Eric Terino’s musical journey through seasonal landscapes
“The tree housed these eight independent beings as one, just as the record would house these eight songs.”Eric Terino
Eric Terino is a multi-faceted artist whose third album, Innovations of Grave Perversity (2022), unravels layers of inner thought with an almost spiritual connection to the natural world. Released in March this year, Innovations blends trembling orchestral swells with double-tracked vocals reminiscent of Keaton Henson and the late Elliott Smith.
Eric uses various instrumental voices to complement the emotional depth of his lyrics. “Body Gets Stoned” lilts between its quietly strummed guitar and brass harmonies. Pianos lead the way on “Invocations” and are followed by delicate, meditative strings. Whilst Innovations can be categorised as indie folk, Eric draws on many musical traditions and philosophies from around the world. From American rock ’n’ roll to Japanese Kintsugi, this album combines diverse ideas to paint an intimate portrait of its artist.
Although Terino tries not to listen to many other artists when he is recording new music, he finds inspiration in the work of his friends who are also musicians. He is deeply influenced by the moving landscapes of
post-impressionist Vincent Van Gogh, Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais and regionalist Andrew Wyeth. Despite the differences in their artistic styles, these artists often portrayed an intense relationship between nature and their subjects. The psychological depth of their artwork feeds into Terino’s musical landscape through a process he refers to as a ‘translation’ from one artistic mode to another.
Since the release of his first album, Mountains of Nothing In Love (2013), Eric’s music has served as a response to the traumas he has faced throughout his life. Turning to his audience, he hopes that they will take solace in his music. Perhaps his listeners might identify their own traumas in Innovations, moving through seasonal landscapes as wounds begin to heal.
Here at IAMUR, we were lucky enough to chat with Eric about his latest album, the songwriting journey of Innovations and his perspective on the relationship between music and visual art. We hope that you love his work as much as we do!
Hi Eric, it is a pleasure to be speaking with you today! Shall we start by letting you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background?
Thank you so much for having me! It’s a pleasure to be here. Well, I’m an artist, songwriter, and musician from the New England region of America and I’ve been making records for about ten years now. I work in a variety of mediums but it all sort of ties back to music at the end of the day. Whether that’s painting, photography, graphic design, illustration, film, etc., they can all be unified when you’re putting a record together.
So that’s been a great gift, to be able to utilise all of my interests in these various art forms in one all-encompassing project. I’ve also just been a great lover of music for as long as I can remember, not only as a listener but as someone interested in the intricacies of a proper release and all that kind of campaign entails.
I’m intrigued to learn a little more about when you first began writing music. Was there a certain person or moment in your life that inspired you to start recording your work?
Prior to the release of my first record (Mountains of Nothing In Love, 2013), I’d been writing bits and pieces and collecting ideas for songs for the majority of my young life. It’s like you’ve heard artists say a thousand times before, you have your whole life to write your first record.
So from about the age of seven, I’d been slowly ruminating on what I would want to say when that day finally came. Back then, things weren’t quite as accessible as they are now. I think for a long time I was waiting for an opportunity to present itself where I could finally put these ideas into a finished recording. I’d made a few home demos along the way but nothing concrete or substantial.
Then a significant tragedy entered my life at the closing of 2011 when my best friend and partner in life were killed in a car accident. I think that was the real impetus for that first album. I felt like I had nothing to lose. I was devastated, furious, and in this moment where it seemed a very real possibility that I might not be around for much longer. So, I had to stop waiting for some amorphous opportunity to materialise and just make this thing happen myself while I still could. I had a sense of it being a chance to capture some really heavy emotions. Like Yoko Ono recording Season of Glass, someone making an album directly after the impact of a terrible tragedy.
Thank you for sharing your story, Eric. I found that Innovations of Grave Perversity (2022), your third album, presents similarly earnest soundscapes to Champagne and Childhood Hunger (2019), but with a much more folk-inspired sound. What do you think drove this change in your instrumentation from 2019 to now?
It was probably 50% a natural progression and 50% a clearly intended change of direction. I think the foundation of all of my records is that sort of folk-style songwriting, what changes is the ornamentation. But after making two albums completely solo, with no outside musicians playing or participating in any way, I made a decision with this record that I wanted to branch out and really expand the depth of sound for these songs.
It was an important aspect of this project as it’s a record about attempting to move out of the darkness and into the light of the world. And to do that I felt it was extremely important to connect with other people and use this opportunity to expand my life both artistically and personally. So, I had a definite intention of making this a very different project sonically by working with outside musicians, but also these songs just seemed to call for new sounds.
Champagne and Childhood Hunger is a very black, desolate, solitary kind of experience. I was still deeply in the throes of the pain I’d felt from the traumas I’d experienced throughout my twenties. So for that project, it made sense to have everything be a bit more jagged and distorted. With Innovations, I’d moved forward and it was time for things to blossom both aurally and thematically.
We’ve picked some of Eric Terino’s top tracks for you to enjoy:
The range of instruments on Innovations feels more exploratory compared to older releases. Did you enter the recording process hoping to find new instrumental voices, or did the need for these instruments emerge from demos/early versions of songs?
Well, that’s where the natural progression bit comes into play. With all of these songs, I’d begin by recording a demo, just vocal and piano for the most part. Then I’d build them up from there, trying out layers of different instrumentation, peeling things back, sometimes completely removing the piano and replacing it with a harp or cello, sometimes those experiments would lead to totally new recordings that had very little to do with the original demos.
So it really was an exploratory experience. I followed the directions the songs took me in that regard. Of course, I had some idea of where I wanted them to go when I first wrote them, but I was open to letting them deviate from any preexisting plan if that seemed like the direction they wanted to take. A lot of these songs were recorded in very different arrangements before I got to the final recordings you hear on the album.
“It’s important to paint the full picture, and on Innovations, it was the journey from winter to spring, night to day, and from a place of pained isolation to the birth of a new hope and optimism for the future that lies ahead.”Eric Terino
I actually released a couple of those alternate versions as b-sides for the singles. Something like “Torture The Dead” is a nearly orchestral piece on the album with swelling strings and fluttering piano, but in another life, it was an almost Día de Los Muertos style acoustic guitar and ragged accordion song, which ended up fitting nicely as the b-side to “Body Gets Stoned”.
To my ear, your recent releases feel steeped in the musical tradition of singer-songwriters such as Nick Drake, Elliott Smith and Keaton Henson. Were there any specific musicians who inspired the creative process for writing Innovations? Anyone that our readers might not have heard of before?
That’s some fine company to be in, thank you very much! But specifically on Innovations of Grave Perversity, I wasn’t really looking for inspiration from other musical artists. I always try to avoid listening to too much music when I’m writing as I don’t want to be too heavily influenced by anything that’s already out there.
However, I do think there’s always a level of impact ingrained in my songwriting DNA from the artists I’ve loved throughout my life. People like Marianne Faithfull, Bob Dylan, PJ Harvey, Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell. It ranges anywhere from John Cage to Bruce Springsteen. I think there are traces of artists like Dolly Parton, Courtney Love, or even the Spice Girls in there. It all gets mixed together and filtered out through what I’m writing in a way.
There were bits and pieces of inspiration for the various arrangements throughout the record though. For example, the flutes on Nico’s Chelsea Girl album influenced the brief appearance of flutes on “A Snowfall at Dusk”, or the later work of avant-garde jazz artist Patty Waters played a role in the final arrangement of “Boulder”.
“A Snowfall at Dusk”, one of the tracks on Innovations, features some really beautiful arpeggios voiced by the harp and flute. Reading how you connect the healing power of songwriting to Kintsugi, I wonder if you draw on the sounds of other artistic traditions, such as Japanese music?
I think it actually all ties back into the tradition of folk music. “Folk” has a reputation of being a very American sort of thing, I think most people think of Appalachia. But folk music is derived from all over the world. It has origins in Ireland, France, Africa, England and Japan — you can trace it back to nearly every culture in one way or another. So it’s a style of songwriting that can adapt to so many different sounds.
It’s interesting, I didn’t really think of myself as a folk artist until the release of this record, when so many people were viewing it that way and reflecting those terms back at me. I always felt what I was doing was more rooted in “Rock & Roll”, at least in spirit if not in sound. But I’m happy to be considered a folk artist, it’s a style of music I’ve always loved and it feels like the baseline of so many other genres, so it’s a fine place to find yourself. If you’re starting with a song based on a tradition with so many different roots, you could really take it anywhere.
A poetic lyricism seems to tie the tracks on Innovations together in a way that feels very conceptual. Was there an overarching theme that you used to unite the songs on this album?
It is a (sort of) proper concept album. It was written as such, which is the way I’ve always approached making records. I don’t just collect songs over a period of time, then sort out the ten best tracks and compile those onto an album. I usually start with writing the bookends, the songs that’ll open and close the record. Then maybe I’ll write the song that closes the first side, and then fill in the pieces of the story between that midway point and the opener.
It’s important to paint the full picture, and on Innovations, it was the journey from winter to spring, night to day, and from a place of pained isolation to the birth of a new hope and optimism for the future that lies ahead. I actually wrote and recorded it through this journey from winter to spring in real time, beginning in November 2020 through April 2021.
Another interesting bit of inspiration for this project came from a group of turkeys I’d seen on one of those early winter days. I just happened to step out into my backyard one evening, and in one of the trees that line the forest on the edge of the property was a group of eight turkeys all nestled into sleep for the night. This was a pretty unusual sight to me, I’d seen plenty of turkeys here in the New England forest but never perched high up in a tree like this. It struck me for a number of reasons.
I had always been drawn to this particular tree for some indecipherable spiritual reason, but also I had a clear intention of making a record with eight songs on it from the very start of this project. I knew it was going to be four songs per side, and seeing these eight turkeys all perched at the top of this bare winter tree was a near-perfect visualisation of the record. The tree housed these eight independent beings as one, just as the record would house these eight songs.
These turkeys are hidden all throughout the album artwork as well. If you look very closely at the back cover you can see an actual photo I took of them perched in this tree superimposed over that painting. They are also shown rising to flight in a snowy field in the painting I did for the inner booklet that contains all the lyrics and liner notes. It was just such a striking experience to have in the midst of making this record, and then I explored the meaning behind it all in terms of mystical native ideology and it just really spoke to what I was trying to accomplish with this project.
You have spoken before about the importance that visual art plays in your work – I couldn’t help but notice the allusion to Vincent Van Gogh in the artwork for Innovations. I’d like to know which visual artists have impacted you, and how you think that art influences your music?
That allusion to Van Gogh on the cover art was very much intentional. His portraiture and landscape work did inspire a lot of this project and I felt that his post-impressionistic style really suited what this record was about. It’s a sort of blend of the old world and the modern. It’s also a pretty accurate representation of how the eye sees something coming into focus through the darkness. So that worked well with the concept for the album artwork.
I wanted this cover to be a portrait of someone looking forward with both fear and determination as they attempted to emerge from the shadows. This is also the first record I’ve ever made that features a portrait of myself on the cover, which I think speaks to how deeply personal this project is and how connected these songs are to my inner life.
In addition to Van Gogh, I was really interested in paintings by John Everett Millais and Andrew Wyeth when I was making Innovations. Those studies of rural English and American life were hugely influential in the soundscapes I wanted to craft. There’s something both very romantic and strangely unsettling about their work, which was an intersection I was quite interested in exploring myself. I’ve always felt that visual art plays a big role in the music I make. Like I was speaking about earlier, it’s a much better source of inspiration for me than listening to music that someone else has already created. It’s a bit like an exercise in translation really.
Your current Spotify bio writes that your music ‘paints a portrait of an American artist with a sweeping perspective on what it means to be human.’ I was wondering if you could expand on that, and perhaps elaborate on how you perceive yourself as an American musician in the musical landscape today?
This is a complicated one, as I feel both very much outside of the experience of being an American and it’s the country I’ve risen out of so I’m also fully a product of it. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that I suffer from severe agoraphobia. Which I’ve dealt with to some degree for all of my life, but for the past 6 or 7 years I’ve not seen much beyond the property I live on. As far as I know, I could be anywhere.
With such limited interaction with the people and places in this country, the inside of my head is really the only terrain I’ve been familiar with for quite some time. So it feels as if I’m somehow outside of it all. But also I grew up in America, I spent years out in the rural countryside as a child, and years crawling around New York City as a young adult. It’s all shaped the person and artist I am today.
So I think that biographical description speaks to the fact that I am an American artist by birth, but because I’m so physically isolated from all and everyone, the overarching perspective of my work is one of simply being a human and how we deal with human emotions regardless of situational circumstance.
Are there any small musicians in your local music scene who you would love to see receive more acclaim for their work?
Since I’m not able to venture out into the world physically and I primarily connect with other musicians remotely, my local scene isn’t quite so local. But I have a great friend in the Seattle-based artist and musician Michael Cepress, who aside from being phenomenally talented is also just an incredibly positive and beautiful human being. He actually played classical guitar on a couple of the tracks on Innovations, and throughout the process of making this record I’ve been following his journey in the record he’s putting together himself. I’m very much looking forward to hearing the finished product and I’d recommend his work to anyone who enjoys beauty and warmth in their music.
Another artist who has long deserved more acclaim is the 1960s avant-garde jazz musician Patty Waters. She’s been one of my favourite artists since I was a teenager and we’ve become great friends in recent years. In some circles she’s hugely regarded, a very select group of people know how important the work she’s done has been, which includes the likes of Lydia Lunch, Patti Smith, and Diamanda Galás no less.
But even jazz aficionados still seem to draw a blank when her name is mentioned. I’ve actually helped her work on a number of releases she’s done in the past few years and her catalogue is full of treasures. It ranges from beautiful introspective hushed piano ballads to really outrageous vocal freak-out acrobatic slashers. She’s one of the most under-appreciated artists of the last century in my opinion.
Wonderful to hear that you have connected with some of your favourite artists. I will have to check out Michael Cepress and Patty Waters! Innovations was only just released this March, so I would be surprised if there’s already another album in the works (but of course, you never know). What are your plans for the rest of this year? Can our readers expect any more releases or music videos anytime soon?
I tend to put fairly lengthy pauses between writing periods. I never try to push for content for the sake of content. I make records when my life has advanced enough that I feel I’ve got something worthy of being said and being heard. So I can’t predict when the next studio album will appear, but at the moment I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a conceptual “Live” record.
Since I can’t physically tour the Innovations album, I thought it might be interesting to record some remote live sessions with the musicians who played on the album and put that together as a live record. I’ve already recorded a couple of performances which aired on radio sessions earlier this year, so it’s just a matter of collecting what we’ve got and expanding upon it. We’ll see where that leads.
But aside from that, the plan for the remainder of the year is to continue promoting this record and sharing the journey I’ve been on that led to its creation. My hope is that listeners will see pieces of their own lives reflected back in the stories on Innovations. So, I’ll be continuing to do my best to spread the light, hope, and healing in this project and pushing forward to give this record as much life as I possibly can.
You seem to be fostering your own unique sound and style, I’m excited to see where it goes! Do you have any radical new sounds or ideas you want to explore? What might listeners expect to see and hear from you in future?
Thank you! I’m excited to see where it all goes myself! I can’t really say where exactly the road will take me next, but there are still plenty of sonic avenues I’m interested in exploring on record. So only time will tell which ones feel right as I enter the next phase of writing and recording.
But one thing is for certain, and it’s that I’ll be taking all the wonderful lessons I’ve learned, experiences I’ve had, and relationships I’ve made during the recording and release of Innovations with me as I move forward. It’s been an incredibly life-affirming experience to share this record with the world and I’m extremely grateful for all the kindness and support it’s received.
Finally, thanks so much once again for speaking to us today!
It’s been a pleasure speaking with you! Thank you so much for having me and I’m honoured to be a part of the wonderful work you’re doing at IAMUR to shine a light on independent artists.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, feel free to read more of our special features. You never know who you might discover – they could become your new favourite artist!