Concert Preview & Interview: JD Eicher
Ohio born-and-raised, the sought-after singer-songwriter visits Columbus on Friday night in advance of a new single release, "Ain't My Scene"
Youngstown native JD Eicher recognizes his northeastern Ohio roots have provided him with a unique perspective as a singer-songwriter.
“The first time it was really brought to my attention was in an article – an early review, actually of my band – where they said ‘you could hear the rust belt in his songs.’ And I kind of do understand what they mean in that we carry this sort of world-weariness, and I think it’s part of that rust belt mentality. Youngstown is one of those cities that has that kind of Midwest charm, but also is kind of dealing with that existential crisis of being in the rust belt – that marriage of ‘I’m kind of feeling run down,’ and also ‘I really want to be a good person’ and struggling with all of that.
That’s at the center of a lot of what I’m toiling with in my songs.”
Eicher began to hone his craft at the age of twelve, graduating from Canfield High School and then majoring in music and business while earning a Bachelor of Science degree at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. While at Westminster he formed JD Eicher and the Goodnights. On releasing his most recent studio album, The Middle Distance, in 2016, the Goodnights moniker was jettisoned, although he’s retained band mates Jim Merhaut (bass) and Dylan Kollat (drums/percussion).
Over the last decade, Eicher and company have rubbed elbows with an impressive list of tour companions and collaborators, including Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, Train, Maroon 5, Hot Chelle Rae, Pete Yorn, Anberlin, Rod Stewart, Bryan Adams, Kelly Clarkson, Cartel, Sister Hazel, and Matt Nathanson,
Eicher’s gin-smooth vocals and engaging melodies have afforded him acclaim and affection from fans and contemporaries alike. His new single, “Ain’t My Scene” (due August 3 via Nashville indie imprint Rock Ridge Music), pushes his well-established craft in a slightly different direction – a change he welcomed and pursued purposefully.
“Yeah, I did start to notice that I do a certain thing, you know – I’m a singer-songwriter and I tend to lean into that world a lot with the acoustic guitar and natural drums and those kinds of things. I love pop music and I wanted to allow myself to enjoy that in my own sound using pop drum samples and more synth-y kinds of sounds and just let it happen organically. I was happy with how it happened, and it was kind of a scary thing, too, because you’re always concerned it’s going to sound inauthentic or something. But it happened for me in kind of the right way. I don’t know that every listener will agree. [laughs]”
“Ain’t My Scene” is a preview to a forthcoming EP that will arrive sometime in 2019.
Friday night, Eicher will join The Voice‘s season eight winner Sawyer Fredricks for an intimate performance at Rumba Café in SoHud.
The new single is great, and I like that the addition of some non-acoustic instrumentation enhances its organic feel rather than obfuscating it. Talk to me about what “Ain’t My Scene” actually means and how you arrived at some of the new artistic decisions you made in writing and recording it.
“I’ve done a lot of production and songwriting on my own, and I record at home in my basement. And just after having done a couple of projects that way, it was time for me to look into branching out and redefining myself a little bit. This song kind of came out of that frustration with the need to reinvent, you know, and how hard it can be sometimes to get out of your own comfort zone. It kind of ended up…I mean, there were other pieces of my life that needed the same boost, and I just needed to look outside of the things I know for a minute and try to keep an open mind. So this song is about all those things at once.
And even the way we recorded it was kind of different – I ended up hiring a producer, Bill Lefler, who’s worked with Ingrid Michaelson and Dashboard Confessional and a bunch of other people. So it was a good opportunity. We’d work on some previous non-recording projects together and some other things in the past. I recorded some of the stuff and started the demoing process at home and I’d send it to him in L.A. and he would add to the track and the send it back and I’d add some stuff. And at the very end of the process, I flew out to L.A. and we spent a week together to cut the vocals and kind of finish them up.
And Bill’s a great producer and musician. What were you looking for specifically by enlisting him?
It was a good experience, and he kind of pushed me to get outside of my usual trends, again, as an artist and as a producer. And he just brought his creative energy into the mix and helped me find a new sound. I’m excited about this track and it’s definitely a fresh sound for me.”
I was reading an interview from 2011, just a few years into the work you’d been doing as the Goodnights, and you spoke at length about how regimented and even mundane your day-to-day experience was as a musician. Now that you’ve built a wider audience and reputation, is that still true to the same extent?
“[Last] weekend, I finished up a trifecta of a music video shoot, a live interview, and a photo shoot – and I work with the same guy on all this stuff who’s, in his own right as a director of photography, a creative genius. And I was telling him ‘you know, nobody realizes the extra hours…when I do the math with all of my travel added in, I’m doing eighty-five hours a week or something of work in a week between driving between gigs and rehearsal time.’ And then there’s all the booking and keeping up with the emails and all of the conference call kind of stuff – the day-to-day.
What is happening is…and I’ve cut back a bit recently because I have a daughter and I’m spending a lot of time doing child care, as well, but usually there’s a good solid chunk of about at least five hours of just admin, like web work and social media. Basically a regular desk job goes on every day before I start doing my other job. And I always joke, but literally every job has paperwork. There’s just no way around it, I think. And I still have to do things like track my expenses and log, and report.”
Sure. And since you’re releasing music independently, you’re your own accountant, public relations person, scheduler, secretary, booking agent…
“Right. And nowadays, rather than be bitter about it, I’m just really trying to keep my head above water. It’s a harsh reality, because I’d thought when I first got started that at some point I’d just get up every morning, lay around, and pick up the guitar and just let inspiration hit me, and then, like a car would pick me up and take me to my show. It’s never going to be like that. And that’s okay.”
But aside from the minutiae, there must be things on the emotional side of being a musician that people like me who aren’t in the business might not completely understand. Because I’m sure there’s a bit of a tug-of-war between your feelings about your craft and the realities of all the behind-the-scenes stuff that drives it.
“It becomes a big emotional game because I think when you’re a famous musician kind of just says ‘oh, okay!’ And you don’t really have to justify yourself. I have people come up to me and say ‘oh, and what’s your day job?’ Well, I’m usually hustling to be a musician – constantly hustling. On the one side, you’re kind of trying to validate, or feel validated, and pay the mortgage and all those things. The real life stuff. And then on the other is this…I find myself between feeling like ‘I don’t care, I’m just going to do whatever I’m going to do and hope people like it’, and back to feeling insecure because you don’t have this award, or these album sales, or this many followers on social media.
So I think the biggest challenge is you have to balance trying to find legitimacy as an artist, but also trying to legitimize what you’re doing to the real world around you to those people who have ‘adult jobs’. I don’t know. And none of that’s to complain – I chose this job, so I just kind of have to deal with what comes with it because every job has its own set of issues you’ve got to work through. I want to believe that when artists do make it they eventually find more of that acceptance. I feel like I’m always fighting against needing to prove myself, or something.”
I’ve asked musicians about what forces or observations have served as inspiration for certain songs, and I’ve heard some really lovely, compelling stories that range from watching strangers interact on the street, to deaths in the family, to the birth of a child. I actually want to know what springboard you’ve actually used to write a song that was the weirdest or most unconventional.
“You know, there’s a really weird song called ‘Edgar Green’s Time Machine’, and it’s kind of my nerdiest thing I’ve done. Every time I preface this song, I feel like I’m exposing my nerd-dom. But it’s a song off my band’s third record, and it’s basically…my dad always read fantasy and adventure books – kind of like Game Of Thrones but way down the rabbit hole. And I got into them as well, and they’re these thousand-page kind of deals where when you get to the end you don’t even remember the beginning, you know? [laughs]. I used to read those a lot when I was a kid and I loved them, and I always thought it would be cool to try to – more so just the challenge of trying to – take a novel structure of storytelling and try to throw that into the format of a song.
So reading those kinds of books, I came up with this guy Edgar Green, and he lives in a not-so-distant future and figures out how to travel through time and accidentally ends up seeing how the world ends, So he spends the rest of his time trying to go back in time and get people to change their ways so it won’t end. And the end, you…the story sort of is open-ended, but you follow him along as he tries to communicate with all these different eras. It’s definitely a weird song for me. But it was fun to try!”
JD Eicher will take the stage with Sawyer Fredricks on Friday, July 27 at Rumba Café, 2507 Summit Street in SoHud. Doors at 7:00 pm, show begins at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $20.00 plus applicable fees and taxes, and are available here.
JD’s new single, “Ain’t My Scene” is available to pre-save on Spotify before its August 3 release. Each pre-save and follow includes an automatic entry into a drawing to win handwritten and signed lyrics to a JD song of your choice, a signed vinyl record, and a brand new shirt.