Factory Seconds

I released my latest EP on Wednesday. It’s kind of a mixed bag of tunes, but I think they hang together pretty well.

The EP is called Factory Seconds. I was thinking of Andy Warhol when the title came to me. I was also thinking about how I often check out factory seconds and B-stock when I’m looking for musical equipment. Usually it’s just a little blemish or a crack in the finish that knocks a few dollars off the price of a guitar. My favorite guitar, for example is a Gretsch Streamliner with a crack in the finish. The guitar plays great and stays in tune better than any of my other guitars. But because of that crack, I paid a lot less than the suggested regular retail price.

Along similar lines, I’ll be the first to admit that one of the things that lends a bit of charm — and, one might argue, humanity — to my songs is that they’re all imperfect in one way or another. For one thing, I’m no Caruso, but to quote a review of my song “George Around the Corner” by the (quite excellent) music blogger Jeff Archuleta, “He doesn’t have a powerful singing voice, but he more than makes up for it with a quirky, endearing vocal delivery that never fails to put a huge smile on my face.” 

So I thought I’d play on the idea of factory seconds and offer four songs on an EP for what’s usually the price of two and give folks the same kind of deal I got on my guitar. Plus I added a couple of bonus tracks to the mix to sweeten the deal.

The first song on the EP is called “The Way We Walk.” If there’s a unifying theme to be found on Factory Seconds — and, to be honest, most of the songs I write — it’s expressed in this one. We’re all outsiders in one way or another, and if we’re lucky, we’re cool with it. The hook is admittedly — is “solipsistic” the word I’m looking for? I mean, what does “We walk the way we walk, it’s the way we walk” even mean? The words just came out of mouth when I sat down in front of my microphone and started singing to a drum beat that I had recorded.

The obviously rejoinder for the next line was to replace “walk” with “talk,” and that got me thinking about where I live. Ever since Mare of Easttown (and probably long before it), the peculiarities of the Delaware County accent have been getting a bit of attention. All in good fun, of course, and I, for one, take it as a point of pride. But the funny thing about accents is that no one really notices they have one until someone from “outside” points it out. Which, I suppose, is the idea at the heart of saying “we talk the way we talk, it’s the way we talk.” There’s nothing weird about it to us Delco natives. That’s just how it is.

Of course, there’s also a bit of an edge to the song as well. The first verse lets you know something is amiss: “You and I both know the lies they tell about our kind: The only good one is a dead one, and the dead ones just aren’t trying.” I actually wrote that long before the song’s hook came to me — probably a bout a year ago or more.

But once I started figuring out what the hook was trying to tell me, that verse fit nicely with the theme and the idea that arbitrary social markers like an accent can sometimes make a huge difference in one’s life, signaling as they do all kinds of insider vs. outsider distinctions. More than once I’ve said something in my Delco accent only to realize that I’m suddenly the weirdo in the conversation as a result.

Which is usually fine by me, largely because being an outsider to one group also means being an insider in another. And that’s why the rest of the verses are, to some extent, about finding comfort even in the fact that “the way we walk” and the “the way we talk” sets us apart from the mainstream. Even if the way we talk is a dead-end street, it takes us where we want to go.

Also worth noting, the “This is the glue…” lyrics in the bridge came to me while I was out walking my dog. It’s rare for me to sit down and write an entire song in one sitting. Mainly, I just jot things down in a little notebook throughout the year and then try to piece the scraps together whenever I feel like I want to develop them into a song.

The same is true of “All the Hairy Boys,” which I see as a companion piece to “The Way We Walk,” though I originally wrote it as a response to the first song I released under my own name, “Before the Boys.” The original idea of “Before the Boys” was to look at the kinds of pressures that society puts on young girls to behave in a certain way, and “All the Hairy Boys” was initially an attempt to do the same with boys — or boys of a certain era, anyway.

In the song, they’re teenagers in muscle cars, revving their engines and play their music as loud as they can because it’s the only way to let the world know they exist. Of course, they’re teens, so they don’t realize they’re just coming off as jerks. Eventually, one hopes, they’ll grow up and figure out some other way to express themselves constructively, but until then, it’s all about being loud and rude to mask their insecurity. Which, as you might guess, is a version of what’s going on in “The Way We Walk.”

With “Before the Weatherman,” I got a little meta. Once again, the phrase “before the weatherman” came to me when I was out walking my dog, and I started building a song around the idea of a precocious or pretentious teen trying to sound wise and philosophical by making claims about what life used to be like “in olden times.”

The problem is that there’s nothing in the song itself to indicate that I’m in “character” while I’m singing, other than the fact that I’m singing in a voice I don’t usually use — my faux Michael McDonald Steely Dan voice. It’s like I’m trying to embody some teen who wants to sound older and wiser and therefore someone other than who he is by singing in the voice of someone other than who I am. The more I explain it the less sense it makes.

Anyway, the basic idea this kid is trying to convey is that people used to live much more engaging lives in the past than they do now, largely because their lives weren’t mediated by technology — like weather reports or the “tiny screens” that appear in verse three.

The original version of this song ran a lot longer.Once I started recording it, I realized that it was going to be nearly six minutes long — or longer. And though a six-minute meditation on the decline of interpersonal relationships at the hands of technology as told from the point of view of a pretentious teenager struck me as incredibly funny, I also felt like the joke might wear a little thin after a few listens. So, in the words of Billy Joel, I cut it down to 3:05. Or 3:20, as the case may be.

In case you’re curious, here are a couple of the verses I cut:

Vandals on the edge of town
Sharpening their axes
Made us wonder why the hell we
Paid so much in taxes.

The walls of stone we built could
Barely keep the bears out,
Let alone the savage scent of
Simmering sauerkraut.

Maybe it helps to know that the Vandals were a Germanic tribe that sacked Rome in the year 455? It’s the kind of thing I imagine the teenaged narrator of the song would know, anyway. And think was incredibly poignant. But as far as the song goes, it was incredibly unwieldy. In any case, some boys rev their engines while others try to sound smarter and wiser than they are. I imagine you can guess which category I fell into as a young man.

In terms of recording the song, I was lucky to have my friend and fellow Star Crumble Brian Lambert offer to add some backing vocals on “Before the Weatherman” and also to provide a brief spoken-word interlude in place of my guitar solo on what I’m releasing one of the bonus tracks on the EP. I’m calling it the “Bespoke Version” because it’s both bespoke in the “custom made” or unique sense but also because Brian is speaking on it.

If the first three songs of the EP are about young people who feel like outsiders trying to figure out where they fit into the world around them, the final song is about stepping out of the world for a quiet night at home with a hot cup of tea. And an interloping shape-shifting Pagan goddess named Bertha. Technically, it should probably be “Bertha with a Swan’s Foot” or “Bertha with a Big Foot,” but I liked the image that “Bertha with a Crooked Foot” conjured.

The “rewarder of the generous, and the punisher of the bad, particularly lying children” (so says Wikipedia), Bertha (or Perchta as she’s known in German) is a mythical figure who sometimes takes the shape of a beautiful woman and sometimes takes the shape of a beast. In this version of the myth, I imagine her being transported to the 21st century and, with some degree of amusement, trying to figure out what people are doing with their lives while the narrator of the song is himself trying to figure out what he’s doing with his.

In some ways, I suppose, Bertha is herself an outsider looking in. But since she’s a divine entity, she’s pretty okay with being an outsider and just views the ridiculous pursuits of contemporary humans as fascinating albeit silly curiosities.

It took me a little while to figure out how “Bertha with a Crooked Foot” should sound, and the lyrics evolved subtly as I continued to work on it. You can hear some of the differences in the early sketch of the song that I’ve included as the second bonus track on the EP. It’s just me working out the first verse and the chorus on a wobbly piano with clacky-sounding keys.

Altogether, I had a lot of fun recording Factory Seconds. It’s a weird little EP, but I’ve always said that weird is good. It beats the heck out of ordinary, anyway, and in the final analysis is probably what makes life worth living. We’re all weird in one way or another, and if I can celebrate that weirdness in music, then I feel like I’ve done my job.

Accidental Harmony: An Interview with Greg Gallagher

I had the privilege of sharing a stage with Greg Gallagher a few weeks back when we played at the Nail in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, in support of Scoopski. As soon as he stepped onto the stage, I was pretty sure I’d met a kindred spirit, particular given Greg’s apparent fondness for offset electric guitars and big glasses. Goth and moody, his set consisted of original tunes and covers that he brought to life with self-deprecating wit, plaintive vocals, and a mint-green Jazzmaster guitar—the perfect opening to a great night of music.

You did a haunting cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” when you played at the Nail, and I was definitely impressed when you hit all the high notes. What drew you to that song, and do you have any plans to release a recording of your version?

Thanks so much for the kind words first of all. Singing is one of the last things I learned how to do so getting any kind of praise for it is always a nice surprise.

I always liked the brooding nature of the song.  As a teen, I became drawn to more dark, gothic sounds and discovered a band from Finland called “HIM” They do a wonderfully faithful, yet musically much heavier cover and that drew me to the song. My wife also happens to love the original so I like to play songs she enjoys.

Your Bandcamp bio mentions that you played in a number of bands before taking a break from music. What are some highlights from that period of your life, and what led to the break?

I would say one of my fondest memories from playing in a number of local bands was getting to record a full-length album at the Creep House studio with Arik Victor, and that album’s record release show on my 20th birthday in a parking lot behind the Exton mall. I was in called “Drop Out Academy.” Cringeworthy name? Yes, but we had so much fun in that band. We ended up splitting up by the end of that year, but we reformed three years later under moniker of “Atom Outcome,” not that much better of a name but it was another band that wrote material that I look back fondly on.

The break from music happened in December 2013 when I found out that I was going to be a father—to twins! So, I had to put music on the back burner for a while.

Then you returned to music as a solo artist. What brought you back?

Well, once my kids started creeping up on five years old, they were no longer consuming ALL of my time outside of work, hahaha.

In the five years off, I still wrote songs. No one besides me would hear them. I also had a handful of songs I had written for my last band and I really liked them. I thought it was a shame that some of the tunes I was most proud of would seemingly never see the light of day. So I decided to say “fuck it” and just do it myself. I’m really glad I did too!

Your latest album, 667, includes a track called “Cynically Derivative.” Is it a comment on the music industry?

That’s interesting, because you could definitely interpret it that way and I guess it partially is that. It’s also a bit of a jab at myself, the song is very similar musically to a Bad Religion song “True North,” so it’s kind of poking fun at myself as well as commenting on the pronounced lack of originality in popular music.

It’s a great album, by the way. I know you played pretty much all of the instruments on that one. What’s your approach to recording?

Thanks so much! My usual approach is to start with the drums. I know if I have a good, solid drum track then I have a strong foundation for the song. Even if I just record the drums with 1-2 room mics (like I did on Burst) getting a good drum track for a rock song is crucial. Burst was done entirely in a basement and and upstairs rehearsal space and I did everything by myself. Which, in retrospect, may not have been the best idea. Hence why I decided to hire my friend Ian Shiela to do 667 since he very much knows what he’s doing, hahaha.

How do you translate that to your live set? I’m thinking in particular of the challenge of taking songs that you’ve arranged and recorded with multiple instruments and adapting them to just an electric guitar and vocal.

Even with the faster or more punk-inspired songs, I always start writing stuff on acoustic guitar. I do that because I kind of always have and also, to make sure that I can pull these songs off live when it’s just me and a guitar.

That’s a good strategy–very smart! Speaking of writing, you recorded Burst in 2020, but it consisted of songs you had written in 2010. What was it like to revisit those songs—and, I imagine, the headspace of who you were ten years earlier?

It was really fun and something I needed to do because I often find myself doubting my abilities, going back, revisiting those songs and not only seeing the growth as a person and musician was helpful and inspiring. I also was surprised that not all of the songs were terrible! Some of it was painful as I remember certain songs that were written during tumultuous times, but overall it was a really good and fun experience. I recommend it if you’ve been making music for ten or more years.

I might try that! You mention in the notes for that EP that you hadn’t yet learned all the techniques for proper recording. What are some things you’ve learned about recording since then? Would you change anything?

I’ve learned that levels are very important, haha. The biggest thing is that guitars, especially these days, are so easy to record and get a decent sound. Drums are so different, and much more challenging to record and get a good sound. Especially since drum sounds change from room to room. I’ve also learned that lead vocal tracks always sound better when doubled. Lennon used to do it, that’s how Butch Vig convinced Kurt Cobain to do it on Nevermind. It’s a basic technique I use on basically all my recordings.

Also, working with my good friend Ian who co-produced and did all the mixing and mastering on my last two releases taught me so much about capturing the best performance. Another partner in crime, Andres Natalino, does all the mixing for my covers on YouTube. He’s taught me a lot of cool tricks for at-home recording on a budget.

Alternately, is there anything you’re glad you technically did “wrong” because it turned out sounding interesting in some way?

Oh god, I’ve done so many things that are technically wrong—haha! There’s a song on Burst that was recorded terribly, it’s the first real song after the intro track. However, the way the guitars are layered at the end. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time and the timing is all over the place (and I played one track on the wrong string!) but it created a really cool sound and even an accidental harmony, so I’m glad I had no goddamn clue what I was doing!

What’s next?

Oh boy. Quite a bit actually! I have a covers EP coming out next month. It will be on Spotify, Bandcamp, etc. It’ll consist of what I believe to be my strongest covers to date. Thanks to you, I think I may record and include “Wicked Game” on it! I’m also writing songs for a follow up to 667 I hope to start demoing those soon and get back in with Ian sometime next year.

 I’m trying to be more active on my YouTube Channel, where I post my covers and originals. I also do interviews. Late last year I had the privilege of interviewing one of my all-time favorite singers and songwriters, Joe Wood formerly of T.S.O.L. I got to perform with him this summer with his new band Change Today. That was amazing. My next guest is a goth rock/horror punk icon, Myke Hideous. He’s the mastermind behind the criminally underrated band “the Empire Hideous” but he’s perhaps best known for briefly fronting the Misfits in the late 1990s. So there’s a ton of cool shit happening very soon!

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Thanks so much for talking to me!

It’s been a pleasure.

For me as well!

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.