• Austin Sunset by Randall Chancellor

Eric Hisaw

Written by Ysmay on .

Eric Hisaw

Eric is a singer-songwriter based in Austin who has just released his fifth full-length album, "Ghost Stories." A mix of Rolling Stones inspired rock'n'roll and the storytelling lyricism of Texas outlaw country, Lonestar Music's Richard Skanse says "with the 10 just-about-perfect tales of hard-traveled and weary-hearted workingman blues... the journeyman songwriter, guitarist and singer delivers his first stone-cold masterpiece."

Born and raised in Las Cruces, NM and based in Austin, TX for the better part of the last two decades, Hisaw continues to produce original hard driving country rock. Eric talked to us about his music and life in Austin.

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into music?

I was knocked out by seeing the Buddy Holly Story.  I had been exposed to a lot of great music by my parents and seeing that movie put the pieces together.  Unfortunately, it's historically really inaccurate to an insulting degree, but it was there for me when I needed it.  

Is guitar the only instrument you play? Were you self-taught or formally trained?

I've tried to play other stringed instruments and never got very far.  I took some lessons as a young kid but have mostly been self taught.  When I first came to town I went to clubs every night and meticulously studied what people like Jesse Taylor, Johnny X Reed, Eddy Shaver, Casper Rawls and  Evan Johns were doing.  That was my schooling.

Do you remember the song you first mastered? What was it?

The first song I learned to play and sing at the same time was Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through The Night".  I was about twelve.  I remember showing my mom and her having this "dear lord help me!" look on her face. 

Who are your musical influences?

My four horsemen of influence would be Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard, but there are so many more.  As a teenager in the 80's bands like Los Lobos, The Blasters, Jason and the Scorchers, and the Gun Club blew open the doors of possibility for me. Guys like Joe Ely, Steve Earle, and Billy Joe Shaver have been consistently inspiring.

Tell us about your latest album “Ghost Stories.” How long was it in the works?

It was three years between my previous record and Ghost Stories.  I messed around with some different ideas, thought I wanted to make a really raw garage rock record with some oddball covers mixed in.  It became apparent to me that the songs I had written were not right for that so I recut everything with my trusty pals Ron Flynt and Vicente Rodriguez and came up with what we have - a hard driving, mostly narrative album that stands on the foundation Keith Richards, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Bob Dylan poured for us years ago.

It seems like it has gone over well. What’s the highest compliment you’ve received about your new album?

Things have been good so far in the review and AirPlay departments.  You can only take awards and year end best of lists with a grain of salt, but no less it's been an honor to be recognized alongside the top guys by the Freeform American Roots folks.  

What types of themes does your music cover? Does any one theme recur more regularly than others?

My songs are most often narratives about family, economic struggles, substance abuse, and travel.  My goal is to create a body of work that reflects my own experience so certain things certainly recur.  With Ghost Stories, the first five songs are all directly related to things that happened to me, the following five are more observational.

How would you describe your music?

Literate roots rock.  I have almost no interest in straying from the groundwork laid by the country, blues, folk and rockabilly pioneers musically. I believe when you put your soul into it you sound wholly like yourself so using this framework is not, to me, confining.    My lyrical influences are mostly fiction writers like Raymond Carver and Sam Shephard.  Put together I think that's the most fitting description.

What about your performances? How would you describe those to someone who’s never seen you?

We try to keep the songs fresh and slightly unpredictable.  We love to pay tributes to those who came before.  As a live band we look to the Stones, the Faces and the work Dylan did with the Band for inspiration.

Tell us about your first public performance. Where was it and what was it like?

I had a band in junior high.  We underwhelmed an audience of peers in a church for a Boy Scout function or something on our first outing.  It wasn't great, but the second I heard the applause I lost all interest in football.

What can we expect to see from you in the coming months?

I'm writing songs and cutting demos.  Looking towards a new record.  Playing a lot of shows during SXSW. Playing guitar with my girlfriend's rock band New Mystery Girl and a country singer named Bracken Hale.  Always up to something.

You moved to Austin from New Mexico. What was the transition like? Did you find it easy to integrate into your social circle?
Not really. I came to Austin at a very young age in 1990 and it was intimidating to see such accomplished musicians banging away in small clubs. I kept to myself for a long time, then gravitated towards the punk scene at clubs like the Hole in the Wall, Blue Flamingo, Cavity Club and Electric Lounge. In 1997 I went back to Las Cruces for about 9 months then came back to Austin ready to get serious about writing songs and playing them.
What keeps you in Austin?
Austin is a great place to work from. There are top notch players and writers to learn from, and clubs and studios to work in.
There are so many amazing musicians in Austin. Who do you like to go see when you’re not playing?
I don't go out like I used to but I will step out to see Alejandro Escovedo, Rick Broussard's Two Hoots and a Holler, Eve and The Exiles, and the LeRoi Brothers when I can. There's a lot of cool stuff going on I know nothing about, unfortunately, but I'm trying to get out some more and see what's happening.
What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of Austin?
There was a very different town here when I first showed up. Several of my favorite things are gone like the Texicalli Grille, The Austin Outhouse, the Blackcat Lounge. Places where like-minded people congregated and you could feel the kinship simply by being there. Not too long ago a very legendary and influential blues band called The Cobras reunited for an afternoon show at Antone's Record Shop, I ran into about a hundred people I knew, the music was amazing and I left with four or five albums I really wanted. Those kind of events are what makes this town really special. The downside to Austin is that it has become a bit touristy and self aware, which are generally signs that the best of times are behind us.
What's your favourite venue to play at in Austin?
Austin has a lot of great venues. For my own band we don't really have a home club in town at the moment. With so many things building up on the Eastside maybe that will change. As a guitarist it's always a pleasure and an honor to get to play at the Broken Spoke, Antone's, Saxon Pub etc. I recently played at the Sahara out on Webberville Road and I can see that becoming a really happening place.
If you had to describe Austin in one word, what would that be?
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