[listen] Erik Mallory
The singer-songwriter often is a man with a guitar with a tale to tell and of course a song to sing. It’s an intimate thing; one man on stage, nowhere to hide. The audience can look him in the eye and see inside. The music is gritty and raw. It ain’t always pretty, but it’s from the heart. Let me introduce Erik Mallory.
You started playing guitar in your mid-20s; what prompted you to want to learn?
I spent my early 20s more than a little lost, I went to shows, bars, clubs and worked as a waiter, telemarketer or cook. During that time, life seemed very bleak. At 26, I was just stepping out of the Sub-Culture/Big Sky scene and taking a look at what my future was and what it could be. I had to make some very fundamental choices and changes in my life. Forcing myself to see the world differently opened up possibilities I had dismissed earlier. As silly as it sounds, I never felt I was “cool enough” to play guitar. My girlfriend at the time played and I heard her playing Mississippi John Hurt’s “Shake That Thing” and I got curious and inspired. A few days later, on March 23, 1998, I went to a pawn shop and bought a Cort acoustic… I spent the summer of ‘98 learning that Mississippi John Hurt song. When I played that song, I heard rivers, wind through trees, I could feel the electric charge of a thunderstorm. I was feeling and hearing things that were not in the song. I had to try to convey what I felt playing the guitar, so I began to write my own songs. I had written poetry in my teens and early 20s; I used what I learned from poetry and applied it to song lyrics. Music took over. Playing guitar felt like something I was born to do.
Describe your songwriting process, recurring theme or themes, etc.
The songwriting process varies from song to song. Some seem to write themselves, while others never seem complete. Mostly it starts with a chord progression and a mood, feeling, concept or idea, and then the words come, then decisions have to be made about furthering the song structure (bridges, chorus, etc.).
How would you describe the Erik Mallory sound?
Woody, stormy and raw. Currently, I use as few tricks and production as possible. I want the tracks to sound like me, like how I would sound if we were sitting on my back porch. When it comes to the electric guitar, I use a few pedals, either to avoid being too loud but still get the gritty sparkle sound my amp makes, or to create a more atmospheric sound.
What are your thoughts about the music scene in Wichita?
The Wichita music scene is the best-kept secret in American music. There is a huge pool of talented creative people here. And has it grown! My first local Wichita show was totally random. I was walking home from a buddy’s house in high school when I heard loud music coming from a house party. Being drawn to loud guitars, I walked on in. It was first the first or second generation of The Sluggos (I remember Tom Page’s sailor hat and Michael Carmody’s tall form and woolly hair). They were playing “Minor Emergency Center.” It was sarcastic and ironic, at the time I didn’t know what to make of it, but it made me smile and I don’t remember much else about that night except that song. I had been spoon-fed radio pop my whole life, the corporate American culture machine had my mind narrowly tuned to a certain sound. In hindsight, I think that it’s awesome that these guys got out and played what they wanted and what they felt. Later, that served seminal inspiration for me as a musician.
I have seen tons of shows at Kirby’s, and for me, Kirby’s is a mainstay of Wichita music. From my point of view, it seemed that through the ’90s the scene was up and down, there would be times when it was really quiet and times when it was busting out all over the place. And no matter what, there was always something going on at Kirby’s. Now the scene is larger, more diverse and more stable. My fear is that the wonderful artists that have sprouted up will leave Wichita for more lucrative opportunities elsewhere. My hope is that technology will make the geographical location of an artist irrelevant to their success. With energy prices going they way they are projected to, touring for the underground or unsigned act may be cost prohibitive.
What do you listen to when you’re not playing music yourself?
Depends on my mood, but lately it’s been Mazzy Star, The Flaming Lips, Lyle Lovett, Greg Brown, The Black Keys, Clutch, Stevie Ray Vaughn, The Beatles, Townes Van Zandt, Dick Dale, Ry Cooder, RL Burnside, Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. I’m omnivorous when it comes to music.
What are your goals as a musician?
The first goal is to enjoy myself. I desire to write and perform songs that have meaning to me and that I enjoy. The second goal is to entertain others. I want the folks that come to my shows to have a good time, and enjoy what I do. Thirdly, I’d love to be able jam with anyone, in any style. Sure, that is a tall order considering how many styles and players there are out there. It’s probably very naive of me to think I can achieve that level of playing in my lifetime. However, I believe that music is a language and all musicians from all walks of life should be able to find something common to “talk” about. I enjoy learning new things, and music is a great teacher.