Interview: Eric Terino
It’s a great pleasure to have you here in the Sanctum, Eric, especially after your latest release which is a true Indie masterpiece. Let’s take it from the very beginning. When did your journey in music begin as a listener? Which artists have you been stanning as a kid?
Wow, thank you very much! It’s great to be here chatting with you! I was just thinking about this the other day actually, trying to remember what the first album I ever owned was. It must’ve been something like the Spice Girls’ Spiceworld or the Titantic soundtrack. So my journey as an independent listener began with mostly mid to late 90s pop music. But as a child I remember there being a lot of interesting stuff played around the house. Things like Fleetwood Mac, Tom Waits, George Harrison, Joni Mitchell, and those types of artists are what I really gravitated towards as I got older and started getting more deeply into my own love of music. My favorites as an early teen were people like Marianne Faithfull, Nico, PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Bob Dylan, Jolie Holland, Diamanda Galás, Laurie Anderson, Yoko Ono, Patty Waters… I definitely veered more towards female artists and those who were either on the experimental side or particularly strong storytellers in their work. But what interested me most was the craft of songwriting in all its various guises.
What was your first calling? I mean, can you remember what motivated you to make your first music ever as well as your debut?
I think my initial motivation was just seeing how strongly my world had been shaped by the work these incredible artists were producing. It’s a powerful thing, music can have such a profound impact on our lives. It feels almost mythical, but in reality every song you’ve ever been moved by was written by someone who just wanted to tell that story. So that sense of practicality made me feel as though it was an attainable thing. But it took me some time to get there. I’d been toying around with ideas for various songs for years before I finally put together my first record (Mountains of Nothing In Love, 2013). It came at a really difficult traumatic time, and I think I felt as though I may not be around much longer, so I better finally make this thing before it’s too late. It’s a record I’m proud of, but it’s very painful to go back there so I find myself not often wanting to engage with the songs from that period.
Do you separate the every-day Eric from the persona ‘Eric Terino’, if there is one? If yes, what are the differences between the two?
I definitely don’t think of myself or the work in that way. It’s all very much connected, who I am as a private individual and who I am as an artist. I really have very few limitations in terms of what I’m willing to discuss openly on my records. I think that’s the place I feel most comfortable communicating the intricacies of my private life. Of course I have certain people I can speak intimately with about all of these things, but generally it’s much safer to channel that release through songwriting. It also gives you the opportunity to really shape the way the message gets conveyed to the listener. It’s amazing how the slightest change of a word can totally alter the color of a statement. So it’s really sort of a necessary release done in the most palatable way possible for me.
Your songwriting skill is extraordinary and it’s obviously your strongest point in your albums. Do you feel this way too? Can you please elaborate on this thought?
Thank you very much for saying so! I really appreciate that. As I was saying earlier, songwriting is what has always interested me most, so I’m very grateful to hear that it comes across as a strong point in my work. For years I considered myself a “Songwriter” more than anything else, certainly more so than a “Musician”. Though I think I prefer the term “Artist” these days, as it’s a bit more open-ended and I do feel there’s a level of artistry in everything I’m trying to do. But yes, I’m very much committed to the craft of songwriting and I’ve always strove to compose pieces that have the ability to move people in one way or another. I take the selection and arrangement of words and melodies very seriously. I think a mood can be fully created or destroyed by the choices you make as a songwriter.
How did it feel to release your sophomore ‘Champagne and Childhood Hunger’ back in 2019 and what was your vision for this album?
That was a really important time, both creatively and personally. I’d gone through a terribly intense period of my life that had completely hollowed me out. I’d just begun getting my feet back on the ground and I thought, this is the right time to make a firm statement on what’s going on here. I think that’s why there was a bit of an extended gap between my first and second album. I remember feeling like I didn’t have anything I needed to say yet. Which is an important aspect of the process when I’m writing. I don’t find myself wanting to write for the sake of it, or for the sake of continuing to create output or anything like that. I make records when I genuinely feel I’ve got something worthy of being said and being heard. So Champagne and Childhood Hunger was my ‘coming back from the edge’ record. On Mountains of Nothing In Love I was in the eye of the storm, directly at the breaking point. Then I had to live through all of that and start making my way back to the other side before I could get to Champagne… , which was sort of my return from the dead. I’d been to Hell and back a couple times over, and I wanted to speak on how that experience had felt.
As a graphic designer/illustrator myself, I need to know about the bony font of your Champagne… cover art. What is the concept behind this gorgeous typography/illustration?
The cover of that record is actually a photograph of a sculpture I’d made from tiny mink bones. All the song titles on the back cover were made by hand from actual bones as well. I’ve been told by some people that when they first glanced at that album cover they thought it was something like a children’s fairytale logo, which I thought was very funny and actually very appropriate to the intent. Because the idea behind the songs on that record was to make them sound a bit twinkly and dreamy on the surface but at closer inspection they’re actually saying these really dark pained sort of things. But the concept for that cover art relates to the time period that record reflects. I felt as if I’d been completely broken down, and that’s what that record was, the skeleton of the person I hoped to continue to flesh out as I moved further away from the impact of the traumas I’d experienced. There’s actually a line in the concluding track on that album that even says “This shit has cut me down to the bone”. So it was sort of a visual representation of that rawness, and I also liked the slightly childlike forest fairy tale hue it had because I was still very much finding my way back through the wilderness.
I’d hate to sound cliché’ but to me, your latest ‘Innovations of Grave Perversity’ feels like Edgar Alan Poe making music. Can you please give us the background of this LP as well as what you wanted to communicate through it?
Well that’s quite the compliment, thank you! So after finding my footing and starting to make the journey back to the other side on Champagne… I wanted to use the process of creating the follow up as a means of redefining my life. I knew I wanted to write a story about finding a way from despondency to a place of healing and hopefulness. So structurally, the idea was for the album to begin in the dead of winter and to detail the transition to the beginning of spring. Which served as a metaphor for the journey I’d been experiencing personally in real time as I was writing this record, both in terms of the seasons and in the evolution of my mental state. Something had shifted in me, after all these years I was finally starting to feel a natural pull towards joy and, as I say in the record, “A refusal to be damned”. I truly felt so many of my resentments from the past slipping away and transforming into a desire for everyone I’d ever known to feel loved. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do, to make a shift in outlook like that. And it took a very long time and a lot of conscious effort to make that happen. But one day I just found myself feeling different, and it’s been incredible to document that journey on this record.
‘Torture The Dead’ is among the grandest pieces of music I’ve ever come across from an Indie artist. Are there specific tracks in the album that you feel most proud of or, for some reason, are more special to you?
Wow, thank you very much. It’s wonderful to hear that you were taken by that one as it was an important song in the construction of this record. I wrote it fairly early on and I knew that line from the chorus was going to be a sort of linchpin in what this whole thing was about (“Love can be so beautiful and so sad, it can kill the dying and torture the dead.”). That duality, and the power that love in all its forms has over our lives. I believe it’s our ability to love that truly dictates the paths we take. But I write a record as a record. So it’s difficult to pick certain songs as being more special or important than others, as they’re all really pieces of a whole. But I will say at the moment I’m feeling very fond of the closing track “I Didn’t Live There”. It’s a sort of grand sprawling statement on the transience of life and how we aren’t defined by our experiences. We carry our homes within ourselves. There are certain moments in that song that take me right back to a specific place or time, and it’s lovely to be able to feel connected to those moments again.
The stunning, renaissance-inspired piece that makes the cover of Innovations… is the main thing antagonizing your songwriting skill. Is your artistic expression shared equally between music, writing and visual arts? Do any of them get the best of you?
What brings me the most joy is creating records, but the great thing about that is the process involves engaging in so many different mediums. You get to write and record the songs, create the cover art, which could involve photography, sculpture, painting, etc. and then there’s the whole process of doing the design layouts for the various releases and promotional materials. Plus you can delve into film work with music videos and that sort of thing. I do enjoy working in other mediums independently as well though, specifically design. I’ve done some design work for releases by other artists. I actually just did the cover art for a new LP release of Sandy Denny’s final concert called Gold Dust which is coming out for Record Store Day later this month. I also contributed an essay for the liner notes of a new Patty Waters LP that’ll be released some time this year. It’s been really fulfilling to be able to tap into these different avenues of artistic expression, and I feel very grateful to have been presented with opportunities to do so.
What is Eric’s greatest power and what is his greatest fear?
Wow, I suppose my greatest power is in my resilience and the ability to stay the course and commit to creating what I want to create. Whether that’s the way I shape my life, the relationships I have, or the art that I make. My greatest fear is a bit tougher. I’d say that my greatest power probably stems from the fact that my greatest fears have already come true.
What are you currently listening to? Are there any new albums or upcoming artists you’re discovering and would like to share?
I’m very pleased to have worked with the Brooklyn based indie label Perpetual Doom for the release of Innovations of Grave Perversity. They would be the place to go if you’re looking to discover new independent underground music. They have an incredible roster of talent and they really try to shine a light on artists creating unique work that doesn’t get its due in the mainstream. But I must say I’m not generally one to keep up with a lot of new music in my everyday life. At the moment I’ve been reading through this great new biography of Yoko Ono (In Your Mind - The Infinite Universe of Yoko Ono by Madeline Bocaro), which has had me delving back into her catalogue. I’ve been a great fan of her music for most of my life but it’s been wonderful to reengage with it in this way. I’ve also been exploring the work of Dana Gillespie. I was introduced to her by my friend who put together the Sandy Denny release that I worked on, and I’ve been exploring her discography ever since. It’s really interesting stuff. Primarily Blues records, but she also does stuff like devotional Sanskrit albums, 80s Synth Pop, 70s Art Rock, or 60s Alt Folk. One new (old) record I did just discover was Cockamamie by Jennifer Trynin. I’d never heard of her and stumbled across her album from 1994 recently. She’s sort of somewhere between Liz Phair, Aimee Mann, and Meryn Cadell. It’s always amazing to see how much music from the past is still out there to be discovered, even for someone like myself who has dug deeply into it all consistently throughout my life. It brings me hope that with any luck, someday someone might discover the records I’ve made and feel a connection to them, even long after I’m gone.
Enjoy Eric Terino right here: