Not about to be stopped by a raging pandemic, Asbury Park singer-songwrtier-media personality Brian Erickson of The Extensions has released “Origami Birds,” his second solo record in only five months. The seven-song outing on North Jersey-based Mint 400 Records was recorded a decade ago while he was still in the late, great Paper Jets. PHOTO BY ALPHA KOROMA
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-media personality 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 dropped his 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 turned the Black Lives Matter movement into hundreds of peaceful protests, some of which were met with more police violence, “Demos for a Difference” raised $4.000 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, most recently a lyric video for “Thunderproof,” the song that inspired him to set “Origami Birds” free. Find out about that and more in the following chat:
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.
Brian Erickson in 2011 during the time he recorded his “Origami Birds” EP, which finally was released a decade later on Mint 400 Records. PHOTO BY JEFF METZNER
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.’
The cover of Brian Erickson’s second solo record, “Origami Birds,” which recently was released on Mint 400 Records. GRAPHICS BY NEIL SABATINO
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. The one event that is just a little flashy, Indie Binge -- formerly the North Jersey Indie Rock Festival -- is one of the state’s landmark local events. Mint 400 runs it, but it features acts from many different labels, as well as journalists, photographers, vendors, etc. It’s on par with an event like Wonderful Year here in Asbury. In 2019, we had three stages! And the whole event still ran on time!
Brian Erickson at What a Wonderful Year 2018 with, from left to right, Telegraph Records’ Matt “Fern” Fernicola and “OneMore” co-stars Chris Dubrow and Jessie McCormick. PHOTO BY KEVIN GROSKRANZ
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 yet. 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.
As co-host of Telegraph’s annual but pandemically scaled-down and largely virtual ‘What a Wonderful Year,’ what did you think of this year’s production and its impact?
I was so impressed by the production of the whole thing. It absolutely blew me away! They had directors, floor managers, camera people, script outlines, etc. It was one of the most well-organized, expertly executed events I’ve ever been a part of. And I think they did an incredible job at recreating the live experience as best they could. It was ambitious and a lot of things could have gone wrong but didn’t. I really applaud them for keeping it all on track. It wasn’t easy. I put in around 16 hours of work in the two days. The Telegraph folks probably put in over 40.
Why did you produce ‘Demos for a Difference’ and what difference and impact did it make?
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.
And 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.
That was a massive project, but were there any songs that best summed up how you felt about the situations that inspired ‘Demos for a Difference’ and why?
We didn’t really ask anyone to write specifically themed material for the project, but a few people did anyway. Marc Tappan contributed a pair of gorgeous spoken word pieces that open and close the album, Joshua Van Ness’ song, ‘The Brightest Star,’ is excellent. My buddy Jesse Elliot wrote this Randy Newman-style tune called ‘Blame Someone’ that more-or-less sums up the last few years. Stella Mrowicki’s song ‘Election Day’ is another big highlight. There were a lot.
Given that U.S. social and political unrest are escalating, will there be a second ‘Demos for a Difference’? If so, will the goals be the same or changed by the current social justice and political climate?
I think the goal will be determined by the need. I’m not opposed to doing a second volume, so long as I know there’d be interest, good intentions, and maybe some new participants!
What’s new and next 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.
Any plans to do anything new or old with The Paper Jets?
The Paper Jets have quietly tossed a few things on our BandCamp page in the last few months: live recordings, bonus tracks for each of our records, so there’s some ‘new’ things if you go digging a bit.
I think we’re all happy doing what we’re doing, individually. Scott is writing and working for an instrument manufacturer, Virok owns his guitar shop and just had a baby boy and is loving it, Frank operates a small studio and is recording drums for the new Dave & Tom record. The formers are all doing well too. Bill is playing with Fake Pockets whose own record (engineered by Frank) came out last year, and Kristen is playing keys for Dave Mooney, so I think everyone is OK in their respective corners.
We were a band for 10 years. And we haven’t been a band for just two. I think more time might be needed before we decide to do something again. But if it happened, I’d like all six of us involved.
Will ‘OneMore with Brian Erickson’ return, when, and from what location?
We’re considering returning to our studio at the Asbury Park Music Foundation, but we’ll see. Things are so up in the air right now that I don’t think decisions like that should be rushed. We can pull off good and substantive interviews right now as things are.
Granted, there’s a lot to be said for getting back in studio. And there’s value in that face-to-face interaction; it changes the feel of the interview, so we’ll see. I wish I had a better answer, but I’d like to get back to interviewing soon.
What guest would you most like to book on ‘OneMore’ whom you haven’t yet and why?
As far as local musicians go, we’ve never had Bobby Mahoney on, and I think that should change. He’s one of the best live musicians and just a straight-up good guy that I’d love to have a conversation with. Same goes for other locals like Des Spinks, Emily Grove, and Ryan and Lindsey from Shady Street Show Band. Really cool people that I just haven’t gotten the chance to chat with yet but would absolutely love to!
Beyond the local music scene, I think Danny Clinch would be a good interview because he’s kind of the bridge between what we do here and what’s possible beyond here.
Look for Brian Erickson to perform as soon as possible, while bringing back his “OneMore” YouTube talk show. PHOTO BY KENNY BIEBER
What other plans do you have, and how will the pandemic impact the more immediate ones?
Personally, I’m just trying to stay healthy both mentally and physically. Doing a ton of reading, eating better, getting my exercise, and keeping myself busy.
Musically, I’m working on producing a posthumous album. My friend Tim Ryan, who died in that car crash 10 years ago, left behind an unfinished collection of songs that I’m working to put together, make into a cohesive record, and have out by the end of this year. He was one of those people who, if he were around, you wouldn’t be able to get rid of him! He’d be in six bands, he’d be recording with people, writing his own stuff. I’m humbled that his family trusted me with the responsibility of bringing this album to life. It’s an absolutely excellent record too. Downright Beatlesesque! Tim was a brilliantly gifted songwriter and it’d be great for more people to know that.
What is the first thing you’re going to do when the pandemic is over?
Probably go see my family who I haven’t seen since February of 2020. And then probably book a show!
One thing this has taught me is the value of time. I wasn’t taking enough for myself and knowing that value has been an important lesson. You can try to out-busy other people but why? So my tombstone can say, ‘Here lies Brian. Worked 95 hours a week and still ended up in the same place everyone else ends up?’
Time. Take it. Because you won’t ever get it back.
Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment?
I just appreciate the kindness, as always. I’ve been at this for a while and it’s flattering that anyone is still interested and wants to hear about it. I remain extremely grateful for that!
Bob Makin has been a New Jersey music writer for 40 years and is a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com. And like Makin Waves on Facebook.