Eliot Bronson is gearing up for his return to Eddie’s Attic on February 19th! With Caleb Caudle opening up for his 9:30 PM show, he’s set to grace the stage where he began as an Open Mic contestant a little over ten years ago. I had the chance to catch up with him to discuss his decade-long span as an Eddie’s Attic artist, his beginnings as the duo Brilliant Inventions, and the elusive necessity that is the creative process.
JS: What got you started in music? What were your beginnings with it?
EB: I grew up going to Pentecostal church… my family was involved with it a lot. That’s where I first sang, and that’s where I was first was exposed to music. You know, my Dad played piano, guitar, and wrote songs; we sang in church, too, so my folks were really into music. They had a huge record collection of folk, blues, and gospel music, so it was really always around.
It was very natural for me to slide into it, although I didn’t start playing and writing ‘til I was in my teens.
JS: Oh, really? So you were about how old when you started that, would you say?
EB: Yeah, I mean I was exposed to live music for a long time but I didn’t start playing guitar until I was about 15. I mean took violin lessons as a kid and I hated it [laughs], but yeah, I came to performing and playing a little later than some people do.
JS: I was reading that you came here and won our Shootout in 2005 and I don’t know how much later that was for you, but it seems like you progressed pretty quickly.
EB: Yeah! I mean, I did take to it really fast, I started writing songs almost immediately and it only took a couple of years until I was playing in coffee shops and things like that, so… it happened pretty fast.
JS: So, I know when you moved to Atlanta, you began as a duo with The Brilliant Inventions and like I said, you guys went onto win The Open Mic Shootout. I was wondering what’s the main difference for you in playing as a duo and playing solo? Do you like the solo act better?
EB: Well, you know, I like where I am now and I like what I’m moving towards always the most. That’s sort of like moving forward, it always looks better… or else, I’d probably stop [laughs]. But, I learned a lot playing in that duo. I’d been in punk rock bands as a teenager and things like that, but I hadn’t really done it seriously where I had to grind out the hard work of compromise and arrangement and writing; we did it for quite a while and it was hard, but I feel like I learned so much.
It was a real education for me. So, when that ended and I went off to do my own thing, I felt like I had this wealth of knowledge and experience that I maybe wouldn’t have had if I’d not gone through that period.
JS: That’s a great way to look at it. So, you would say it’s something you learned from more than anything?
EB: Yeah, I mean we had fun, too, it’s not like it was school [laughs], but I would say I’m a better musician and writer because of that experience and I took all of that into the next phase of my career.
JS: Yeah! Also, I love that you were in a Punk Rock band. [laughs]
EB: [laughs]Yeah, it’s pretty different, but I mean I grew up in Baltimore and we were working class people and I mean, I was a skate boarder. It was like, punk rock music and skate boarding, that was my life; blues and country and gospel were always around but at the beginning, I was like ‘that’s supremely uncool, I’m not gonna be any of that’ [laughs].
But, I guess it was in me in some way, so when I finally did come back around to it, it was really natural.
JS: I mean, it’s obviously working for you!
JS: So, you’ve been playing at The Attic longer than I’ve even known what Eddie’s Attic was, which is awesome because you obviously keep returning to draw a crowd here and I love that. You have a lot of history here. What is that like for you, to go from a Shootout winner to a headlining act in a decade span?
EB: I mean I love it, I love playing Eddie’s. It feels like my home base. I can go off and tour the country and leave and come back and it feels like the best shows are always here and that’s a really great feeling to have that.
In terms of the evolution at Eddie’s, we went from winning the shootout to pretty much selling it out in… maybe even within a year. But then, you know, we went from that and then we started over again, so I feel like I’ve had two careers at Eddie’s Attic. [laughs]Because now, you know, we can sell out and it’s totally different people who come now than who came to see me 7 or 8 years go. I think I’ve made a pretty big transition, but I’m glad I could convince another group of people to come out and see me!
JS: That’s impressive, to find a whole separate following, it’s not easy to do.
EB: Yeah, I think there are a few people who’ve stuck with me in the journey, but I really did change up what I was doing.
JS: Do you ever have people come up to you and mention how they saw you ten years ago?
EB: I mean occasionally I do at Eddie’s or in other towns. Sometimes, it comes up in weird ways, with other musicians. But, less and less, now I get more that they saw me 7 or 8 years ago, since I’ve been solo for a while.
JS: That must be really rewarding, to have fans who have followed your career so intently.
EB: Yeah, it’s really gratifying to me. I mean, I try not to take it for granted, at all. I mean anybody who emails me or comes up to me or messages me that they’re moved or [that they]appreciate what I do, I take it all in. It’s a real gift to know that you’re doing anything that matters to anyone because… I mean, I could keep doing this for myself, but it just doesn’t have the same sort of appeal and energy behind it.
JS: So, I was reading that you worked with Dave Cobb on your last album a while back and you guys worked with the rare Helios mixing console, which is really interesting! I was wondering how did that experience differ from when you’ve recorded in the past and if you think it impacted you for the better?
EB: Yeah! That came out at the end of 2014, so I guess it’s been a little over a year since it’s been out. Working with Dave was different from anything I’d ever experienced in the past because it was very organic, and natural, and spontaneous. I didn’t really know that would be the case going in. I love his work and I love the sounds he’s got, but the practical side of it, I didn’t really know!
So, just going in there, tracking everything live, and making up the arrangements in the studio, it was very different than the standard way of making records… which has become very, like [pauses]… for people who don’t know how records are made, the process, it isn’t usually a bunch of people sitting around making music. It’s usually one person in an isolation booth, you know, plucking on the base and tracking that and adding it to the drums, adding it to the guitar. So it becomes a whole calculated way of putting together music. I think that one of the geniuses of Dave is that he’s like ‘we should just do music the way we play music, the way we see it played live, and I think that’s why he’s had so much success. People were really tired of this sort of robotic sounding music; the music he makes, and hopefully the music we made, it feels alive, it feels human and refreshing.
JS: Yeah, it seems like there would be more passion behind it, doing it the way that you guys did.
EB: Yeah, there’s gotta be! There’s gotta be. You know, some of that passion and magic and humanity is really in being imperfect and when you try to round off the edges of everything, you don’t end up with a better recording. You end up with a cleaner recording, but it’s hard to have any soul when you do things that way. I really like the way we worked on the record.
JS: I saw you won the award for ‘Best Songwriter’ in Creative Loafing that year . How did that accomplishment feel, were you excited about it?
EB: It was a nice validation! You know, I always tell myself that for contests that you win or lose, or for reviews, I try not to take any of them too seriously. Because when something comes along and you don’t like what they said, you might take that too seriously, so you really need to pick and choose whose opinions you’re going to get behind [laughs]. I try to enjoy it when it comes, but try not to take it too seriously.
If you’re going to make art and make it matter, you’ve got to have some sense of what you want to do, what you believe in, even if nobody else does. You have to protect that.
JS: It seems like you have a really good ground to stand on as far as that goes.
EB: I try [laughs].
JS: So, what about for upcoming releases? Do you have any plans for new music or for where you’re going?
EB: Yeah, I spent this last year doing a lot of writing and I’ve got a pile of songs that I’m really excited about. I think they’re the best ones yet, though I always think that [laughs]. But, I do, I think they’re the best ones yet, and I’ve got [nonchalance]some plans for the record… I can’t say too much about it because if it doesn’t happen, I don’t want to eat my words [laughs], but it looks pretty exciting! So, this next one, I believe, will be bigger and better than the last or any that have come before it.
JS: That’s totally fine! You don’t want to promise anything that might not come through.
EB: That’s right, but I will promise that whenever it happens, it will be the best one I’ve made! [laughs]
JS: You write a lot of your own songs, obviously, for this record and for the ones in the past. Where does your inspiration for songwriting normally come from?
EB: Inspiration is… it’s a mysterious thing, not to be corny [laughs]. You know, I don’t understand it, I’ve been doing this for a long time and I don’t understand it.
Sometimes, you think you’ve figured it out and you’re like ‘OKAY, if I eat a bowl of yogurt and then meditate and then go for a run and come home, I can write a song’ [laughs], You know? You try to figure out these equations and you think you’ve figured it out and you’re like ‘I need to be in nature, I need this much time’, but really, it sort of just eludes you no matter how you try to pin it down.
And then, it’s like, one day the clouds part or some being comes down and there’s some spark or some sort of inspiration that allows me to finish something creative and then I have all this stuff to draw from. But that moment that I get ‘permission’ [laughs]from the universe or whoever, that’s how that happens… and it is terribly frustrating to be honest, you know, I want that every single day! So, I don’t know! I don’t know. I wish I had a better answer.
JS: No, I like it! It’s like the flip of a switch.
EB: It is! It is like that and you’re like ‘well this is easy, I can do this again tomorrow’ and then it’s not anymore! [laughs]
JS: So, you’ve been touring for quite a while. I was wondering what’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on tour?
EB: Aww, man. [laughs]You know, there should be something that comes right to mind, but the thing is, the cool, crazy [things], like a bus full of groupies attacking the band [don’t happen]… it’s just weird, unfortunate things, like being out in the middle of nowhere and ending up at some stranger’s house.
JS: Wait, did you actually end up at a stranger’s house in the middle of nowhere?!
EB: I feel like I have many times, I’ve been at stranger’s places a lot and I’ve ended up in the middle of nowhere a lot… and I’ve met so many kinds of people; really amazing people on the road and then some bizarre people who, like, try to lure you into back rooms and stuff happens to you, which is like really weird! [laughs]
JS: I mean, maybe don’t let people lure you into back rooms. That’s my life advice. [laughs]
EB: [laughs]Yeah! Right?! That actually happened once, I remember, there was this guy who wanted to talk to me; we were playing in this venue that was on the third story of a building. It was in a little town and it was an office building that had been turned into a venue on like the third or forth floor… there were all these abandoned offices and they weren’t connecting by hallways, they were connected like cavernously one after the other.
I had this guy, he would go to the doorway and he would be like ‘hey can I talk to you for a minute’ and then he’d move to the farther door and be like ‘come back here’ and after about the third room, I’m like ‘you know… I just don’t think I’m going to talk to you.’ [laughs]
JS: How creepy!
EB: Yeah! That’s the kind of thing that happens, so I just… I don’t know. It was too strange to be anything good, so just… you know, weird people. [laughs]
Audiences are drawn to Eliot’s easy-going demeanor and effortless songwriting. Check out more from him when he comes to Eddie’s Attic on February 19th!
– Interview/author: Jena Stephens