Interview: Eric Paslay – Wise and Talented Beyond His Years

As a journalist you do your best to maintain a level of objectivity when dealing with anyone you cover for a story.  You want to bring a story that is not only factual, but without a spin in one direction so that the reader can come to their own conclusions.  However sometimes you just can’t help yourself when you meet them in person.  This is what happened with me after speaking with Eric Paslay, and seeing him perform at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill in Syracuse, September 20, 2014.  I was totally impressed by this young man.

This would be the second time covering the musician for an event (Taste of Country Music Festival) and I was looking forward to both the performance and our scheduled phone interview.  Many times these interviews happen to be right before a show, or in between sound checks.  With such a busy schedule, when I received the call around 10am, it was a nice surprise.

Eric Paslay - Toby Keith's Syracuse
Eric Paslay – Toby Keith’s Syracuse

Kathy Stockbridge:  Hi, is this Eric? How are you?  Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with NYS Music.com.

Eric Paslay:  Good Morning.

KS: Well Good Morning to you as well!  You’re up early!!  I didn’t expect you to be up so early.

EP: Oh yeah, we get up early.  I would rather be awake for life.

KS:  Welcome to NYS Music and again thank you for agreeing to do this interview for our readers. You’ve been on quite a whirlwind of a tour this year…talk to me a little about the highlights of the tour and some of your favorite moments.

EP:  I think this has been the busiest touring year of my life, and it’s been cool. We go from town to town and see the same hearts and souls in each town but with a little bit of different backdrop which is kinda cool. I like getting off the bus and trying to wander around town if there is one. A lot the fairs and festivals that we play though there is not a lot around it other than the fair.  Still, I try to walk around there if I can. I think the coolest thing though is this year is the first year I’ve had a hit as an artist, which I’ve been working towards my whole career, and I’m glad people are singing along to songs that I have written and now to songs that I’ve recorded myself.

KS:  That’s awesome…I often wondered if you have the opportunity to get off the bus and get out there to meet the people and take advantage of  places you are visiting. It’s nice to know you are able to take advantage of  that and getting to know the areas you are touring as well.  I actually covered your show at The Taste of Country Festival which was a scream…it was my first country festival I’ve been too…was totally off the wall, with more than 40,000 people.

EP:  Yeah..that was a cool show!

KS:  ..and was a lot of fun. Was that the first time you had been up this way to Central NY?

EP:  No I’ve been up there before…That was my first time at The Taste of Country, but I have been touring around the country for about four years now, but I’m getting to play the big shows now.

KS:  Well you did a great job..I really enjoyed your set.

EP:  Thanks.

KS:  And I’m looking forward to seeing you this Saturday at Toby Keith’s, and I do believe I’ll get to see you again in November when you visit my local area at the Utica Aud with Dierks Bentley and his Riser Tour.

EP:  That will be a good tour!

KS:  You have a huge country music fan base here in this area….do you see similarities with people in the different communities you come to, or differences as you travel around?

EP:  You know, what I’ve learned is around the US people are taught to listen to you differently.  Some people are there for the party, and they still love you being there…it doesn’t matter if your George Straight on the stage.. they’re not really watching you or listening to much..they are, but they aren’t.  Then there’s other parts of the country where they’re just as quiet as can be with their arms crossed staring at you.  You not quite sure what they are thinking, but they are soaking it up and loving it.  I think that’s the coolest thing..sometimes a lot of new artists on the road think “wow, that crowd hated us”, then they go to the meet and greet line and see what they really thought.  As the fans tell you that was the best show ever, they don’t even know how to react.  It’s also really cool to go out there and start understanding your listeners.  Not everyone listens the same way…that’s what makes us as unique which is a pretty cool thing. And it’s not a bummer when people go all nuts also!

KS:  Do you feed off the audience when that happens?

EP:  Oh absolutely, I don’t think a football player isn’t going to run as fast as he can and hit as hard as he can with an empty stadium.

KS: Absolutely!

EP:  It’s nice when the crowd is cheering for you.

KS:  I personally love your writing style. You mentioned once in another interview that you try to leave some hope in all songs even the sad ones.  Is writing cathartic to you? Do you write to tell a message, or get feelings out, or what is your writing process?

EP:  You know, a lot of times I try to have messages like you will get through this, and it’s okay to feel this way, and also let’s just rock it tonight.  I tend not to write selfishly.   Music is a very influential thing, and I hope I get to stick around and influence people for good for a while.

KS: I predict you will.  You have written a lot of songs that have been recorded by others.  Talk to me a little about your inspirations, and do they play a part in your writing style and your performance?

EP:  I tended to just listen to music that I dug, and if it sounded good,I turned it up.  Somehow God blessed me with the ability to write songs.  To be able to walk in a room with nothing and not even an idea, as I write so much, you walk in and start playing a melody and you know within a few hours a songs written.  The cool thing about a song is you never know where it’s going to end up. I’ve learned through a lot of my other songs being recorded, that some times it’s not up to us how a song gets heard, and especially how a song gets famous.  It can be frustrating if you try to make sense of it all.  Other than you swing the bat and sometimes people see the home run go over the fence, and sometimes you’re in the stadium alone.  And that’s alright.  You just keep swinging the bat, and maybe people will be around when you hit the home run.

KS:   Well you are originally from Texas, the Austin area, which is hugely known as a musical mecca. Have you had an opportunity to perform in and around Austin?

EP:  Yeah, its wild.  I wrote a song for the Eli Young Band called “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”, and the second verse is “downtown is where I used wander, old enough to get there, but too young to get inside”. That was kinda me and Austin, Texas.  I was 20 years old walking up and down 6th Street trying to get gigs for me and my band.  But, I couldn’t even get in to see the club owner because I wasn’t old enough to get in.  But we did play some shows around there.  I moved up to Nashville when I was 20 years old though, so I wasn’t a big part of the scene at all.  I was still trying to figure out who I was musically at that time as well.

KS:  Now you had the opportunity to play at the Opry..talk to me a little about that, what was that like?

EP:  It’s amazing!  I kinda lucked out the very first time I got to play the Opry was actually when it was at the Ryman Auditorium.  There’s actually two or three months where they have the Grand Ole Opry back at the Ryman Auditorium every year-round the holidays.  I got to play then, and maybe 5 or 6 times now since then. I’m actually playing again Tuesday night.  They are having a St. Jude show for raising money and awareness.  A my distant cousin, Brad Paisley, is going to be there.  I’ll actually get to talk to him on Tuesday.

KS:  That is so awesome!

EP:  I remember I was standing next to Ricky Skaggs the first time I played the Opry, and I was about to walk on and he said, “Are you nervous?”  I was like “Yeah man! I’m about to walk onto the Opry stage,and you’re Ricky Skaggs”.  It was a cool thing.  Darryl Worley was also playing that night, and I told him “Ricky kept asking if I was nervous, yeah I’m nervous”.  The cool thing is, I still get nervous…but in a good way, kinda.  When you’re out on the stage a lot, that kinda wears away and that’s a good thing.  So you’re having fun and not too shaky in front of people.  I  think when you play so many stages and then you come back to the Opry, you think about everyone I’ve ever looked up to has played here including rock artists and pop artists.  On the Ryman stage, especially where the Grand Ole Opry started.  Darryl said, “Man, if you’re not nervous on the Opry stage, your heart’s not in the right place.” So I try to make sure I’m a little nervous when I walk out on the Opry stage.

KS:  I’m going to switch gears here for a second.  I learned a long time ago as I was doing some research for my first article on you that you are a graduate from Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU).  I actually grew up until 5th grade in Murfreesboro, TN where MTSU is. One day I’ll get back down there.  I remember it being a very community oriented school.

EP:  Its built up a lot.

KS:  Has it really?  I’m sure it has!!  Talk to me a little about your choice of schooling and MTSU and what brought you to choose MTSU, being from Texas.

EP:  I wanted to be up near Nashville and they had a Recording Music Program and Record Industry Program.  I ended up doing a Music Business degree just so I could know what the business is about.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to work on the creative side of it.  I was hoping that would work out, and I’m glad it has.  So I chose MTSU because they had the Business Music Degree…

KS:  Do you think getting your degree in music has helped to pave your path to where you are today, giving you more of an understanding of the ins and outs of the music business?

EP:  When you know the basis of a business, and show up and talk to a professional you’ll actually learn something.  As opposed to just going  “You’re a music publisher?  How many books do you all sell?”   No..they don’t sell songs, they license songs and they don’t deal with books at all. Which happens a lot.  You have an intern come in or someone wanting an internship to get to hang around it,and they are asking how many songs you sell.  That’s the first thing you don’t say to a publisher.  They don’t sell songs…they always own them.  And it’s just learning little inside things like that about the business on the label side or the management side or any side of it.  When someone’s wanting to go into (the business)when you show up you know the very simple parts of their business.  That way you can talk about deeper things,and they might open up to teach you things that not everybody knows to help you in your career and just the understanding of how crazy the business can be.

KS:  I give you a lot of credit learning the business from the bottom up, worked hard, and as I talk to you I know you will have a long career.  Any future goals or projects we can look forward to? And future collaborations?

EP:  I’ve had some pretty cool collaborations this past year from Dionne Warwick, Kenny Rogers, Amy Grant,  and Sheryl Crow. I don’t know where I’ll go from there, but I’m always willing to collaborate and write and even sing with someone.  We’re not done with this album, but we are looking towards the making of the next sophomore album.  I am just kinda going through and rediscovering songs I wrote a long time ago.  So, I’m doing that, and writing a lot still.  Just looking forward to making the next album, and having at least a couple more singles come off this album.

KS:  We’re looking forward to that too!  I do something I call a social speed round to let my readers know a little bit about the performers outside of the regular questions.  Are you willing to play along? It’s painless..I promise!!

EP:  Sure.

KS:  Okay..you’re on the road..you see this and make your tour bus pull off every time.

EP:  Antique store. Well, not every time…there’s a lot of them.

KS:  Fill in the blank…On the tour, my band mates think I’m a _________.

EP:  Um…I don’t know what they think of me….haha…Good Guy!!  They think I’m a good guy!

KS:  Sport of choice?

EP:  Baseball

KS:  Team?

EP:  Texas Rangers.

KS:  What’s on your iPod right now?

EP:  Actually I have the new U2 album.  I’ve just been kinda playing that seeing it’s about.

KS:  You’re on your time off, you can’t wait to do this.

EP:  Projects. I like handy man projects.

KS:  You just got home…you can’t wait to see or do this.

EP:  See my girlfriend.

KS:  Thank you so much Eric, I can’t wait to see you this Saturday and again in November when you come here to the Utica area.

EP:  Thank you for doing what you do.

As I hung up the phone from the interview I couldn’t believe what a down to earth, intelligent, normal guy he was.  This young man was wise beyond his years.  It’s one thing to have talent, a dream, and ambition.  But Eric had something else that is critical in the success of any and every career.  He had the understanding that you must know your business and market to succeed.  By going to school to learn this business, by being willing to listen, and by being willing to work hard, he’s made a name in the business in a positive way that will give him opportunities beyond many others.

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After speaking to Eric, and learning so much more about him, I was super pumped to see him perform live.  Arriving early to the show, I was given a meet and greet pass to meet Eric in person, and now the anticipation began to boil over.  That was such a treat as I was not expecting that.

First to the stage was local band, Hoot’n Anges, who rocked the crowd and warmed them up with a list of original music and covers of some of todays biggest hits.  The three-piece band certainly had the sound of a full band with vocals being covered by husband and wife team of Angela and Lucas Marino and fiddle player Gregory Mach.

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They were really good, and I was enjoying shooting photos of the opening act.  A little too much though.  I unfortunately was so wrapped up in taking photos, that by the time I realized it, I had missed the meet and greet. Seriously!!  Who does that?  I must be the only person in the world to get so caught up in taking photos, that I miss a meet and greet with an a one of today’s country music stars!  Sorry Eric, wasn’t intentional.  For my readers that don’t know me, yes, I am a blonde and I’m easily distracted.  Hopefully I’ll have another opportunity one day, and I promise to not miss that one.

Eric took the stage immediately after the opening act completed, and what a performance he gave the packed house.  Singing songs he’s written over the years, and covering covers as though they were his own, he owned the crowd the minute he took the stage.  His current hit and ballad “She Don’t Love You”, co written with Jennifer Wayne, granddaughter to John Wayne, has to be one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in a long time.  Originally meant for George Straight, I am glad he kept it as his own as I feel that it was meant for him to sing.  He delivers it with such emotion that you don’t hear the song, you feel the song. The crowd concurred.  As he sang his song’s “Song About A Girl”, “Barefoot Blue Jean Night”, “Angel Eyes”,  and “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”, the crowd joined in and sang along word for word.  I absolutely loved his covers too. His choices of “Ain’t No Sunshine” by   Bill Withers, and “Free Fallin” by Tom Petty were spot on and showcased his musical skills.  If there’s one thing I can categorize about Eric’s singing, he sings with his soul.  He’s not just on stage delivering words, he’s delivering an emotion alongside the words.  This ultimately translates to a connection with the audience that not every artist can achieve.  There’s nothing fake about this young man.  He truly loves what he does, and he truly loves sharing it with us, his fans.

As I left the show and reflected back on my conversation with him and watching him perform for the audience, I felt that he’s a so much more than just a performer.  He’s got the know how to work within this industry his entire life, he has the talent to achieve whatever he sets his mind to, and he’s got the heart to appreciate those nerves each time he goes out on the Opry stage.  My favorite thing about Eric though, besides the fact that he graduated from MTSU in Murfreesboro, TN where I grew up, or the analogies to sports throughout his interview, was that he “wanted to be awake for life”!!!
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QJW4JB5IeI]
Setlist: Like A Song> Here Comes Love > Never Really Wanted > Barefoot Blue Jean Night> All or Nothing> She Don’t Love You> Angel Eyes> Fish Don’t Bite> Ain’t No Sunshine> Good With Wine> Free Fallin> Even If It Breaks Your Heart> Less Than Whole> Keep On Fallin’> Friday Night

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