In a local music scene whose brightest stars shine through rotating ensembles of popping drums, thrashing chord progressions, theatrical costumes, and high reaching vocals, one singer-songwriter stands out among the clamor for his unassuming presence, simple delivery, and purity of message. Twenty-four year old Erik Meier – a native of Howell, New Jersey and former graphic designer – joined the Potion Collective during the winter of 2010. At that time open mics were held in the G – a two-story loft apartment inside 248 McKibbin shared by Bill Bartholomew, James Michael of Crash Robin, Skylar Adams of Red Sullivan, and several others.
Erik credits photographer Catie Taylor – whom he met while busking on the subway – with his introduction to Potion. Of his first time at the open mic Erik says “I never ever would’ve expected to walk into someone’s home.” He recalls being nervous that night; not knowing anyone, or how he’d be received, but admits the welcoming response and subsequent encouragement were just what he’d needed at the time. The acceptance and approval of his peer group (artists, musicians, strangers, and soon-to-be friends) were, according to Meier, what he’d been looking for his whole life.
I’d scheduled to meet with Erik early in the afternoon on the first Friday in July. We agreed to conduct our interview on the roof of 248 because natural lighting is always better when you’re using laymen’s technology (HP built in webcam). Yet, as is typically my case, I was running behind. Erik’s phone battery was dying, and we were trying to coordinate via Facebook message. Then it began to rain. Around 5:30pm I arrived at McKibbin and shouted his name, from the sidewalk up to Sarah Rayne’s window.
While we shared cigarettes with George Frye, I noticed a tattoo colored in green with black outline on the inside of Erik’s forearm. In cursive read the brief mantra, “Stay Posi.” I was touched.
I was worried about finding a location to shoot our interview, since Sarah’s apartment wasn’t available, and the pseudo-lobby of 248 not only carries an echo but experiences frequent foot traffic as well. Luckily, the freight elevator proved a perfect spot for our chat.
We started at the beginning. Erik Meier found himself in New York City at the insistence [of his parental units] that he get out of the house and do something. He went to art school, got his certification, and landed his first job at McGary Bowen. Though he wouldn’t recommend art school nor its resulting debt and bullshit certification to anyone, he is none-the-less grateful for his experience with the agency.
Meier is soft-spoken. However the more you speak to him, the more he speaks up. He’s not the type of musician to boast his accomplishments, nor play up any personal eccentricities. Truthfully, Erik Meier isn’t an eccentric crazy local scene kid. He smiles sweetly, often as though he isn’t sure he’s allowed to, or as if the timing’s off. When he does smile confidently Meier reveals dimples and a wondrous, well-hidden, internal joy.
I ask how he got into music, coming from graphic design. His answer is true of most of the scenesters I’ve interviewed. He’d always played music. “I started with piano… and then I did trumpet. But it never stuck with me.” Guitar obviously did.
So, how does a graphic designer go from a large ad agency to busking in the subways? “The moment was in a Gap that I was working at while in school. I was signing up nannies and au pairs for credit cards and micromanaging at nine dollars an hour. I was pretty unhappy. I remembered seeing people do it (busking) and it seemed silly not to try it. So I just took a permanent lunch break one day and started covering songs. Sure, it’s foolish to try to live on it and I’m sure there’s a larger handful of people out there that have little respect for it but it makes me happy. I feel a little more [something] at the end of the day for it.”
After playing the Potion open mic at The G for a second time Erik met Alec Stephens III, Sarah Rayne, Skylar Adamas, and Bill Bartholomew – who would become a great help to him in following months. Meier recalls Bill’s performance as one of the most memorable on the night. “I was sitting in the back at the bar, ordering a beer, and I remember Skylar – a person I didn’t know who he was or anything – he was like ‘Aw this guy, this guy,’ you know ‘this joke’ or whatever. And I was taking it seriously. I didn’t really know that he was messing around. So to see Bill do all that, I was like ‘Wow.’ That was the coolest fuckin’ thing I’d seen in a while.”
Last summer Erik released his first EP with the assistance of Bill’s i81 production company. I ask him how it felt to make that. “It felt great,” he tells me. “I think looking back on it now, there’s a lot of things to be said about it. But I remember that feeling at that time, I was so excited to do it. I wanted to do it quick. I wanted to like have it in my hand, you know, then, as quick as I could, and it was amazing. Yeah, it was like getting a big birthday present or something.”
He’s endlessly appreciative of Bill’s support, of the support of the entire collective. “All I’d ever done before was cover people’s songs…to be in a place where, for the first time in my life, people were like ‘You know you don’t have to do anything except for what you want to do with what you have.’ So it was like you can write your own songs. You can write about whatever you want.”
He tells me he’s learned so much from everyone in Potion. “My influence from the Potion Collective was yes, in part the music but these people have also shaped me into the person I want to be, and the man that I’m working on being. It’s been much more of a personal experience, to be honest. And the friendships and childhood I didn’t necessarily feel I had has peeped through. It’s almost like a time travel scenario in dealing with life and learning about who you are as a person.”
Around 6:15 Lucia Rollow (a former McKibbin resident, and founder of the Bushwick Community Darkroom) joins us. She’s come to take photographs. I ask Erik if he will play Wait of The World for me, and he does.
There is a yellow piano inside the freight with us and it’s the perfect prop for our last minute photo shoot. It belongs to Giovanni on the third floor. He doesn’t mind, but we have five minutes to take pics. Afterward the three of us help Gio and his friend move the piano into his apartment. While Erik and the guys arrange the instrument Lucia comments that she loves seeing into other people’s apartments. “I know,” I agree.
We continue snapping photos in the hallway and I ask Erik about his writing process, about what songs like “Wait of The World”, “Life In Grey”, and “Rogues” mean? I ask how he makes dark music that sounds so pretty. The three of us laugh at the irony, but my query is earnest.
Click here for Part 3 of my video interview with Erik, This Is Where You Are.
click for Parts 1 & 2.
This year Erik has performed his music alongside Bill, Alec Stephens, Carin Beam, and Joanna Levine in varied combination and under the moniker Bird Courage. The songs are Meier’s, the additional harmonies and chord changes he agrees are of a familial nature. I observe that Bird Courage reminds me of The Mamas & The Papas, and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Erik nods his head, and I suspect he’s proud of the comparison. I ask how Bird Courage came to be. “Joanna liked the songs to the point where she wanted to sing on them,” he says with a smile. This summer they will be recording a full-length with Bill Bartholomew and Quinton Gelderman.
I’m curious to know Erik’s ideal situation. I can’t imagine he’d busk daily, play as many shows and open mics as he can attend, sit for a spotlight interview, let alone consider recording a full-length if he didn’t have some sort of music-based goal. “I never want to stop writing,” he says. “I want to be in projects, collaborations you know,” he says. “You know going into this and giving up trying to look for jobs I don’t expect to you know, be super wealthy or anything. But I would hope to be able just really to live off it, purely live off this, and not have to work those jobs that I hate so much. And I’d really like to able to just to use the talent and the abilities that I have to live.”
I nod in understanding. The artist’s plight is so intense, so gritty, that everyone who is one understands it easily and without much explanation. Those who are less creatively inclined, who lack appreciation for the beauty art adds to life, often struggle to comprehend why anyone would struggle to live this way. Why would you give up steady income to peruse a passion that may never pay off? They wonder.
The answer is simple: happiness. Even in the struggle the starving artist is truly happier following their heart than they ever would be with a degree-earned “career.” Fortune favors the brave, and those who listen for and follow their inner voice are guided to a rewarding hardship – one they are rarely quick to abandon. Erik Meier is one of these courageous few.
Visit birdcourage.bandcamp.com to hear Erik’s music. Be sure to follow Bird Courage on Twitter, and like the fanpage on Facebook as well.