Interview: Eric Devries

Could you share the story behind your latest song and what inspired its creation?

That’s the new single ‘Shadow of a Man’. I had some of the lyrics lying about for years but only when I gathered all the material for the new album I found the inspiration to finish it. The inspiration was an incident years ago when I was really really young and I got into an argument with my best friend and while it happened I thought: ‘wait a minute, that’s not me, I don’t even recognize myself. That evolved into a break-up song where the protagonist is staring into the mirror and doesn’t recognize himself and reminds himself he’s usually good at recognizing faces. I am especially pleased with the tempo of the song as I first intended to write as a ballad.

How do you approach the process of songwriting, and are there any specific themes or emotions you tend to explore in your music?

I usually tend to sit down playing guitar and let my mind wander. It can be a chord process or a guitar hook that I come up with while playing. There are some themes that seem to find their way into new songs on each album. On this new album ‘Traveler’s Heart’ it occurred to me that almost all songs are about traveling, or a journey. Looking inside yourself is a journey as well isn’t it? But following your heart even though a new start can be painful is one of the recurring themes I guess.

As an indie musician, how do you navigate the balance between creative freedom and commercial appeal?

I have always tried to ignore the commercial side of the business. I think the artists I grew up listening to were not writing songs with an audience in mind. It’s just I have always felt the need to write and sing my songs for my sanity to begin with. If my songs can move me, maybe I can move somebody listening too? My previous album ‘Song & Dance Man’ was recorded during the lockdowns and while I had no expectations other than making an album close to my heart I was blown away by the result and I did want people to hear it. So I could no longer ignore the commercial side of things. And guess what? I like doing interviews now. We had an album out with Matthews Southern Comfort, just before the Lockdowns started and it just vanished into thin air. I did not want that to happen again.

What do you find most challenging about being an independent artist in today’s music industry?

I guess that would be finding your audience. There’s so much going on these days. With streaming services and technology allowing people to make records at home. Growing up it was an ambition to get an article in the music magazine and everybody would know your name. Not anymore. So the commercial side of things is even more
important now I guess.

Can you talk about your experiences collaborating with other artists or musicians? How does it influence your creative process?

I mostly write on my own. But when I was in Matthews Southern Comfort I did a few co writes with Iain Matthews (Fairport Convention / Matthews Southern Comfort / Plainsong) and that was really fun. As I have made writing in English my own we found that it worked really well bouncing off ideas to one another. Another thing is when you have more writers in a band you got yourself a little competition going. Like, if he’s coming up with something good then I gotta be on the ball too right? It helps. Working with the musicians in my band now also made me look into my guitar playing. I am re-inventing myself as a ‘flat-picker’ now. I am still a finger-picker but I’m expanding my horizon as these guys are great Bluegrass players and I don’t want to fall behind 😉

What role does technology and social media play in promoting your music and connecting with your audience?

Like I said, the national music magazines are struggling so you must have exposure on social media. Technology is big and so are the socials. So you’ve got your newsletters, your social media accounts and it takes up so much of your time. I did not grow up with the internet but I’m learning each day. It’s great that people from around the world get in touch with you but at the end of the day it’s all about who turns up at your show, right? I mean playing live is my main drive.
Are there any particular artists or genres that have had a significant impact on your musical style?
I started out as a young punk-rocker so, yes that had a huge impact on me in my youth. I liked The Jam and I even ended up opening for them when they played the Paradiso in Amsterdam. I was eighteen I think. But I grew up on the Beatles before that of course. Later on I discovered Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. Later still, I guess we’re talking the nineties, I saw Steve Earle and I sort of rediscovered the country albums my dad used to play at home.

Indie musicians often have a close relationship with their fanbase. How do you engage with your fans and build a dedicated community around your music?

I have a newsletter that people can subscribe to when they give their addresses during gigs. If it’s one thing I learned from Paul Weller and the Jam it’s connecting with your fans. So I like to take the time to talk to people after the show. When I was young it felt really awkward but I’ve grown into that. Same with talking to an audience and telling stories. I’d never thought I’d do that but it’s great.

Could you describe a memorable live performance experience or tour that has had a
lasting impact on you and your music?

Phew, there are so many. Like I just said, opening for the Jam for a full house in my hometown when I was eighteen was pretty memorable. Also touring with Iain Matthews in the U.K. was pretty cool. We did some festivals and hearing people singing along with ‘Woodstock’ was special. I remember listening to that song when I was just a kid. Also playing on the fringes of the Woody Guthrie Festival in Oklahoma was a great moment. I did three tours there, even recorded some songs for my second album with local musicians from Tulsa. I got a good couple of songs out of these tours as well. One is on the new album called ‘Hit the Road Running’

In an era of streaming platforms, how do you feel about the changing landscape of music consumption and its impact on independent musicians?

The only thing that is difficult is the revenue that comes of it. People don’t always know that it just doesn’t pay. And it costs a lot of money to make an album. So I still make CD’s and sell them at gigs. I ship’m too. The thing I like about streaming platforms is that people all around the globe get to hear it if they want to. I can check my Top 5 Cities on Spotify and I find Melbourne, Denver, Sydney, Seattle and Brisbane. That is so gratifying for someone who’s not a native speaker but has made writing in English his trade.

Eric Devries new single will come out on May 24th via all the digital platforms.