Eric Britt has come a long way since his days in Hazel Virtue. The guitarist and songwriter of the alt-rock outfit is making vastly different music nowadays—it’s a world away stylistically, but the emotion and energy remains. He’s a different man, to be sure; parenthood will do that. But his passion for music is intact and has come full circle.
Britt’s new album, Full Circle, is indeed the theme that encompasses the songs. The album will be released this spring but won’t be accompanied by any release concerts, at least for the foreseeable future. He’s releasing several singles in the interim, working on building some buzz digitally during a time when music and art is literally all we have to hang on to. In that way, there’s probably no better time for songs like “Atonement,” the first single being released on April 1.
We caught up with Britt ahead of the release to learn more about the new project.
As a songwriter, who were some of your prominent influences when you started?
When I was in Athens, it was the heyday of REM and the B52’s. They defined pop music then. Bands like XTC, the Pixies, and Radiohead were everything to me. However, what we were putting out sounded more like Nirvana, simple and visceral.
Let’s talk about the album title, and the concept of “full circle” in general. How does it pertain to the collection of songs? Is there a thematic thread on this record that employs this concept?
The concept of “Full Circle” started last summer for me. After years upon years of acoustic music, I got a real itch for loud guitars and had a few qualifying rock songs I wanted to finally do justice by. When I got started with Hazel Virtue in the 90’s, the sound was loud power pop but they called it “alternative rock.” So, the title is really just about going completely back to where I started.
At first I was scratching my head to think about who could help me with the rock songs, and then it occurred to me that my own late 90’s band could get the sound if they were willing. Our original guitarist passed away about 4 years ago, and that brought us back together as people. My old bandmates came into town so we could get back in the studio together. The album features original Hazel drummer Kevin Gray and Steve Pless on bass and vocals. Hazel recorded at Kevin Rose’s excellent Elevated Basement. Kevin Rose is also playing lead guitar on this half.
Hazel’s original producer, Ken Sluiter, caught wind of the project and reached out to me about mixing. I was excited at the possibility. I sent him all the “demos” and he helped me arrange, change keys, add/cut parts, or whatever was needed before we even went into the studio. So most of the recording was mixed out in L.A. Ken putting that much consideration into the album on the front end surely made it come out nice!
I also had a handful of acoustic songs I’ve written over the last couple years, so I decided to do an album with acoustic songs on side A and rock songs on side B. Yeah, it’s definitely been done before, but I’ve always enjoyed it with bands I admire! I recorded the acoustic songs with a bunch of great local SAV musicians, Eric Daubert on the mandolin, Stan Ray on drums, Michael Ray on keys, Mason Pitts on bass, and Jason Bible on pedal steel and baritone guitars. We recorded with Jason at Silver Buffalo Sound. The acoustic songs all got sent out to Ken in L.A. for the mix as well.
A song like “Atonement” feels very lyrically vulnerable and open. Do you always tend to write lyrics that are as intensely personal? What draws you to the subject matter you choose to write about?
“Atonement” is deeply personal and most of the acoustic material is, that’s just how it’s been coming out for a long while now. Back when we were making a real “go at it” and touring everywhere, writers I admired always told me to write from the heart or nobody would ever relate to it. Some irreversible switch got turned on there.
When I started putting songs together in Athens, I was terrified to make anything personal so I drew from short stories I had written. Hazel’s record Hip is entirely based on short stories. On the rock side of Full Circle, there are a few Hazel songs that didn’t make the cut the first time around, they will finally be exhumed. If it sounds like 90’s Athens, that is where the sound came from. We decided to keep it that way instead of modernizing it.
What are your thoughts on being an artist in the age of COVID-19? How have you been navigating this strange climate?
Being an artist or anybody else in the COVID-19 climate is beyond weird; everything is right now.
Focusing on the positive, I’ve never seen so many musicians come together at once. I’ve finally had a chance to listen to some of my favorite songwriters, locally and everywhere else.
A couple weeks in and I’m already trying to collaborate with several other artists. That part is awesome. This would be a great time for anyone with a home studio to collaborate with others anywhere.
With no monetary incentive, I’m hoping this is a great time for artists of all varieties to be at their very best creatively. I’ve definitely seen the community come together, and we are gonna have to stay together for a long time to come.
For me, I’m also able to do the things I wouldn’t have otherwise had time to do correctly if I was still playing gigs every day. So, when I’m not chasing my girls around, working on this album is what I’m doing to stay busy.