hours. This band is remarkable: our drummer/percussionist is also the Principal Percussionist for The Salisbury Symphony, and she is an accomplished and creative beat machine, comfortable with The Chopin catalog as well as The Clash! Her set up was well organized and we got right to work.

Our bass player, Jimmy 4 Fingers is one of the most accomplished rock and jazz players in the Mid Atlantic regional, and he brought his double bass as well as his electric Stingray so we were loaded up for whatever was going to come.

We ran thru the songs a few times, and then one of the junior engineers bumped into Jimmy’s double bass and sent it falling over, down the stairs and somehow landed perfectly upright. Everyone, all the engineers and crew and everyone in the band stood looking at this amazing sight; Jimmy walked down the stairs, and checked his beautiful bass out – no marks, nothing broken… and it was perfectly in tune!

As an artist, can you identify three key traits that define you?

The first one is perseverance – I never give up, Period. Full Stop. You have got to develop an ability to pick yourself up after every disappointment, after every bit of bad news and after every bad show. You can’t stop, you must keep going. If one door is closed, go around it. There are many ways to skin that cat, you need to be able to get up, and go after it again with renewed enthusiasm.

The second one is you must constantly be working on your product – new material is essential to keep growing as an artist so you must love what you are doing and keep your eyes open and focused.

And third, you need to be competent on your instrument. You need to keep learning, taking master classes and developing your skills and your toolbox.

What can we anticipate in terms of your upcoming projects?

The future is incredibly exciting: I just released a new series of short stories, we have a new collection of songs that just came out and shows and live performances are planned all over, so there’s much to anticipate. I am particularly excited about The Twilight Narratives, a collect of short stories I have been working on for quite some time. With my in-house studio up and running I will be recording many more short songs, stripped down to the essentials.

Where can our readers find additional information about you and your work?

My personal site has just about everything you’d need to know:

This is a general Directory:

And these are specific site links for you:

This is my creative portfolio.