ARTIST TO ARTIST: Q&A with Eric Roberson

Talking to two-time Grammy nominee Eric Roberson is like talking to a best friend.  You can tell he is listening. Everything he offers to the conversation is smooth and thoughtful. It’s not just that he likes to talk; he likes to learn.  

After graduating from Howard University and a brief signing with Warner Brothers Records in 1994, Roberson spent several years at the legendary A Touch of Jazz (ATOJ) studio in Philadelphia.  Under the mentorship of DJ Jazzy Jeff, he developed his sound while writing and working with artists like Musiq Soulchild, 112, Carl Thomas, Floetry, Jill Scott, and more.

What is the best song to describe your sound right now?
That’s a great question. I would say “Pretty Girl” off my album LEFT (2007) represents my sound. There’s a definite level of jazz that’s on this new record that wasn’t on the last one. The jazz influence is going to show a little more on this album we are releasing in August.

Speaking of jazz, could you speak about ATOJ and its influence on music?
I am glad you asked that. ATOJ gets overlooked a lot as far as its role in the neo-soul movement. That’s where Jill Scott started her career. Musiq started his career there. Floetry, when they came over from London, pretty much came to ATOJ and a good amount of their first album was done there. It was a place where I really learned to develop my craft. Jeff was like, “Hey man, if you wanna figure something out, take your time.”

The Roots studio was only a mile away. James Poyser, who was another big producer at the time, his studio was right around the corner as well. It was inevitable that Philly was going to have a big musical movement. There was too much good music being made at that time in that area. It was very loose and free-flowing.

I saw in an interview that Fred Hammond was someone you studied very closely. Who else did you study musically?
My core is Fred Hammond (and Commissioned), A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ), and Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder was the first time I realized that somebody is making this music…somebody is sitting down and writing these lyrics, and recording a thought-out process.

Commissioned was the first time music moved me. ATCQ was when I felt I could creatively show my love for all the music forms that I love, but yet they loved Hip-Hop, and they made it all work. Terrence Trent D’arby did an album called VIBRATOR. Go get that record. It’s one of the best records I’ve ever heard, and it completely flopped. But, it’s an amazing record. Michael Jackson. Prince. Nina Simone. Radiohead. Suicidal Tendencies. Rock music. I have studied many different artists.

What is your live show like?
Our live show is a lot of fun, very musical and soulful. We are very silly and willing to stop at any point and make a song up. My show is not the same way every single time. We feed off the crowd. It’s just a fun time on the soulful music-lovers side.

What was the “We Are on the Move” video about?  It looks like a throwback with the whole VHS thing.  What was that about?
It was based on a song by the Whispers. I think either Phonte (of Lil Brother/Foreign Exchange), or the video director asked us to look at the video, and we ended up taking from it. Even from the clothes we wore, and our approach with the dances, it was based on a Whispers record called KEEP ON LOVING ME. It was 8 o’clock in the morning and freezing cold in North Carolina. Lord knows we were about to lose it out there. Every time I took a break I was running for my coat. It was a fun video to shoot, though.

Have you worked with everyone you want to work with?  If not, who else would you want to work with? 
Erykah Badu is probably at the top of my list.

Is that just a time thing?  I would figure that you both cross paths all the time.
You know what? I’ve done shows with her. I’ve met her, but I haven’t had a chance to build with her yet. My true wish list is Erykah Badu, Bill Withers…man, so many people. Man, I would like to be a fly on the wall and just watch Prince work. Also, D’Angelo.

How many times have you been to Austin?  And how would you describe the city?
I’ve been to Austin twice in the last 10 years.  One time it was a festival, and the other time it was a nightclub type venue.  There is a foundation of music appreciation in Austin that is not in every city.

You are talked about a lot for the path you laid as an independent R&B artist. What three words would you give to upcoming singers/performers right now?
Process over product.


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