Remember high school? Eric Hutchinson does. The 39-year-old singer/songwriter recently took a trip down memory lane – through the halls of his alma mater and around his Maryland hometown. The jaunt inspired his upcoming album, Class of ’98, which drops on April 17.
“I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the past. And so it was interesting to go back into my head in high school and look around and report on that,” he explains, noting that the process brought him back to the faces that he shared four years of adolescence with. “There were all these people that I discovered when I was back there, all these girls that I remembered, and all these problems that were still waiting for me,” he tells American Songwriting, adding that writing this album was a really wild process. “I’m telling this story from my high school perspective, but also from my perspective now,” he explains.
Musically, this project fit right into Hutchinson’s bucket list. “I’m sort of obsessed with the nineties. And I was listening to a bunch of the music thinking, ‘man, it’d be so fun to have a bunch of these kinds of songs and to write in this world,’” he says. It was in that era that the performer first learned to play guitar, cutting his teeth on Weezer, Oasis, Green Day, and beyond. “These are things that were on the radio and a lot of what I learned how to play first so it felt very in my guitar DNA. And when I went to go write songs and study the ‘90s and figure out the chord progressions, it felt like, ‘Oh, right! These are the chords I’ve been using all along,’” he recalls.
To prep for the album, Hutchinson engaged in a process that he’s been utilizing for his past few releases. “Spotify has really changed the way that I approach an album now because I’ll start making a playlist of songs that I feel like are the general idea. I’ll go through and whittle it down to the songs that are really exactly the sound. Then I’ll share those with the band and the engineer and use that as a guide to what I’m trying to write,” he says, noting that this has definitely helped him to zero in on his desired theme.
His Class of ’98 playlist included ‘90s mainstays like Green Day’s “She,” “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden and “Buddy Holly,” by Weezer, the latter being his main inspiration for the fete. “Weezer, and Rivers Cuomo, were definitely the North star for this,” says Hutchinson. “I loved that Weezer’s stuff is so ‘60s but with all the grunge and overdrive turned way up. I love the ‘60s and I love the ‘90s so it felt like a natural progression to me when I was writing and recording the new songs,” Hutchinson explains.
Class of ’98 will definitely take you back to high school – navigating teenage loneliness and confusion, the quest for self discovery, and trying to make sense of what the future might hold. “Looking back, it was about cars and girls and trying to get drunk for the first time and all these really suburban things. But there was something warm about going back into that world and remembering how it felt,” he says, joking that in making this album, he came to the realization that he likes the era more when he doesn’t actually have to live in it.
On February 5th, Hutchinson dropped a preview of his forthcoming album, titled “Rock Out Tonight,” one of the first tracks that he wrote for the project and a glimpse into his new release. “It’s about wanting to be rebellious in a suburban life — but I’m probably about the least rebellious person you could find,” he says, with a laugh. “So, the very first line of the song — and the album — summed up everything for me: ‘If you want to rock out tonight, I can pick you up in my Ford Taurus.’ I mean what’s less rock and roll than picking you up in my Ford Taurus?”
The album’s single, “Cooler Than You,” came about via Hutchinson reflecting on a person from his past. “I was thinking about a frenemy/bully. I’m watching them be awesome but knowing that eventually I’ll be better off,” he reveals. He describes the song as being written from the perspective of a 17-year-old, looking into the future with his crystal ball and finding out that he is going to turn out just fine. “I wrote this song for anybody who’s ever felt like the underdog,” he says, of the punchy anthem, which he playfully deems “a little bit of a middle finger to all the people who I felt less than in high school.”
To polish off Class of ‘98, Hutchinson recruited Justin Sharbono’s (Soul Asylum) signature guitar riffs. “Something I’ve really enjoyed with the last few albums is knowing who the band members are going to be that are playing on it – cause definitely changes how I write the song or what I push towards,” he reveals. When piecing together the project, he sang guitar solos into the demos, which Sharbono later replaced. “Justin has this encyclopedic knowledge about the ‘90s. His pedal board was the size of a table and he just had a little bit of everything. I could give him a reference, ‘so let’s go for this guitar sound on this song’ and he could dial it up almost instantly. It was a really fun way to color the songs,” he explains.
Songwriting seems to come easily to Hutchinson, who churns out catchy tunes that prove themselves to be extremely licensable – at his recent Los Angeles show he introduced “A Little More” as currently being in an ad for Olive Garden’s “all you can eat breadsticks,” teasing that “before you think I sold out, how do you know I didn’t always have breadsticks in mind when crafting the tune?” The artist says he keeps a running list of melody and lyric ideas on hand and adds to them when he gets the urge. “They kind of piles up until eventually it’s overflowing and I need to sit down with it and organize it,” he says, adding that his process has definitely become smoother over time. “I feel like my songs come together much more easily than they used to and there’s less of hitting my head against the wall when I was younger. I sit down to write with more purpose now. It’s like, ‘okay, this is what I’m trying to do. This is the genre or this is the style or this is the subject matter.’ And I just kind of know how to organize a song at this point,” he reveals.
4/23 Pittsburgh, PA @ Jergel’s Rhythm Grille
4/24 Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts
4/25 Easton, MD @ Avalon Theatre
4/27 Boston, MA @ Sinclair
4/29 New York City, NY @ Gramercy Theatre
4/30 Ridgefield, CT @ Ridgefield Playhouse
5/1 Lancaster, PA @ Chameleon Club
5/2 Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
5/3 Annapolis, MD @ Rams Head On Stage
5/5 Asbury Park @Wonder Bar
5/7 Virginia Beach, VA @ Elevation 27
5/8 Charlotte, NC @ The Neighborhood Theatre
5/9 Atlanta, GA @ Vinyl @ Center Stage
5/10 Nashville, TN @ 3rd and Lindsley
5/28 Denver, CO @ Globe Hall
5/29 Boulder, CO @Fox Theater
5/30 Fort Collins, CO @Aggie Theater
6/1 Des Moines, IA @Woolys
6/2 Minneapolis, MN @Varsity Theater
6/3 Madison, WI @High Noon Saloon
6/5 Chicago, IL @Bottom Lounge
6/7 Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue