This month Kiki Shakti interviews Eric McFadden, the guitar-playing virtuoso who has toured the world both as a solo artist and with rock legend Eric Burdon (The Animals) and funk legend George Clinton (Parliament/Funkadelic), about his New Mexico roots; his upcoming show on December 27 at the Taos Mesa Brewing; his new supergroup, T.E.N. (www.TEN-music.com), alongside Thomas Pridgen (Mars Volta) and Norwood Fisher (Fishbone); and his non-profit organization, We Are 10 Star! (www.WeAre10Star.org), a program that works with youth & communities to encourage personal empowerment through music & arts. (For more information regarding the 10-Star Program or Eric McFadden, please email [email protected] or check out www.EricMcFadden.com).
1. On the wiki it says you are from San Francisco, but I always thought you were somehow from New Mexico. Did you grow up here?
Yeah, you could say that. We moved to Albuquerque from New York on my eighth birthday. With the exception that we moved to Van Nuys, CA when I was 10 and when I was 17, we moved to Syracuse, NY and I stayed there for about a year. But otherwise, yes, I was in New Mexico from the time I was 8 until I was 28, with those two exceptions.
Now, at this point, it has been almost exactly as long that I have lived in San Francisco as I did in New Mexico — not quite, though.
2. How do you think growing up in New Mexico has affected your music style, if it has at all?
I’m sure any place you grow up is going to affect your style to some extent — whatever your environment may be. I mean, if I had grown up somewhere in Brazil, that would have definitely affected my style. I’d say with New Mexico there’s definitely a southwestern influence. I did also get into flamenco when I was a teenager due to this guy named John Pruitt who was teaching flamenco guitar. I was just bringing a friend’s kid to his lessons and I became fascinated by it. There’s the Hispanic culture and Native American culture there that has been of great interest and I’m sure influenced me in a pretty profound way, even beyond probably what I understand or recognize. But, of course, there was also a great scene for a while when I was growing up. There was a pretty good underground scene there, a punk rock thing going on, an alternative type of thing going on in Albuquerque in the late eighties and early nineties. Still, it’s really the environment more than anything, I mean not just musically, but just the essence of the place. That’s what I really love about New Mexico, it just a beautiful place. And, I’m sure at some point I’ll end up returning there.
Don’t you come back fairly regularly?
Yeah, but I mean coming back to reside.
3. How did you start out? Because it seems like you have a pretty eclectic variety of music styles under your belt that you’ve played in your life. I mean, from flamenco to P- Funk is quite a range. What’s the story arc from being a kid learning how to play guitar to where you are now?
My mom and my dad have always been really into music. My mother grew up in the East Village in New York – Brooklyn and the East Village. She used to hang out in the Village a lot, and she was pretty involved in the scene. She sang a few times with Richie Havens, you know in coffee shops out there. Alan Ginsberg was our neighbor for a while. A lot of this was before I was actually conceived. Bob Dylan, I think, slept on the floor once. She hung out with Miles Davis. She did a lot of really great, pretty cool stuff with people who we consider to be, you know, legends, and such. So, when I was born she was already quite into music. The record collection was already there, and I would just go through it. Initially, it wasn’t like she said, “Check this out.” I was just like, “Hey, a bunch of records. I think I’ll check those out.” I got very into the Beatles. I think that was the first thing that really inspired me to want to become a musician, or play music. And, from then on, I just delved deeper and deeper into her collection, and just pulled out records according mostly to how they looked. So, you know, I got the Beatles, the Stones, Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, whatever it was that was in there. And, my father also was way into music. He played guitar and played in bands when he was in high school, so he really turned me on to a lot of cool stuff, too. He went out and bought me a Jimi Hendrix album. So basically, I just grew up in an environment that was very supportive of what I did musically and also very interested in music, so that was pretty helpful as far as getting me started.
4. How old were you when you started playing guitar?
I was 10 years old when I decided I wanted to learn some guitar – in the fifth grade. I think “Yellow Submarine” was the first song I actually learned and one of the first riffs I learned was “Sunshine of Your Love.” And, “Daytripper” by the Beatles was another one. So, it was really cool having parents who were interested in music and so supportive of what I did and my interests. They were not the parents saying, “When are you going to do something with your life and give up this music shit.” My dad was also very into classical and they were both into jazz, so we were listening to as much Beethoven and Miles Davis as we were rock n’ roll. And, I got turned on to punk rock by a few friends. That also opened my eyes and changed the course, the trajectory, of my music career. That was the age of the Sex Pistols and the Clash, The Ramones and the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag and Bad Brains.
5. So, you were in a punk band in Albuquerque when you were younger, or a few?
The first punk rock band I was ever in, I was fifteen years old and it was with Joey Abbin. Do you know Joey?
Joey is like my brother. Joey, to this day, remains my closest friend. So, when we were fifteen years old, he asked me if I would play bass in this punk rock band called The Wongs. That was my introduction to punk rock, was with Joey Abbin at fifteen years old. That led to me forming the band Angry Babies, which Joey ended up managing. Joey was pretty much the king of the scene. We called him The Pope, and he pretty much brought in every punk rock and underground band that was touring through Albuquerque — he brought them there. So, it could be anyone — name one and Joey booked them: NOFX, Henry Rollins, anyone that came through. So, we got the opportunity to open for a bunch of these bands at Club Wreck, which was a great old punk rock venue, a dive that hasn’t existed for a long time. Club Wreck was infamous. The Minutemen, The Dwarves, who knows, countless bands came through there. And then, eventually, Joey and a few people opened up the Atomic Theatre that also housed a lot of great bands. People such as the early days of Soundgarden and Frank Black of the Pixies doing his solo stuff. A lot of great shit happened there. So, it was an amazing time to be in Albuquerque, and Joey was really on the forefront of all of this. Joey was really instrumental in creating and nurturing the scene there.
There were a lot of people, like Garrett Whatley, who has now passed away. Garrett worked at Bow Wow Records for years. He would bring in lots of underground music, bands, poets, things like that to the record store to perform. It was really an exciting time to be there. A lot of great things came through and a lot of great things developed in Albuquerque. There were a lot of great local bands, too. That whole scene really influenced and informed what I do now. And also, just that DYI mentality, that whole punk rock ethos really was instilled in me at that time. I haven’t been able to shake it yet. I found I discovered who I was through all that, because, I realized that I didn’t have to be anybody other than myself. The way you fit into that scene was by being yourself, not by trying to sound like someone else. The whole idea was that you have your own voice and your purpose is to express yourself in your own unique way, however that may be. These bands that came through didn’t sound alike, but what united them is that they were all doing their own thing.
6. So, I see how those earlier experiences inform what you do now, later on in life, with your own stuff — but how has it been expressed when you’re working with other people, say, George Clinton or Widespread Panic?
It ultimately brought me to the realization that I could do anything I wanted. So, if I wanted to, say, incorporate flamenco, jazz and punk rock into one song, then I could. There were no limitations or rules, as far as I’m concerned, when it came to music. It’s just a matter of what you’re inclined to express and how it manifests as it comes out. So, then basically it allowed me to break the rules. I was fascinated by music, and all types of music, so I felt I didn’t have to put restrictions on myself. Which also meant not just exploring different styles of music fusing them, but also playing with different types of musicians. I knew that if I got with a guy, for instance an old blues cat, that he was going to show me something. The idea is that you can learn from anybody. They could be younger or older than you, they could be into something completely different from you, but they have something to offer you. So, just being open to that.
And incorporating that into your style in the long run?
7. You have this show coming up at the Taos Mesa Brewing Co. with an interesting variety of musicians. What can we expect from this show? What’s it going to be like?
That show for the most part is going to be a rock and roll show with some funk, punk & soul thrown in. It’s definitely going to rock. It won’t be just limited to that. By definition I’m sure I could get more involved in describing what it is. There will be some different flavors in there. It’s going to be dynamic and diverse, but it will rock, essentially.
8. Is that who you’re touring with right now?
No, right now I am on the road with Eric Burdon and the Animals. I’m doing a month with him. Mostly Germany, some France, Holland, but the tour is almost over. We have one show tomorrow and then I leave for Italy to do eight shows with my trio. Then, I leave Italy and go to San Francisco to do one show, and then I’ll go to New Mexico. So, [the show on the 27th] is not the band I’m touring with over here [in Europe].
But, [for the show in Taos] we have Karen Cuda on bass and she is fucking awesome. Karen is a powerhouse rock bass player. She’s great. I’m always happy to play with Karen and it’s been a little while, so I’m glad.
9. How did you decide to come together to play this random rock show in the middle-of-nowhere Taos, New Mexico? Is this the only show of its type?
Well, of course I wanted to play at home for the holidays. Since Karen is in Denver, I figured why not just fly her over. It’s close enough and I think she has family here too. So it’s another reason to come out here. Of course Jeff Cohen is already out there. Jeff toured with my trio, EMT, for a while. He also drummed on the last EMT record. He’s a great guy, a charming fellow, and a great drummer. Then, a few other friends will be playing. Omar Rane, going to sit in in Taos. And, you know my parents live in Taos? And, another Taos band, Katy P and the Business will be playing. She’s an awesome singer, so I’m excited about hearing her new group.
10. So, I understand you and Delphine de St. Paër Suter of phYne Entertainment have a non-profit, called “We Are 10 Star!” –What is that about?
We Are 10 Star! is a program geared towards helping youth & communities in need. We bring music & other art forms to places such as schools, detention centers, children’s hospitals . . . basically, any place where people need help overcoming personal struggles. The concept behind We Are 10 Star! is to provide avenues for artists to reach out & encourage youth & others in need to know their own power via the creative process. So, sometimes we’ll perform at New Day [a homeless shelter for teens] in Albuquerque, and we’ll be doing that this holiday season, as well. We encourage artists and anybody who wants to help out go to weare10star.org and sign up to participate — to help us bring some cheer to people around the holidays or any time of year. We encourage community involvement since that is what We Are 10 Star! is all about: encouraging people to find the 10 within by rising above their life struggles via creative expression.
How did you come up with the idea to create a non-profit organization like that?
When I first met Delphine she already had the idea to start the non-profit. Getting that whole thing started is sort of a process and takes time to develop. You know, there’s a lot involved [in starting a non-profit organization]. This is something I thought I’d participate in with her, because, I’m always looking for a good excuse to do something good for somebody, if I can. It gets me out of my own head. Yeah, it’s a really cool thing to be involved with. Delphine has been very proactive and it’s been great.
11. So what’s next?
Besides this touring thing which takes a lot of time and energy — but is awesome, and I am grateful just to have the opportunity to do it — we’re also trying to finish a couple of albums in the meantime. So we’re squeezing that in. The new T.E.N. record, with Thomas Pridgen and Norwood Fisher, produced by Delphine de St. Paër, will most likely be released in 2014 and we’ll be touring the states and Europe next year, as well. So, I’m staying busy.
Will you be coming back through New Mexico on that tour?
Yes, we certainly will. We will be travelling with a zoo and a circus.
A zoo and a circus?
Well, maybe not a zoo and a circus… We are trying to get that kind of thing going for this upcoming Taos show. We’re going to come up with a few surprises for that. Maybe not dancing albino pygmies, but definitely a fun show. It’s going to be a holiday extravaganza. And, you’ll be there?
Definitely, I wouldn’t miss it. Even if there won’t be any dancing albino pygmies.