From getting engaged to his best friend (big congrats!), receiving a Fender Custom Shop Strat with his dream specs and recording an EP with Anders Osborne, Eric Tessmer says he has no complaints about 2017. That doesn’t mean life hasn’t been challenging. He’s dealt with music industry types who talk big and never deliver and has had to replace his van transmission at least more than once.
“Both are greasy as hell. Both make everything they touch dirty and both take up an enormous amount of my time, money and patience,” Eric says.
His band just wrapped up their on-the-road tour schedule for 2017. But don’t worry, they’ve still got a few shows left to play around Texas and there’s a rumor he’ll release a song before 2017 is over. We caught up with him while he was on the road to find out what inspires him, what keeps him humble and how he chooses his tattoos.
You have a couple of arms full of tattoos, does one of your tattoos have more meaning to you than the others?
Tattoos are funny things. They mean different things to different people. I have a tattoo on my left shoulder of a grinning armadillo bursting through Texas. It was my first tat and it has a story.
My dad had a decal of that on the glove compartment of his truck and when I was a kid I always loved riding in that truck and I loved looking at that grinning armadillo. Coincidentally, I moved to Texas, so it became more meaningful to me. I tracked down the artist, who just so happens to live in Austin, and bought the rights. It was my first band logo and the image is the basis for our longest running t-shirt design.
When I got that first tattoo I was 23. At that point I wanted only tattoos that had heavy significance to me, but I think that can be translated into the need to feel heavily significant in your own existence when in your 20s. Now, I think the best way to get a tattoo is research tattoos, tattoo history, tattoo trends and artists and find someone you really like and ask them what they think would be cool. Usually they’ll get inspired and draw something unique for you or they may have a piece that they’ve been working on and waiting for someone cool enough to take chance on it. By the time my arms were covered, getting tattoos had meant several different things to me. At one low point, I felt like was I being masked with something the outside world couldn’t get through and in the end I found it was almost a therapeutic release because tattoos taught me not to take myself too seriously. They may be “permanent” but we’re only here for a short time,anyway.
Have fun, be nice, make music, get tattoos if you want to.
What’s your strategy for songwriting? What inspires you? Where do you start with a song? How many songs are you currently working on?
I’m working on about 15-20 songs at any one time. It’s annoying. I usually get inspired by a rhythm or drumbeat that I catch in my head. I was pumping gas one time and the pump had an off-kilter, almost looping rhythm that I started writing a melody to. I don’t know, I don’t really have a strategy other than perseverance. I usually go into it with a solid piece of the groove and start seeing where it takes me.
The challenge is to keep it inspired and not to force it. I find something I like and just kick it around in different ways while a little voice in my head keeps saying “Don’t fuck this up, don’t fuck this up, don’t..”
You’ve been mentioned before as being the hardest working musician in Austin. What advice would you give to all the young musicians trying to make it in a city full of musicians?
Be kind to everyone, even to the drunks and the homeless, and yet be relentless in what you’re pursuing.
You sell out shows and have a lot of fans not only in Austin, but across the world. What’s your secret to building a loyal fan base?
Never EVER phone it in. Listen to what you’re doing, concentrate on tone. Tone will never be overrated. Even when you feel like you aren’t having your best show, someone there needs what you’re doing. It’s not about you at that point and, in fact, it rarely ever is about you. That’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes. Your art is no longer yours as soon as it is born.
Any “crazy fan” (or funny) stories you want to share?
I don’t carry a “greatest of all time” story, just suffice it to say: it’s an ongoing experience. Gian saw some girls smelling my shirt a few nights ago. That’s definitely weird.
I saw a dynamic older gentleman snort about eight double shots of Crown Royal whiskey straight up his nose in Fort Smith, Arkansas, one night. He was like a ball of noise with “drunk” stuck to it. And of course, people will approach you with all types of crazy propositions, none of which bear repeating on record.
You’re kind of a rock star around here and there are challenges that come with that. What has been your biggest challenge and how do you stay humble?
The most challenging hypothetical worst scenario I always have in my head is that I’ll have an itch of something on my nose while I’m sitting in traffic, or at bank, and I’ll itch it and someone or multiple someones will see me and think I’m digging around in my nose. Exactly like that one Seinfeld episode (“The Pick”).
Anyway, that person will then write a scathing TMZ-style letter to the Austin Chronicle about how they saw Eric Tessmer picking his nose in traffic and the Chronicle will decide they finally want to acknowledge my existence by publishing the letter and it will be this huge and terrible my-word-against-theirs publicity stain.
I don’t know. It could happen- especially since my go-to technique for staying humble is to pick my nose in traffic.
Where’s your favorite hangout spot in Austin?
My rehearsal space. Seriously though, since I’ve been sober for over two years now, it’s hard to drag myself out to hang out at bars. Plus, I love to work.
What do you want 2018 to look like for you? How can your fans help make it happen?
I’m working to make 2018 very busy for myself, more new music, a lot of festivals and I’m always focusing on being increasingly efficient with my efforts.
Fans are always the most help by actively spreading the word! Word-of-mouth is still the king of publicity.
Keep up with the Eric by following him here:
Catch him at one of his last shows in 2017:
Nov. 3rd- Tessmer at the Track
Nov. 25th- Sam’s Burger Join in San Antonio
Dec. 2nd- Eric Tessmer at Rockefellers in Houston
Photo: Greg Giannukos