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Eric Drew Feldman: Keyboard Wizard
Keys, Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
When Eric gets behind the keyboard, there's a presence. There's something of a mad scientist, a Jekyll and Hyde. You've taken this nice, soft-spoken, and ordinary guy and suddenly put him in his lab with his instruments in front of him. In fact, it was one hundred years after Jekyll and Hyde that the Pixies recorded their first demo, and only a few years after that the two met.
Eric was born in 1956, learned to play the guitar and piano as a child, and was only a twelve year-old on his bicycle when, according to Rolling Stone, he met Captain Beefheart (Don Glen Vliet), who stepped from a phone booth, a very large man with a goatee, "And in a voice about four octaves lower than any I've ever heard, he said, 'That phone just ripped me off for ten cents.'" A year later, Trout Mask Replica had ingrained itself in Eric's psyche, and he had also shown a good friend from school, one Morris Tepper, the light. Tepper joined Beefheart's reformed Magic Band in 1975 and in 1976, Eric joined, replacing a departing keyboardist though he soon added bass to his repetoir. They released three albums, Shiny Beast, Doc at the Radar Station, and Ice Cream for Crow to much critical acclaim before the Magic Band was no more.
It had been an interesting ride with the Don and certainly left a mark on young Eric, who often cites the Captain as his mentor. Often, the Captain would just start spouting ideas and music, and would expect band members to always be ready with a notebook or tape recorder. Eric recalled for the Wire's Mike Barnes an episode where, on stage, live, in the middle of a difficult song, the Don came up to him:
"Beefheart comes up to me and starts yelling this stuff in my ear, a title and the first couple of lines of some song he was thinking of, saying: 'You gotta' remember this, it's going to be worth a lot of money to you and a lot of money to me.' Two hours later when we were back in the dressing room, I didn't even remember it - much less what he said, but him even saying it. And he comes back to me with his book and says (sternly): 'OK....'. Still to this day he will say: 'So, what was that?' He is a really funny guy.
Somehow Eric wound up working with Phil "Snakefinger" Lithman, of The Residents' fame, and began to establish himself as a producer, co-producings the final Snakefinger record, Night of Desirable Objects before Lithman died of a heartattack in 1987. He also played keys on that record as well as Snakefinger's History of the Blues Parts 1 & 2 and Manual Of Errors
. Then, Eric was drafted once again to replace a departing keyboard player, this time for Pere Ubu, in 1988. He worked with them for three years, releasing Worlds In Collision in 1991 and meeting Frank Black that same year when Pere Ubu were opening for the Pixies. "And after that we just talked a couple of times and he ended up asking me if I wanted to work with him on making a solo record. At the suggestion of Gil Norton, I believe. And in the meantime I got invited to play on a Pixies record [Trompe Le Monde]. Then I got the opportunity to tour with that. And I was still feeling like a member of Ubu. So I tried to be sort of the glue that put together what became a Pixies and Pere Ubu tour, with me playing with both bands." This was taxing, however much Eric wanted to be a part of both, and when it came time to decide between recording the next Pere Ubu or going on tour with the Pixies for their tour with U2, the choice was made in favour of the tour. "In one way, the music I was doing had been getting more and more obtuse and complicated and there was something about the Pixies that was so direct and primitive."
That tour was the end of the Pixies, but Eric and Frank continued work on the Frank Black solo album, playing bass for the first time since his Beefheart days as well as the keys. As well, he introduced Frank to his old friend, (Jeff) Morris Tepper, who had also introduced Eric to PJ Harvey's music. Frank Black (also known as the 'orange album') was released in 1993, and only a year later, the sprawling and legendary (and sometimes called Frank Black's White Album) Teenager of the Year was released, with Eric again contributing bass, keyboards and mellotron, as well as co-producing the album. Despite the high regard in which TOTY is now held, it didn't do well at the time and Frank ended their solo project after touring for Teenager amicably. And, it would turn out, temporarily. When The Catholics were formed, he played frequently with them, and when things worked out, toured as well.
The very same night as Eric and Frank ended things, Feldman again questioned what he was doing in the music business, as he had when he had discovered Lithman dead a few years prior. He met Joe Gore that night, a guitarist that had played with PJ Harvey and Tom Waits, who mentioned that PJ Harvey was putting a band together. After an interview in London, Eric essentially became part of the group and so he remained making music. He played on PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love and Is This Desire?, produced Tripping Daisy's Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb and also produced Belgian band dEUS' In a Bar Under the Sea, where he is also credited with playing an egg.
He was back with Frank Black and The Catholics in a more serious role when Dog in the Sand came rolling around, joining the Catholics in the studio and contributing piano, backing vocals, and clavioline. From there, he was with the Catholics through to their end, appearing on Black Letter Days, Devil's Workshop, and Show Me Your Tears. In that same span, he was still continuing to work with other artists as well, perhaps most notably producing the excellent Polyphonic Spree album Together We're Heavy. Tim DeLaughter, Spree frontman (if a massive 20-some member band can be said to have such a thing), was pleased with the results. "He's got a great ear for stripping everything down. He gets into the guts of the song, which was kind of nice for us, because we hadn't been doing that -- we'd really been playing songs how we'd been playing them live. In recording this album, he really dissected it."
After all these years of helping all these great musicians create their works, Eric has most recently started to do some music on his own. Well almost, it is a bit of a collaboration with Laurie Hall, who was introduced to Eric after a PJ Harvey concert in San Francisco. The project, kNIFE & fORK, "...is music from a deep place, from the groin, from the belly, from behind a cage of ribs. It's that truckstop cum cabaret on that road that stretches between Warsaw and Moscow; where among the slow dancers passes the ghost of behemoth." Or so says Frank Black. The first album, Miserycord, was released in October of 2004, with help from some musicians you'll probably recognize: Joe Gore (guitar), Carla Kihlstedt (Viola), Terry Edwards (Trumpet), Tim Mooney/George Javori/Nick Vincent (Drums).
What the future has in store for Eric is not certain, but we do know that he and Frank Black were recently collaborating once again on a new album in a Los Angeles studio. It has been a long time since the two of them collaborated in this way, since Teenager of the Year in fact, and while both have obviously grown since that record, we have every reason to believe that they will create something magical once again.
- Dean Katsiris
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