One of the 2020 Makin Waves Dirty Jersey Dozen of the Garden State music acts who made the most waves and the 2018 Makin Waves Vocalist of the Year, Asbury Park singer-songwriter Brian Erickson is a very busy boy even during a pandemic. Just five months after the release of his solo debut album, Little Secrets, on North Jersey-based Mint 400 Records, also the home of his current band, The Extensions, Brian is about to drop is sophomore solo outing, Origami Birds. Recorded a decade ago while still the front man of the late, great Jersey band The Paper Jets, the seven-song EP plays off that band’s name, much like The Extensions.
When Brian wasn’t busy outputting music all his own, he did the same with a bunch of folks by producing the massive “Demos for a Difference” project, in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, that raised $4000 for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
While his music scene talk show “OneMore with Brian Erickson” remains on hiatus during the pandemic, Brian did co-host Asbury Park’s annual year-end Wonderful Year extravaganza produced by Telegraph Hill Records. Lots more is on the horizon for the multi-talented scenester, including a lyric video for “Thunderproof,” the song that inspired him to set Origami Birds free.
Your second solo album actually was recorded 10 years before your first, which was released in September. In what ways are they similar and how are they different?
The similarities are that they were both made under no-pressure situations. And sonically, the music is light and pastoral sounding on both records. The differences, aside from the decade between them, are that Origami Birds was recorded by an engineer named Scott Kammerer who also played drums. Whereas I did everything on Little Secrets.
I’m sure you’re psyched to get all seven of the new album’s songs out, but is there one or two in particular that you so wanted heard that you took the project off the shelf? If so, which ones and why?
I always liked the song “Thunderproof.” In fact, I liked it so much, I started recording a new version for Little Secrets. And it sounds alright, but the original just had a specific mood that I couldn’t quite recapture. That was the catalyst for putting the whole thing out. Plus, with a proper solo album now in the books, it felt like I could release something a little older, weirder-sounding, and maybe less cohesive than Little Secrets and not have that be the only thing representing that aspect of my work.
Why was the album shelved?
In 2011, my old band, The Paper Jets, had started recording our first full-length album, Strange Friends, which came out in 2014, and Origami Birds was just my way of having fun in the studio and taking myself less seriously. But later that year – and I apologize for getting heavy – I lost my best friend Tim in a car crash. I also had a relationship that really fell apart after that. I couldn’t really communicate how I was dealing – or, rather, not dealing – with the trauma of losing my friend. Instead of leaning in and looking for support, I withdrew. And I put everything away. The album is the sound of me having a good time, and I wasn’t really in a “good time” mood for a while. I thought to issue it in 2013, but by then, The Paper Jets were ramping up for the release of our Strange Friends album, and I didn’t want to take away from that, so I just shelved it. It wasn’t anyone’s decision but my own.
Where was it recorded?
It was recorded mostly at my old apartment in Pennington, N.J. It was one of those places above a storefront, right on Main Street so you could walk downstairs and just be ‘right in the middle of it.’ Such a pleasant locale made for a nice recording environment. Walk across the street, grab a slice of pizza, hang out, go back upstairs and finish out the day’s work. It was a great place to live and a really comfortable place to record.
What production and engineering work had to be done to release it?
Nothing, really. I did some light remixing, but no overdubs or re-recording occurred. It’s the same as it was 10 years ago. I wanted to treat it more like a time capsule than something that needed fixing. For better or worse.
What inspired the title Origami Birds.?
My main band at the time was The Paper Jets. So ‘origami birds’ felt like an appropriate solo derivation of the same theme.
Will you be making a video for any of the tracks? If so, what details can you share?
I haven’t really done many proper videos. But I like those visual lyric videos, and I’ll be working with Frosted Green Productions on one for the song “Thunderproof.”
Mint 400 once again is releasing your music. Comment on the relationship you have with the label and its impact on the New Jersey music scene.
I’ve got what I think is a great relationship with Mint 400 Records. Between The Extensions EP in 2019, and my solo record this past September, it’s been pretty fruitful. I also help Mint artists book shows in New Hope and Asbury Park when I’m able, so I try to return the kindness as much as I can. I think Mint has a bigger impact on the scene than people in the Asbury Park area might realize. Neil Sabatino, the founder, runs things modestly. But the organizational infrastructure is all there. Radio, licensing pitches, booking or production assistance, graphic design. It’s not flashy, but it’s extremely effective.
You also are very close with Telegraph Hill Records and its roster. Do you think you’ll ever release anything with them or just continue to work with them as a performing artist, rather than a recording artist, as well as a media personality and friend?
I certainly hope so! We’ve all been circling each other for a few years. I’m on some Telegraph recordings. I play keyboards on a song called ‘Time Management’ by The Foes of Fern. As far as releasing something of my own, I think it comes down to finding the right project, if they’ll have me.
I also want to make sure that their time is well-spent, that Mint 400 can be involved, and that everyone feels like they’ve got something worth putting out. It’d be an honor to help be the bridge between two wonderful organizations.
Why did you start “Demos for a Difference” and impact has it made?
In that moment, when awareness of and demand for social justice was extremely high, it felt like a lot of people were sharing opinions on what should or could change. There were also a lot of small charities popping up with good intent but perhaps ill-equipped organizational infrastructure. The NAACP has been doing their work for nearly 100 years so we knew they could handle a large sum of money, should the project’s goal end up exceeding our modest expectation. In the end, the project started here in New Jersey and brought together nearly 200 artists from around the world and raised $4,000, which has all been donated to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. And if that can help even one wrongfully accused person receive legal counsel, well, then it did what it was supposed to do. I got a ton of help from musicians Hana Denson and Phil Robinson, as well as PR Director Bill Greenwood. It couldn’t have happened without them and the support of all the musicians and journalists, yourself included Bob.
What’s next up for The Extensions?
We just added Becca Cristino to the lineup and are getting set to contribute a track to a compilation of movie songs. In addition to that, we’re working on new original material for a double album. So far so good, but we’ve got a very long way to go. We’ll see if we can keep it together. It’s a new type of pressure that I’m enjoying more than I thought. And I love being part of a five-piece band. We started with just Pete, Kevin, and me. Lisa and now Becca have added so much that it’s going to be really exciting to start playing live again. Even though recordings might take a little while, adding someone and reworking the existing material should bring a new excitement to everything.