Eric Hutchinson's pop-rock set "Sounds Like This" (Warner Bros.) can be found in the most recent Heatseeker's chart, but the story behind the album goes much further back than that.
The 28-year-old songwriter released his first EP, "That Could've Gone Better," in early 2003, scoring early fans with his witty lyricism and sweet melodies. He followed up with "Before I Sold Out" two years later and was soon offered a record contract with Maverick records -- a label that shortly went belly up. Hutchinson went on to survive industry ups and downs, arriving safely this winter to re-release "Sounds Like This" on iTunes with some exclusive live takes of tracks from that album.
Below, the Maryland native talks to Billboard.com about re-signing to a major, blogs and what the future holds -- now that he's free to make another effort.
Tell me the whole story on what happened to "Sounds Like This" the first time around.
I signed to maverick at the beginning of 2005. I started making the album and, two weeks into writing, recording, I was told everything is frozen. My demos, everything, stopped. I lost the people I'd been working with and they shelved my material and, in the fall 2006 they dropped me. I was in the middle of touring at the time and it then occurred to me to quit. I thought, really, that was my one shot.
But then I kept thinking I should go off and make the album myself, try to get a day job. There was always gonna be that thought eating away at me – "what if..." So I made my album myself, self-financed it, making it with some cool people. I finished on my time, energy and resources. But I wondered what was I gonna do once it was up? I started touring and put it up on iTunes and a friend from high school sent it to [blogger] Perez Hilton. The only thing I knew about it was that my sister looked at the site.
[Perez] loved the CD, put four songs up on the site. It goes on to be reviewed, with a link to iTunes to purchase it and then, bang, overnight, I get all this attention. I had labels calling that day. [Current label] Warner Bros. was actually the last to come back to the table.
You went on to sign to the very same major label that had already dropped you?
Yeah! My manager went to them saying, "You know, you just dropped him 6 months ago?" We had definite concerns going back. I had been left at the altar, and now my fiancée was like, take me back, so I was so confused. But they heard the songs in their roughest forms, and I got to make the album the way I wanted to. It took out guess work of making people happy. They were able to hear it the way I wanted it to be heard and, to their credit, it's been really great since I've been with them. A happy ending.
When you were negotiating, was that a big part of your demands?
Yeah, it was important that I put it out as-is. No re-doing any of it, including the album cover, artwork... it was like, trust me and give me respect as an artist -- which I feel I didn't have the first time around.
Now that your album has gotten a boost from iTunes, do you see fussing over album art and things as big of a deal?
It's weird because I still have a big CD collection. My friends all give me sh*t, like, "What are you doing with CDs now?" And now I know the power of digital on a first-hand basis. You can become a fan of something and buy everything – every album -- all in a half-hour. In the old days, you had to read about it in a newspaper, or hear it on the radio and be like, "Next time I'm in Tower [Records]..." But that method fell through the cracks, as did some amazing artists. Now there's an immediate connection.
Some of your songs are bought more than others in iTunes. Does that mean you'll become more of a singles artist?
I like the idea of an album. The artists I like make albums. My fans can thank me by buying a whole album at a time, because that's what I made. But still there are people out there who can make both great songs and great albums. Coldplay is a recent example of that.
Why did you release live versions of your songs?
I liked making the live versions. For a while I was touring the country solo. And then I started putting together a band. I did a performance on the NPR show "World Café" in 2007 and it just blew up. I started touring the rest of the year and opening for other bands. And I'm the headliner now. It's a very special experience.
What are your plans for the new year?
I'll be in Japan and Europe touring. I've got half of the new album written. I really want to make the next album.
You've been sitting on this album for quite some time!
Totally. And I'm always writing, too. This holiday is about taking time off to collect my thoughts. 2008 was really exciting.
Are you afraid of always being touted as that artist who made it big from Perez?
It's tough. Once, I was doing a show and I overheard the promoter saying, "This guy's like a blog phenomenon... Perez Hilton made him famous." It's one of those things, like, do they see it as a novelty? At this point I know how long I've been doing it for, so I know I've earned it.
Still, you had to be so excited to be such an overnight success.
The first couple of days, there was a strong level of excitement and shock. Then I had a wave of guilt, feeling like "Why me?" I've come to accept it. It took a lot of time and work. I don't believe in luck.
Because you had done a lot of the work yourself, and by yourself.
I went through a couple different managers but doing a lot by myself. When the whole thing fell apart the first time around, I didn't think it was worth continuing. I fired a manager because I was made to feel like I went as far as I could go.
Yikes! Who were some people who encouraged you?
Another example of the power of the internet: there was a mixer name Neal Pogue who produced songs like "Waterfalls" and "Hey Ya!" I was researching him, found his myspace page and sent him a link to my songs. And I couldn't believe it, but I heard back: "I would love to work with you." He mixed eight of the songs on the album. It was really cool.
Do you think re-locating had something to do with motivation?
Yeah, I moved to New York because I liked being in the city. It was interesting, people's lack of connections to each other, like a wall of people living their lives around a computer. I was losing touch with my old friends, experiencing these grey areas of life, transitioning, like I love you, I hate you. I grew up in D.C., went to school in Boston, then moved to L.A. then moved in with my parents when I was getting things going. It was a time I had gotten a little more comfortable with who I am and where I'm going, going through the Maverick stuff. It was a huge blessing in disguise, getting dropped. It re-prioritized my life. I knew what it felt like for people to turn their backs on me.
It must've made you feel like a better businessman, too, and not just an artist.
I feel like I'm running a small business, and I'm the face of the business as well. My manager likes to joke that it’s "my hobby." I'm very interested in all aspects, to the point where I've had to scale myself back. I need to just trust the team I have in place.