What happens when an artist spends seven years touring the nation and building a career, then takes a virtual hiatus for two years before returning with a new solo album? In the case of an established artist like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty or Sheryl Crow, a break can do some good and even breathe some fresh life into the career arc. For a musician that's been struggling to break through to establish a long career and name recognition, however, a long break could potentially stall your momentum and leave you dead in the water.
When Eric Himan settled down in Tulsa nearly three years ago and took a well-deserved break from the heavy touring that had become a way of life since releasing his debut in 2001, it was a gamble. It's not like he quit playing, though: quite the contrary. When inquiries to start playing shows around town garnered a response from local club owners that he needed a band, he obliged in order to satisfy the market, forming Eric & the Adams.
Local music fans know that the band quickly become one of the area's favorite local acts, winning a number of high profile gigs and a fistful of nominations in the ABoT Music awards. It's not like Himan quit touring, either. He took the band out on the road for a few short tours and continued to play solo acoustic gigs in a few key markets where he was well established. For many markets, however, he virtually disappeared.
When Himan folded the band earlier this year in order to resume his solo career, it wasn't without some degree of hesitation. The songs that he had written were more suited to his solo style, however, and he knew in the back of his mind that it was time for him to refocus on the solo career he had invested so much time and effort into.
A trip to Tuscon, AZ to record with close friend Namoli Brennet opened the doors of creativity for Himan, yielding his strongest album to date, Supposed Unknown. On one hand, its stripped back and quiet, back to the acoustic based songwriting that Himan launched his career with. On the other hand, it's obvious that he's learned from his band experience, slowly building out the arrangements and tastefully orchestrating the songs within.
Any concern Himan may have had about his old fan base remembering and accepting him have been alleviated as he has not only taken back to the road for a successful run of tour dates, but the songs on the new disc have garnered plenty of interest nationally as well as locally.
Initially, Himan's lead single, "Dust," got unexpected spins from KMYZ-FM Z104.5, The Edge, and even won the 9pm "Cockfight", which faces off two songs against each other with listeners calling in to vote for their favorite. "Dust" won four nights in a row.
Once the CD was released, however, the proverbial ball really started rolling. "Save The Day" has been picked up and welcomed into regular rotation on satellite radio and gained enough positive response that Himan was invited in for a live studio performance just last week, for which he recorded seven songs to be aired both as a full live performance and split up for individual use. In addition, Himan just signed a licensing agreement which will potentially place his songs in a number of shows on the MTV, E! and Discovery networks.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Supposed Unknown is the diversity that Himan displays with the record. Yes, his singer/songwriter background is on full display as he plays to his strengths with the new disc. He also plays to his bluesy side with tracks like "Blood on Her Lips" and "Them Song of a Former Pushover" and puts his rocker persona on with "Dust," exposing a slightly darker side of his persona.
At the center of the disc, however, is rock-solid songwriting, allowing him to take the songs in a variety of directions. When we discussed that, Himan said that he consciously tried to play with different styles of music on this disc and looks at the songs as a platform to build off of.
"Acoustic music is a base to build from and get bigger," he said. "As popular as MTV Unplugged was for stripping back the songs to an acoustic format, I think the reverse is true as well. If you've got a great base, you can expand on that and make it bigger. I'm just kind of going in the opposite direction."
Although Himan's solo tour has left him in a position to present the songs in an acoustic format, when home for a show in Tulsa, he takes advantage of the opportunity to build the songs out in different directions. When he officially released the new disc back in May, Himan held a private CD release party at Harwelden Mansion, with all proceeds going to local charity. That show saw the songs expanded with Himan on electric guitar, accompanied by the string arrangements of the Tulsa Rock Ensemble.
When Himan returns for a full blown CD release party at The Treehouse this Friday night, Aug. 5, however, he'll do so with a full rock band. Accompanied by Ted Scott on guitar and Erin Nelson on drums (both of which were also band mates in hard rock band Good Villains, which surprisingly failed to launch) as well as bassist Dave Hays, Himan shared that he'll use this opportunity to go in a more melodic direction with the songs, drawing inspiration from bands like The Smiths and The Cure.
The evening will open with a new band, Dead Man's Hand at 10pm, followed by King Cobra. Himan will then premier the video for "Dust" (which features guitarist Dustin Howard and vocalist Jesse Cochran of King Cobra and was filmed and produced by Kelly Kerr) before taking the stage with his band to complete the night.
So how does it feel to see the rewards from a decade of hard work finally start to pay off?
"With Eric and the Adams, I was really trying to be more poppy and break away from being the guy in the corner with the acoustic guitar in the coffeehouse all the time. It's kind of ironic, then, going back and finally getting the exposure and having everyone say 'No, no -- keep it acoustic'" Himan said. (Which actually happened when Himan proposed doing a song on electric guitar for the Sirius XM broadcast).
Overall, however, Himan admits that it's great to be receiving the kind of response that he has. The response on the road has been surprisingly strong with Himan noting that "Blood on Her Lips," in particular, has been getting a lot of attention. Of course, gaining satellite radio airplay for "Save the Afternoon" has been priceless -- not only for the exposure, but to be able to see direct results of his efforts.
"Sometimes it's hard to tell what's working and what's not," Himan said. "But with Sirius, I've got a reference point. People are telling me directly that they heard me on satellite radio and came out to see me because of it."
More than anything, it's got to be good to see that the gamble of settling back in Tulsa and changing gears has paid off. If anything, that change has arguably made Himan a stronger songwriter and performer and helped add another layer to his playing.
You can get your copy of Supposed Unknown and experience the songs in high-energy mode with a full band this Friday night at The Treehouse. The show starts at 10pm and cover is only $5 at the door -- see Eric Himan explore the new CD, dig into his back catalogue and even pull out a few surprise covers especially for this homecoming show. The new band has a whole different dynamic than Eric & the Adams and Himan isn't playing in Tulsa nearly as often, so this is a show that is definitely worth making plans for.
You can be forgiven for needing a breather after the weekend marathon of local music that was last week's Free Tulsa festival. If you've gotten your rest and are ready to hit it again, however, we've still got a plenty of great local shows to choose from and get your music fix. From big shows to small clubs, we've got it all again this week, so read on to catch the highlights.
• Thursday, August 4 -- Zero Crossing brings a party to the Hunt Club patio and Jenny Labow & Mac Ross play Labow's best and a few choice covers at Mystic River Lounge, but Thursday's best show is easily the return of Atlanta based singer/songwriter Corey Smith with Johnny Cooper opening at Cain's Ballroom. Smith just signed a major label deal and released his latest, Broken Record, this summer but nothing has changed -- he's still telling vivid stories with a great sense of humor, he's just telling them to more people. This could be one of the last times to catch him at the Ballroom before he ends up on the arena circuit opening for the big dogs.
• Friday, August 5 -- Steve Pryor tears it up at Back Alley Blues and RadioRadio returns for another evening at Hunt Club while Creedence Clearwater Revisited (yes, still no John Fogerty for a full reunion) plays The Joint at Hard Rock Casino. The indie rock crowd will be split, however, between Ghastly City Sleeps, Lizard Police and Daniels at Soundpony and the best punk-rock show of the month with Broncho, Rude Amps and Fabulous St. Knicholas Cage at Mercury Lounge. Of course, you can't forget the aforementioned Eric Himan CD release show at The Treehouse. Your best bet is to camp out at 18th and Boston and go back and forth between the Broncho and Eric Himan shows to enjoy the best of both.
• Saturday, August 6 -- I'm not completely sure there's much point in highlighting anything but the Brady Block Party on Saturday. After all, who can pass up The Flaming Lips' return to Tulsa? Especially when the bill also includes Primus, MuteMath, Civil Twilight, Awol Nation, Solid Gold, Particle, That One Guy and Pretty Black Chains. If you are in the mood for something different, however, don't overlook Greg Jacobs' CD release at The Church for the Red Dirt and songwriting set or LEGION at IDL Ballroom for anyone looking for a great dance party.
• Sunday, August 7 -- Annie Ellicott plays at Smoke for local jazz lovers, otherwise it's a good night to settle in with a residency and relax. Amongst the best of those are Paul Benjaman & Friends at The Colony, Brandon Clark at Mercury Lounge and Dan Crossland throws his hat in the ring with a songwriters' night at CJ Maloney's in Broken Arrow.
• Tuesday, August 9 -- 100 Monkeys returns to Cain's Ballrooom with The Kissing Club opening or you can chill out with Grazzhopper at Treehouse.
• Wednesday, August 10 -- Finally, wrap up your week and get your dancin' shoes out for another night of Mixtape at Electric Circus.
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