by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor’s Note: This interview took place late December.
The first time I saw singer-songwriter Erick Willis play, it was a three-man song-swap with Red Shahan and Brandon Adams opening for a solo Jonathan Tyler. One of the things that surprised me most about Willis his wallflower demeanor while off the stage (and really even on stage), yet possessing such a deep and rich voice that commanded the room.
One moment in particular, was when he went into the Stevie Nicks penned Fleetwood Mac standard, “Landslide.” And that’s sort of where Willis sets himself apart from his contemporaries. He’s a little less Texas and a little more of a traditional ’60s/’70s songwriter–much in the same way Sean McConnell is. They’re not necessarily Texas songwriters in the sense of a Jerry Jeff Walker or Guy Clark but rather are more Jackson Browne. There’s a lot of great melody and pop sense in Willis (in a good way). It’s a fine combination, his velvet vocals and style, that’s able to capture the best of both worlds–and one that lends itself to doing a song such as “Landslide” justice.
His “That Makes Two of Us,” a duet with Tori Vasquez, was recently on our Top 40 Lubbock Songs of 2012 list. It’s another song that has a hint of duet nostalgia that’s everything that made a Tom Petty & Stevie Nicks or a Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn duet perfect (Yes, those are from two different eras and genres, but that’s exactly where Willis and Vasquez took that song. Somewhere in the middle.).
We caught up with Willis a while back to discuss what’s on the horizon for him musically. He’ll be opening up for Josh Weathers tomorrow (Friday, Jan. 31) at The Blue Light.
New Slang: Your song, “That Makes Two of Us” came in at number 10 on our Top 40 Lubbock Song list. Was that song always intended to be a duet?
Erick Willis: It wasn’t how I had written it. I had written it–it was probably one of the first six or seven songs I had written–and I had always done it by myself. But looking at the lyrics of it, I just thought it worked perfectly, with that second verse, it could be a duet. The hook line and everything worked perfect. So we decided to try it out like that. We actually had another girl in mind, I won’t say who it was, but she ended up backing out on us and we were kind of left hanging. And we almost done it with just me recording it, but Red [Shahan], he recommended Tori Vasquez. I listened to her stuff. She was definitely different from the girl we had it intended for. I was a little nervous doing it, but soon as we were in the studio, she was exactly what we wanted and more. It turned out great.
NS: Yeah. I think that’s real interesting, that it wasn’t written with it being a duet in mind, but that it works out that way. You kind of feel like the song really has two different lives–one as a duet and the other sung solely by yourself?
EW: Definitely. I know what you mean.
NS: That came of your EP that was released earlier this year. What’s coming up next for you?
EW: Next, we’re currently working on a five-track strictly acoustic EP. It’ll be five new songs and just acoustic guitar, some lead acoustic. We’re going to have some violin on there and I think some harmonica. It’s going to be real basic. I’m excited about it. You know, it’s going to be different from this one. Hopefully, I’m thinking around February, hopefully will be wrapping that up. And then I’m writing and co-writing songs for a full-length album for next year.
NS: Where are you recording all this at?
EW: I’m recording in Ft. Worth at a place called Ft. Worth Sound. There’s a producer there named Bart Rose. I was really glad to work with him. He’s got a lot of really great connections and was able to get a lot of fabulous studio musicians to play on it and stuff like that. And he had a lot of great input on producing the songs.
NS: Going back to the EP, just curious, but what do you think was the best song on it?
EW: I really do think the duet ended up being my favorite. All the songs on there, they’re all earlier songs I had written. I’ve been trying to do this for about two years now and this summer was the first time I was able to get some music out there. It’s older stuff that I had written, but you know, I was happy to put it out. I was really happy with the way everything turned out. But I do think overall, making that into a duet, it turned out being my favorite for sure.
NS: Musicians and songwriters will often talk about how when they first release a record, they’ve had their entire life to write that record. It’s that second record, and each one there after, where they’ve only got a year or two of time to write the material. That there’s pressure with that. What do you think of that notion?
EW: I feel like now the stuff I’m writing now, I don’t know if I’d call it better, but it’s progressively getting–I guess I’m saying my songwriting is progressing to a point where my songs aren’t as simple. They have a little more meaning. That’s why I’m always excited to getting new stuff out, but you know, it’s all about the money when it comes to recording stuff.
NS: You also mentioned some co-writing. Who have you written or plan on writing with?
EW: Well Red, he’s the main one I’m looking forward to writing with. And you know Brandon Adams from out there. I plan on doing do writing with him. He actually told me that he wanted to write a song for me for the full-length album so I’m excited about that too.
NS: Yeah. Those two guys, they’re great of course. Their sound though, it’s different from what style you are. I think that’s cool though. It’s great to work with guys who aren’t trying to do exactly what you’re trying to do.
EW: Yeah. That’s the main reason I’m wanting to do some co-writing for the full-length. Just because, it’ll be something from a different prospective. It’s good to collaborate and expand. I’m excited to try it out.
NS: Also with you, you’re starting to get a band together and playing full band.
EW: Yeah. You know Parker [Morrow] from out there. Parker approached me and said, “what about throwing a band together and playing at The Blue Light on a Wednesday night?” I said sure and we had a few practices. It’s been great. We’ve played four or five shows now. Opened up for Cody Canada & The Departed. I like doing the acoustic stuff, but I like the full band as well.