Singer-songwriter-guitarist Erik Brandt believes in being productive. Between the Urban Hillbilly Quartet and his solo work, he’s featured on ten albums, including his newest solo outing: Sometimes (House of Mercy Recordings), the release of which he celebrated with a January 22 show at St. Paul’s Gingko Coffeehouse.
Brandt is one of those dyed-in-the-wool craftsmen who constructs his sound with rich, authentic textures. “Ramblin’” is some of the most beautiful bluegrass music you’re going to come across. Out of the Tom Rush and Gordon Lightfoot school, it’s one those sardonic “travelin’ man” tunes that stays with you from the first time you hear it. The sweetly mournful “Who Am I Making The Bed For When You Aren’t Here” is classic. “Ain’t Broke” is a jaunty romp with sharp lyrics, funny as hell. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it / If it’s tight, don’t twist it / If it’s right, don’t mix it / Ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” All in all, Sometimes makes for fine listening. Erik Brandt has appeared at the North By Northeast Festival in Toronto and at venues from Oakland to New York City, from Britain to Australia. In town, he’s gigged extensively—including sitting in at The Big Wu Family Reunion.
Any influence on your melody writing in particular?
No. I grew up singing lots of classic American folk tunes and church hymns. What was interesting [when I recently went to] Hungary is that I tapped into the Hungarian bluegrass/Americana scene—all 30 people in it—and I found myself steeped in the traditional music of my own homeland. Even though I tried to explore traditional Hungarian music as much as I could. While teaching English in Budapest I also did lots of singing of classic American folk tunes: “This Land is Your Land” and the like. I found myself drawn back to the sounds of home even while across the ocean.
I like the lyrics of Mike Scott of the Waterboys. Also Bruce Cockburn, Woody Guthrie, the Jayhawks, the Cash Brothers, and Eliza Gilkyson.
What took you so long to make a solo album?
I really had no intention of making this album. It just seemed to make the most sense around March, and the bulk of it was done in May. It’s actually my second solo album. The first, Green Eyed Alone, came out in March 2006. I started steering the solo route, away from my band, the Urban Hillbilly Quartet, in 2001, when I released Amelia’s Boot as Erik Brandt and the Urban Hillbilly Quartet. This album, compared to the previous solo-ish albums, is the most simple and most acoustic, and the most performable as a solo act. The previous songs really need a band to pull them off.
How active do you plan to be on your own?Pretty active. [Especially in] the Twin Cities.
Does any of the material from Sometime make it on to the set list when you perform with the Urban Hillbilly Quartet?
Yes. There’s really no distinction between Erik as a solo act and Erik as leader of UHQ when it comes to either act playing songs live. We mix it all up.
World domination, of course! Actually, supporting the album nationally and internationally as much as I can.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.