Hirsh up and listen to the music
by: Tim Mapp
Eric Hirsh is a monumental contributor to the Durham based Hip-Hop band, The Beast. They recently dropped a new EP called “Stories.” However, this pianist, composer, and producer is also a co-director for a Latin Dance music making group called, Orquesta GarDel. It felt only right I chopped it up with him at the end of 2014 to get his insight about Durham and its growing music scene. Over a few quick rounds of email tag, I was able to get Eric to tell me:
My name is Eric Hirsh. I’ve been in North Carolina for 15 years and lived in Durham since 2006. Most of the readers from Clarion Content may know me from “The Beast” which is a Hip-Hop band I’m in with Pierce Freelon. He also does the Beat Making Lab and regularly attends the Durty Durham collective meetings. I make up 1/4 of “The Beast” playing the keyboard. We manufacture a Hip-Hop/Jazz sound. I also am the co-director of a 13 piece Latin Dance Salsa group called Orquesta GarDel.
I think what I ultimately want to do is lead my own band. I don’t have a name for it yet; maybe Eric Hirsh Quartet/Group. I really enjoy collaborating with other people, whether it is a different artist from within music or dance, theater or film. That’s why I like working within Orquestsa GarDel, it’s great energy bouncing off of collaborative songwriters and other people. One of my long time passions and the thing I strive to cultivate is my own voice as a composer. My music can be considered modern jazz/classical I don’t know what type of lid to put on it. I finally have a group that forces me to keep going and progressing with my performances. It’s a different and more personal outlet than “The Beast.”
Where are you originally from?
I was born in St. Louis Missouri, I moved here (Durham) in high school after my dad received a job offer. We all came over and loved it.
How did The Beast come together?
It was great! Kind of a spontaneous thing. Pierce and our drummer Steve have been buddies since elementary school. I was living with Steve at the time and we all had the idea to jam out in the basement. Just gathering some musicians running through riffs, not really playing in a traditional since. The first session we had with Pete our bass player was exceptional. We all just clicked and the synergy was greatly inspiring. Many of the tunes we jammed on became actual songs on our first project. A lot of the material just stuck. It’s a seven year-old sound that’s still maturing.
Do you play anything other than piano?
Ummmm, I kind of want to call the electronic sounds from my laptop and other controllers, software more of a craft. I definitely work with some of those. It’s something that I wanted to get into around the time we (The Beast) came together, so I made that a part of my sound with The Beast. No other instruments like clarinet or saxophone. However, I believe my strongest skill is actually composing and arranging. Like what we did in 2013 with The Beast + Big Band EP “Gardens”. I wrote out all of the instruments i.e. strings and horns. It also what has helped me write music for my own jazz group.
What effect has the internet had on your music?
Probably two things……. 1. It’s great for education: Anything you want to learn about is just a click away. I can go on Youtube and pull up a Moroccan band from halfway across the world and learn their style of playing.
2. It helps being an independent artist: Internet marketing and being able to share MP3’s, reaching people on Twitter and other social sites [something they] are really good [at], especially for niche genres. Jazz, Conscious Hip-Hop, Contemporary Classical. These genres will never have big sales or have big radio or television penetration, but they don’t need to. All they have to do is connect with people that have the same interest and passion and have a little tribe or family. For example, if I have a jazz show and forty people come to it and two people come up to me and tell me they really enjoyed it; that’s a success! I don’t need to see 1000 people screaming in the audience, at least not yet. It’s really about the deep long lasting connection.
While attending Chapel Hill what was you’re major?
I did music and physics. The buildings were right across from the street from each other so that was nice to be able to switch between the two if I got burned out. There’s really is a connection between math and music, there is a true science about how music effects humans so deeply. I chose these majors in school when I wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit to making music a full-time work thing. To have to survive off of music appeared uneasy. I felt it seemed wise to get some science and technical background. All of the band members do different things. Some teach lessons, some flip houses. As for myself, I have been working at a string of software companies during the day and doing music in my off time. This is where my science background comes in and it’s nice to be able to combine a passion for technology with a passion for music.
What is you’re favorite venue to play in Durham?
That’s a tricky question….
I’m going to say MotorCo, just because it feels like home. I can remember back when the Webster’s first bought that space, and the very first time I played there. Since they have grown into an empire, they’ve got a restaurant and two rooms and other kind of stuff. Even though it has a big room feel and sometimes we will book [Cat’s] Cradle sized shows; it doesn’t feel pretentious to me. I know all of the bartenders, the sound guy is in my sister’s band. That’s always a good feeling. I can even remember when MotorCo was the only thing on that block and now they are calling it the “DIY” district. It’s a growth story, “Growing up with the MotorCo.”
Is there any artist from Durham that you have not worked with and you would like to?
I would like to branch out across genres, I think it would be cool to collaborate with an indy rocker or a folk group. But still do some jazzy kind of stuff. Phil Cook from Megafaun, we keep talking about doing some stuff, but we haven’t yet. The thing about him and his brother is that they have a really eclectic taste in music and Megafaun is a very successful kinda of pop folk group. They’re really self-described as jazz nerds. He has been doing his one man band thing which is folky and yet bluesy and he explores the relationship with African-American [music]. I think he and I need to come around and do some kinda of experimental jazz duo thing.
Hirsh and Orquesta GarDel just got in the studio and started recording a new EP this week. “Stories” from The Beast is available here.