Five Questions For.... Eric Roberson
by Deborah Hinds
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Singer/songwriter Eric Roberson creates some of the best songs in
soul music today. As a songwriter, Roberson’s credits include tracks
for Jill Scott, Musiq, Dwele, Carl Thomas, Vivian Green, 112, and Will
Downing. As a singer, he’s amassed a loyal following of die-hard soul
music heads in the States and abroad.  And it’s not hard to see why.
If Roberson’s latest release, Presents:
the Vault 1.5 is not permanently in your
CD changer or iPod, you’re missing one
of the best soul releases of 2004, right
up there with Rahsaan Patterson’s After
Hours, Lalah Hathaway’s Outrun the
Sky, and Jill Scott’s Beautifully Human.
And much like soul music’s resident poet
laureate Jill Scott, Roberson’s songs tell
stories—honest, universal, and strikingly
poignant stories, told over melodies
that stay in your head long after the
record ends. A few listens to songs like Couldn’t Hear Me, Def Ears,
Past Paradise, Back to You, and Rock With You, and you’ll be singing
the hooks from these songs to yourself all day long. There’s a clarity
and warmth in Roberson’s voice:  smooth and almost intoxicating
when paired with the record’s head-bopping beats and soulful, jazzy
melodies.

Roberson spoke recently about the joys of being an in-demand
singer and songwriter, the deal with the two Vault records, and the
politics of the music industry.  
1.   You’ve done a lot of songwriting for other artists over the
years and more recently, you’ve released your own records. Can
you describe what you get out of each (songwriting and singing)?
Creating music is a joy, a release, more than anything, even before it’
s a job. It’s an escape, and a way to get stories and feelings I have
inside of me out. And of course, I’m very fortunate to be able to make
a living by pretty much just sharing my journal with people. It’s
interesting because sometimes it’s very, very hard to share my
thoughts and experiences and other times it’s easy. A lot of times
songs are very personal and it’s hard to give those songs away. And
it becomes difficult when you have a vision for a song and you have
to give your vision away for a higher purpose or for a financial
purpose. So I try to give songs to other artists enough to allow me
to survive financially, while allowing me to continue making my own
records.

2.   Let’s talk about The Esoteric Movement and Presents: The
Vault 1.5. What’s the story behind the new version of The Esoteric
Movement and the two Vault records (Presents: The Vault 1.0 and
1.5)?
 
I only released a couple thousand copies of Esoteric and once I sold
those, I went back to songwriting. I just reissued a new version of it
and I changed the record up a lot when I reissued it—new artwork,
mixed some of the songs a bit better, and added two songs as well.
The original Esoteric, though it’s not a better quality than the new
version, has become sort of a collector’s item, so if you find it on
eBay, it’ll probably go for a lot of money.

As far as The Vault 1.0, that was never supposed to be an album.
There was a website called Soul 24-7 that had a big forum and there
was a posting about people trying to find Esoteric. I can’t even tell
you how many people have contacted me trying to find that record.
So I posted a message saying I wasn’t at the point yet to re-release
Esoteric, but I had some songs and if anyone was interested, they
could send me an email and I’d get them a record. I only pressed up
500 copies of Volume 1 (Vault 1.0) initially, and then I sold a lot of
the songs from that record to other artists like Carl Thomas and
Dwele, so I couldn’t keep those songs on my own record. So I went
to the Soul 24-7 forum and asked the people who bought Esoteric for
their input about what I should put out next and collectively we
discussed it and came up with The Vault 1.5. For The Vault 1.5, I
removed four songs from The Vault 1.0 and added about eight
songs. So now The Vault 1.0 no longer exists.    

It sounds like you’re very accessible to your audience via website
forums like Soul 24-7 and your own website’s message board.
Yes I am. Independent artists are more accessible than major (label)
artists because we have to be. After my shows we stay and talk to
the audience because that’s pretty much my radio and my videos. My
message board on my website is my BET. If I had a video, it would be
pretty hard to get it on TV because I’d be competing with artists on
major record labels.

3.   You’re one of a growing number of soul artists who exist
largely outside of the mainstream media and release your music
independently. Is this working for you or are you looking to go to
a major label to gain a larger audience?
I would never say I’d never sign a major deal again, but it’s just not
important to me right now. I’ve been signed at least five times and
it’s fallen through each time. I’ve sat in front of the best of them—
every single executive at Def Jam, L.A. Reid, you name it, and it just
never really worked out. I’ve been in the business for over 10 years,
and I’ve watched so many phenomenal records get created and
never come out and phenomenal artists who didn’t get a chance to
showcase their abilities. I release my music myself because not only
am I one of those artists but I feel like we have to find another outlet
to fight against this system. The (music) industry is becoming more
and more corporate. I’m 31 years old and I’m making the best music
of my life right now and by no means am I’m going to let somebody
dictate what I can and cannot do and who I can give my music to. It’s
funny because I always just followed my path and released music
that was dear to me. I’ve toured the world last year and gained a
following and sold a lot of records. I gave the keys to God along time
ago and said ‘wherever you want me to go, I’m in the passenger
side now.’ And as fast as I did that, the rewards just started raining
down.

I think independent artists like me have a responsibility to find other
ways to get our music to the people. I think we’re taking care of that
responsibility by owning our music and creating a new outlet for
artists to release music. I always encourage other artists to release
their music themselves. I’d never tell an artist not to sign a major
deal, but I would tell them not to wait until they get a record deal to
release their music. Just sell it yourself and if anything, you’ll create
some buzz and have some leverage when signing with a record
company. One of the biggest problems with a major (record) deal is
we so badly want one that we don’t do a deal that’s beneficial to us.
It’s like when someone wants to get married so badly they just
marry somebody—they don’t have any idea if the person drinks or is
abusive or whatever. So you sign a deal with somebody because
they give you a little up front money but yet they’re neglecting the
mess out of you, and your album’s not coming out for another two
years even though it was recorded a year ago.

4.  Soul music has historically referred to a certain style of music,
but also vocals and lyrics that come from the soul, are authentic,
and convey real feelings. As an artist grows and evolves, their
music may change to reflect new experiences and influences,
although the “soul” remains. Yet, as listeners, we often want our
favorite artists to do the same kind of record over and over again,
and we tend to be very critical of a new record that sounds
different from the last one, even when it’s good. Your thoughts?    
 
Soul music comes from soul and it’s about growth. I’ve seen so many
artists go through this where they grow and evolve personally and
artistically but nobody wants them to change—Musiq and Jill Scott,
just to name a few. If you’re from Philly, for example, and you’ve
never left Philly, and you release your first record, it’s going to reflect
your life and experiences to that point. Then if you go to Africa,
Holland, Japan, and do shows all over the world, you’re not the same
person you were before, and your music, while still soulful, is going
to reflect what you’ve learned and experienced.

5.  Tell us what you’ve got coming up musically.
I do a show every third Wednesday called Sol Village at S.O.B.’s in
New York and I’m doing a New Year’s Eve show at S.O.B.’s with Amel
Larrieux. I’ve got some other shows coming up in January and
February on the East Coast, but I’m really trying to slow down the
shows so I can start working on the next record. I’ve toured for
about a year and a half straight and there are several artists I’m
doing songs for (Musiq, Carl Thomas, Dwele, Chante Moore and
Kenny Lattimore) who have been waiting for me to get off the road
to be available to work on some songs for their new records.

Esoteric and Presents: The Vault 1.5 are both available for purchase
on Eric Roberson’s website:
www.ericrobersonmusic.com .
Upcoming live appearances are listed on the website’s Board page.