BACKSTAGE: Eric Lilavois
“Sometimes we put some of these things, like being a musician or an artist, or whatever it is, on a pedestal and the ordinary moments become kind of surreal. I think there are a lot of very ordinary moments that happen within all of our lives and all of our occupations and there are things that are very near and dear to us.” – the multi-talented Eric Lilavois.
Eric Lilavois is a talented musician, producer (Saint Motel, Atlas Genius), engineer and studio owner. We met with him at Crown City Studios, in Pasadena, to talk about his amazing career and his upcoming documentary, “The Journey: The Making of Salt, S(e)a, & Smoke,” which is set for release on April 25th at Laemmle Theaters in Pasadena and the following weekend in Seattle theaters.
The Journey follows Eric Lilavois’ process in creating his album, Salt, S(e)a, & Smoke and interviews amazing artists, such as: Ben Smith (Heart), Andrew Joslyn (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis), Danny T. Levin (Vampire Weekend, Julian Casablancas), David Moyer (U2, Snoop Dogg, Tears for Fears, Broken Bells) and GRAMMY NW Chapter President Geoff Ott (Unwritten Law, 3 Doors Down).
This casually eclectic artist also talked to us about the sentimental attachment behind his clothes and the sweet, daily dates he goes to with three beautiful women.
Labeling Men: So, what inspired you to get into music?
Eric Lilavois: Oh my gosh… My folks and their love of music. At a young age, I was super exposed to the way that they related to the world through music. They both grew up in Haiti and they had a lot of Spanish records and Haitian records and that’s how I was able to relate to that language too, because I could kind of see the emotion that was being translated and conveyed through music.
Labeling Men: That’s beautiful. How did you get started?
Eric Lilavois: I started as a young musician in bands, trying to do my own thing and learn as many instruments as I could throughout the years. As I progressed, it led to being more in recording studio situations and more situations around other musicians. I realized pretty quickly that the studio was sort of the place for me and the way that I was able to help other people organize their ideas was much more beneficial to everybody than it was constantly trying to grind down my own stuff. It just kind of evolved. I was able to take the tools I learned as an individual musician and apply them to other people’s situations and also be objective in their situation, so I didn’t have a lot of the emotional attachment you have when you sit down and write something as intense as a song.
Labeling Men: It’s pretty personal.
Eric Lilavois: It’s pretty personal, yeah. You know, there is some objectivity that’s needed to really make it the best it can be.
Labeling Men: Definitely. How long have you been part of the Seattle studio – London Bridge Studios?
Eric Lilavois: I’ve been a partner there since 2013. But that studio has its own history and it’s just an amazing place, built in 1985 by Rick and Raj Parashar. Rick is a fantastic producer in his own right to Pearl Jam 10, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains – a lot of early 90s stuff was born out of that studio in Seattle.
Labeling Men: Wow, that’s really cool.
Eric Lilavois: Yeah. And my partners now, Jonathan Plum and Geoff Ott, they took over about 10 years ago. They bought the studio from Rick and Raj and Jeff, one of the partners and I, have been collaborating on a lot of other projects over the years and he brought me on board in 2013.
Labeling Men: Who have you worked with here in Crown City?
Eric Lilavois: Gosh, this place has seen so many artists come through, it’s intense. Over the years, My Chemical Romance and Atlas Genius have been here. I worked on The Dustbowl Revival record [“Carry Me Home”]. I produced that record and was great having them. There’s just so much talent that’s come through. We have a video series – Crown City Session Series – that’s seen now… I don’t even know the number anymore. It’s just been a blessing to see so people come through and collaborate and wear their heart on their sleeve for 14 hours a day, sometimes 16 to 20 hours a day.
Labeling Men: That’s awesome. How do you manage your time between both London Bridge in Seattle and Crown City in Pasadena? What’s that like?
Eric Lilavois: I’ve gotten very used to Virgin America’s coffee. (Laughing) I’ve started to crave it. I guess, at least, convinced myself I crave it. I’ve just gotten used to it and I enjoy it. I’m able to tackle tasks, just by being over there and just by being over here and separating the two. It really helps me switch my brain. It’s kind of like working with different artists. But, yeah, it’s certainly a lot to tackle. I think you compartmentalize it, and you sort of try to do things in little chunks, you know.
Labeling Men: What would you say makes you stand out from other producers?
Eric Lilavois: Oh, man. (Laughing) I’ve said hugs before but I don’t know if that’s going to fly this time around. Just, you know, I’m pretty patient, I’m an easy guy to get along with, I listen and I truly am dedicated to helping these artists arrive to the destination they want to be at. I think, for better or worse, there’s other producers who have a separate agenda for an artist – and maybe that’s what an artist needs – but that’s not necessarily my agenda. I’m kind of an artist first kind of guy. I think that separates me.
Labeling Men: And you have a new documentary coming out soon – The Journey. Can you tell us what it’s about?
Eric Lilavois: It’s called The Journey and it’s basically the making of my record [Salt, S(e)a, & Smoke], but a layer beneath that, it’s just kind of capturing what’s happening in the moment. Sometimes we put some of these things, like being a musician or an artist, or whatever it is, on a pedestal and the ordinary moments become kind of surreal. I think there’s a lot of very ordinary moments that happen within all of our lives and all of our occupations and there’s things that are very near and dear to us. So it’s basically taking an honest look at what the process is and exploring a couple of these fantastic musicians who have just come together to collaborate with us. It’s very simplistic. I’m just excited to hear someone like Ben Smith, who’s a drummer I admire and plays with Heart, to just have 5 seconds with this guy and hear what he’s day to day is like is fantastic and it’s also very ordinary and I find beauty in that.
Labeling Men: What was the decision behind making the documentary black and white?
Eric Lilavois: I work with a lot of different mediums, I guess it’s the best way to put it, in terms of capturing the moment. Andrew is very aware and cognizant of that. It was his decision to do it black and white but I think that was a huge part of it – marrying these two worlds of old and new was kind of cool. Still to this day, most of the photos I take are black and white and it’s just something that’s really, really compelling. I think it’s just very drastic and dramatic… It leaves a lot, perfectly, to the imagination, I think.
Labeling Men: The trailer is beautiful!
Eric Lilavois: Thank you so much. Thanks very much. I can’t take credit for it. It’s all A.M. Bushe, the director. He’s just got a striking eye. That’s one of the things that we really bonded on because photography was a big hobby and passion of mine early on and I obviously love film. I’m super interested in the concept of capturing things. He just really did a fantastic job. He had a very strange way of making us feel like he wasn’t really there – which is an art.
Labeling Men: That’s amazing, for sure.
Eric Lilavois: When you’re trying to make something that’s very, very important to you sometimes the camera can be distracting and you become hyperaware of it. I think the cool thing about this situation is that it was honest. It wasn’t the type of thing where everybody was really aware of the camera being on, unless they were directly being interviewed or something like that.
Labeling Men: That’s definitely talent. What is the message you’re trying to send with the documentary?
Eric Lilavois: The message is: sulk in every moment, no matter what. No matter what you’re doing, no matter what you’re working on, or who you’re with – just do your best be cognizant as a moment and get the most out of it for you and for everyone around you. Put your best foot forward, you know, when you can as hard as you can… or as soft as you can. Whatever the moment dictates.
Labeling Men: That’s a great message to send. How long did it take to put the documentary together? Are you guys still working on it?
Eric Lilavois: No, it’s very organic. It was the same length as putting the record.
Labeling Men: How long was that?
Eric Lilavois: All the footage was shot over the course of, I want to say, a week and a half to two weeks max. Then Andrew began the editing process. We went back and forth on a few things, but we really didn’t shoot much extra footage, so it’s probably two weeks total between Seattle and shooting here, in Los Angeles.
Labeling Men: Wow. Shooting in both cities! That must’ve been a lot work.
Eric Lilavois: It was fun. Andrew is going to kill me for saying this, but my flight on the way there with him was very recreational. My flights, normally, have been more work-oriented. But I felt off the hook a little bit because I was going to make my own record and we were having fun. He was definitely having a rough time the second morning after our flight out there. But it was fun and it was worth it. Everybody just had a good time doing it.
Labeling Men: That’s the best part.
Eric Lilavois: That is the best part.
Labeling Men: What inspired you to create the record, Salt, S(e)a, & Smoke, which goes along with the documentary?
Eric Lilavois: I think when I first started as a producer, because I came from being an artist, I went into the engineering and production route and a lot of the artist stuff went by the wayside and making my own record went by the wayside. I was also, in all honestly, kind of terrified that if I didn’t do that that I was solely going to be defined as producer, even. It took me a lot time to kind of wrap my brain around the idea that the two can co-exist peacefully and that neither necessarily defines each other. My record wasn’t necessarily produced or mixed at all the way I would do it for another artist and the writing was totally not the same. When I finally came around to understanding that was okay, I went back through the archives and there were some old songs I revisited and there were some new stuff I went off and created and wrote and we took it into the studio, brought everybody together and re-massaged it and re-crafted it from there.
Labeling Men: That’s awesome. What would you say is the genre of your music?
Eric Lilavois: Uhm, a “I have no fucking idea” genre. Haha.
Labeling Men: That’s perfect, really.
Eric Lilavois: No, it’s a trip. It’s one of the hardest questions. It really is and that leads back to that question of worrying about the producer thing versus the artist thing. There was no agenda going into it, so that’s another reason why it’s hard to classify. We weren’t going, “we can’t do that because that sounds too rock” or “we can’t do that because it sounds too indie.”
Labeling Men: Do you have any advice for up and coming musicians?
Eric Lilavois: Work hard and play hard, because it informs how hard you work as well and it gives you perspective on this planet – this spinning ball of fire. Just own your craft and learn and seek out advice and surround yourself with good people. If you don’t feel like you’re around good people then get the fuck out of there and find some people that you do trust and that can help you steer into the right direction and are going to help you be the best that you can be – that’s ultimately what we’re all striving for.
Labeling Men: That’s definitely great advice! And so, as you already know our website is called Labeling Men. Steering a little bit into fashion – would you say your music influences your fashion style or vice-versa?
Eric Lilavois: Whoa. Yeah, no. It’s certainly a two-way street. I think early on there’re certain things that you can’t help to be influence by, specially depending on your age. You know, thumbing through magazine articles and things like that. That stuff can’t help but inform your fashion sense. It is the other way around too. I think it’s probably not as extreme as something like punk rock influencing the way that people dress, but I think that’s a two-way street too. I think that they sort of inform each other.
Labeling Men: I love your outfit by the way.
Eric Lilavois: Haha. Thank you so much.
Labeling Men: Do you mind sharing with us what you’re wearing?
Eric Lilavois: What am I wearing today? I just picked some stuff up off the floor. I’m wearing some boots from a very cool store in Austin called Allens Boots. I go there about every other SXSW. I’m also wearing some good ol’ fashion maroon Levi’s, you know, those stick around for a while… I’m kind of a t-shirt junky. I pick up a lot of t-shirts. I tend to wear a lot of my grandfather’s clothes and my dad’s clothes. I don’t buy too much new stuff, except t-shirts or jeans, because I think jeans you live in for a long time. I hang on to stuff for a long time and I think that it leads to even more mixed matching. Haha.
Labeling Men: I like it. It looks great! What would you say would be your label if you had to describe your personal style?
Eric Lilavois: Whoa, that’s intense. I mean, it varies. I think it’s… casually… oh my gosh, I don’t know what it is. What is it?
Labeling Men: I think it’s… casually eclectic.
Eric Lilavois: Casually eclectic? That’s awesome.
Labeling Men: Yeah, you have some cool things that you throw in but you’re still in denim. I love that. I think it’s a great style.
Eric Lilavois: Awesome. Yeah, so I was saying… It’s casually eclectic. Haha.
Labeling Men: Haha, yes!
Eric Lilavois: (Laughing) No, I mean, it’s trippy because it definitely changes, you know. I think that’s one of the beautiful things – it’s an extension of our personality. We all choose to express ourselves in different ways and clothing is another one of those, you know. Like for me that’s sentimental, like “oh my god, this is my grandfather’s jacket” or “this is my dad’s denim jacket” or expressing something that reminds me of a certain time period I feel attached to, you know. That extends back to music. To this day I’m still not happy if I don’t own a pair of Docs. That’s part of my DNA because of the time period in my life, you know. Those are all interchangeable extensions of your personality.
Labeling Men: Absolutely! Now, moving on a little bit towards the dating aspect of Labeling Men. Do you have any personal funny dating stories that you’d like to share?
Eric Lilavois: Personal dating stories? Yeah… the funny thing is that just about every day – I’m a lucky, lucky man because I get to go to two or three meals a day with three of the most beautiful women – my wife and my two daughters.
Labeling Men: Aww. That’s beyond sweet.
Eric Lilavois: I have a lot of hilarious “dating stories” because I will tell you, shit is definitely flying across the room. The dating stories go too far back for me. My dates these days are, well, not equally as crazy, they’re still very crazy but they’re crazy in a different way.
Labeling Men: How do you manage moving back and forth between the studios and having a family?
Eric Lilavois: Well, they are so in-tuned as well and they’re totally intergraded. I think that my wife and I, from the very beginning, were cognizant. We didn’t want to stop because we were having kids. We very much speak to them like adults and we are very respectful of their personalities and how they’re growing. So, it’s not as difficult as you think when you take that approach. I think it’s a lot harder when you try to separate the two. It’s not without its challenges, of course, you know. But it’s still a joy to see them come around and interact with these musicians and artists and start to learn who they are. My older daughter will walk up to the talk-back mic and will give feedback to a song. It’s cool.
Labeling Men: That’s super cool and sweet! It must be super adorable. On that note, do you have any dating advice for our readers… or just our generation?
Eric Lilavois: (Laughing) Our generation! That’s a dangerous question. You know, I think that my perspective is the same as we were talking about earlier – you just balance being in the moment and balance that against long-term and if you’re in a situation where you’re being treated like shit or not the way you deserve to be treated, get out of there and surround yourself in people who really love and respect who you are. And have fun doing it. But ultimately, no one needs to be around someone who’s going to treat him or her badly.
Check out the trailer for The Journey: The Making of Salt, S(e)a, & Smoke here
You can listen to Salt, S(e)a, & Smoke here
Interview by Karen M. Guzelian
Photos by Mischa Teichgraeber