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Interview with Eric Tingstad, February 2020
Interview with Eric Tingstad, image 1
Eric Tingstad is a guitarist and composer and a whole lot more! He will be returning to Florence, OR on March 22nd for his second house concert here, so it seemed like a great time to do an interview!

Born in Seattle, WA and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Eric started playing the guitar when he was about ten, and started composing music soon after. He began his recording career in 1982 with a solo album called On the Links on his own label, Cheshire Records. He and Nancy Rumbel formed the Tingstad and Rumbel duo in 1985, and were signed to the Narada label in 1987. They recorded sixteen albums together and Eric released one solo album on Narada. Tingstad and Rumbel earned a Grammy Award for their Acoustic Garden album in 2002 and continue to perform together.

Eric has released nine albums under his own name including the Grammy-nominated Southwest (2006) which includes Nancy Rumbel, David Lanz and Gary Stroutsos (Native flutes), all artists from the Pacific Northwest. After that, came Badlands (2012), Mississippi (2015) and Electric Spirit (2018). Eric has been releasing singles lately, the most recent being “Darlin’,” with companion videos featured on his own website and YouTube.

In addition to being an incredible musician, Eric has a wonderful sense of humor! I think you’ll enjoy getting to know him better!

KP: ET! I am so looking forward to having you return for your second MainlyPiano.com house concert here on March 22nd! It’s hard to believe it’s been five years!

You’ve had such a long and varied music career that I’m not sure where to start. Most recently, you’ve released a series of three singles that are more “new age-y” than your last several albums, but the most recent, “Darlin’” seems more bluesy. Are you taking your music in a different direction?

ET: No, not really. Just working on trying to perfect what I have been recording for 40 years. Ha Ha! The singles are reminiscent of some of my early works for sure. But, I am never really thinking about direction. I just get ideas and inspirations and run ‘em down.

What I did do with this last group of songs is to try and instill more emotion.

For the last few years, I have been integrating the elements of songwriting into my instrumental works. As in reaching for more emotion, tighter structure and production.

KP: Do you plan to include the singles on an album in the future?

ET: Perhaps. I’ll see where things are at in a year or so. The music business right now seems to favor singles given what’s going on in the streaming of music.

KP: Your most recent album is Electric Spirit (2018). How did you go from Mississippi (2015) to this one?

ET: Electric Spirit is a continuation of the music and ideals that I was exploring on Mississippi. On Mississippi, I approached the compositions and arrangements primarily on the acoustic guitar with the electric as overdubs, Electric Spirit is done 100% with just the electric. Hence the title Electric Spirit. My assignment to myself on this one was to make the compositions a little tighter. Trim away some of the fat by paying attention to a more rigid song form and structure that's more like what the instrumental groups like The Ventures did years ago. And I always try to impart as much lyricism as possible within the confines of an instrumental.

KP: I always really loved the instrumentals ‘way back when I was a kid - The Ventures, The Tijuana Brass, and so many more!

Which instrument(s) did you use the most on Electric Spirit, and how did it/they help you create the sound you wanted for this album?

ET: It was pretty much entirely done with just my Telecaster through a small 5 watt champ amp. A couple of the support tracks were done on my Strat. My Shobud pedal steel makes some appearances as well as my lap steel. A lot of attention was paid to the parts of the supporting instruments. The bass, organ and the drums had a lot of thought put into them as compositional elements. The sound I was going for was thick with a gritty texture. I wanted the subtle nuances of the guitar tone to be heard, so the arrangements are fairly sparse.

KP: Is there one song you are especially happy with?

ET: “Amazing Grace” immediately comes to mind. That is a song that has been on my to-do list for years. I think it's one of those songs that everybody should know and have some performance arrangement that they can go to. I tried about a half a dozen different tempos, grooves, time signatures before I decided on the one that is on Electric Spirit. I hope I picked the right one :)

KP: I’m sure you did!!!

I’ve been listening to Mississippi (2015), Electric Spirit (2018) and Southwest (2006) this afternoon and had forgotten how great those albums are. Do you plan to do any more Americana/roots albums?

ET: I think my music is always Americana/roots. It can just take many forms. Even when it’s soft and gentle, it’s still Americana to me. My next couple singles will have a bit more country blues vibe. My latest single, “Darlin’,” is just released and has a Bessie Smith feel to it.
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Interview with Eric Tingstad, image 4
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Click on album covers to go
to Kathy's reviews. Michael Debbage also
reviewed "Southwest" and "Mississippi."
Find those reviews here.

You forgot Badlands haha. If you listen to those four albums in order you will hear the geographical approach.

KP: Actually, I had Badlands on my desk - I just ran out of afternoon!

I really wish the music industry didn’t require music to be sorted by genre and style. So much great music goes unheard because it doesn’t fit into a specific category. Have you had any problems with that?

ET: My entire career! haha. I’m a little too smooth for the roots folk and a bit too rootsy for the woo woo folk to be totally entrenched in any one genre. I guess I just gotta stand on my own. haha.

KP: I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all!

When did you start Cheshire Records?

ET: I started Cheshire in 1982 because I was tired of waiting for other labels to sign me. I had to get the ball rolling myself.

KP: Have you always composed music that might be categorized as “Americana”?

ET: I think so :) 

KP: Didn’t you spend time in the South when you were composing the music for Mississippi?

ET: Spent time in the South feeling, listening and getting inspiration and ideas. But not really working with anyone.

KP: Let’s talk about your early background. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

ET: I was born in Seattle. Lived in Bellingham while my dad went back to college during Jr. High. Moved out to Whidbey Island for high school and then back Seattle area.

KP: Are any of your family members musicians?

ET: Nope. Just me.

KP: Did you ever want to be anything but a musician?

ET: Not that I can remember! haha.

KP: Do you remember the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio, on TV or in a movie?

ET: Yes I do. We had a fantastic station here in Seattle back in the early 80s that had a commitment to support local artists. This was a major format radio station. Lots of people listened to KEZX. The track was called “Bush House” and it was from my first recording, On the Links, that came out in 1982. The DJ in the morning, who is still my friend to this day, somehow seemed to time it with my radio alarm clock going off.

KP: A nice way to wake up!

Who and what do you consider to be some of your musical influences?

ET: That’s a hard one to answer. I have been through quite a few phases. I really can't imagine anybody who was born in 1954 not answering this one by saying “The Beatles.” Ha ha!

KP: I think I would expand that to 1950-1960 at least!

ET: Other influences include Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, English Art Rock bands, Mark Knopfler, Segovia, Ralph Towner, Bessie Smith, Son House.

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KP: An eclectic bunch! Are there any specific songs that got you fired up about writing songs yourself?

ET: That might have been “Nowhere Man” by The Beatles. “Honkytonk Women” by the Stones and “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams were also early inspirations. As far as writing guitar-based originals, Jimmy Page was definitely the guy. I mean I don't think anybody consistently wrote cooler guitar music.

KP: Who are your favorite composers/songwriters?

ET: Lucinda Williams, Buddy and Julie Miller.

KP: What has been your most exciting musical moment to date?

ET: I have been performing pretty solidly since the late 70s, so that presents me with a lot of venues to consider! ha ha. One that comes to mind that I remember saying to myself, “man this is really cool and fun,” was when I played with Tayla Lynn at Tubb’s Record Store on Broadway in Nashville probably three or four years ago. In my mind we were basically reenacting her grandmother’s appearances like the one that is highlighted in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter. Also, I did a short set and felt a pretty big wow a couple of months ago at the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

KP: What is the best advice someone has given you?

ET: When I was a young adult and just starting my solo career, I had a wonderful mentor who taught me about the power of acknowledgment. I learned that it is easy to say “thank you,” but that there is a deeper level that needs to be felt inside without uttering any words of appreciation - just feel it. Similar to feeling blessed but directed at an individual.

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The other side to this is fully receiving the energy of acknowledgment when it is directed at you. For something like winning an award or placing well on the radio chart, this can be palpable. Surprisingly, there is also a strong sense of humility that goes with this - pushing you to do more and be more deserving and caring.

KP: Wow! Excellent! If you could have any three wishes, what would they be? 

ET: That my back quits hurting, I could spend more time just traveling, figure out what’s the problem with my peonies :)

KP: Oh man, I hear ya about back pain! What’s wrong with your peonies???? Haha!

What’s next for you?

ET: I’ll be doing a lot more performing in blues venues and blues performance situations. Electric Spirit has rekindled my passion and earliest influences of the blues. When I was working on Mississippi, I had about half of an album’s worth of new material and ideas that ended up being on Electric Spirit. And likewise, I have almost an album's worth of new song sketches ready to be worked up. My writing style pretty much has a common thread to it in terms of the kind of lyricism that I try to achieve and the song form structure. What I try to become fresh about on each new recording is stretching and taking a slightly different production value. My primary motivation for that is so that I don't make this same album twice. So I'm currently thinking that the next project is going to be even a little bit more stripped down. Maybe just two or three guitars per track and that's it with just a wisp of percussion. I am hearing some pretty infectious raw grooves going on right now down in the Delta and I would like to try to work those into my thing.

KP: Sounds great, Eric! We’ll see you next month!
Many thanks to Eric Tingstad for chatting with us! For more information about Eric and his music, be sure to visit his website and his Artist Page here on MainlyPiano.com. And if you’re in the area, don’t miss Eric’s concert here on March 22, 2020!!!
Kathy Parsons
February 2020