In the ever-changing world of music, there are few individuals as hard-working, passionate and influential as producer and musician Eric Lilavois. The owner of a pair of recording studios — the 4,000 square foot Crown City Studios in Pasadena and the famous Seattle London Bridge Studio where Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Blind Melon have recorded — Lilavois has worked with bands including My Chemical Romance, Atlas Genius, Surfer Blood, The Dustbowl Revival and Saint Motel, and has helped to develop scores of up-and-coming artists for Warner Bros., Atlantic and Universal Records. A member of the Grammy’s and a top SXSW panelist, Lilavois has also produced and composed over 70 original cues for films and television series including Pawn Stars and American Restoration.
From 2004 through 2006, Lilavois was the front man for rock band The Days In Between, and in January of 2011, he released his self-produced debut record The Only Way. Lilavois recently released Salt, Sea and Smoke, an album of original music with a some of the most accomplished session musicians in the country, and a documentary based upon the recording of the album will be released in April of 2015.
To learn more about Lilavois and his work, visit www.ericlilavois.com.
What was your childhood like, and how did you initially become interested in music?
I think as far as early on it stems from my folks celebrating and remembering the Haitian records they loved. It seemed like it was always there in the background, and I have some great memories of family gatherings where it was turned up to 11. Emotions always ran high around the record player, that really left an impression on me. Not only was I stretching to really understand the lyrics, but I was identifying what it was about, all of these different songs that trigger and bring to the surface such strong emotions. Then, as a teenager, that was really amplified for my own emotions. It became a way for me to understand so many different worlds, and open up to a lot of different styles of music.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
That’s a long list. :)
Neil Young hits on both, I feel like he’s been innovative in so many ways with a thread that’s always been him, and the philanthropic side of what he’s done really inspires me. Same goes for Pearl Jam. But I truly do listen to almost everything. I’ve really been digging Cate Le Bon. The Pixies are pretty high up there, Springsteen, Cash, Broken Bells… As for non-musicial, Paulo Coelho gets me through a lot of days, Hunter S. Thompson, Ansel Adams, and Jean Michel-Basquiat all come to mind too.
What are your fondest memories of your time with The Days In Between?
We played a show at the Ventura Theatre after a few rough ones and a good friend and fellow musician came up to me after and said, “You guys belong on a stage this big, everything you do leads to something bigger and better.” It was one of those times where the light stuck with me. But honestly I have a lot of fond memories, and the times we’re still able to all get together and reminisce make them even more fond. We’re constantly reminding each other of various shenanigans. All in all, we met some really wonderful people who took time out of their day to come listen to our music, and intersect their journey with ours. If anything, I wish I enjoyed it more, that I didn’t take some of it so seriously, but you know, you’re out there on your own, and sometimes where to park the trailer, or put the merch, or dodging an elk crossing in front of the van on the freeway in the middle of the night, that all adds a level of stress you aren’t totally prepared for.
What is your songwriting process?
It’s always evolving, always in stages, but I would say for the most part, it starts with sitting behind an acoustic or the piano. Flushing out melodies and ideas, and a lot of times lyrics come hand-in-hand with that. Sometimes I have the structure pretty well set before approaching the lyrics. A song like “Stuck on Repeat” was one of those that was just in my head over and over while driving and I had to pull over and get my iPhone out fast enough to get a voice memo of the ideas. Generally on this record I did a lot of writing on my own out in Ojai, California over a couple days, then came into the studio with those bones and sort of opened it up to the group of players. That made a song like “What to Say,” for example, really evolve, with Matt Herman’s help (who played bass on the record).
What were your goals with Salt, Sea and Smoke?
I was ready to make a record, I was bursting at the seams, there was a lot rattling around in my head and heart artistically, and when I headed to Ojai to kind of process the idea, it all just came together. I wanted the idea as a whole to be reflective of the process, of all of the elements that connected and combined to create it, and I wanted it to be digestible, so it made sense to break it up into 3 EPs that would combine to make up the final record.
How did the idea of filming the recording of Salt, Sea and Smoke come about?
Once AM Bushe caught wind that I was making the record, how I was making it, and all the characters involved, he started throwing around a lot of ideas on documenting it. I’m grateful because that particular medium wasn’t really on my radar. I always have my old cameras around for personal documentation, and they naturally sometimes get integrated into whatever I’m working on musically, but it was the first time someone else’s cameras were constantly rolling, and someone was asking about these experiences from the outside in, and how they extend past or relate to what you hear on a record.
From your perspective, how has the music industry changed since you were first starting out?
I feel like I was at a bit of the new digital DIY band in The Days In Between… We were able to book whole tours and create some opportunities for ourselves just using MySpace back then. Now, the ability to connect, share, and distribute your own music and tell your own story is amplified, so massive, there is so much there for bands willing to do the work and build their own infrastructure, and the reward tends to be greater for them once they do. On the flip-side, I think we need to take a serious look at how independent artists are paid, the way we track royalties, streams, downloads, etc. I also think we need to take a real good look at credits, and make sure all of the hard-working people on these records get the credit they deserve. With so much in the digital realm, a lot of that falls by the wayside, and it’s a shame for all of the various roles within the industry to be so diluted because of that.
How did the opportunity to become involved with Seattle’s London Bridge Studios come about?
Around 2005, when I was in The Days In Between, we were on tour and rejected at the Canadian Border for not having work permits, so we ended up staying in Seattle for a while. Through a long string of coincidences, I was put in touch with Geoff Ott, who alongside Jonathan Plum had just become the new owner of London Bridge. They were both interns and long-time engineers there and had just purchased London Bridge from the founder, Rick Parashar. We ended up doing a five-song EP with Geoff over a few days. The band broke up shortly after and I became much more focused on writing and production, which led to my involvement and eventual ownership and rebranding of Crown City, which was originally a different space owned and operated by a friend of mine. I kept in touch with Geoff and collaborated with him on many projects over the years, both at London Bridge and Crown City and it started to become really evident a greater partnership was in the works, so I officially came on board at London Bridge in 2013.
Aside from music, what are you most passionate about?
My family. I have a beautiful and amazing wife and two of the cutest little girls.
If you could travel back in time to personally witness any particular moment in music history, which would you choose?
I was in Nashville for a bit not too long ago and spent some time in RCA studio B, and started thinking about how insane and amazing it would have been to be an engineer there way back when. That’s another example of something just unexplainable all coming out of one building but… I had a similar experience at Capitol recently too.
What are you working on next?
Currently I am working with singer-songwriter Susy Sun, who is just phenomenal, and L.A. rock band The Second Howl.