In native son, a source of positive energy
By Moira E. McLaughlin
Friday, May 4, 2012
Once upon a time, Takoma Park native Eric Hutchinson was lucky to get 50 people to come to one of his shows.
"I think back on it, and I don't even know how I got 50 people there," the singer-songwriter says by phone from Madison, Wis., where he was playing his sixth sold-out show in a little more than a week. "I ask myself the same question. 'How did this happen? How did I get to this point?' "
Hutchinson, 31, will play to another sold-out crowd this weekend at the 9:30 Club. It's an exciting prospect for a once-shy kid who grew up seeing shows at that venue himself. "I saw everybody," he says. "From James Brown to G. Love and Special Sauce, Counting Crows, Ol' Dirty Bastard, the Backstreet Boys."
But, like the experience of many successful musicians, the sold-out concerts, a big record label and performances on late-night talk shows have come only after years of sweat, small bank accounts and pavement pounding.
In his mid-20s, Hutchinson was living with his parents and playing anywhere that would have him: Iota, Jammin' Java, Rams Head Tavern, the State Theatre. He traveled to Philadelphia, New York and even Chicago for gigs.
"I was just really grinding it out anywhere," playing about 100 shows a year, Hutchinson says. He opened for Bob Schneider and was on a label briefly, but he considered other career options. (Hutchinson has a film degree from Boston's Emerson College.) Before throwing in the towel, however, he borrowed money from his grandparents to make what he calls a "proper album" - 2007's "Sounds Like This," an optimistic, fresh and light release full of catchy melodies and clap tracks that seem to beg for audience participation.
What happened next says a lot about how today's new music finds its way onto playlists: Celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton discovered the album, liked it and touted it online.
"That's definitely where a new chapter started," says Hutchinson, who then signed with Warner Records and began touring in the United States, Australia, Norway and the United Arab Emirates.
Hutchinson released his second album on Warner Records, "Moving Up Living Down," last month. It hews closely to his happy, upbeat style, which dates to his teenage years playing open mikes at a Takoma Park pizza joint called Taliano's. He now lives in New York, which was the inspiration for the energetic new album. One pop gem, "Watching You Watch Him," is a swinging romp that showcases bongo drums and a classical guitar solo that gives the tune a Mexican feel.
"I think the energy and the people and the lifestyle [in New York] really affected the songs that I wrote on this album. . . . I wrote it in my little studio, and at night I would go out and have drinks with friends and just kind of get inspired with so much going on," he says.
New York might be home now, but Hutchinson is still loyal to his home town.
About a year ago, he returned to his high school, Montgomery Blair in Silver Spring, where his mom and his sister work, to talk about what he does and encourage students to get involved in school, something he says he never did.
"I wasn't really all that happy in high school," Hutchinson says. "I was lost a little bit. I was doing music, but I didn't get involved with stuff. That's what I told them to do. I said, 'Look, your number one job right now is to expose yourself to as much as you can. Try everything. That's how you find out what you like.' "
Despite his success, however, some doubts linger.
"I think there's always some vulnerability doing anything - 'Is anyone going to come?' " Hutchinson says.
But the singer doesn't have to worry about that now.
"When I heard [my show at] the 9:30 Club was sold out, that was not lost on me for one second."