Clichés are cliché’s for a reason and your heart skips several beats when one like “finding a diamond in the rough” becomes reality.
Maybe it was coincidence that I walked down the street at that particular moment, or maybe it was fate. My ear discerned a young musician perched upon a marble statue with guitar in hand on the sidewalk belting dramatic ballads and I was held hostage by his vocals and accompanying acoustics of his track, “This is the Biggest (of all the things we deserve).”
He held nothing back with his bellowing of soul-folk ballads reminiscent of Mat Kearney with a slightly tamer vocal tension, and carefully structured notes reverberating with the least bit of tension to calm the stale, brisk air. His lyrics were a particular mystery, interspersed with allegories and personifications, only for me to later discover that the poetry of John Samson of The Weakerthans has particularly enthralled the musician.
I approached 22 year old Eric Doucette, who had been promoting his first solo gig, to find out that he had left Warwick, New York and the band Mourning District to establish a music career in Madison, WI. We later sat down and discussed Circus Fires, a band to be formed around his acoustic tracks, the mindlessness of MTV today, his recent move from New York to Wisconsin and his awakening and proceeding move away from the punk rock scene.
[In Person Interview]
Musebox: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Eric Doucette: My name is Eric Doucette. I’m from Warwick, New York. That’s in Orange County. Not in California obviously. It’s about an hour north to New York City.
MB: How long have you been performing?
ED: I started playing guitar at nine years old and I’ve been performing in bands since I was 11 or 12. Not too long after I started playing guitar, I just jumped right out of there.
MB: Did you learn it from guitar teachers?
ED: Yea, actually my grandmother spotted us for guitar lessons and so I took lessons for a long time – something like six or seven years and we couldn’t afford it anymore so I just stopped and I learned enough so that I could go from there.
MB: So you’ve been pretty much learning as you go?
ED: Always learning. Everyone is.
MB: What compelled you to move to Madison from New York?
ED: Well, living in my small town in Orange County, Warwick. Living in Warwick – it’s small and I’ve lived there for 20 years and I was always trying to further myself and my musical career there, but it just didn’t seem like it was going anywhere. I just felt like I was spinning my wheels too much so my brother, he graduated from college and got the job with Epic Systems pretty much immediately and he just offered me a place to stay with him so I jumped at it.
MB: How come you didn’t try to find venues and gigs in New York City?
ED: You’d think so. There are a lot of venues in the city where they’re having shows constantly, but you kind of have to be a little more established than a guy from upstate to come down and play a show at a venue and I wasn’t too established then. People knew who I was. I played in a band called Morning District. We were kind of an indie pop, rock band from Washingtonville, New York. It was a lot like Death Cab meets Block Party and those guys in that band had a bunch of connections so we got a lot of shows in the city with that band more.
MB: What happened to that band?
ED: I think they’re still going. I honestly don’t know. I’d like to think that they’re still going. I just moved out here. It was just something I had to do.
MB: What was your position in that band?
ED: I just played the bass. I didn’t write all the songs. I hardly played any bass parts, but yea I played the bass.
MB: It appears that you joined a band called Circus Fires.
ED: Circus Fires is a band I’m forming with some friends of mine that I’ve made here. It’s basically going to be full band versions of my acoustic stuff so it’s all my songs and right now I don’t know if they have any intentions on writing anything else but right now it’s just all of my songs and we’re trying to flesh them out as well as we can as a full band.
MB: How many members are in the band?
ED: There are four. Two guitars, bass and drums. The standard I guess you can say.
MB: What’s your role in the band?
ED: I play the guitar and I sing.
MB: So what musicians have influenced you in your songwriting?
ED: As a kid, I was into a lot of the punk rock stuff. I can remember watching MTV as a kid and watching Green Day up there.
MB: Yea, I remember those good old days.
ED: Yea, those were the days.
MB: Now we’re spoon fed all these mindless reality TV shows.
ED: It’s bad now. I highly encourage boycotting it. [We both laugh] Just seeing bands like Green Day up there. They didn’t seem all dolled up or anything. That’s what drove me to actually be a musician because they seemed like they were just having a great time. As far as songwriting goes, as of late a lot of David Bazan’s work and The Weakerthans have always been a big influence on me. They’re from Winnipeg, Canada.
MB: There are a lot of great bands coming out of Canada.
ED: Yea I know. They’re amazing. But the singer, songwriter of The Weakerthans is a nationally renowned poet and his lyrics are one of the best things that I’ve heard. So that’s what I try to focus on more – my lyrics. I want them to be coherent but cryptic in a way. I’m still working on that.
MB: So what compelled you to move from playing punk rock to the acoustic and mellow sounds?
ED: I’ve always liked the fogey, bluesy stuff. When I was taking lessons for the guitar, what I was taught first was mainly blues and folk stuff. I always liked it but the reason I moved away from the punk rock scene was because for one thing it was the people. A lot of the people in the punk rock scene can be very closed minded and I feel like there could be so much more that could be with music and I found that freedom in this other thing… I don’t even know what they call what I’m doing.
MB: I checked out your Myspace page and the genres that you stated are Emo, Acoustic and Ghettotech.
ED: That’s just because they gave me genres to pick. I don’t really know what to classify myself. I like emo indie bands, but I don’t have a clue.
MB: So what do you typically write your songs about?
ED: Anything that strikes me. Mostly about my life. Experiences that I’ve had that I thought I’ve grown from or learned something from. I used to be a lot more of a downer than I used to be. A lot of my songs were depressing, and they still are, but I’m trying to be a little more positive.
MB: Can you walk me through “This is the Biggest (of all Things we Deserve)”; what types of thoughts crossed your mind when creating the song?
ED: “This is the Biggest” is a song that I wrote that kind of came out of nowhere. It just kind of happened. It’s about how a lot of people in this world are blinded by their own problems and they’re so blinded that they don’t really care about other people because of it. They don’t care about where they live. The Earth is a huge place. It’s kind of a funny song about if the universe had a conscious, it would have killed us off a long time ago. So I told you, it’s kind of a downer.
MB: Can you go into where you see yourself in the future. Is there a dream gig or venue that you’d like to play at?
ED: I guess I don’t really have a dream venue. I just like to play. I guess my biggest goal would be to make a living from doing this, but if I can’t do that, I won’t stop playing. That’s the ultimate goal.
MB: What instruments are you playing right now?
ED: Well my acoustic, I used to play it out when it was in better condition, but it’s an Ibanez. It’s an electric acoustic and the electric part is completely busted so it’s not really electric acoustic. As far as electric stuff, I have a Fender Stratocaster, which is kind of a Frankenstein monster because I broke the original neck a while ago and I had to replace it with a different part that wasn’t part of it. So it’s a Mexican made body and an American neck. The amp I’m using is a Fender Hotrod Deluxe – it kicks. I love it.
MB: When did you realize that you could sing? You mentioned that you learned the guitar, but where did singing come into the picture?
ED: I always liked to sing. It seemed to be the easiest immitigable thing. I picked up on it pretty quickly. I don’t think that I’ve had any formal lessons.
MB: The online marketing side of the industry is huge these days so how are you pursuing that to make a name for yourself?
ED: A couple of years ago, Myspace was the best tool for a band. I know people who have booked entire tours through Myspace, like long tours that were a couple of months long. It’s incredible but Myspace is kind of waning right now. I don’t think it has the exact things that Myspace had going for it. It’s getting there.
The music industry is pretty terrible right now. As a whole, the whole music industry is bad and it’s always been the hardest industry to get into and the hardest to stay into but in today’s market I feel like the best way to do it is to release digital copies. Like on Bandcamp or iTunes. Digital media is definitely the way to go right now, but I’m a sucker for old school releases like putting it out on a CD that’s been pressed with a booklet and the actual casing. Even vinyl records. It’s surprising that vinyl records are coming back now.
MB: Yea, I’ve noticed the popularity of creating 7 inch EPs among musicians these days. Too bad I don’t have a phonograph.
ED: You should get one man. Seriously. Vinyl is a much more special experience than just listening to music on your iPod because you have to actually be involved with the music. There is no just hitting a button and the track changes. You actually need to be involved. It’s more of a communal thing. You get to share your music with your friends – there’s no portable vinyl player so it has to be in one room and you can have people around and it’s much more of a social experience. I find that great. Plus you can hear so more things on a vinyl records than on CD.
There’s this band called Spoon. They put out a record called “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga,” five “Ga’s.” Once I downloaded it (legally) and afterward I got the vinyl and there were so many things I missed. It was amazing, hearing it again for another time in a new way.
MB: What else is Circus Fires working on aside from mastering the songs you’ve already written?
ED: The plan of action that we’re going by is that I’m showing them the songs that I’ve written and we’re just basically trying to figure it out together how to make it into a full band song, while kind of keeping the same basic aspects of the original acoustic songs. All the songs on my demo are going to be in full band form soon.