Inspiration comes at the strangest times. In Eric Leonhardt Brown’s case, it came 11 years after his last release — a jazz album.
“(It) was a lot of fun. I had never done a strictly jazz album before,” the Yellow Springs-based artist says.
But then it all stopped.
After cutting his teeth in the 90s, playing in local bands and solo projects, he disappeared from stages and recording studios following the birth of his first child. And he stayed gone.
“I think everyone in my life has been curiously wondering why I stopped making music. There’s the literal being busy with kids thing. But it was more than that; something psychological, too. Something inside of me, creatively, just stopped,” Brown says.
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This wouldn’t be the first time having to be a responsible parent has taken precedence in a musician’s life. However, at a point where many tuck away the guitars or sell the drum set, Brown became inspired while looking back on his life.
“Last year was a challenging year for me. It wasn’t anything that was happening to me necessarily. It was just all inside stuff. For lack of a better cultural phrase — that midlife crisis moment kind of settled in. But I think it’s a little deeper than that for me,” he explains.
“I’m at this crossroads; (a) life-changing moment. The thing that called to me again was music. So that’s how this project started.”
So Brown began staying up late writing poetry and song ideas as fast as they came to him, expressing everything he’d been feeling over the previous year and a half. As he reflected, Brown didn’t like what he saw. He felt he had neglected and mismanaged past relationships.
As the songs started to come together, he began to see a theme that would eventually become his first album in more than a decade, Inversion—a genre-stepping collection of songs formed in the style of Greek tragedy. Brown was influenced by the works of American mythologist Joseph Campbell and the concept of a “hero’s journey”-- where the protagonist must metaphorically die to recover what they are missing. Inversion, available online and in local music stores Aug. 30, loosely documents Brown’s own journey while taking the listener along for the ride.
“I believe in the album process. A lot of people don’t really honor that art form as much, but I most certainly do,” Brown asserts.
The album’s first track, “Katabasis”— the Greek word describing a descent— starts the hero’s journey, mixing piano and acoustic guitar with a slick pop beat. Over the course of 13 tracks, Brown uses elements of soul, rhythm and blues, trip hop, jazz, rock, world beat and anything else that came to him and his collaborators at the time.
“I wanted to be wide open for the creation process. Whatever comes to mind, let’s play with it and see what happens,” he says.
“It’s one thing to write songs and have demos. Then the moment you involve other musicians, the songs kind of morph and shift a little bit. This album is called Inversion for a reason. You have an experience, and that is inverted, and you’re kind of experiencing it differently.”
“Shimmering” is a well-crafted song drawing on the hopelessness of feeling lost and aimless, using piano and vocal harmonies to make the emotion swell to a fever pitch, before ending on an optimistic note.
Perhaps the most personal track on the album, “Apologia”, is Brown’s apology to those he’s wronged in the past. So personal, in fact, that while recording the vocals for the song, his voice began to crack as he became overwhelmed with emotion. That’s the take everyone agreed should make it on the album and can absolutely be heard.
The video for Inversion’s first single, “Blood,” shot in Yellow Springs at Glen Helen Nature Preserve, was produced using an iPhone and a film crew from Wilberforce University.
The album closes with the title track, signifying the resurrection of the character. But that doesn’t mean Brown’s journey is done. In fact, he says he has a lot more music to release, and promises the next release won’t be another decade in the making.
“I think what’s interesting is that it’s an ongoing process,” he says.
”Just because I completed the album doesn’t complete my own personal process. I’m still on that journey. I think what Campbell would say is that’s kind of the story of your life. You’re going through this cycle of that journey at different points as you grow.”