Escaping the bible belt for life in NYC, Erik Garlington spends his time crafting tunes that encompass family, race, and sexual identity, with infectious enthusiasm and charming wit. Joined by drummer Elijah Watson and bassist Natasha Johnson in Proper., the trio have just dropped their latest album, ‘I Spent The Winter Writing Songs About Getting Better’ via indie legends, Big Scary Monsters.
Hey Erik, how's it going? How are you finding New York at the mo, it must be an exciting place to live?
Hey! I'm great! Coming up on five years in NY and still loving it every day!
What brought you guys together, how did the band form?
I knew I needed to be in a band with black people, so it was literally just years of searching. A few times, I gave up and enlisted some white friends, but it rarely lasted. They never seemed to get just how special this band could be. Then I met Eli through a mutual friend and asked him to play drums. We spent like five months practising and recording and then I did an acoustic set at a friends house like a week before the record came out and met Natasha there.
And you're already two albums deep - give us the tl;dr for your past few years.
We surprise-released our first record and kinda hit the ground running. US and UK/EU tours, late-night TV, SXSW, etc. Then we decided to write a new record and kinda do the same thing. We wrote the new record in about six weeks and then BSM happened to hit us up on our second UK tour. Of course, we said yes cuz it's fuckin’ Big Scary Monsters! We cut the record and plotted for five or so months before finally dropping two singles then surprise releasing this one as well!
What are the benefits of releasing like that?
I've just never liked when bands take 3+ months to release half the album as singles and tease announcement. It's like this new trend of movie trailers showing a 10-second preview of the trailer you're about to watch. It just doesn't make any sense to me! I like building suspension and keeping people coming back to check-in for the latest update.
What was the writing and recording process like for this album?
So the first time around I'd had all the songs already written, so I told Eli what I wanted, plus Natasha joined the band after the first record had already been recorded and I split the lead guitar duties between myself and a friend. So this time around, while I did give them an idea for what I had in mind, I trusted them to write whatever they felt fit. There were times when I didn't get their vision but just went with them, and it clicked with me later.
As for lead guitar, I took it upon myself to write every single part this time. I tried to challenge myself to use as many tips and tricks as possible from the last 16 years of playing guitar. The recording process was about the same, though! I have anxiety about being in the studio because before this band I'd only ever recorded in friends basements. It took a long time to feel like I belonged there.
You guys have a few references to other bands and musicians across your music, do you have any particular faves? Are there any no one's picked up on yet?
I don't think anyone's picked up on the Dear and the Headlights reference in 'Art School'. That one's definitely my favourite. The entire first verse was supposed to be nothing but band references, but it kinda started to feel like a Mad lib, so I cut it down. There's a Brand New reference in there that some people are missing that I'm making fun of BN and their fans so that one's always fun to explain. Oh, and there's a Community reference in 'Curtain's Down' that I love and feel very sly about.
What are you most drawn to writing songs about?
Usually, when writing songs, my first goal is to challenge myself as a guitarist and vocalist. The lyrics are kind of an afterthought, to be honest. Inspiration comes from anywhere. A book, TV, movies, sitting in the barbershop listening to men talk, etc. I'll get an idea for a topic or a lyric and write it down, then when I've figured out my instrumental part I'll pull a topic from a hat so to speak.
What's your favourite thing about being a musician?
Touring for sure! Before music, I was a chef, so getting to travel the world trying out the foods of other cultures is amazing.
What are you guys working on at the moment, are you straight into new material, or taking it one album at a time?
I don't start writing new material until I know we're gonna release a project. I'll write down ideas and record parts here and there, but I just hate sitting on a complete song for years! The record's only been out a few weeks so right now we're just pushing that and lining up some tours! We're finally doing a full US run later this month after blowing it off to tour overseas twice in a row. People were real salty about that, so we have some making up to do.
Anything else we should know?
We love you and thank you so much for the great reception to the record! Thanks for having me!
Taken from the October issue of Upset. Proper.'s album 'I Spent The Winter Writing Songs About Getting Better' is out now.
Featuring blink-182, Of Mice & Men, The Faim, The Menzingers and more.