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FYI: Soul Singer Eric Hutchinson Sat With Martin Before Leno


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

Today, we are having encore performances from some of our favorite musical artists who visited with us over the past year. Just ahead, the gentle melodies of the duo, Sam and Ruby.

But first, Eric Hutchinson. After appearing on our program, the young soul singer went on to appear on �The Tonight Show� and to open for pop star Kelly Clarkson's concert tour. But if you think success came easy, you would be wrong. His debut album was six years in the making. He signed with a record label only to be dropped when the label folded two weeks into production. When he came by our studios last December, he told us about his saga with the music industry.

Mr. ERIC HUTCHINSON (Singer): I was trying to make an album for about five years. And it was just time after time of things falling apart. You know, I saved up some money, and then I would go into the studio, and it would all come out horribly. And then I got signed to Maverick Records, which is - was Madonna's label. And I thought, okay - at that point, I'd been doing it for about four years, and I was like, okay, this is finally my break, things are taking off, here we go. And then I was just doing the demos, getting ready to start to make the record, and then the label folded. It was pretty night and day. They called me up and they said - you know, I was like going to studio, and they go...

MARTIN: You were literally going into the studio - ring, ring, ring.

Mr. HUTCHINSON: We were already in the studio, yeah. And that was - I get the call: Maverick's freezing, everything's on hold. You can't stay in your hotel tonight, we're flying you home. Like very, very abrupt and...

MARTIN: It's like getting a Dear John letter.

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Exactly. It was pretty bad, you know. And it definitely shook me a lot. And so, I went off and made this album myself.

MARTIN: How do you make an album yourself?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: I don't - that was actually, it was probably one of best experiences of my life, you know. It was kind of like that, it was sort of thinking, how do I make an album myself, you know? I'm tired of relying on other people. They keep flaking out on me. And so, I started kind of calling everybody that I knew, that I'd met over the years and trying to get people together.

And, you know, the Internet turned out to be really amazing. I had this mixer that I had found, you know, just kind of looking through people. He'd mixed some of Outkast's albums, and Stevie Wonder's last album, a bunch of different things that I really liked. So, I just sent him, you know, a MySpace message, shot in the dark. And just said, here's my music, you know, I'm looking for people to work on this album with me. And he actually, you know, wrote back and ended up mixing most of the album and stuff like that. So, things like that were really cool, you know, it was people who just believed in the music, you know, which was good.

MARTIN: And I understand that the Internet also played a role in your being discovered again, that the celebrity blogger Perez Hilton...

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Yeah, Perez Hilton.

MARTIN: ...heard about you and raved about you.


MARTIN: And then what happened?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: So, I mean, pretty much I made the album. And I'd spent so much time and energy and resources making the album, I didn't really know what I was going to do with it once I was done, you know. I was just mentally exhausted. And so, I was just selling it at my shows and we had it on iTunes.

And then, like, maybe a week after it came out, a friend of mine from high school, I'd sent the record to him and he really liked it. And he put this glowing review up on his site, which gets, you know, four million hits a day or something like that, with a link to iTunes and the MySpace page, and it just blew up overnight. It shot the album up into the Top 10 of iTunes.

MARTIN: The Top 10 of iTunes...


MARTIN: ...overnight?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Yeah. Yeah. And then, I mean, within the day, I had record labels calling and all this stuff. And just like a real unexpected kind of frenzy. And I ended up signing again with Warner Bros., who had been the ones that had just dropped me six months before. And...

MARTIN: You're a forgiving soul.

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Right, something like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I want to talk about the song that's been getting a lot of attention, �Rock and Roll.�


MARTIN: Want to play it? You want to talk first...


MARTIN: ...or you want to play it first?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: I'll play it.

MARTIN: Okay. let's play it.

(Soundbite of song, �Rock and Roll�)

Mr. HUTCHINSON: (Singing) He's been waiting around for the weekend, figuring which club to sneak in. Fancy drinks and $50 cover charge. Lately it's been a big hassle, Heineken and Newcastle to make sure he's fitting in and living large. Disregard lies that he will tell them what he's probably like. It's not hard, his charm is going to get him through the night.

If he want to rock he rocks, if he want to roll he rolls. He can roll with the punches, long as he feels like he's in control. And if he want to stay he stays, if he want to go he goes. He doesn't care how he gets there, long as he gets somewhere he knows. Oh no. Ah na na na na na na na na na na na. Ah na na na na na na na na na na na.

Sees her heavy make up and cut t-shirt, every girl out wants to be her. But they look the same already, why adjust? Reading the magazine secrets, forgetting the topical regrets because she comes home all alone the nights a bust. It's a must, the swivel in her hips and the look she gives. It's all her trust if only in the morning she knew where she lived.

If she want to rock she rocks, if she want to roll she rolls. She can roll with the punches long as she feels like she's in control. If she want to stay she stays, if she want to go she goes. She doesn't care how she gets there as long as she gets somewhere she knows. Oh no. Ah na na na na na na na na na na na, ah na na na na na na na na na na na.

And in a wink, on the brink, from drink to drink and at the bar with cash to blow, shot to shot it's getting hot, advance the plot to see how far it's going to go. All depends, so ditch the friends and grab a cab, another chance at cheap romance. Doesn't count cause the room is spinning, nothing to lose tonight they both are winning. And they fall in love as they fall in bed they sing...

If they want to rock they rock, if they want to roll they roll. They can roll with the punches long as they feel like they're in control. If they want to stay they stay, if they want to go they go. They don't care how they get there, long as they get somewhere they know. Oh no. Ah na na na na na na na na na na na. Ah na na na na na na na na na na na. Ah na na na na na na na na na na na. Ah na na na na na na na na na na na.

MARTIN: All right. �Rock and Roll.�


MARTIN: People like a lot of different things about the song. But tell us, is there a story behind that - the song, are these people we know?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: I wrote the song - I was living in New York for a summer, and I was underage, and I was - I couldn't get into any of the bars, and the clubs...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUTCHINSON: ...and I just kind of wrote the song, convincing myself I didn't need to get in there to have a good time, sort of. It turns out I was kind of right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Now, the term blue-eyed soul hasn't reared its ugly head too often...


MARTIN: ...in relation to you.


MARTIN: But it has been said.


MARTIN: What do you think of that term?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: I actually just had a conversation with some of my friends about this who were really - they were chastising me for allowing that term to come through. Because they said it was just, you know, it was a way of watering down the term or something, you know. My friends were like, you play soul music, so just say soul music. You don't have to like, you know - all blue-eyed soul music means is that you're white and you're singing.

MARTIN: What about that? What is up with that?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: It's interesting, you know, because, I mean...

MARTIN: Your eyes are brown, for the record.

Mr. HUTCHINSON: They are, they are.

MARTIN: Right? Yeah.

Mr. HUTCHINSON: I know, so it's brown-eyed soul, I guess...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUTCHINSON: I don't know, you know, it's tough because I am white and I play the guitar. So, you know, when I show up places people want to make, you know, kind of pigeon hole me into certain places and stuff like that.

MARTIN: You got the guitar, you got the plaid shirt, so...

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Right. Exactly.

MARTIN: ...must be, like, Folk.

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Exactly. It must be folk, or I must like Nirvana or something or, you know. But I mean, I like all kinds of music, and it's sort of frustrating to kind of be pushed into one genre. But I mean, I think these days, it's just - you need to be able to explain to somebody quickly. And that's why people want to know, you know. Oh, his music, what does its sound like? And you got to give them a little, you know, oh, it's Stevie Wonder meets blah, blah, blah or something.

MARTIN: Is it soul?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: I think so. I mean, that's to me the basis of everything that I'm doing and the music that I really love. And if I trace back all the people that I love, it was Stevie Wonder, it was Motown, it was Michael Jackson, it was Prince. But then also, on the other side, people like Billy Joel, and the Beatles, and Paul Simon. If you go back to what they grew up listening to, it was doo-wop, it was, you know, it was also Motown, it was blues and stuff like that. To me it's always got to have that sort of feeling behind it.

MARTIN: Is the point of the blue-eyed soul thing to signal to white people, he's one of us, he's one of us?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: I guess so. I think - usually blue-eyed soul is a sort of an insulting term. It's kind of like, it's a white version of soul music, you know, it's not quite there, but it's...

MARTIN: You'll like it. It's okay.

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Yeah, exactly.

MARTIN: Do you feel you have something to prove being white...

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Oh, absolutely.

MARTIN: ...that you're - being white or just being new to the scene?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Both, both. But I find that I really want the approval of the African-American fan base. But these days, I feel like that youth is listening to a lot of Vocoder recorded Lil' Wayne kind of stuff. You know, I find most of the people that I meet that are interested in sort of classic soul music are, you know, like college age white guys who think they're artsy or something because they have a good Otis Redding collection.

MARTIN: Do you think, though - you know, we've used this term - we're using this term in politics and in culture that we're post-racial. Do you think, in a way, that music is getting to be post-racial?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Singing with soul, I think, is not a racial thing. I think it's just - certain people have it, and some people don't. You know, some people think Josh Groban has a lot of soul or something. You know, I find him to be, like, you know, like a machine. Don't tell him I said that.

MARTIN: I'll try to keep it to myself.

Mr. HUTCHINSON: But, you know, I think it's like a personal thing to different people, but I don't know. Who decides who has soul and who doesn't?

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're speaking with and having an in-studio performance by Eric Hutchinson. He's playing songs from his new album, "Sounds Like This."

Speaking of soul, one of your more soulful songs on the album, "OK, It's Alright with Me."


MARTIN: You probably can say that in a cooler way than I can.

Mr. HUTCHINSON: I think that's pretty much how I say it, "OK, It's Alright with Me."

MARTIN: Okay. Want to play it?

(Soundbite of song, "OK, It's Alright with Me")

Mr. HUTCHINSON: (Singing) OK, it's alright with me. Some things are just meant to be. It never comes easily. When it does, I'm already gone. I'm practically never still, more likely to move until I end up alone at will. My life continues inching along.

When Bernadette comes, I get lost on her time. She's much too sweet, and she's always gonna be. When I return to her arms and her eyes, it might not be the same but it's alright with me.

It's OK, it's alright with me. Some people are scared to see what's happening frequently, but I would never shy from a fight. A heartbeat with a high demand often will go hand in hand, but I'm sick of just starting plans. I wanna spend the rest of my life.

When Bernadette comes, I get lost on her time. And she's much too sweet, and she's always gonna be. When I return to her arms and her eyes, it might not be the same, but it's alright with me. It's alright with me. It's alright with me. It's alright with me. Okay, it's alright with me. Oh, it's alright with me. Oh, it's alright with me. Okay, it's alright with me. OK, it's alright with me. Some things are just meant to be. It never comes easily. And when it does, I'm already gone.

MARTIN: Well, "OK, It's Alright with Me."

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: What's your method? What comes to you first, the lyrics, the hook?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Almost always melody. I think the melody has to drive the song for me. So - but I'm always on the lookout for good things to talk about and topics to get into, stuff like that.

MARTIN: Your sound, at least on this album, is kind of like hey, it's all right. Everything's fine. But it's not just surface stuff. I mean, you know, you feel like there's something behind it, that maybe there's a little -sometimes there's a little hint of sadness behind it, a little...

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Right. It's actually been a big surprise, I mean, a pleasant surprise, but, you know, I made the album in a frustrating time. I wrote the songs, most of the time, you know, from frustrations, and I think I sort of tend to make them happier to sort of cheer myself up or something like that.

So when I thought of the songs, you know, I sort of always thought of it as being a little bit hurtful, I guess. But then the main thing that people across the board tell me is how happy the album makes them and, you know, how they start their day listening to it, and that kind of stuff was really great, you know, to start hearing. So...

MARTIN: I was curious about that, because I heard the album before I heard all of what had gone on to get to that point, and I was thinking: Are you really that easy-breezy? Is that just your personality? Or - but then when I - I think there is some hurt behind it. I feel that there is a sense of - what's the word I'm looking for? A little of the blues. I mean, some of the - the fact is that life is not that easy, even if (unintelligible)...

Mr. HUTCHINSON: I guess skeptical maybe is a better word for me. You know, like I actually think of myself as an optimist, that I'm kind of guarded, and things have to kind of present themselves to be a legit situation or something. But I kind of thought the songs were sort of pep talks, almost, to myself or something like that, you know.

But, I mean, Stevie Wonder, I always loved him. And then I really got into his catalog deeper, like, you know, and the thing I really loved about his music was his message, you know. It's - even the angriest songs, something like "Living in the City" or something like that, where it's very, you know, angry, the last verse is all, you know, very uplifting. And his music just really has that positive message that comes through, and, you know, and I took a lot out of that as a listener. So that was a very conscious effort, you know, when I was making the songs, to push some positivity through. I didn't want to just be complaining.

MARTIN: I interviewed a guy, a spiritual leader, and he said there's a saying in his practice: Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUTCHINSON: It's kind of true. I kind of agree with that.

MARTIN: Well, how will you know you're there?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: I don't know. That's kind of what I'm waiting for. You know, I end up writing a lot of songs about it, this idea of does it ever feel easy? You know, does it ever feel like it was sort of supposed to? Like, things are constantly changing. It's never like an end of a chapter, really, like a clean end.

MARTIN: Speaking of what it means to kind of go through life, I was hoping you could take us out on one of the songs on your album that - probably the shortest song title on record: "Oh!"

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Right. Easier to get the emphasis on that one correctly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Where did this one come from?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: It's this idea that everybody has something to teach you. So sometimes - in the song, all I do is say oh, you know, and everybody else tells me what's going on with their life, and it somehow means something to me, you know. So it's "Oh!"

MARTIN: Eric Hutchinson's debut album is titled "Sounds Like This." We're going to leave you with his performance of his song, "Oh!" To hear this performance, as well as the album version of the songs, please check out npr.org. Eric Hutchinson, thank you so much for speaking with us, and good luck to you in everything you're doing.

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

MARTIN: And happy holidays.

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Same to you.

(Soundbite of song, "Oh!")

Mr. HUTCHINSON: (Singing) Oh, I got arrested in the dark of the night. The cop got restless as he read me my rights. He told me: I'm always envious of those that I jail. If I got locked up, nobody'd come to help me post bail. And I said oh, oh, oh, whoa. And I said oh, oh, oh, whoa.

Went to a party on the side of a hill. Met three Latinas who had gotten their fill. They told me: Nobody ever gets us down on our knees...

MARTIN: Music from Eric Hutchinson, performing with us last December. Please stay with us for one more encore performance from 2009. Next, the duo Sam and Ruby. You're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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