Training Yourself to Finish: An Interview with Eric Linden

The first time I heard Eric Linden’s “Chasing You,” I was immediately struck by the song’s energy. The David Johansen swagger of Linden’s vocal delivery left me with a distinct impression of the New York Dolls, and it also held echoes of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and a little bit of Peter Murphy. More recently, his single “3,000 Pieces of Me” revealed an incredibly sensitive approach to songwriting and an eye for telling detail. Curious about what makes the burgeoning singer-songwriter tick, I dropped him a line…

You’ve moved around a bit, living in North Dakota and Colorado before settling in Minnesota. Has all of that moving informed your songwriting? What have you taken from each of the places you’ve lived? Or, to put it another way, what kind of impression did each place leave on you as a songwriter? 

Growing up in North Dakota meant that my band really had to embrace a DIY approach to doing shows and recording.  Also, we were sharing shows with bands who had wildly different sounds so we had to write enough songs that we had options when we put our sets together.  

I moved to Colorado right after college and that was a pretty exciting and adventurous time for me.  There’s a lot of great eclectic venues in the Denver/Boulder area. Red Rocks is one of my favorite places on Earth.  And then you have places like the Mercury Cafe just teeming with creativity.  I was into the Spoken Word scene there, and there was also some really great Americana music bubbling up in the area.  The Lumineers and Nathanial Rateliff, for example, have hit it big. 

Coming back to the Midwest was a bit of a homecoming for me. Minneapolis has such a great music tradition and scene. Of course, Prince was a powerhouse, and the Replacements have been incredibly influential. I’ve been really into Semisonic and Dan Wilson’s songwriting. And there’s always really exciting bands stepping up like Hippo Camus and Durry. It’s a really creative city that supports its musicians.  

In 2020, you formed a virtual songwriters’ circle and started working on material for your first album, which will be titled Burning up the Marquee. How did you get the circle going, and how often did you meet? What were the logistics like? What did you learn from that experience?

At the start of COVID I split with a band I’d been playing with for a while. Tommy from The Negatrons suggested that we start a song-writing circle where every week we’d write and record a demo.  We’d share the songs and our feedback every week in a chatroom.  

Everyone in the group was people we knew from North Dakota’s DIY scene.  There was a really wide variety of genres represented.  Other guys were working with blues, metal, rap, pop-punk, and country.  Check out the music from The Negatrons, Clint Morgenstern, and Moutkeevin to get a sense of the wide range of this group.  

And then each of us were pushing our genre boundaries just to keep it interesting.  Every song on Burning up the Marquee was written while I was  in this group. It’s the strongest ten songs from that time.  I cut another 10-15 songs. 

The most valuable thing I learned was how to consistently start and finish songs. I’ve heard a Dan Wilson interview where he talked about the importance of finishing songs and training yourself to finish. I think I trained myself to finish songs rather than training myself to abandon songs. 

The title Burning up the Marquee is extremely evocative. Where did it come from, and how’s the album coming along?

The album title is  a line from my next single “Walk You Home” which will be out February 8th.  

It’s a song about finding connection even when the world has put you through the wringer. The lyrics are pulling details from a really cold night in my neighborhood in Northeast Minneapolis: “Streets are uneven, sidewalks are heaving, lights burning up the marquee.” There’s a little theater a few streets down from my house.  

As an album title it takes on a couple of different meanings.  And I like that.  It’s a nod to the civil unrest in the city. It’s a nod to Chuck Berry’s line “Maybe someday your name will be in lights.”  My dad was a big Chuck Berry fan, and Johnny B. Goode is one of my go-to karaoke songs. There’s also quite a bit of fire imagery throughout the album, so it’s a good fit. 

Your song “3,000 Pieces of Me” depicts a breakup in intimate detail. How much of your personal life shows up in your songs? Are they autobiographical, or are you inventing characters? Or is it a combination of the two?

The song is about a fictional breakup. The narrator of that song is a persona, who is very much “not me.”    

Writing that song was kind of like writing a monolog for a character in a  play.  The first line I had was “I’m not understanding why you’re out standing in the rain.” So I knew she was incredibly upset and he couldn’t understand why she was seething. The rest of the song has a lot of telling details about how petty and materialistic he is.  

As I was writing it I thought it was a pretty funny song.  But I wrote it from his perspective and it’s true to his emotions during the breakup.  And that resonates with people too. 

I like that song has a couple of levels.  One radio DJ told me she took  the narrator’s side because she would be “pissed if someone was taking her records during a breakup.” And she has a point. Breakups have a way of bringing out the worst in people. 

I love the verse about the record collection: “But my record collection/ Is looking awfully sparse/ Don’t take my Elton Johns/ Please don’t go breaking my heart.” Is Elton John an influence on your songwriting?

One of the members of the songwriting group told me I had to cut that line.  I’m glad I didn’t.  I think that little pun/allusion points to some of the humor in the song.  Also, Max Collins from Eve 6 recently tweeted about how it’s good for songs to have a line or two that make you cringe.  I have no idea if he was being serious, but I agree with it.  The line feels pretty cringe. 

As for Elton John, I do  really like songs like “Rocketman” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”  But “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” worked for this line and this character.   It was one of the details that felt distinctly “not me.” 

I don’t know that Sir Elton was influencing this record that much.  I think I hear influences from Tom Petty, Dan Wilson, and the Rolling Stones at various points of the album. 

I also love the line in that song about the suitcase purchased for a trip to Belize. It’s so telling—a suitcase purchased but never used for its intended purpose, like a detail in an Ernest Hemingway story. What’s going on there?

I’ve never been there, but in the moment it sounded like an exotic and showy vacation destination. He’s more interested in the show than the experience with her. He’s more interested in the suitcase than memories he had with her. If they did go on the trip, she’s taking those memories with her too. 

After a breakup sweet memories turn sour. You can’t listen to some of your favorite songs anymore.  You might lose some of your friends. You have to buy a new suitcase. It’s a whole thing.

If you don’t mind me geeking out a little bit, what’s your recording process? What do software do you use to record? Hardware? Microphones? Interfaces? Do you have a favorite guitar? (Feel free to comment on any combination these topics!)

A lot of this album was written and recorded on a Fender Telecaster with a maple neck. It’s an American Professional model in black with a white pickguard.  It’s the first Telecaster I’ve ever owned, and I think it had a big influence during the writing process as well as the final sound of the album. I play various other guitars on the album, but that’s the one that stands out right now.  

As far as recording goes It’s all pretty standard stuff: Focusrite, Shure, Pro Tools. I just think it’s incredible that home recording is so accessible these days. 

Just to geek out a little more, have you picked up any tips or tricks with respect to recording? Are there any techniques that really work for you?

I wanted to be able to use my full pedal board, but micing a real amp wasn’t going to be ideal. So I settled on using the Strymon Iridium as the amp and cab. It’s a great piece of gear that allows me to switch between voicings for Fender, Marshall, and Vox amps quickly. I really value “convenient versatility” in the home studio. I choose pedals that give me a lot of options without diving deep into menus. 

You mention on your website that you’re open to collaboration with other musicians and songwriters. Beyond your writing circle, have you had an opportunity to work with anyone else? What’s your process for working with other musicians? What do you like about creative collaboration?

I’ve played in a number of bands, and I miss the spark of collaboration when everyone is contributing new ideas to a song. I’ve been an actor and director in theater too, and I love working with other people to create a performance.  

YouTuber Kristers Hartmanis played drums on the album, and that was a great experience. As was working with Tyler Pilot from Red Dot Recording. 

There’s a lot of great musicians on Twitter I’d be interested in co-writing with or creating a collaboration track in the future. I’ve also had people start to inquire about bringing me in as a lyricist.  I’m open to all of the above.

What’s next?

I’ve got a new single “Walk You Home” coming on February 8th. And the full album Burning up the Marquee will be out this spring.  

I’m looking forward to it! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Eric! 

Absolutely.  Thank you for the thoughtful questions.  

What to Say to Your Musician Friends

Last week, I put out a new song called “Before the Boys,” and since then, I’ve been extremely flattered by the comments that friends of mine have made — from the friend who meant to text her husband about the emotional response she’d had to the song but texted me by accident to the friend who emailed me with a thoughtful and detailed appraisal of the song. Comments and compliments like these mean the world to me, and I imagine that other musicians feel the same way when friends, family, and even strangers reach out to say a kind word or two about music they’ve written and recorded.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to know what to say to a musician — or any artist for that matter — about a recent release, especially if you’re not a musician yourself. So here are a few ways to say “Nice song!” in a way that the musician in your life will really appreciate:

  • Hey! This song reminds me of… This is a great way to show your musically-inclined friend that you’ve not only listened to a new song but also thought about how it fits in with other kinds of music that you like. Also, you get bonus points if the point of reference is a song that your friend likes and admires. For example, a friend of mine recently wrote, “Reminds me a bit of Brian Wilson with that jangly staccato piano.” I took that as a huge compliment!
  • I love the line about… If you want to let your musician friend know that you really listened to the lyrics, mention your favorite line — or, better yet, favorite lines — of the song. Maybe there was a clever rhyme that you noticed, or maybe just an image that jumped out at you. Whatever the case, the songwriter in your life will really appreciate that something in the song made you take notice. For me, it was a friend who mentioned that he liked a line in my song about an X-chromosome!
  • I shared this song with… Again, if your goal is to let the songwriter or musician in your life know that you really appreciated a song, share it with someone! Back when I was in high school, the way to do this was to make a mixtape. Now it’s even easier. Just share a link to the song with someone who you think will appreciate it, and also let your friend know that you did so. I was extremely flattered when a friend of mine told me that she shared “Before the Boys” with her daughters!
  • I added your song to a playlist! Musicians and songwriters love to hear this because it means that you’ll be listening to their song again and again. If you want to add some context, let them know which playlist, and maybe even who else is on it. I was quite flattered when my mom mentioned that she was adding “Before the Boys” to her “Driving to the Cape May” playlist!

I’m sure there are plenty of other creative ways to show the musician or songwriter in your life appreciation for a song, but these are four of my favorites. If anyone has any other ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments!

Album cover for "Before the Boys."

Chasing Dreams with Laini Colman

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 8.51.01 AMListening to Laini Colman’s self-titled debut album for the first time is like stumbling upon a cache of lost Nico recordings. Like the music of the former Velvet Underground collaborator, Colman’s voice has an exotic, haunting feel, and the album’s production is sweeping and cinematic in scope. Early on, wobbly piano chords and LoFi electronic drum beats give way to a mélange of funky bass lines and a string-and-percussion arrangement that calls to mind Led Zeppelin’s epic and often-sampled “Kashmir.” As the album progresses, Colman layers disco and hip-hop beats over jazzy chord changes to produce dreamlike sonic landscapes. In fact, if there’s one theme that creeps up throughout Colman’s oeuvre, it’s the power of dreams to shape our reality. Not coincidentally, it was a topic that cropped up once or twice when the Tasmania-based recording artist recently agreed to answer a few questions about her life in music.  

The first track on your debut album is called “Dreams Come True,” and I understand that you’re in the process of moving house from one boat, Pied Piper, to a new boat, Dream Catcher. Is this a coincidence, or is something more going on?

Ha ha, well I guess you’d think that, but no, “Dreams Come” was originally penned a few years ago and was influenced by a friend who was struggling to grasp the one dream that he had because of fear of the unknown. I am a great believer that dreams can come true, but you have to want them badly enough, and be prepared to work hard to achieve them, often by making sacrifices and taking great “leaps of faith.” I love the name Dream Catcher, but it is just a happy coincidence, as she (boats are always female) came with that name.

Does the stuff of dreams ever filter into your lyrics—or the sound you’re going for in your recordings?

I do live inside my head a lot, which can be at times terribly frustrating for those around me, so, in that sense you could say that all my lyrics are written from a place of dreaming, rather than dreams per se. When I first started writing songs I had a pool of feelings and experiences to draw from, but very soon, I needed to expand my source of inspiration otherwise my songs would become boring – my life is just not that colourful! And so, I take inspiration from the world around me – people, places, nature and then (just like an actor) I role-play in my head (for example putting myself in someone else’s shoes and trying to imagine how they would feel or react in a certain situation) or I just allow my eyes and ears to soak up the sights and sounds around me and see what thoughts/feelings they evoke. Not always, but usually, I start with the lyric and then allow the melody to form around that. The final sound is then very much driven by the emotion of two together, so once again, yes, you could say, that it comes from a place of dreaming. However, I’m always very, very open to different ideas from a producer on this and rely very much on their expertise and skills.

I’m curious about the idea of working with a producer. Can you walk me through the process of going from an idea to the finished product?

In the case of my debut album, all the tracks were co-written with Jimmy Reece, a very talented musician, also from Tasmania. It was a very interesting and unusual way of co-writing – very experimental, liberating and exciting. The process varied from track to track, but for the majority of the tracks, I presented Jimmy with a lyric and melody and he took these, re-arranged them (in some cases stripping them down to their bare minimum) and then built up sounds around them using a mixture of loops, samples and real instruments. For three of the tracks, we decided to try it the other way round. Jimmy presented me with an instrumental arrangement, which I built a lyric and melody around. Final production ideas came from Mike Raine, who produced the album from his home recording studio in Ranelagh Tasmania and where I recorded the majority of the final vocals (the rest being recorded on “Pied Piper”). So, you could say that the finished product is really a case of the sum of the three parts making the whole.

It’s interesting that your recorded some of your material on Pied Piper. How does living on a boat fit into your process?

Living on a boat definitely has its challenges primarily because of the limited space. I don’t have a home studio I can just head into, but rather I have to set myself up each time I want to record ideas or vocals – and I have to make sure I’m “home alone” so that I don’t get disturbed. Windy days can also be a problem, too, as the lines creak or the wind whistles in the rigging, so if I do want to do any vocal recording at home I have to pick my days. Having said that, I did record some of the final vocals for the album at home in the front cabin, and I have to say that the acoustics on “Pied Piper” were fantastic as there weren’t any square walls for sounds to bounce off, and there was lots and lots of wood!

Nowadays, with the advances in modern technology, though, it’s amazing what you can do in a small space. On Pied Piper I only had room for my guitar, a two octave keyboard, a desktop microphone and headphones and my Mac with Garageband on – all which had to be put away after I’d finished my session – but in reality, for songwriting that’s all I need, and I’m a great believer in collaborating with people who have the instrumental and production skills that I don’t have. Having said that, I’m very excited now that we’ve moved onto a larger boat as I’ll be able to have a full-sized keyboard (although it will need to be stowed when we go to sea!) which is something I’ve longed for, for years.

Does the fact that you live on a boat give you any opportunities that other musicians might not have? Being mobile, can you arrange tours and personal appearances that might be more difficult for other artists to put together?

All the sights and sounds I have seen and people I have met whilst travelling have provided wonderful inspiration for songwriting, but being constantly on the move is actually not a good thing in terms of relationship building and collaboration which is so essential if you want to grow as a songwriter and artist. This is why, three years ago, we decided to stop traveling (at least for a few years) and base ourselves in one place so that, amongst other things, I could start to build those relationships and be part of the musical community that I craved. If we hadn’t have done this, there is no doubt that I wouldn’t be sitting here today with you talking about my debut album.

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 8.48.08 AMOn related topic, you’ve said in the past that one of your goals is to inspire women to follow their dreams no matter what age they are. Why is that important to you? Why is it a message that needs to be shared?

Yes, I think this is a hugely important message that needs to be shared. Raising families and working, together with all the pressures of modern society, mean that women are trying to juggle more things than ever before in their lives, leaving them little time to pursue their dreams and as time goes by, often to forget what their dreams actually are. I always remember my Dad saying to me that he wished he’d had the opportunities that I’d had when he was younger, and I know he had regrets about things not done. The thing is, the world is so full of opportunities nowadays, but many women (and men too) don’t feel that they have the time to take advantage of them.

The reality, though, is that taking an opportunity and following a dream is (not always, but often) down to choice. If you have a dream, you can reach it if you choose to, choose to accept the hard work and the sacrifices and often great leaps of faith that maybe required. And, even if it is not possible when you are younger due to circumstance, age nowadays is no barrier – it is just a number – and it is never too late to start. I didn’t start song-writing until I was in my 30s and now, at the age of 53, I’ve just released my debut album and I intend to keep recording for as long as I have the passion to continue.

I don’t make a point about talking about my age as to me (and I hope to others) it isn’t even a factor – it is the music that is the important thing. But, by revealing my age, I just hope that it will inspire women to follow their dreams not matter how old they are.

I especially love that point about age. So much of our culture centers on youth, and the unspoken message tends to be that if you’re not young, you shouldn’t bother trying something new or putting yourself out there as an artist or a performer. What do you think maturity allows recording artists to bring to the table that younger musicians might not have?

The beautiful thing about getting older is that you become much more self-aware and sure of yourself (sure of who you are) and that helps you to have a clearer idea about what you want from your music, from both a creative point of view and from a business point of view. This enables you to be much more in control of your music and career than perhaps a younger recording artist might be.

We are now seeing more and more examples now of older women in popular music – Debbie Harry making a comeback at age 71 has been such an inspiration for me – and she sounds fantastic! And others, such as Madonna and Aimee Mann in their 50s, Sia in her 40s amongst many others – still recording albums and being at the top of their game! Our culture still has a way to go in terms of changing the public perception and acceptance of older women in popular music compared to older men (too much focus is still given to age and appearance, which is rarely broached upon with older men) but, thankfully, it is slowly changing.

In terms of appearance, I’m picking up a bit of an Annie Lennox vibe. Is she an influence in any way?

I certainly admire Annie Lennox, and I can certainly see why you picked up a resemblance, but I don’t think that consciously I have tried to base my appearance on any other artist. It is important to me that my appearance reflects both who I am and my music. I was always a bit of a tomboy as a youngster and have always been quite minimalistic in terms of colours and style. Also, my music is very genre mixed, so a slightly androgynous look suits both me as a person and my musical style.

Who are some (other) artists who’ve influenced your work?

I have always found this a very hard question to answer, as I listen very widely to many different musical styles (including world music, European pop, classical music, 80s/90s British pop and hip hop/trip hop, and current Indie and Singer-songwriter styles) and so my work if very much influenced by a blend of all of these. If I had to pick out just one or two though, I’d probably have to say David Bowie, Portishead, Massive Attack, and Bjork, but I know I’m missing out on so many others who have influenced me by narrowing it down to these four.

You’ve certainly already had some dreams come true with the release of your album and your seafaring peregrinations. What dreams come next?

Good question. Well, at the moment I’m working on a series of covers which I hope to release as an album before the end of the year, but I’ve already started work on some new originals which will form the basis of a third album, so on the music front I’ve a lot of exciting things on the horizon. Sailing-wise I’m looking forward to getting out locally on our new boat – we’re still surrounded by boxes after the move, so she’s not exactly “ready for sea” yet. Tasmania is wonderful cruising ground, though, so for the moment, we won’t be doing any more extended voyages – not until my third album is finished anyway.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, and good luck with all of your future endeavors!

Thank you, Marc!

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