Eric Roberson on His EP Trilogy, Trump and Music That Matters: ‘We Have to Carry the Baton’
Eric Roberson is so low-key that if you sat next to the guy in a coffee shop you may not realize that you were sitting next to a human jukebox of hit records. Also known as Erro, he has written, produced, and done background vocals for the likes of Jill Scott, 112, Musiq Soulchild, Dwele, Carl Thomas, Will Smith, Vivian Green, and Charlie Wilson.
After years of writing, recording, performing, and touring Roberson manages to find new ways to creatively elevate the way fans receive his music. His Earth + Wind + Fire EP trilogy was announced in February, and he released Earth in April. Roberson created “The Process” to go along with his trilogy; an experience that gives fans an inside look into the creation of all three projects. Fans who are a part of "The Process" are able to watch songs as they are being created and provide feedback in a private Facebook group.
Roberson talked to The Boombox to discuss his project and his seventeen-year career as an independent artist and life after fatherhood.
What does each album in the trilogy represent?
Each one means something different: Earth was inspired by conversations with my grandfather. It’s very internal, how to be a better person, how to find my truth–my personal truth. And then Wind is more of an action album, it’s more acting out my love. My love for family, my love for my wife, romance, or just the good and bad of surviving, and keeping love alive.
Love is "roll up your sleeves and make it work." I think Fire, which I can’t really speak much on because I haven’t created it yet. But as I create it, I’m guessing that’s more external, like how much I want the world to be better. How much I want to understand the stuff that I’m uncomfortable with. I’m writing a song right now called, “Slave Owners,” and it’s about walking around with pockets filled with slave owners--from the dollar bills to the twenty dollar bills--and just how we have to be comfortable with that.
My great-great-great grandfather was a slave in a town over from where my grandfather lives at. How we have to be comfortable with some of the negative histories on the land that we love and that gives us so much opportunity.
How has traveling to other countries and seeing different cultures influenced your music?
First, traveling to other countries reminds you that you’re small, which is something that my grandfather used to say. I recently went to Cuba, I did a soul cruise and I think [with] Fire especially you’re going to hear the influences of the culture that we saw in Cuba.
But even going to South Africa...that’s the beautiful thing about soul music, when you go to South Africa you’re not going to be the same person when you come home. When you go to Seattle you’re not going to be the same person when you come home. You have to be truthful and write about how you feel no matter what that scenario is.
Walking in your truth can be hard to do in the music business. How have you been able to walk firmly in your truth?
I made a choice very early on that who I was offstage I was going to be onstage and vice versa. I think I’ve stayed true to it, I think the challenge really came when I started having kids. The funny thing about the music business is that you are guaranteed to have a big show that's going to happen on your son’s birthday. And you have to make a decision right there, are you going to take the gig, or are you going to be there for your child’s birthday? I’m going to be there for my kids birthday–period.
I don’t need a million dollars to be happy. Sure it would be great to have it and we would be balling out if we did but it’s not gonna be what brings me peace nor is it what’s going to bring me happiness. So let me focus on what’s going to bring me happiness and peace, and be satisfied and work hard for the money I do have. I appreciate being an independent artist and if I was signed to a Def Jam, I wouldn't have the opportunity to be myself.
What made you transition from songwriting to creating your own music?
I started out as a songwriter because the other options were drying up. I realized you can make a living being a songwriter and there were these other opportunities. And for me I was just trying to survive in the music business–I wanted to be around the music business. Whether that was being a background singer, songwriter, vocal producer, or an artist. I think for me the artist thing started happening for me again when I started writing songs that I didn’t want to sell.
When it got too personal, when I wrote a song about my hopes and fears, and who I was in love with it was hard to give those songs away. It felt like I was literally handing you my journal, I think I was always an artist though. Even when I was writing a song in the studio and just demoing it, I was still performing, so it wasn’t a big change to become an artist.
What challenges have you faced being an independent artist?
Over the years and we’ve been doing it independently probably sixteen or seventeen years now if not longer. One of the challenges early on was making sure people realized that the quality didn’t dip down. Because we did everything ourselves and it was independent people thought it wasn’t of the same quality, we had to really teach that and work around that.
What advice would you give to artists who are thinking about taking the independent route?
Understanding the word "completion." In every aspect...I’ve worked my craft and I’ve worked on my craft for years to be able to put out a certain level of music. Understanding the business aspect of your career and your personal brand. That all comes into that word "completion," and if you don’t focus on that word I don’t know if you’re really going to be that successful.
You were nominated for a Grammy twice as an independent artist--what did that recognition do for you?
When I got nominated for a Grammy it was more of like we made it inside the Matrix, it was like we penetrated the system. I viewed it as more of opening doors for the betterment and the balance of music and that’s the goal. Hopefully, it continues.
Would you want your children to get into the music business?
The goal is for them to follow their heart. I mean it’s kinda like "how dare I not allow my child to do something that I sacrificed and fought to do?" I watched my mom quit corporate America and start her own business. I think if you want to follow your heart and if you want to make a living doing something you love it’s going to be some stress and some work. You’re going to have to deal with some pitfalls and some closed doors and I don’t know if I want to shy my kids away from that. I want to cheer them on and give them advice on whatever they choose to become.
What is your writing process?
The process changes with every second, but what I will say with Earth, the one thing that was different for this album was I started from the writing. I would create a click track, I would create a tempo, and I would just sing. And I would hum a baseline and I would hum these other little notes, and I would literally create it, and then we would put the music to it.
Is it easier to write for yourself or for other artists?
I’ll say it’s probably easier to write for myself now. Early on in my career, say if I was writing a song for Mary J. Blige, I would sit and go, “Let me write a song that sounds like Mary J. Blige.” And I would sit and try to conjure up this Mary J. Blige-ish vibe and then it got to a point where I fine-tuned how I would write. So now if I'm writing a song I'll write it and see if Mary J. Blige likes it.
How does the current racial and political climate affect your music?
There is so much going on in the world, we have this crazy president whose treating the country like a Monopoly game. Racism still exists, I have three young boys and you’ve got kids being killed every day, by other kids or by police.That’s why we’re doing Fire, because of the climate. Black music especially has been the soundtrack to our journey and our struggle, and as artists, we have to carry the baton.
As a black man, how do you feel about the notion that black men don't support black women and vice versa?
I think [music] has a lot to do with it, but I have to go back first. I married a black woman who I love dearly, I grew up watching a black man loving a black woman, my dad loved my mom. I grew up watching my grandfather love a black woman, my grandmother.
I think there needs to be a balance, for every song that comes out with you slapping a girls butt at a strip club there has to be a song about how I chose this woman because she makes me a better person. The music is out there but radio and television are not amplifying that message. For the most part, it starts at home, I think the best job I can do is let my kids see me love a black woman.
Towards the end of “The Hospital Song” you talk about your life, what do you hope to leave your kids and your legacy on this earth?
To the masses, I want to be known that I left the door open to opportunity for others to enjoy and benefit from what we created. For my kids, I think the same thing that my grandfather, father, and mother passed down to me and that’s just unconditional love and caring. I want my kids to know that and feel protected and loved. I think it’s as simple as that, the best reward you can have is knowing the people that you love know they're loved.
You said you don't need a million dollars to make you happy. What makes Eric Roberson happy?
A good meal, a great conversation, a hard laugh, knowing my loved ones aren’t hurting. And if they are hurting having them know a better day is guaranteed to come. Having the opportunity to work so that I can make a living makes me happy.
It doesn’t take much...and every day that we can put our feet on the ground and we don’t have to fight through a lot of struggles physically or mentally we should thank God, and we should be happy about it.
Check Out "Million Dollars" From Eric Roberson