- 13 Aug 19
Honorary Irishman Eric Eckhart discusses his outstanding new album Luminous, finding creative freedom in Berlin, and why he won’t be returning to Trump’s America any time soon.
The word ‘wanderlust’ doesn’t do Eric Eckhart’s journey justice. From West Virginia to Berlin, with a life-changing pit stop in Dublin along the way, the singer-songwriter has spent the last two decades immersing himself in creative bubbles across the world.
Independent to his core, Eric is now onto his eighth album, Luminous, a powerful work that showcases an experimental new direction in his songwriting and arranging, while sensitively exploring an increasingly polarised world. Clearly, the wandering musician, having now reached half-a-century, has matured since cutting his teeth in Dublin’s early noughties singer-songwriter scene.
“I spent a long time trying to figure out who I was as an artist,” he says. “I had a real tendency to overthink the whole process. On this album though, I had total artistic freedom.”
Recorded in a windowless, former WWII bunker in Berlin, Luminous was very much a solo affair.
“I had the space every Monday for four years,” he says. “I’d go down there by myself, shut the door, and find it completely silent. I could take risks and do whatever I wanted.
“I’m playing everything on the record, for the most part. It gave me some creativity that wouldn’t have been there if I’d hired an actual drummer or a bassist to play my songs. It was hard, of course, not having anyone else to act as a sounding board, but you really learn to trust yourself.”
One of the album’s standout tracks is the gorgeous opener, ‘When I Was A Girl’ – written with the help of his then two-year-old son Finn.
“My wife was pregnant with our daughter at the time,” he recalls with a laugh. “I walked into the room, and my two-year-old son was singing the melody: “When I was a girl”. Even the melody is unusual – it wasn’t something that I would’ve come up with. But he just kept singing it on a loop, and it fascinated me. My wife had mentioned to him that foetuses are all female in their early weeks, because the sex organs for males don’t grow until around the eighth week. So we all start out as girls.”
Over time, the simple idea grew into a moving exploration of the entire life cycle.
“I wanted to expand it beyond the eight-week-old foetus, and explore what it meant to be a boy and a man. Before you’re born, there’s only one thing that you know: the meaning of life. When you’re born into the world, you’re so bombarded with everything that you start to forget that pure understanding. You spend the rest of your life trying to figure it all out, until the last second of your life, when you remember.”
Although he and his family have been based in Berlin for the last decade, they’ve by no means forgotten their Irish roots. Eric returned to Ireland to shoot the video for ‘When I Was A Girl’ on Dalkey Island, and he tells me that his five-year-old daughter, who plays hurling alongside her brother with Berlin GAA, is a diehard A Lazarus Soul fan.
However, like many artists, he can relate to the sentiments fellow singer-songwriter David Kitt memorably shared last year about the difficulty of finding affordable housing in Dublin.
“We moved to Berlin in 2008,” he recalls. “We originally went for a break, and we thought that we’d be coming back to Ireland after a few months. Then the crash happened, and everyone was saying, ‘Why would you come back?’ We found an amazing creative bubble in Berlin. It was a really exciting time there, and with things so tough here, it got harder and harder to come back. But I miss Ireland every day.”
He may have made Ireland his spiritual home, but Eric began life in West Virginia, as the son of a trade unionist railroad worker. With Trump winning 68.5% of the West Virginian vote in the 2016 presidential election, Eric finds it hard to recognise his home state these days.
“Historically it was a Democrat state, where workers took up arms against the mining companies,” he explains. “I grew up on picket lines. Ours was a very left wing, pro-worker and pro-socialist home. We even had a huge portrait of Karl Marx in the hallway, though most people thought it was Walt Whitman!
“But West Virginia’s really changed over the last 30 years. I feel really disconnected from America these days, and I couldn’t imagine every going back there. Ireland, yes, but America, definitely no.”
• Luminous is out now.