A little over a year ago Erik Rico released Journey Back To Me, a blithe mash-up of Timbaland, Prince and Stevie Wonder’s verve championing pure soul music. Rico’s favor with finicky R&B fans comes during the third phase of his music career after earlier stints writing and producing for others and being an artist under contract with a major corporation. He produced music for a Tupac project, Jurassic 5 and Ladybug Mecca while being signed as an artist to Columbia Records. The latter gig arranged by American Idol judge Randy Jackson who was vice-president of the A & R department. But the North Carolina native’s creative discontent spurred him to leave the Sony owned subsidiary for the responsibilities and freedoms of being an independent artist. This year he has a few releases coming out under his Lifenotes label including The Higher Frequency EP that continues his expedition into the possibilities of organic and synthetic shaped R&B.
How did you get discovered by Randy Jackson?
My relationship with Randy came as a result of he and my cousin having a music production company based in LA. and them bringing me in as a staff producer/writer. After my initial meeting with Randy, he took my music to a quarterly brand meeting at Sony in New York to pitch songs/ production for artists on the label, he was informed not to break up my music but to sign me as a self contained artist to Columbia records, at which he was the VP at the time.
How did that work out because I see that you left the label at some point?
Yes it didn’t business wise as the climate at the label was one of complete commercial music. I had trust in Randy as he’s also a musician and understood the more creative side of things, once signed all the drama and politics came into play and after being in the system for quite a while I wanted out. Randy as a result left Sony and I was released from my deal, at that point I really just wanted to get back to the simplicity of making music without boundaries or drama.
What kinds of projects did you do while you were there?
I was signed when D’ Angelo, Badu and others were really making the “neo soul” scene burst and I had my own project as a self contained artist under the name “Soul Brothers,” it was definitely more throwback, kinda like Sly Stone meets Al Green. Ninety percent live instrumentation as I was after pure soul music in feel and spirit, just wanted to make the music that inspired me in the first place, completely gritty retro soul, real raw soul music. My goal is to release it by years end via my digital label www.lifenotesmusic.com.
Is this the same time you were working on stuff for people like Tupac and Planet Asia?
Yes. I returned to doing production for other artists almost immediately after leaving that deal as it gave me a sense of freedom that Sony didn’t.
What made you leave LA for Europe?
I started building my professional production resume on those projects, the Tupac projects brought me a lot of work, relationships and growth in the LA. and U.S. market. Simply the overall sense of a more open mindset about music and art in Europe, plus the fiber of the society is much more appreciative of art AND culture – they immediately embraced where I was coming from. I have always monitored the European music scene, the way they have respected and responded to the African-American experience and artistic culture, bebop, soul, hip-hop and onward, so it was a natural fit. My goal is to have a pad on the east coast and one in Morocco which will allow me to work freely in Europe whenever necessary. I just love Europe – the multiculturalism, art and overall sense of freedom.
What have your musical experiences been like over there?
All good all the time, you have to understand that we’re talking about an entire continent that has always championed and supported artists of all backgrounds, not depending on how commercial they are or aren’t, so there’s always a feeling of creative liberation for me on every level there. Much more connected as the territories are smaller and it’s easier to move around and build a good fan base, also in a time where people are mostly competing for their slot, there is competition there like everywhere else, but I find their scene to be just more connected and they work together much more than we do here. Just more of a sense of musical community which is everything for us independent artists who need a community to survive, without it, corporations will just continue to monopolize and control what the public hears which will only make our overall social climate much worse.
Have you worked with any artists over there?
Yes, I’m currently collaborating with Daz I-Kue, Opolopo, IG Culture and others.
Which instruments do you play?
I play drums, percussion, synths, keys, guitar (electric and acoustic) electric bass, programming and I DJ.
Are you a self-taught musician?
Yes with a few informal lessons from my uncle and cousin and one very notable Jazz great Elmer Gibson, exceptional pianist and arranger, huge in the jazz world, a legend for real.
Did you grow-up in LA?
No I didn’t grow up here, my deal with Randy and my cousin’s production company brought me to LA. and then the Sony deal kept me here.
Where are you from?
Born in North Carolina and raised between New York, North Carolina, Jamaica and Europe.
Oh ok so you’ve been around and been able to soak-up a lot of different cultures.
I’ve got family and extended family all over which allowed me to travel a lot and see different cultures growing up.
I see where you come from an artistic background are your parents creative types?
My family is extremely diverse and creative in various ways. Native American, Jamaican, African American and on and on.
Out of all the music you could play why made you choose soul?
Simply because it spoke to my spirit so deeply, and it allows me to address what I’m feeling and how that can reflect on our society, real soul music is no joke, it has no boundaries and encompasses all sorts of styles musically. Soul music is an essence, a feeling that’s true to heart and spirit, it cannot be done by just anyone. Soul and African -American jazz, forget it! Those are the things that really influenced me to wanna make music, from those came real hip-hop so that legacy continues in various forms and always will.
So what can you tell me about the five projects you have coming out this year?
Ok, an EP of reworks of various artists that I really love and wanted to cover their work, an EP of original electro house, a singer/songwriter EP, a producer project featuring all female vocalists (friends that I’ve wanted to work with for awhile), an instrumental EP, featuring one of my long time heavy life and musical influences. I also have quite a few collaboration projects on the way starting late spring as well. For the reworks EP I’m coverings songs by Prince, Sade, Change and Portishead. The producer project will feature Sumie Nagano (sister of Yukimi Nagano of KOOP/Little Dragon), Kissey Asplund and others. Then I’m doing collaborations with other producers DJ Spinna, Grooveman Spot, IG Culture, Aybee, Ron Trent, Opolopo and others.
Are you touring at all?
To promote the upcoming releases I’ll be east coast April 2nd – 14th, LA. April 15th, UK May 20 -29th, Austria June 19th and back to Europe starting later in June for a few weeks.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Just that every indie artist needs to do as much as possible to get their music out to the global market, also to help build a global indie network so we don’t continue to get pushed down and unheard, due to major label influence and politics that have everything to do with commerce, mind control and madness and nothing at all to do with art and culture. Art is the true reflection of a society so just look around you, anyone can see that change is needed!
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