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There is something about singer/songwriter Eric Hutchinson that makes you want to trust him. He just seems honest, approachable and somehow familiar, like a brother you never knew you had or the cute boy next door that you just can’t resist talking to and giving up your innermost secrets. He wryly details this in “Oh!” one of 10 keenly observed songs from Hutchinson’s self-released debut album, Sounds Like This.

The CD, which showcases the young singer-songwriter’s unique brand of soul, bowed at #1 on Billboard’s

Sounds Like This was released on Hutchinson’s own label, Let’s Break Records, at the end of August 2007. Overnight it was breaking records – thanks largely to the efforts of a good friend. One of his high school buddies e-mailed celebrity blogger Perez Hilton a link to Hutchinson’s MySpace page. Hilton recommended it on his site and soon, Eric’s album was ensconced in iTunes’ Top 10 alongside the latest releases from Kanye West and Dave Matthews. It peaked at #5 on the iTunes album chart, becoming the highest-charting album by an unsigned act in iTunes history. All of this is completely without mentioning his being picked up by Warner Brothers Records and debuting the video for “Rock & Roll” on VH1 as one of their “You Oughta Know” artists. No small accomplishments for a record that almost didn’t get made.

Hutchinson moved to New York last spring and, eager to tour behind Sounds Like This, began putting together a band. With Jimmy Coleman on drums and Tom Craskey on bass, the trio hit the road in January 2008 and will be touring non-stop, opening for such major acts as Sugarland. In the process, Hutchinson is closing in on his goal of playing each of the 50 states and embarking on his first international gigs. And, of course, he will no doubt find inspiration in the inevitable random conversations with total strangers along the way.

Dish sat down with the peripatetic artist during one of his many stopovers in Nashville to chat with him about his work.

Dish: Before the release of Sounds Like This, you had actually recorded two previous efforts. How do those early works compare to the current album in terms of your growth as an artist and performer?

EH: Sounds Like This is what I really consider my debut album. The first two were more or less just failed attempts at creating a full album. The main thing that has changed is that I always liked soul music but I realized that was the voice that I wanted to have as a performer. I love the Beatles and Billy Joel and Paul Simon and I try to have that side of my sound as well, but I think Stevie Wonder was one of the biggest influences on my music ever

Dish: The Stevie Wonder influence is very apparent on the current album. What is it about his work that inspires you as much as it does?

EH: The thing that I really like about Stevie Wonder’s sound is the underlying theme of hope and good nature that I want to have come across in my albums. Even when he’s angry or bitter there is still always a feeling of hopefulness underlying all of that. Stevie Wonder also has a quality in his music that makes his songs stand out to you even apart from the albums. That’s magic! I remember when I was in elementary school and we were recognizing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, my music teacher taught everyone the Stevie Wonder song “Happy Birthday”. I was so impressed with it that I made my mom go out and buy the record and I wore it out.

Dish: In a way you owe Perez Hilton a lot of the credit for the album’s current success. What went through your head when you found out he had posted the album to his website?

EH: At the time the album was independent and had only been out for like a week when he put it on his website and it just took off. It was really unexpected and crazy that this whole whirlwind of activity just started to develop around my music. For two whole weeks there was all of this attention that I wasn’t really ready for. People were so excited about my music that I was a little overwhelmed. It was so cool, but kinda scary all at once. I got very obsessed about checking where I was on the iTunes chart after that. When it finally dropped off it was a little difficult for me.

Dish: Although Sounds Like This has only been an official release from Warner Brothers for less than a year now, the album was actually released independently back at the end of 2007. Have you given much thought at this point to a follow-up?

EH: Artists like Fiona Apple are really exciting to me. Her first album was very single driven and her second album wasn’t as well received, but I think it was better, more interesting and more complex than the first one. I want the songwriting to remain the same but I want to change some of the production values of the sound and just kind of experiment with different things and bring into focus some of the themes that I want to talk about in my music. I have some stuff in the works but I want anything that I do next to be better than what I’m doing now and I want to make sure we have the audience to listen to it. It is important for me to keep growing as an artist. I don’t want to make the same album over and over again.

Dish: You have become well known for your high energy performances and powerhouse delivery from the stage. How do you manage to keep that level of energy high while being on the road as much as you are?

EH: I was watching Bruce Springsteen’s Super Bowl half-time show and it was so inspiring to me because here’s this guy who’s been doing his thing for thirty years now and still giving everything he’s got to even the smallest performances. When the audience is excited to hear a song, it gets me more excited to play it and that’s what it’s all about. If they are having fun then how can I not enjoy being there doing what I do? Why should an audience member care at all about what’s going on up on stage when the person up there doesn’t even care? The audience is half the show so you can’t just cut them off and do whatever you want.

Dish: Most everyone seems to agree that you seem like a very down-to-earth kind of guy. With all this extra attention you’ve been getting, is it ever hard to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground?

EH: I’ve already been smacked down pretty hard already, so staying humble isn’t a problem. Being on the road so much is a real eye opener. Some nights we will play a great show to a packed house and the next only twenty people will be there. You never can tell what will happen. There is really no room at the level I am currently operating to have that much of an ego. It’s a fragile career that I have chosen and I am lucky enough to be able to do it and make it work. That’s all that is important. “No” really doesn’t mean much to me anymore. I hear it every day and I just keep going. I’m going to keep doing music until it just doesn’t make sense for me anymore.

For more about this new artist, go to www.erichutchinson.com.
www.Dishmag.com / Issue 93 - September 7560
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