Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Eric Roberson: Mr Nice Guy talks Music and Family

Pulling up to The Birchmere, just minutes outside of Washington DC, I was surprised to see a line had already begun to form at 4:30 for a show that was scheduled to start at 8:00. An even bigger surprise was that Eric Roberson, the headlining performer, was outside taking pictures chatting and signing autographs for everyone in line. Although concert-goers were there to get will-call tickets, they got much more than expected. Roberson took his time with each person, chatting, exchanging chest-arm hugs with the “brothers” and offering the ladies handshakes or a hug. There was no security or entourage with him as he worked his way to the back of the line. At times, it looked more like friends reconnecting than a Hollywood meet and greet. He says that he always takes time to greet his fans before and after the show.
Eric is a native of New Jersey, where he spent lots of time in church and going through his dad’s record collection. As a youngster, he won Mr. Black Teen Universe, securing him a full scholarship to Howard University in Washington, D.C. It was during that time that Eric, on a self-imposed sabbatical from school, endeavored to pursue a life with his first love…music. In 1994 he landed a deal with Warner Brother Records. Although the album he produced under that deal was never released, its first single, The Moon, still is in rotation on some radio stations, and VH1Soul. He would later return to Howard University, graduating with a degree in Musical Theater.
With the success of being one of the top indie soul artists, who sold most of his CDs at his shows, Eric had no interest in getting a deal with a major label. Instead, he created his own label, “Blue Erro Soul.” Eric has been twice nominated for Grammy awards, and also a BET Award. Although he dropped his first single in 1994, it’s been only recently that mainstream media appears to be catching on.
The best thing about being Eric Roberson right now, he says, “I can be all of me”. Unlike many artists trying to field their way in the music industry maze, Eric is still able to successfully divide his time as an artist, business man, new husband, and even newer father. “I like that I’m able to be in the studio, and still take out the trash or play with my son,” he says. As part of the work- life balancing act, Eric success in some ways seems like a family business. His father often travels with him and helps with the behind the scenes business. During the sound-check, he sang to his one year old son as he was cradled in Eric’ mother’s arms in the distance. Meanwhile, Eric’s wife – who he’d actually met after one of his shows years ago – was navigating between working on her laptop and tending to their son. “I love being married. I love being a father too,” Eric said, “It makes me feel secure, and I love the energy it creates.”

In November, Eric Roberson will release Mr. Nice Guy, his eighth CD since 2001. He says he’s much busier these days, and with each new album he reaches many new fans. But in some ways, Eric feels as if he is still proving himself. Even though he is becoming more popular around the country, for years he has been an industry insider, scribing hits for Musiq, Jill Scott, and Will Downing to name a few. And while he has an almost cult-like following, he’s not yet a household name. He’s now getting radio play, but his songs aren’t a part of most urban/soul radio station daily play lists. Roberson doesn’t spend time lamenting these realities. While many artists measure success by numbers of awards and accolades received, his success is defined far more simply. For Eric, success is only achieved if he achieves success as an artist, success for his band, success for his label, success with his family. “Success to me is to grow old doing my music,” he says.
To many ‘ERFlings’(the nickname for Roberson’s core fanbase), he is the premiere artist on the indie soul scene; however, he is careful to stunt any hints of rivalry, calling it friendly competition. He goes on to say that he is friends and fans of lots of people in his genre. “I love all those guys, Martin Luther, Anthony David, Dwele,” he explains, “If another artist is on a show with me, I want them to have a good show and bring that energy, because I’m gonna do the same thing. This is much bigger than me. We need each other to do well. So we can all take it to the next level.”
Just a few years ago, the internet was expected to hurt the music business, and for many artists funneled through the music industry’s ‘machine,” it has. But the rise in popularity of YouTube and social media has increased the exposure of a mass of indie artists to a population with whom they would have otherwise continued to go unknown. In fact the majority of Eric’s fans discovered his music through word of mouth, MySpace, and YouTube. Eric sees YouTube a great concept. “Lots of people see you on YouTube and decide to go to a show or buy your music based on that. The downside to YouTube is I can’t wear the same thing twice,” he says, laughing, “I used to get away with that”.
In recent years, Roberson has consistently made the right moves. Call it luck; perfect timing, or just talent, his work ethic and talent all seem to be paying off. But perhaps the most humbling example came very recently, with what he sees as two of the greatest compliments to his work as an artist. One was when a young female fan who had suffered a stroke. When her family played Eric’s songs, her vital signs were higher “It’s great to know my music has some level of ministry and healing,” he says. The other, he says, is when people tell him of how they’ve conceived babies to his music. Such compliments used to be saved for the likes of Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder, who Eric happens to be a huge fan of. He says he’ll gladly take the ‘baby-making-love-song’ title if it comes.
For more on Eric you can check out his site www.ericrobersonmusic.com @IamEricRoberson


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