Artist Interview: 1-on-1 with Eric Schaffer & The Other Troublemakers

Artist Interview: 1-on-1 with Eric Schaffer & The Other Troublemakers

The pairings party for #TheOven17 was at Borderlands Brewing Company in Tucson, Arizona. A few weeks before I headed back to Arizona, I learned that Eric Schaffer & The Other Troublemakers were scheduled to perform that night. We talked back and forth and via email and they were setting up when I arrived at the brewery. We became quick friends and was excited to have live music playing during the pairings party. We were in a side room, so the music seemed almost like background music. It was perfect. I did step out to hear a few songs throughout the evening and was impressed with their performance. Eric and I stayed in touch and they agreed to an interview. I have always enjoyed supporting local music, and was excited to learn more about this band. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Eric Schaffer & The Other Troublemakers.

Tell me more about Eric Schaffer & The Other Troublemakers.
We are based in Tucson, Arizona. Our music lies somewhere between folk-rock, Americana, and country. We play a mix of originals, a few classic covers, and some other covers of songs that people may not be familiar with, but they fit our musical style very well.
Everybody sings, and we love to do 3 and 4 part harmonies.

The band started three years ago. We play extensively in Arizona, and we’ve also played in Texas and New Mexico. I am just completing a solo tour through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada. It winds up in Phoenix, where I will meet up with the rest of the guys for the final show.

Who are The Other Troublemakers?
We’ve got Bruce Halper on drums, Lonesome Lee West on lead guitar, and Troy Martin on bass.

Bruce is a member of the Arizona Blues Hall Of Fame. He was also a member of Sidewinder – they were a pretty big deal in Arizona in the 90s, and were on Polydor Records. Lonesome Lee West is a recent transplant from LA, where he played in and fronted numerous bands. He is an extremely talented guitar player and piano player, and is a prolific songwriter as well. Troy Martin and I have been in several musical projects together going back 6 years. Aside from being an expert bass player, he has an uncanny ear for harmony and is probably the best harmony singer I’ve ever worked with.

Every time I play with these guys, I feel like the golfer who enters a golf tournament with 3 scratch players in his foursome. They’re that good.

How many different guitars do you own?
At last count, twelve, plus a banjo and a mandolin. Mostly Guild acoustics, and Fender electrics, plus a Gibson Les Paul, and a Rickenbacker twelve-string.

I got the chance to hear you play at Borderlands Brewing Company recently. Good stuff! Where else do you like to play?
We are regulars at several Tucson venues, including Monterey Court, La Cocina and Sky Bar. My absolute favorite place to play is the Fox Tucson Theatre. We opened for Marc Cohn (“Walking In Memphis”) last November. Troy and I also opened for Clint Black there with a previous band.

You do a lot of covers but you throw in some originals. Tell me more about your songwriting process and how you come up with new songs to perform.
A typical show will be anywhere from 50 to 75% originals, depending on how long we are playing.

I co-write with several people. My most frequent and favorite collaborator is my wife, Carol Schaffer. She would be the first to admit she doesn’t have an ounce of musical talent, but she has been a poet all her life and can work magic with words.

There is not really one set method that we use for the process. Sometimes I will come up with parts of a chorus or verse, and Carol will fill it in, or she will come to me with an idea, or some lines, and I will work it into a piece of music. It could be music I already have, but sometimes the lyrics will tell you what the music needs to be.

Ideas come to us from watching and listening to people around us and how they relate to each other. Often a phrase that one of us says in conversation, or that we overhear, will grab us, and that will become the inspiration for a song.

One of our newest songs, “Happy Birthday Annalise,” was inspired by a Facebook post by one of my high school classmates.

It often helps to get away from the daily routine. Twice we’ve taken trips to Mexico, along with some of our other collaborators. We’ve gotten some good songs out of that.

Carol and I wrote 2 new songs while on this solo tour. We finished “Lost on the Road” in a cheap roadside motel over a bottle of vodka and a bag of pretzels. Very gritty. You can’t write stuff like that in a Hilton!

Do you ever make a mistake while on stage?
All the time. I’ll mix up words, forget verses. It usually happens when I get distracted thinking about what happens later in the show… What songs I might want to add, what songs to take out. Maybe the PA system isn’t sounding great and I’m thinking about that. Then all of a sudden it’s time to sing, and I have no idea what to do. Most folks won’t notice because they don’t know the songs the way they’d know cover songs. Once in awhile I’ll throw a clunker on the guitar… They’re a little easier to hear.

What can fans expect from a live performance?
The guys all give every show 100%. We play hard. We put a lot of emotion into the music. We’ll sing a lot of harmonies – we love to do that, and you’ll hear some top notch guitar work from Lonesome Lee. Troy and Bruce are rock solid together. If I do my job right, we’ll make a connection with the audience. When the venue is right, I like to talk about the back stories to the songs, and those stories are always about experiences that most everyone has shared at some point in their lives. That’s where the audience and I connect – in those shared experiences.

What is your favorite restaurant in Tucson, Arizona?
How can I only pick one? Kingfisher Bay & Grill, Wildflower American Cuisine. Old Peking is authentic Chinese, and I’ve had real Chinese food in China. El Indio Restaurant for real home style Mexican.

What is the biggest crowd you’ve ever played in front of?
Probably about 5,000, but that gets an asterisk. For a couple years, a band I was playing in provided the live music for the Tucson TMC 5K run. We would be at the starting line and would play as the race started. The 5,000 runners would then start running – away from us. As fast as they could. It was an odd experience.

For people not running away from us, 3,000 or so. 2 years ago that same band opened for Blackberry Smoke on an airport tarmac in Danville, Illinois. Locally, the Fox holds around 1,100. I’ve played there a few times.

Your song “Genevieve” was selected as a finalist in the Great American Song Contest. What ever came of that and what does that mean to you as a musician to have a single selected for such a prestigious award?
We still include the song in almost every show, and it’s one of songs that people will most often talk to me about afterward. Everybody has had that experience one time or another. I was certainly pleased to receive the award. I, like most other songwriters, live in the land of self-doubt. Something like that comes along, and you say, “maybe I didn’t suck that time.”

Do you get nervous while on stage?
Rarely. The only time recently was last November, when a group of Tucson musicians got together to put on a recreation of The Band’s “The Last Waltz.”

These were all the “a-list” players in town performing, and I am not an a-list player. I was a last-minute addition. 3 days before the show, I was invited to sing “Four Strong Winds.” I didn’t know it and the vocals were a bit high for my range (it was performed in “The Last Waltz” by Neil Young). It also required playing some harmonica while I was playing guitar.

I was terrified of tanking in front of all those great musicians, playing along with their 8-piece band… With whom I’d never rehearsed. Luckily, Bruce (The Other Troublemakers drummer) is an a-list player and he was part of the show. He came up and sang the harmonies with me, and it turned out awesome.

Who are some of your biggest influences?
Musically, the iconic singer-songwriters of the 70s. Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Dan Fogelberg – I got most of my early country influence from him. Later on, I’ve picked apart dozens of Ryan Adams songs – he’s really good. Also R.E.M. – I love the way they layer their vocals.

As a writer, Jerry Careaga has been the most influential. His is not a household name, but he’s made his living as a songwriter for 50 years, and his songs have been recorded by some of the top artists in Nashville. He taught me about the craft of songwriting. Making every word count. Understanding listeners’ hot buttons.

What’s next for Eric Schaffer & The Other Troublemakers?
Right now, we’re working on the new CD. I have the songs written – we just need to decide which to include, and how we’ll go at them musically.

Next year, I hope to do a tour with the band much like the solo tour I’m finishing up. Playing a lot gets the music tight.

In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
Be nice. Call your mother. Do those things and everything else tends to fall into place. Support live music. When I started in the 70s, there was a good living to be made playing music. Not today. You have all sorts of entertainment choices today that were not even imagined back then, and you use them. There’s thousands of very talented musicians out there who pour their hearts into what they do, and make very little in return. Too much supply, not enough demand.

Did I mention you should call your mother?

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Photo Credit: Bill Moeller