This week we welcome EricSteffensen Mistwalker to our pages.I first saw Eric perform a few months ago when I wandered into my friend Dottie Iceberg‘s wonderful folk room Guthrie‘s. It was a Sunday morning and I was pleasantly surprised by a great crowd. After my usual round of hello’s I clicked the sound on and when the first notes hit my ears I felt this article begin to write itself.
Eric Steffensen hails from Salt Lake City in that other world we sometimes are confronted with. He’s an excellent instrumentalist, an accomplished singer and a very strong in the songwriting department. I would classify Eric as a “journeyman” musician. (I know, I know - Lao Tse says, “Comparisons are odious.” But the old Chinaman didn’t face a weekly deadline with only ideas and words at his disposal!) I should further explain: I intend “journeyman” to be taken in the British meaning: a tradesman who has completed his or her formal training and is working in the field completing work on their professional edge.
So Eric is working very hard toward perfection in his craft: to be a working singer/songwriter. If you don’t know how difficult such a process is try this: just tell a joke at a crowded dinner table. Now imagine doing that - effectively - for an hour or two! Then toss in playing guitar, just for good measure. Catch my drift?
Traci Nubalo: Eric, how long have you been playing in Second Life?EricSteffensen Mistwalker: My first show was May 9 2009, so just over a year
.TN: How did you find out about SL music?
ES: Great question! I found out about SL and SL music at the same time. I was reading CNN.com on a break at work and there was an article about musicians performing in a virtual world. I hadn't heard of SL before then, but wanted to start performing more, so it seemed like something I'd like to try.
TN: Were you gigging in rl at that time?
ES: A little, but not very much. Aside from open mics, I was playing maybe three or four shows a year, mostly at a coffee shop here in Salt Lake called Alchemy Coffee. I'm also friends with a couple of bands in town and sometimes they invite me to open for them.
TN: You clearly have more than a year's worth of originals built up.
ES: Oh yes, I've been writing for about ten years now, off and on.
TN: I find your originals to be strong and representative of your sound, for the most part.
ES: Thank you, it's the originals I'm most passionate about, although the covers are fun and allow me to mix it up.
TN: So - for our techie readers - what guitar(s) do you play in SL?
ES: I've got two acoustic guitars I use. One is a Taylor 310 CE. I keep that in an open D minor tuning and the other is a Blueridge I bought used for a super reasonable price that I'm completely in love with. That one doesn't need humidifying and the electronics sound great to me. Gives me a lot of sound for a small body guitar.
TN: Do you run straight into the board?
ES: I run a line into a breakout box and mic the guitars. I’m trying to go for a more natural acoustic sound.TN: Yes. Successfully, I'd say.
ES: Thank you. Eventually I will expand it to stereo mics but not yet.
TN: Any effects at all?
ES: Just light reverb and some EQ - all done in software.
TN: Great. Your strumming gives a hard, chunky feel. I really like the coloration that hard strumming can provide.
ES: True, as long as its not an hour of hard strumming for me. LOL But thank you. I have a lot of rock influences.
TN: Like who?
ES: My major influences are Smashing Pumpkins, REM, Eric Clapton and a lot of other rock over the past 40 years.
TN: I should mention here that the new listener will find you to be quite adept at fingerpicking as well.
ES: Thank you. I actually was fingerpicking before I ever learned to strum.
TN: Yes, your right hand is very strong in that senseI really enjoy the sound variation in mixing between the two styles. I have to say - your playlist is among the more adventurous that I've seen here.
ES: Well thank you! I try to challenge myself, but also try to keep some fan favorites on there as well.
TN: I couldn't believe you had the confidence to cover the Queen song “We Are The Champions” the other night. It was awesome!
ES: hehe, I have a fan who is a huge Saints fan and he asked me to learn it. The trickiest part of that song is the vocals.
Traci looks right into the camera and silently mouths the words, “Queen has tricky vocals? Who knew?”
This discussion of Eric’s strumming technique is not a small issue, as the guitarists out there will agree. By playing very hard with the right hand the chords are sonically compressed into a tighter arrangement, giving it that chunky sound that I mentioned. (Think the acoustic guitar part on The Who’s “Pinball Wizard”). It’s a tough technique to learn and even tougher to execute correctly on demand.
TN: Another interesting "deconstruction" that you do is Purple Haze.
ES: Yes, I figured not a lot of people would try that on Acoustic guitar.
TN: Exactly. But it breaks it down very well into simpler musical components. And your fans love it. Especially if you growl. LOL
ES: Yes, they seem to like that lately and yes Purple Haze is a song I've always done that with.
TN: I'm very impressed with your fan base and the relationship that's there.
ES: They are great. When I noticed that people were coming back to my shows I was totally floored. I haven't worked RL as hard as I worked here so it was a pleasant surprise to see that people enjoyed the music enough to come back. I had recordings on the internet for years, but there was no way to tell who was listening.
TN: Well, you seem to have hit on some key elements with your fans: the mix of originals/covers; a good mix of instrumental styles; and communicating that, yes, we are having fun.
ES: Well thanks, there's a part of me that realizes that performing is more than about just the music, it's about entertaining folks.
TN: Yesssss. I wish more players understood that. Okay...ready for Desert Island Disk?
TN: If you were stranded somewhere what three music disks would you want with you? And why?
ES: *pause* Smashing Pumpkins - “Siamese Dream”
TN: Good choice!
ES: Actually, SP was the band that after listening to lots and lots that I decided to start learning how to play their songs. At the time I lived in the dorms in college and played in the dorm lobby quite a bit but Smashing Pumpkins was very challenging and I wouldn't play the way I do today without them and that album. Next…Eric Clapton - “Unplugged“.
TN: Oh one of my faves.
ES: Yes, a couple of the songs in my setlist are from that album. Pretty much the same reason, but that album was even earlier in helping me realize I want to play guitar. In fact, as I was learning I was given the sheet music as a gift.TN: Awesome.
ES: And last - Foo Fighters - “Echoes, Patience, Silence and Grace”.
TN: In that collection Clapton demonstrates how much of a guitar sound is in the hands, not in the wood.
ES: Oh, absolutely. Although give Clapton wood he likes (aka Blackie) and he's in heaven!
TN: So, three great choices.
ES: Foo Fighters - there’s something about Dave Grohl's songwriting lately that I find very inspiring.His sound is so full but has some classic charm that reminds me a lot of John Lennon. It’s hard to explain why.
TN: Great observation. Interesting - both artists are notoriously sensitive, even uncomfortable with their own work.
ES: Hmmm interesting, I think when you constantly challenge yourself that's a given. You always believe you can push it to the next level.
ES: Hey, do I get my guitar on the desert island?
TN: Sure. Why not?
ES: Awesome. See, not so limited for music now! haha
TN: Where do your compositional ideas come from?
ES: Most of the time I sit down with the guitar and just tune out, not try to play anything specific and when I hear something I like I try to go with it. It’s actually the easiest part of my writing. Occasionally I'll learn new chords by learning covers but that's rare
TN: Do you labor over the lyrics?
ES: Yes - a lot of labor over the lyrics, and more specifically the topic of a song. Once I've found a topic I really want to write about, the lyrics come easier.
TN: That makes sense - the muse has struck by then.
ES: But there are a million love songs out there, so if it is a love song I try to make sure it is unique enough - a different perspective
TN: Yes. *pause* LOL This little delay...Christopher135Quan was IMing. He said to say hello. LOL
ES: Oh, he’s a great musician.
TN: That's what he said abut you. I like him. We’re working on his interview for VIRTUAL TIMES, actually.
ES: Tell him hi from me. He was at the Villa Lobos show after you left the other night.
TN: I saw him there, actually.
ES: Oh awesome. I lose track of time up there sometimes.
TN: Of course. The stage is truly a place like no other place. And your love of performing is a big factor in your success.
ES: Yes.There's such great support of live music in Second Life.
This seeming interruption by Chris Quan’s IM points out another strong point about Eric’s work. He is liked and respected by the other working artists here in SL. The real camaraderie between the two of them in this brief little exchange was endearing. And it’s something I see all over the grid here.
TN: So what's upcoming for Eric?
ES: I'm going to be at the Chicago Jam, June 25 -27 meeting a lot of other SL performers and fans in RL.really looking forward to that. Some folks will be there that I've known online for about a year that I'll get to meet finally
ES: Also, this past year in SL has helped me polish my performances quite a bit. I'm hoping to take that and perform more around town here in Salt Lake City more often. And eventually, And hopefully this fallI'll get back in the studio and finish my second album that I started last year. The first five songs are the Forge My Own Road EP right now.
TN: Great! What will the title be?
ES: Title will probably change when it's a full album.
TN: Okay. You raise a good point, though, about the synergy between playing live and playing in SL. Many SL performers tell me that playing here is really good for their live chops.
ES: Yes, there are weeks I've played ten shows here. So if I play that much and practice, I'm getting 2 - 3 hours a day of practice.
TN: Yep. Okay, one last item. This is your chance to speak directly to your fans - old and new. What would you like to say to them?
ES: This isn’t the question where I’m supposed to exclaim “I’m going to Disneyland!” is it? On a more serious note, I made a choice to perform music because I believe its one of the best ways that I can bring happiness into people’s lives. I sincerely believe that many of the fine performers in Second Life are here for the same reason and that’s why I’d like to encourage people to support SL live music. There’s so much talent here. I feel humbled on a regular basis and honored to play alongside so many artists that deserve to be heard.Linden Lab has expressed a desire to make live music a “killer app”. There is a lot that they can do, but I think it’s up to us as residents of Second Life to make that a reality. We can do that by continuing to build a buzz around the music scene both inworld and out. Ultimately, I believe that creating this buzz is good for our residents and businesses because it draws in more people.What’s the best way to do that? Attending shows! Take a chance and go listen to some artists you’ve never heard before. If you like what you hear, send personal invites to friends. If you blog or use social media, let people know what performers you like. When you’re at shows, interact with the performer! Second Life allows you to do that in ways that no other performance medium allows for…and it’s almost always appreciated. Donations are always appreciated (especially for venues who have fixed costs), but never required, so please don’t be afraid to enjoy SL music even if you don’t have lots of L$. And finally, have fun!
I couldn’t have said it better, although this I will add: be sure to put Eric Steffensen on your list of “must see” musicians. You won’t regret it!