Interview: Eddie Berman (USA) on the release of his latest album, Before the Bridge

North American roots artist Eddie Berman has just released his latest album Before the Bridge and John Goodridge had a chat to him about the making of the album.

It’s been a pretty busy year for you with releasing an album, having a baby and moving house, how have you managed it all?

I actually finished this album before I hooked up with the label. I put out a full-length album and an EP myself and I met with a few labels and then met with the head of Network and they put together some release dates so to manage that. We knew we had to leave LA, the neighbourhood was falling apart, so we packed up our lives and she was probably eight or nine months at the time, recording stuff in the AirBnB we were staying in, trying to find a place and starting to release things, had to go down for some shows; it was chaotic but I finally feel like I’m on top of things. So it’s nice having the album out.

Ironically it’s a very laid-back and easy album to listen to, on a sunny afternoon for example.

The music that I’m drawn to and the music that comes out is sort of like the calm before the storm in a way. Especially with a kid coming it gives you a forced introspection. “What are we doing? How do we want to live our lives? Where do we want to raise this kid?” Then thinking about your own life and the moments of our day. I think a lot of it was figuring out that we know where we don’t want to be.

I think the black and video for “Joann” was a bit of an idealistic view of what a lot of people living in the cities aspire to.

Completely. There’s a weird quality to being born in a city and being the only thing you know. I don’t have the tools to become a farmer, live that pastoral life or go live in the woods, but to live more in tune with a natural rhythm of life. In the cities, a poet called it the shadow world of screens, a fake world and people are absorbed into it over time. Even if you consciously try to pull yourself away from that, it’s still the world that you’re in. So what that song was, was a bit of a reminder to myself and my wife to dial it in and realise how and where we want to live our lives.

Another song that really hit a nerve for me was “Untamed”, the obsession with media and the getting back to real life.

Originally I wanted to title the album Untamed, because I thought it was boiling down the essence of what the album was about, but after sitting on it for a couple of months I wondered if it would sound more like a Katy Perry album. Katy Perry in a full leopard suit. With UNTAMED in big letters across it…

As I started to write, I wrote “Joann” as the first song, but I wrote them all in a pretty short period of time, and at the time I was watching the movie My Dinner with Andre, with Wallace Shawn who was also in The Princess Bride and the theatre director, played by Andre Gregory. Every now and then you hear or read something that taps into how you’re feeling and you don’t know exactly how to say it. What it was, was Andre Gregory talking about a tree surgeon he met in Scotland who said, “Did you notice the thing about people in New York, they’re constantly trying to leave but never do.” Andre Gregory says, “Of course, all the time.” (This movie’s from the early eighties). The tree surgeon replies, “ Big cities are the blueprint for the modern internment camp and we are the prisoners and the guard and the architect all at the same time, living in a state of schizophrenia where you’re trying to get out but holding yourself back, yet at the same time you’re still proud of this prison that your built for yourself.” The tree surgeon hands Andre Gregory a seed and says, “This is a pine seed, get out while you still can.”

I kind of felt like that’s what this album was, handing a pine tree seed from myself to my wife, but you’ve got to get out while you still can.

I get that same feeling when I escape to the great Australian outdoors.

It’s a real luxury though; most people can’t say that they are just going to pull themselves out of society, but it’s finding ways of being outside and experiencing the sun setting and the sun rising. Sitting by the ocean you get the feeling why people just sit by the ocean, it’s such a pull. It’s this rhythmic thing that’s so vast and powerful and if you have just a little taste of being in tune with something that we do our very best to pull ourselves away from, whether it’s staring at screens or sitting inside all day.

So what is your favorite song on the album?

I mean “Joann” was one that I loved because it was the genesis of the album, and I think that and “Untamed” were the two songs that when I wrote them and then in the production process came out the way that I hoped.

The overall feeling of the album to me is like when you close your eyes you’re transported to some smoky bar with a guy sitting in the corner strumming a guitar, it really has an emotional feel about it.

When I write songs, I really try to make them stand on their own. If it is just a voice and a guitar or a voice and a banjo or piano, then the song will still really work. There were only a couple of songs where I felt like it needed the production behind it, but as I’ve gone to do some tours I’ve had to rethink them a bit to play. I just did a tour with a country singer songwriter Tyler Childers, and there were country audiences, so I pulled my cloth-covered banjo out and it was great trying to re-imagine some of the songs. That was always the music that I loved, having an instrument of voice. It was first listening to Dylan and early Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell and I always loved the early songs like “Nebraska” from Bruce Springsteen, where it was just him sitting in a room playing guitar.

We recorded most of the album totally live, just sitting in a room together; you have all of these restrictions. There are four of us, but I think those restrictions are the lifeblood of creativity.

Some of the words I jotted down were stark, black, bleak and moody, so in my mind it must be difficult to create a soundscape of minimalist sound without it sounding trite or boring. I think you’ve managed to capture the essence of it.

I think the genesis of it and the way I improved my song writing, I picked out a guitar progression and because of the way I finger picked the guitar, there was a kind of melody in there, and then I’ll sing gibberish over the melody. Every once in a while there’ll be full phrases. Some songs nearly eighty percent of the song is gibberish as I’m sitting on my own at two o’clock in the morning. When I started writing songs I would get so hung up on the words that I would forget about the melody. In the melody there is a rhythm of the actual words. Let’s say there are six syllables. In the early stages of writing I would jam words in there but when you listen to it, it didn’t sound good. Sometimes it could be months after I’ve done the guitar part and melody part before I put the words to it, so I’m just trying to have the marriage of those two. It’s the meeting of the two halves of the brain.

Let’s hope we see you down under at some stage.

Yeah I’d love to come down in the near future.

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Photo by Jesse De Florio.