About a year ago, Eric John Kaiser released his album “Idaho,” which is a collection of songs he wrote while staying at a hotel near the Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, and then went back to Portland to record it.
“It’s my fourth album. My first album was stories about Paris, my second was all about when I arrived in Portland. I usually get inspired to write about the place I’m in, and Idaho was definitely one of those inspiring places,” Eric said in a recent phone interview.
Portland and Idaho are certainly a long way from Eric’s original home, Paris, France. But the City of Lights seems too close in everyone’s mind due to the recent terror events. I really didn’t want to ask him my next question.
“My family is okay. I have two friends that were actually at that gig, at the Bataclan theater, so that was pretty bad, but they were able to escape,” Eric said.
“At first, I was really concerned about trying to get a hold of everybody and all that. It happened in an area of Paris that I used to hang out a lot, it’s kind of the eastern part of the city, and I went there many times, to that club and saw bands. The football stadium was really bad. It was stressful to try and call everybody, and checking on Facebook, too, to see if everybody was okay.”
Eric said he thought the Gorge was really unique because it’s so different from the kind of landscape in France — the western U.S. having a more “majestic” feel.
“I’ve stopped in Hood River many times on my way to Boise, on my tours, and I’ve always loved the drive, to get out and see the big open spaces of the Gorge. The high desert is a big contrast too,” Eric said.
“I love Hood River with all the kitesurfers, and the people are really on the young-outdoorsy side, I like that kind of energy.”
Buried in my CD collection is Eric’s 2006 album “L’Odyssee,” and he laughed when I mentioned I remembered a song about something to do with “gold.” (It was “La Ruee vers l’or,” or The Gold Rush].) My obvious recollection was all the songs were sung in French, so I asked him if he performs in English or French depending on his audience or whereabouts.
“As a songwriter I like to connect with people, and I know a lot times the people don’t necessarily understand French, so singing in English is a good way to connect with people. I’ve been in Portland for almost ten years now, and that has made me speak much more English on a regular basis. That inspires my songwriting too,” Eric said.
I asked Eric if the songwriting process was different in any way with French or English thinking.
“I get asked that question a lot (laughs). It depends on the song, but in a nutshell if I write in French, then it’s really about the meaning of the song, and if I write in English it’s seems to be more based on the melody.”
“It’s like I have two different tools for songwriting, for me, based on what kind of texture and what kind of song I want to do. Sometimes the main concept for my songs come in English, and sometimes it comes in French.”
Eric plans to write another batch of songs soon and then make a new record next summer in Quebec.
“I work with a producer there, and I went up there this year to play a few different festivals. I really like the music scene up there because it’s a good balance — they’re really attached to the French language, but at the same time they have a very North American sound, and that’s good for me because I’m very influenced by a lot of Blues and folk music,” Eric said.
Quebec seems to inspire him because he likes to be in new places and meet new people to draw influences from, which is kind of how music started for him growing up.
“I started when I was 10, and my mother asked me to pick an instrument. I chose guitar and actually started playing classical style at first. And then, I wanted to play songs I heard on the radio. Eventually I went to the YMCA to join other kids and we’d play the Stones and Beatles songs, plus we’d listen to all the American artists and try to copy them,” Eric said.
“I started playing shows in Paris and the Paris area with a band, and we had a good time,” he said.