In Chariton County, somewhere between St. Louis and Kansas City, hides the town of Salisbury. For songwriter Eric Lysaght (former Neptune Crush) this is more than an old, left behind relic in the eyes of a passerby. It’s become a major source of musical inspiration. For Eric, Salisbury is childhood. That sacred place in ones mind, often deeply tied to a specific location. Sometimes those childhood memories seemingly vanish with age only to come unexpectedly crashing through, exposing vivid imagery and provoking inward reflection . It’s a place where bittersweet memories can live on in song.
Although Eric lived in St. Louis growing up, he’s spent a lot of his time in Salisbury. He knows all too well that the ragged, technology-barren days of yesteryear are often romanticized into tales of epic proportion, when love was truer and lives were simpler. With Life is a Heartbreak, Eric doesn’t hesitate to explore the frail sorrow of it all, specifically of an elderly woman named Mary Alice. This woman had a profound impact on a much younger Eric Lysaght in a way that is probably much less thrilling to learn about outside of this musical interpretation of that town, but makes for a pretty damn good listen on the record.
Eric shares these insights on his new album, career, and life.
ACR: Where did you grow up, Eric? Did you have a musical family?
Eric: I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. My family wasn’t particularly musical but my parents had a nice record collection filled with classical, country and Irish music, and oddly enough an Iron Butterfly album. That’s the one I remember the most. They were very supportive of my interest in music as a kid though. My mother spent eighty bucks to get a bridge and strings put on a guitar that a kid at my school gave me and I was on my way. They came to my first shows as a kid (I was mortified), mom still makes it out whenever she can.
ACR: What bands were you listening to in high school?
Eric: Growing up I was a rock kid. Kiss and Iron Maiden and Reo Speedwagon were constantly on the record player. Then Van Halen and Ozzy when I started playing guitar. Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Beatles, Stones have always been in my vinyl collection along with anything Springsteen. There really is too many to list. I’m a fan of music in general so it’s hard to pick favorites.
ACR: Let’s talk about your previous band Neptune Crush for a moment, you guys had a good thing going in St. Louis for awhile. Can you touch on that period in your career?
Eric: Neptune Crush was an interesting time. It was my first band as the lead singer. In previous bands I was always the main writer but never really considered singing. Some friends of mine were forming a band and I wanted to play with them but they weren’t really looking for another guitar player so they asked if I could sing and play and I said yes. Looking back I think I would have ended up singing anyway but this really put the feet to the fire and I learned a lot fast. We were recording and practicing constantly so my songwriting really progressed and we had a pretty nice following in St. Louis. People were in and out of the band and then we scored some national attention with a tune of ours and suddenly we were being flown to NYC and showcasing for record companies and managers, lawyers and all that craziness. Basically we got as close to getting a major record deal as you can get without actually getting one. So we came back to St. Louis and I wrote the songs that would become Neptune’s swan song album, An Evening in the Starlight. I’m still immensely proud of that record, and it got quite a bit of airplay in the Midwest. We had a single called ”Gasoline Rainbow” in regular rotation on the mighty KSHE 95 for awhile, which was no small feat for an unsigned band. Unfortunately all the attention never lead to the elusive record deal which, at the time, we saw as the answer to everything. I lost my father to cancer in the middle of all this so I was out of it to say the least. Completely disillusioned with life, I was drinking like a fish and not sure what to do next. So I did what I always do and started writing. This was the music that would become the first Salisbury album.
ACR: How did that major personal trauma of losing your father, and all the grief and struggle that goes along with that, impact your songwriting, and how was this different than anything you were doing with Neptune Crush at the time?
Eric: My lyrics became very personal and everything revolved around childhood memories of small town Missouri. After my father passed away I got to work on what I had intended to be the next Neptune Crush record. It quickly became apparent to me that the songs I was writing were not going to fit into the Neptune Crush formula of heavy guitar space-rock so I thought I might present it to the band as an acoustic Neptune project and call the record Salisbury. I made some nice demos of the songs and played them for the guys and told them what I had in mind. They were cool about it but I was coming out of left field with these new songs. They were deeply personal and extremely melancholy and completely unlike anything we had done. There were some reservations in the band and our management about it but in my mind this was the most important record of my life and had to be done. So we got to work recording it. When it was done, I knew in my heart that Neptune was over. Salisbury (the record, and incidentally the band) was released in the fall of 2007. I quite simply felt like this was the music that I was supposed to be writing and recording all along.
ACR: Why the name Salisbury?
Eric: Salisbury is the name of my mother’s hometown. It’s a small farm town in Chariton County, Missouri. It is the backdrop for the stories and characters that inhabit my records. My grandparents and my father are buried there.
ACR: Life Is a Heartbreak is your first official release since 2007. Why the hiatus?
Eric: Time flies I guess! Actually, writing and recording the first Salisbury record was a monumental task that took a lot out of me. I had been writing nonstop for years. When I finally got the first record done my life was a mess. I was burned out, plain and simple. I was also seriously worried that I would never be able to follow up on the first album Salisbury. That record is like an open wound to me. When I play some of the songs now I get tears in my eyes. I honestly didn’t know if I wanted to put myself through all of that again. The songs really touched a lot of people though and that makes me feel good. I eventually started writing again with the idea of exploring the life of Mary Alice, who appeared on the first record. Mary was my Grandmother’s next door neighbor who was old and sick and lived in a very beautiful but decaying old Victorian style house. She would pay me a quarter to pull weeds all day in her garden when I was visiting. She died when I was very young but she left an impression on me. I wondered what her life may have been like when she was a young woman and how she ended up where she was when I met her. So with that theme in mind I felt comfortable revisiting the world of Salisbury and was surprised to find how much I had missed it.
ACR: Can you touch on the whole process and experience of making this record with Jacob Detering at Red Pill?
Eric: Working with Jacob was such a welcoming experience. We had met over the years but never worked together and my friend and drummer extraordinaire Joe Meyer was at my house one night for beers. I played him my demo’s of the new record in hopes that he would play on it and he mentioned that Jacob really liked the first record and had expressed some interest in recording with me. I got ahold of him and he came over and listened to what I had. I signed with Red Pill the next week. Recording Life is a Heartbreak was the polar opposite of doing the first record. The whole process was easygoing and fun and the new studio at Red Pill is amazing. Jake brought in a great group of folks to play on the record and they all did fantastic jobs. They’re all friends for life now whether they like it or not! Jacob did a helluva job engineering and producing the record and keeping it true to what we had in mind from the get-go. It’s easy to lose sight of that when you’re in the middle of putting it all together and you’ve decided that the pedal steel sounds great and needs to be on everything. That’s when you need someone with a level head to stop the madness. Jacob Detering is that man.
ACR: In some ways, the sounds and instrumentation on Life Is a Heartbreak is kind of paying homage to the rural life in Missouri circa the 1930’s-40’s before electric music and Top 40 culture really took over. Why were these sounds important for this album?
Eric: From the outset Jacob and I had agreed that this record needed to be as acoustic as possible. We didn’t want to use any electric instruments at all but a couple of concessions had to be made. Pedal steel has to be plugged in. We really just wanted the record to sound real and not a of bunch studio wizardry. Talented people playing instruments with a microphone in front of them. Simple. Pure. The perfect accompaniment to the stories and characters in a small Missouri town, long ago, down at the fair.
You can listen to and buy the full album at www.redpillonline.com.