As a scholarship student at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, Elizabeth Eckert was poised for a career in classical music. Then a wrist injury altered the pianist’s course. Shortly thereafter Eckert began writing songs, and before long she’d landed gigs at The Bluebird Cafe and the Tin Pan South Festival. The last few months she’s been busy writing and recording her upcoming EP. The first single “Bloomington (I Got Educated)” will be released in early spring 2010. Eckert also works as a piano instructor at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music. American Songwriter chatted with the songwriter about her musical journey thus far.
Both of your parents were professional musicians; what was it like growing up in such a musical family?
Growing up in a musical family was pretty great for me, but I don’t have anything to compare it to! Honestly, I don’t remember not playing the piano – music was just a natural part of life for me and my sister. In that sort of environment, music is just something you do. You don’t realize that everyone else doesn’t do it too. So even though neither of my parents taught me, their love for music went deep. There’s a passion from listening to music and learning to play at an early age that is hard to replicate.
What has the journey from pianist to singer-songwriter been like for you?
I’d love to paint a pretty picture, but the truth is it’s been extremely hard. I always imagined myself as a concert pianist and had the drive to achieve that goal. When a left wrist injury derailed me from that path a few years ago, I had to take a long, hard look at myself. I didn’t know how to define myself as anything but a musician but I couldn’t play for months. In the midst of that depression, I started writing in a journal … and I noticed the lines were rhyming. When I realized I was writing lyrics, I sat down at the piano and found chords to go with them. In retrospect, it’s a blessing I had to walk that road. It taught me I was a songwriter.
You reference people as well as places in the actual town of Bloomington, Indiana. How did writing a song like “Bloomington”, that’s based on life experiences, differ from other writing experiences in the past?
I don’t think I’ve ever written a song not based on life experience in some respect, but Bloomington is more specific than most. I set out to write a true song about me and my time in Indiana. People from Bloomington and IU have really latched onto it, and I like that. It feels like I can give something back. After all, it’s not often you can work Bobby Knight into a song!
How did the idea for the music video contest for “Bloomington” come about? How has the response been so far?
When I decided to call the EP Bloomington and release the title track as the first single, my hope was to get Indiana University students and supporters to take ownership. I wanted people to relate to the song and see it as a chance to promote the city and school they love. The music video contest has really gotten fans involved and made them feel like a part of something bigger. It will be cool for people to see the video and get to say “hey, I shot that part!”
Do you see this DIY style of marketing continuing with future projects?
Absolutely. Being an artist right now requires not only a songwriter’s brain and performer’s experience but also a marketer’s mind and go-getter’s attitude. Oh, and another job to fund all those creative projects I think of … no wonder I’m so exhausted!
You signed with Slugfest Records in early 2009 and then embarked on the “2nd Hand Summer Tour” What was the chain of events that led you to that point? What has your experience been so far working with an indie label?
After five years in Bloomington (including my “victory lap”), I moved to Nashville to pursue songwriting. I played my songs out every chance I got. There was good and bad feedback, but overall I heard that people liked my voice and piano playing in addition to the songs. So after some soul-searching and a few years of good ol’ Nashville writing, I decided to give the artist thing a real shot. Working with an indie label has taught me what it means to have a “team” of people supporting you. What they don’t have in resources they make up for in passion. When it comes down to it, none of us really does it alone.