ERIC SCHROEDER: SEARCHING FOR HOME
Updated: Dec 22, 2021
Eric Schroeder is a young rock ‘n roller with something to say.
On his memorable and edgy new album, The Crucifixion of Eric Schroeder, the prolific singer-songwriter draws on country, folk, 1970s California rock, and punk and alternative influences.
It’s his third album — and second of the year — and came out Friday.
When I hear Schroeder’s songs, I’m hearing an original voice on the way toward becoming a great artist like some of those he admires — Neil Young, Townes Van Zandt and Gram Parsons, and I'd add Clarence White and Merle Haggard.
His sound is full but intimate, with loud electric guitar solos slashing across acoustic-based arrangements, his lyrics introspective and storytelling style very much his own.
Schroeder’s lyrics reflect themes of loneliness and movement are all the more remarkable because he’s only 19 years old. The late John Prine, who gets named-checked on one track, probably would dig Schroeder’s direction.
Crucifixion opens with the rocker “Be Alone,” has a raw, underground-rock feel, with his loud electric guitar solo balanced by Byrds-style harmonies.
“When you go, I’ll stay, although I never want to be alone,” he sings.
On the stripped-down, alt-country rocker, “Another Fight,” Schroeder sounds like Townes Van Zandt went to Memphis and played a session with Big Star. He sings:
“I keep my tank filled up just in case
I need to escape to the mountains
And there I’ll stay ‘cause the people in L.A.
Ain’t got a good thing to say about them…
Mama always told me never to shout
So I got out of there”
On the ballad, “What’re You Going to Do?”, Schroeder seems to lament a gifted friend who’s lost in the fog:
“Still got the paint stains on your jeans
Haven’t held a steady job since you were 18
Wasting time never was no thing
You got a hole in your face where the money goes
You used to love John Prine, but now who knows?
I can still hear you singing every time the wind blows
Look into the mirror dreaming, crying, screaming
What’re you going to do?
Crawling down the sidewalk choking, drinking, smoking
What’re you going to do?”
Schroeder lives in San Diego and wants to focus more on songwriting and recording more than touring. He agreed to a question-and-answer-style interview with SoulCountry, edited only slightly for length. I’m grateful for his artistry and the time he spent with us:
SoulCountry: How have you landed on this sound for the new album? And man, you sure have been prolific this year.
Eric Schroeder: The sound of this album came extremely naturally. I wrote the songs, and this is how they sounded in my head. The songs are the guide.
In terms of my creative fertility this year, it's really nothing new. I just can’t help but write songs. I start beating myself up if I don't. By some grace of high power, I’m now in a position where I feel my material is truly strong enough to be released. So that’s what I've been doing — writing, recording, then releasing. I’m hoping for another two LP’s next year too.
SC: You grew up in San Diego, I believe. Is there anything about where you’re from or how you grew up that informs your sound and your writing? How did you get into music, and then decide to really dive into writing your own songs?
ES: I don’t think my location has too much to do with my songwriting. Maybe the biggest influence San Diego has had is when I write about the beach or abusing substances.
My upbringing certainly has had an influence. I moved to 10 different houses in San Diego before I even turned 18, so I’ve seen a lot of things and met a lot of interesting characters that most wouldn’t have. I was also raised by my mother, so I'm sure that has had an influence on my creativity. Happy rich people don’t make great art in my opinion.
I got into music through my mom and my brother. My mom basically just listened to what was on the radio and a lot of new wave, alt, and punk stuff from the 80’s and 90’s. My brother is the one who really got me into rock and roll, folk, country, and underground alternative music. That’s all my music is a combination of, and I credit that to him — although I took that influence and dove deeper than him into the artists he showed me. I started writing my own songs because I love music so much and wanted to do what my heroes do. It’s something I’ve always done, and I have put more of myself into than anything.
SC: I hear a lot of originality in your sound, but also a lot of influences — maybe Wilco, Gram Parsons, 1980s punk and 90s alternative rock. Plus, some Townes Van Zandt, some California desert sound a la Calexico, too, perhaps. Any influences you’d like to mention? Anything you draw on from country or soul music?
ES: Most of those influences are correct — Gram Parsons, Townes, and alternative/punk rock. My biggest influences are Neil Young, Brian Wilson, and Elliott Smith. Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, too. Bob Dylan. It’s corny to say the Beatles but it’s true. I could run off a whole list (Kurt Cobain, Billy Joe Shaver, Steve Stills, Jagger/Richards, Alex Chilton, and so forth).
The biggest things from country music that come out in my own is the storytelling in the lyrics, my lead guitar playing, and that I try to stick mostly to playing open chords or “cowboy chords.” Take Robert Hunter, Elliott Smith, Don Rich, Neil Young, John Lennon and Tony Iommi (of Black Sabbath), stick them in a room, maybe they’d walk out with (Schroeder’s own) “Be Alone” or “What’re You Going to Do?” Not that I’m as good as them, but I’d like to think that my music is a coagulation of my influences, but just as much uniquely mine.
SC: How are you evolving already as a young artist over your first three albums? What’s ahead touring-wise and musically for you?
ES: I'm sort of forcing myself to evolve — or at least avoid getting trapped in making the same record over and over. Listen to my three releases back to back. They all sound like me, but it’s clear that I didn’t repeat myself in the worst ways. Every record has been getting better and better to me, and that’s all I can ever hope for, just to keep improving. Even if I make a shitty record, I’ll make sure the next one is better.
Some people are starting to recognize me as a proper songwriter. I’m not trying to be a guitar god. I’m not trying to sing like Freddie Mercury. What I am trying to do is go down as a bonafide songwriter. That’s where all of my effort goes. And no one else can perform these songs in the way that I do, so that’s why I sing them and play them myself. I don’t care if five people love my records, or if 50,000 love my records, as long as I am recognized by those people for what I feel like I was put on Earth to do.
I’d like to organize a tour where I’m playing small clubs, just me and my acoustic guitar. That’s how I really shine in front of an audience. Throw another musician in the mix, and I can’t focus on anything but them. But I don’t play live too often because I’m too focused on writing, and I can’t handle the stress of organizing gigs too often, unless they are offered to me which is rare.
Lately, the songs have been revealing bigger arrangements to me, so that’s the direction I'm headed. I've been recording a really beautiful record which I think often shows a little bit of the Brian Wilson in me — softer vocals, more harmonies and big arrangements, but you will still get a lot of rockers, distorted guitars, some screaming hopefully, perhaps even heavier than ever. Heavier and softer. What is good without evil? What is darkness without light?