Tuesday, December 05, 2006

i have had a piano in the house for two months now. this experience reminds me of one of those moments in my early creative life that shaped my outlook. my friend chris and i discovered an artist in a gallery at ucla. my friend lived directly across from the college so we would often wander across. one of the things we did regularly was visit the art gallery there. one day the gallery was showing an artist named laurie anderson. she went on to do some great things (like o superman, united states parts 1-4) and some pop songs, not so great, in the eighties. but this afternoon at ucla i didnt know anything about her. in fact i didnt even know what a performance or a conceptual artist was. i was struck by her gallery show and kept my eyes peeled for magazine articles and interviews. in one that i found she mentioned that she did not practice violin after a certain point because she didnt want her playing to sound like television; too perfect. i have used this strategy (and the quote) over the years. in fact, i dont know if this is apochryphal but, i heard somewhere that the talking heads all switched instruments on the song naive melody. such a great song. but back to the piano. i have noticed that my guitar playing has improved and my knowledge of chord/key structure has grown, i have begun to sound more and more like all the professional musicians i know. i have always been more concerned with creating music that has a vibe or mood than in crafting crafty pop songs. i believe there is generally an inverse relationship between pop knowledge creative instinct. they arent mutually exclusive but there is a danger there. i know the restlessness that comes with the basic medium of songwriting. but i dont want to make music more and more like sting. i have no eventual jazz or math metal aspirations. therefore keeping myself naive in some respects as i continue to learn as an artist is a goal. i am a rank amateur on piano. this means that i can 'discover' really basic chord progressions without being aware that i have re-invented the wheel and therefore continue writing with an energy i might lose if i was on guitar. on guitar i would recognize that i have been playing some really universal chord progression and either stop completely or begin to think about how to dress it up. the dressing up usually means thinking about what key im in and therefore what usual rules apply and then not surprisingly, it starts to sound more usual. more like everyone else.


andy said...

the creative process absolutely blows my mind. its something I lack but would someday like to have a notion of. piano is something i've always wanted to play but never had access to really. i do not understand how e.smith could just carve out beautiful melodies like 'color bars' or 'everything means nothing to me' and twist them together with his voice, guitar and drums. it often leaves me breathless, honestly.

Your approach to guitar is definitely interesting, although I cant say its for me. I strive for improvement all the time. That keeps it interesting for me.. and only me heh. how long have you been playing guitar actively?

Anonymous said...

Eric, This was a great post. I'm always interested in hearing about your creative process.You have such a great way with words. I cant get over how well spoken you are. I'm sure you've been asked or told this before, and I'm sure you have no interest in doing so, but your take on Janes would be the most honest and probably the most interesting to read. a Janes Memoir written exclusively by you and your experience would be a great read. Do you have any stories you would share with us here that maybe no one has ever heard? I'm also interested in hearing about the Deconstruction recording sessions. That album is incredible and stands up right there with anything Janes ever did. There are demos floating around of a song called "jealous song' with vocals that sound eerily similar to Perry's. Any back story to that? I'm really looking forward to your solo album. Can you give us some insight as to what we can expect on this album? is it all just you and your guitar or is there any full band arrangements, or guest artists? Can we look forward to any classic Avery basslines?

Chris (C. Brian) said...


Your take on creativity and music is inspiring . . . especially for an aspiring player. I think your philosophy and approach leads to authenticity, integrity, and originality.

One of my friends is an accomplished pianist, and it was a cakewalk for him to pick up the acoustic guitar. His knowledge of chords, progressions, and harmonies translated so easily.

I think you mentioned earlier that you are taking a math class? What, specifically, are you studying? My father is a genius mathematician. If interested here's a link to information about his book, From Agnesi to Zeno: http://tinyurl.com/v9w3d

I can't say that math is my forte. Yet I have a healthy fear and reverence for it!

Anonymous said...

what you've just said echo's what i've been saying for years. I started playing bass at 14 (i'm 30 now) and I'm convinced I came up with cooler, more interesting things when I first started and didn't know much at all about playing. Eventually, after listening to flea, i got into slap for a while, but finally worked that out of my system and i'm now back to writing simple bass lines. When thinking of interesting bass lines that I can remember years after hearing them, I think of Joy Division, Jane's, the Pixies, the Cure, etc. Fascination Street is one of the easiest lines in the world, but also one of the best, in my opinion.

Like you, i'm personally more interested in creating music that emotes a certain feeling or mood rather than normal verse/chorus/verse type songs, although you wouldn't know that from listening to my band!

Curt (logging in anonymous again. can't remember the damn password!)

-ea. said...

andy- i actually started on guitar aged 12,13, 14(?) my dad had an acoustic in the house. not sure why actually. but i began looking at the pictures in songbooks and trying to make my fingers look like the little diagrams. yes my approach has been with my eye toward the writer part of me. the player does suffer. but i never saw myself as being a session or touring player. that is just how my life/career has turned out over the last several years. which has inspired me to learn more technically. that lead to some technical improvement. some concern. then here we are with my original post.

-ea. said...

anonymous- i dont know if i can recall enough memories from my past to create an autobiographical pamphlet, let alone a book im afraid.

i am trying to apply a conversational approach to this site so as stories come up i will talk about them.

i would love to hear the 'jealous song' you are talking about. i will try to find it. if you could post a link for me it would be much appreciated.

the solo record is chock full of guest artists. the working title of the record is 'help wanted' partially because of this fact. as for basslines, i think that as my scope gets broader (as writer, arranger, programmer, producer, mixer etc.) my bass lines get less focus and therefore suffer some.

-ea. said...

chris (c. brian) - thanks for the link to your dads book. it looks really interesting to me. ive ordered it at amazon. which btw, doesnt fucking ship until possibly the end of january.

i decided a few years ago that i was frustrated by the fact that i had to read only popular science books about topics that im into; especially astronomy. i had also taken all the astronomy classes i could take at a local junior college because i had no math capabilities. NO math capabilities. so i started with a high school arithmetic class and worked my way up through high school algebra geometry and college level algebra in between touring and work. i stand now, actually right now today, before a precalculus final tonight at ucla. i am probably going to get hammered. math is something that is really fucking difficult to do in fits and starts spread over several years. if i can make it past this level then im at the calculus/physics level and a whole new world of information opens up to me. thats the plan anyway. might not happen tonight but ill get there at some point. or die trying.

-ea. said...

curt - peter hook. enough said. the english have always gotten the importance of a bass more than america. i remember being struck by how the english, and european for that matter, press were much more interested in me than their american counterparts had been. generally, especially at that time (pre hip hop influence), unless you were an overpowering presence like flea, as a bass player you could light yourself on fire and not many would notice.

kindness = wealth said...

I have been playing guitar since I was 16(current age = 38). Have been writing poems since I could pick up a pen. In a positive way, music has always been a necessity much like what cigarettes are for a smoker. The contribution of music culture towards a more free society is totally mind blowing.

Recently I had picked up both piano and drums. The new instruments have infused life not only into my guitar playing and songwriting, also into my overall musicality. I have become more able as a musician after I started to see music as a common language to be expressed on whatever instrument one happen to play, rather than seeing music from purely the guitarist perspective. Music theory utilizes cerebral knowledge while instruments depends on kinetic or touch knowledge (muscle memory, etc.).

The new instruments help because I also love being a beginner at something. The world is fresh and new and I do not yet know any limits. It also falls in step with being a constant self-educator.I hawk and regard all brand new musicians for their purity (and courage).

A gifted musician and former band mate once told me that people should pick up every different instrument they can get their hands on. The benefits being two-fold, 1) you may stumble across your “natural” instrument. 2) Expands your horizons as an auditory visionary.

On a metaphysical level music a.k.a. sound waves are the closest tangible example that life radiates forever. Sound waves thus far have proved to be immeasurable. Sound forever vibrates outward into the universe. Humans are made of atoms and atoms are made from sound waves. This gives my existential side a little hope. So let’s make some noise!

(That last paragraph is inspired from a song I wrote for a best friend who recently died. Her name is Holly. It was the last song she ever heard me sing. I miss her a lot. When she died I developed a perfect circular red scar in the center of my chest. Really freaky.)

With respect and kindness,

Anonymous said...

Eric, here is a link to a Deconstruction fansite. This has a link to 'Jealous Song' and a couple other demo versions of songs off the album.



Anonymous said...

will you ever tour the small clubs again? (especially out east.)

healtopalm said...

wow, math classes just for knowledge. impressive.

i was a graphic design major many moons ago and because of a career change, i am now forced to take many of the math and science classes i chose to not take in my first college experience.

biology is my science du jour. i am surprised at how much i am enjoying it and can only now imagine taking a science class just because i want to know more. if i had to do it all again, i would have balanced all the art/art history classes with more science and math. oh well.

i hope you did well on your exam. mine is on monday.

tri kaya said...

Hey eric, big fan from Ireland...just returned after three years travel in India etc and talking about current state of things with mates..in relation to american people, we are all very aware of who is culpable for the mess and it's not the american people, tho a certain responsibility is there. With evidence of vote fraud mounting (democrat majority probably larger than recorded),we know the difficulties you face in having your vote count and voice heard.
But what i discovered last night talking to my mates was how the topic of (global)politics is viewed by most folk. Basically, people want an easy answer or feel they have no way to have their voice heard and feel they are just banging their heads off a brick wall so would just rather not go there with a conversation. So i'm left in the bar with my friends lookin at me like i'm a feckin lunatic because i want to discuss what's happening! And my only defence was summed up eloquently by you in your first postings..why the fire under my ass? People dying in large numbers. I'm a musician myself,i would rather not have to talk about these things. On my travels,i have seen firsthand the result of american foreign policy and other forms of neocolonialism. Should i just shut up and drink my Guinness?? Hmmm!

Anonymous said...

this might not be appropriate for your current blog...i apologize for that, but curiousity is a cruel thing...

i'm interested to know what your goals as a musician are these days? perhaps going mainstream under your own name? what would be your ideal outcome in the next 5 years?

Also, as a musician, any regrets in the last 20 years? what would you do differently?

Being a younger jane's fan, i have a hard time listening to anything besides janes....it all sounds like shit to me in comparison....can you recommend anyone upcoming that might give me half the expirence jane's did for its fans during the late 80s?

Anonymous said...

All these posts have made me happy.

Tri Kaya--enjoy the Guinness!

EA--what can I say man, freaky how cool your interests are.

On the astronomy tip, the ecliptic just fucked my ass up in community college, I just couldn't get the hang of it and how to work the celestial sphere.

They had a high powered telescope on top of the building--the kind you sit in--got to see Jupiter, saw like three bands of color, not like you see in the photos (which made it even cooler!)--fuckin mindblowing.

Enjoy your 75 years people!

andy said...

good luck with your final. i'm graduating in may with a minor in math and i hafta say, i hate it. you mentioned its applications in physics and well.. i hate that too. physics at its most basic is somewhat interesting (although seemingly obvious) .. but then it just becomes a nightmare. a total nightmare man. the only math that has ever really interested me is probably discrete or probability. i still love hearing the probability of stuff that seems nearly impossible.

anyways sorry to drag on but I did have an actual question about how you play animals. the very first chord.. i have so much trouble stretching my finger to the next note. do you have really long fingers? i do but i can never get it to sound smooth at that one part. i cant think of any other way to play it either

-ea. said...

mike - yes. being a beginner. the dangers of knowing the limits. reminds me of something marshall mcluhan said about the amatuer being the innovator because he is unfamiliar with the limiting rules of the professional.

-ea. said...

anonymous- thanks for the link to the decon demo. took me back to daves apartment in westwood with the four track. that is dave singing and he does sound eerily like perry.

-ea. said...

anonymous (2?)- i dont know if i will play small clubs back east. i would think so but there is no plan as of right now. although im meeting with a guy today about my record and i continue to move forward with all of it. i dont mean to be prosaic but we will have to see what the tide brings in.

-ea. said...

healtopalm- biology. of course. microbiology has been astonishing me recently. lifes tenacious desire to survive makes is an astonishing designer. through the process of evolution, of course. crazy that we live in twentieth century america and i have to be concerned about specifying that i mean evolution.

good luck on your exam. watch your blood sugar level.

-ea. said...

tri kaya- hello ireland. nice to hear from you. three years in india. very cool. a friend of mine just left for there. he is in wes andersens new movie and its being shot there. ive never been. one of the few places left that i really want to see but havent. what were you doing there?

ah guiness. i remember it well. that was my favorite. have one for me.

-ea. said...

anonymous- my goal musically is quite simple. i wish to continue to keep alive my interest in making music. it is an interesting time of change in music. the very role that it plays in our lives is changing. this is all interesting to me. i want to continue to work with interesting people on any capacity. i will be putting out music under my own name. though i am not interested in becoming the next justin timberlake ( not that anyone is asking). not for any moral reason but because i know from experience what big success is to live with on a daily basis. nice for some. it was fun to experience. but not for me.
and of course i want to do all this while still being able to make my mortgage payments. not such a simple answer after all.
about new bands i dont know what to tell you. i dont listen to young bands that sound anything like janes. although, for what its worth, flea told me a few years ago that seeing mars volta for him was like seeing janes in 1990.

-ea. said...

kv- very cool. i havent done that. where was this scope?

-ea. said...

andy- the song is no longer called animals and is now called suns gone. but ah, yes it is a stretch. i dont usually play it without some difficulty. you could of course capo it so you are playing further up the neck where the frets are spaced more closely. that will of course change the key but it might be more comfortable for you to sing in a different key anyway.

Anonymous said...


I have always been in awe of your ability to keep your integrity and not take the money...i honestly dont know how you do it, you could do 1 tour be set for life...with this said

i have 1 major bass question I have always wanted to have answered.

Why did you decide to get rid of the break in the opening baseline of whores in 1991???...to me the song went from an intense, patient song via 86-89 to a hurried filler in 91'....i know it may seem trivial but ive always wondered about the decision making behind it....to me they are 2 completely different songs.

Also I wish you had tried to push polar bear more...i know you gave it a few years and it didnt work but there was definately a niche for that band...it was a unique, machinary type sound and I really think there was room for it sub mainstream.. que sera...

John M

little fish said...

hello eric
i remember very well how i met you...you were with butch and taylor hawkins in the sushi restaurant.i wanted to talk to you but i felt pain and embarassment and couldnt squeeze any words out of my throat.we spent some nice time with butch.it was funny.the clarity with which i remember it all is surreal.it was a year ago but it feels like 10 years.memories get distorted so easily,still the colours,temperature and atmosphere are here.
hope all is well with you.
i am okay.okay.but very often i cry because of some unkindness i cant or dont wanna remember.i cry because im tired and cant sleep.
everything's gonna be fine.i have my dear friends and family with me and i love them more than my life.
we all want our inspirations to live as long as possible.longer than any hope.it's a little bit painful to believe them.time makes it harder,yet happier.maturity.immaturity.just words,not feelings.
best of luck,

tri kaya said...

Hey, tri kaya here, three years in india would kill me! There for seven months doin tibetan buddhist meditation and reiki and volunteer in a school for street kids. Rest of time in nepal, vietnam, indonesia,se asia and australia...which creeped me out cos it IS america this morning...getting fatter and uncaring!! Egg mcmuffin and all!Back to India and Pakistan after Irish family christmas!
Anyways..wicked to be able to contact such a massive dude in my music life! The first pint of guinness is on me if/when you hit Dublin! Love n respect and best wishes for the solo material!

matt volpe said...

Hi Eric,

Sorry it took me a while to respond to this post,but I wanted to let you know I couldn't agree more with it. Back in the day when I played in the local NYC band Shirley Temple of Doom, I was in a constant battle with the members of the band when it came to songwriting because I approached my bass playing from a purely instinctual, emotional level. Never form a technical standpoint. However, over the years I learned to appreciate technical prowess and the music theory, etc. I've learned that there can be some positives from that side for sure. But, I continue to hold my flag up high to this day, the flag of emotion. I think that there is something to be said about one writing a song or a riff when they are emotionally affected in a severe way. Say if one is really heartbroken and upset, whamo, a great song can come out of that. If one is really estatic and happy, a really joyful tune can come out of that. It's when one's life is a bit boring and plateau-ed that music coming from that person can be a bit mundane. Perhaps I'm stating the obvious, as most great art has come from negativity in one's lives. I'm of course not endorsing that if anyone wants to write great music to make sure they experience tradegy or difficult times, I'm jus making a point that extreme emotions make for excellent music. I think anyways. I believe there are certain musicians on this earth (you being one of them) that can tap into this subconcious nerve all humans have. That nerve that makes people feel goosebumps and make their hair stand on end when they hear awe inspiring music. My goal always has been and will continue to be in my music life to affect people in that way when they hear what I play. If I can do that with one riff in my life , it's all worth it. An example of trying to accomplish this can be heard in an improv one off rock trio I played in briefly call Blanche Mayhem Trio. Here's the my space link if you are interested in hearing: http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=15241883

We just a picked a key and went with it...I did this right after I got out a band that was claustrophobic when it came to songwriting. It was fun.

Anyway, I believe in everything you said in this latest post and I thank you for bringing this issue to light Eric. You are awesome.

Talk soon amigo, Matt

cavalfilter said...

eric - wandering around led me to this site. glad to see you are still in pursuit. interesting. stan z (from your unremarkable youth)

Anonymous said...

ea-it was cool as hell, jupiter was the size of my pinky nail and you could basically make out the orange and white bands.

scope was here on the east coast:

i live in nyc now, can't see shit with the light pollution.

again, many thanks for the inspiration over the years...i saw a transcription of the tune you sang on navarro's radio show and there was this cool image of planes taking off as fireflies which i thought was awesome.


Chris (C. Brian) said...


Since you are a wave rider, I thought you'd appreciate the dedication and passion of these Midwestern surfers:


Yes, it is possible to surf in Cleveland, OH, and some grown men are quitting their jobs to do so. In a word, awesome.

-ea. said...

john m- i dont know of what you speak. was it possible that we just had a tenedency to speed 'whores' up live? that often happens. sorry im not more help. i dont remember any decision about a break or no break.

i agree about polarbear. had some lumps to take and some lessons to learn.

-ea. said...

fish- sushi with butch, taylor and i? had to be in moscow. is that right? that is the only place i can remember eating sushi with taylor and butch. were you in moscow?

-ea. said...

tri kaya- are you a buddhist? tibetan style? good friend is. studied for years ina nepalese monestary. reads/writes/translates tibetan. he gave me the lettering for a 'giampa' tat on my forearm.

my guiness days are long past but i appreciate the sentiment.

-ea. said...

matt- impressed by the idea of improving live on the net. cajones(sp?). i have never been a jammer myself. i feel like a writer more than a player. always have.

-ea. said...

zipley stanzer! - i just did a google search looking for you about two weeks ago. are you a radiologist in colorado? is there a less public way we could chat?

-ea. said...

kv- rad that a community college has that sort of scope available to you.

at the risk of disappointing, in the song suns gone, the words are: "with airplanes taking off like bits of city floating off." but that means that you are free to use the misunderstood lyrics as your own. that happens with me regularly. i remember it happening with a pj harvey lyric that i misheard. the lyric wound up in a polarbear song.

cavalfilter said...

eric - excellent. would love to catch up. that is me, but i moved to northern california a few years ago. married with young daughter, if you can believe it. myname@gmail.com.

nice variation on my name - i will have to use that some time. hope things go well. stan

matt volpe said...


Thanks! Yeah it took some cajones (you go it right)for sure to improv and put it out on the web for all the world to hear. Hell, I'm an open book kind of person anyways, so it I personally didn't feel reserved in any way doing that.

That's interesting you say you were and are more a writer than a player... I always sumised you were equal in both parts! (Loved that little jazz jam on Nothing's Shocking) In any case, however you churn it out, I'll be there with open ears for ya! Have a good week... Matt

little fish said...

eric - yes,that was in moscow.and i was there too.funny that you remember.
cant believe it's monday today.had a very nervous weekend - a little empty, a little lonesome.the dreams about thin fingers and pale skin.and paper.paper.tons of paper.and memories,of course.happy and unhappy.
there's always much love.and much pain.but i just want to forget everything.it's fair.
hope you are ok.

tri kaya said...

Just a quick note to say no,i'm not buddhist..tibetan or otherwise, just fascinated by and deeply grateful for the headspace and worldview it rewards you with. Being initiated into reiki by one of the monks was and still is a life changing event. I'd recommend it to any open soul. You're very generous with your time,but i'll leave you to complete what everyone on this site (who appear to be one interesting crew!) is waiting for..the fruits of your labour!

davo7cool said...

You nailed it on the head about not wanting to know your instrument too well, look at Joe satrioni (ehhh). Its like ego gets in the way of what sounds good.

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