When you interview Eric Roberson about his career and his music, you learn that he doesn’t refer only to himself during the conversation. He refers to his whole dang team: his management crew, his backup band, the people he collaborates with while recording and, of course, his family.
The North Jersey-born Roberson, 33, knows that it never takes one person to be a success, especially if you’re an R & B performer who has made a nice living making music and doing shows all around the world, without help from a major label.
Roberson (“Erro,” to his fans) is also aware that if you’re going to work independently, success is not going to be an instant thing.
“Every year, you know, it seems that we get bigger than we were the year before that,” says Roberson, on the phone from his South Jersey neighborhood.
“I remember just a couple of years ago, I could walk through an airport and no one would know who I was. And now, you know, there is at least one or two that are going to stop me. I was just in Jamaica a couple of days ago and, in customs in Jamaica, the people were stopping me.”
Much like the mature, progressive soul music that he performs, Roberson prefers to take things slow and smooth – and on his own terms.
During his early ’90s college days at Howard, he got a record deal with Warner Bros., which didn’t really go anywhere. This soured him on the mainstream music scene, and he didn’t record professionally until he began writing songs for other R&B artists, including Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild and Dwele.
In 2001, he recorded and released his proper debut, “The Esoteric Movement,” a sought-after release that got him noticed in many soul circles. (The album’s initial limited pressings made “Esoteric” a collector’s item until Roberson re-released it in 2005.)
Touring here and abroad
Six studio releases and one live album later (all on his own label, Blue Erro Soul), Roberson has became independent R&B’s most prominent, popular figure. He has toured tirelessly, performing all over the country and abroad, picking up fans in such spots as England and Japan.
These days, it seems Roberson hits the road mainly to remind aspiring R&B artists that you can make it on your own and gain a following. Rock bands do it, and so do hip-hop artists. “We’re behind a little bit in timing,” he says. “Rock music started it way before we did, as well as hip-hop. So we had to learn a lot, you know.
Taking grass-roots route
“Most of the soul acts of today that are doing very, very well, such as Kem or Ledisi, most people don’t realize they started from the independent scene. It’s just that once they had a certain amount of success, the majors came in and signed them – and so you don’t really necessarily see the connection. But there is a movement of people who say, ‘What if you just keep pushing the envelope and not sign with a major,’ such as myself and a few others who are going to continue the grass-roots route.”
Plus, since we’re living in the age of social networking, it’s easier for on-the-fringe artists to gain an appreciative audience.
“Now, it’s about the relationship between the artist and the fan. It’s not necessarily about just a song. I think your songs bring legitimacy to the overall movement, you know.”
Fans of Roberson are always appreciative when he drops a new release, like his latest “Mister Nice Guy,” which was released last year. Roberson wasn’t even trying to work on another album; his wife was pregnant with their firstborn son, so he took time off the road to be there for the birth. Yet, ever the inspired artist, Roberson started dabbling with tunes.
Blessings of fatherhood
By the time the baby showed up, he became a regular during the studio sessions. “Half the album was recorded with him sitting on my lap, you know, and just vibing out with me,” remembers Roberson, who has another son on the way. “And it just created a nice experience.”
At the moment, Roberson is taking fatherhood the same way he’s been taking his cult following – as a blessing. “To a degree, sure, it would be great to have a little bit more, but I am satisfied with it,” he says. “And I think at the rate where it is going, in another five years, in another 10 years, we’ll be exactly where we’ll need to be.”