Artist Interview: JD Eicher and the Goodnights

Having recently reviewed the new JD Eicher and the Goodnights album, Into Place, we’re thrilled to be able to have the band answer some questions for us. We were lucky to have each member answer some individual questions for us. Enjoy!

Jim Merhaut, bass:
What’s it like keeping the youngsters in line?
While I don’t think of my role as “keeping the youngsters in line”, we do joke a lot about me being about twice their age. The four of us are very comfortable with each other. We enjoy being together. We regularly challenge each other respectfully. I think we all learn from each other. JD is good at promoting that kind of atmosphere in the band.

You’ve got a different, perhaps wiser, perspective on this experience than the other guys. Does that ever hit you or are you just enjoying the ride?
I think the fact that I’m older does mean something. I’ve experienced more ups and downs, and that experience can bring some helpful perspective to our perceptions of success and failure. I try to offer that kind of a contribution when it’s needed.

Are you making the music you’d be listening to anyway? Or is this a stylistic departure for you?
As for the music, my age does add something different to the bass lines. I was formed by bass players from another era of music, primarily rock, funk, and fusion players from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Recently, I was doing a sound check, and a bass player who was sharing the stage with us remarked that my playing during the sound check reminded him of bass players from the 1960’s. So, I would expect that our music is different from a lot of contemporary bands because the foundations of our songs are an authentic blend of two distinct eras of music. I also have very broad tastes in music, so I love working with JD’s songs because he writes with an appreciation for musical diversity. You can also see the results of this intentionally diverse approach to our music in the age diversity of our fan base. We’re a band that entire families can enjoy. That’s rare today.
Ben Portz, keyboards:
You’re like the lead guitarist of the group, even though you play the keyboard. Is that a different style than you’re used to?
Yes, definitely. I tend to have a very full way of playing, i.e., using the entire keyboard. This stemmed from playing by myself and in previous groups in which the piano was the primary/lead instrument. It was difficult to find my place in the band because I was not used to playing with a guitar. At certain moments, the busier I would play on some songs would actually create musical tension between the piano and guitar. This was a total learning curve for me. The longer I was with the band, I began to notice the importance of simplicity when coming up with piano parts.
Assuming that you listen to more than just yourself when you listen to music, what sorts of things are you listening to that we might find seeping into the music you play?
Gabe Dixon, Jamie Cullum, Bruce Hornsby and George Winston are pianists that have been highly influential for me on straight-up piano playing/soloing. Their emotive/smooth playing is something that I’ve always tried to harness.
When might we get to hear you playing and singing, maybe another rendition of “Piano Man” circa 2007?
Haha…to be honest, there are things in the works right now. As far as ‘Piano Man’ goes, not sure I can hit the high notes in the chorus anymore. I’ll have to bring it down about 5 keys at this point.
Dylan Kollat, drums:
This is your first album with the band. What has the experience of making a professional album with friends been like?
When JD first called me last September, he gave me an overview of what the band was about and the projects they would be working on, so when he mentioned that they were scheduling a trip to Nashville to record an album, I was, as most people would be, extremely excited to potentially be involved.  It was a tough act to balance between school and work, but rehearsals were always fun and never felt like a “typical” job per say.  JD, Jim and Ben are always really cool to be around, so aside from the more professional aspect of “getting it done,” there was a general spirit of lightheartedness and creativity that made the experience unique compared to more “academic” projects I have been involved with at school.
How has your degree and study of music influenced what you’re doing with the band?
In terms of how my study of music has influenced my work with the band, I feel like I have a conceptual approach to playing that I wouldn’t have otherwise since I’ve been exposed to different schools of thought at YSU.  Prior to college, I never envisioned improvisation as something that was worth spending much time on, not because I was against it, but simply because I was never really exposed to it.  Now that I’ve been studying, as much as a challenge as it is, I try to introduce subtle new ideas and “licks” or motifs into the music as rehearsals pass so that my playing doesn’t become static or uninteresting.  Some drummers (Neil Peart and David Garibaldi being a few) are more compositional in their playing.  This isn’t objectively better or worse than an improvisational approach, but I simply try to go this route because it’s a weakness of mine that I’m continually working to address.  I also try to challenge and question my own habits as well as ones that I see other drummers subscribe to, particularly when it comes to drum sound/tuning.
What do you do when you’re not performing?
Aside from teaching drumlines, private students, and studying for school, I like exploring/hiking, the universe, Chinese buffets, and bad 80’s horror films. Sometimes I go to Westminster to hang out with a friend from high school.  It’s a small world. : )
JD Eicher, guitars, vocals:
You said that this album was the culmination of a trilogy to you. Was this something that you thought about from the beginning? Are you satisfied with the completion of the project?
It was definitely something I had worked out ahead of time. I had everything outlined and the overarching structure figured out at the beginning, and then I wrote the songs along the way. Very satisfied and relieved with the completion. There were many realignments and tweaks to the plan over the years, but I was able to hold the idea together, and I’m grateful for that.
Now that you’ve finished, do you have an idea of what comes next?
I was just asked this in another interview, and I was excited to say that I’m not sure! I do know that there’s more music in the works, and that there will be changes, but I’m letting the future be open for a little bit. Sometimes it’s good to not have a plan for a little while.
This album shows a confidence that the last two didn’t. Have you noticed the change in yourself or has that just been a natural progression?
I think it’s a natural progression with performing and writing. I do feel like this album is a sort of “coming of age” for me and the band – the result of working at it for a long time. Still a long way left to go!
You’ve had the chance to play with some big names and some big shows. What have you learned from the people and those experiences?
I think I’ve mostly been inspired by their presence and energy, and I’ve also become more resigned to just being relaxed and myself onstage. Everyone has a little different approach to performance and what a performance should include. I think that you need to be yourself and find the audience that can relate to what you’re doing. Not the other way around.
What part of the album are you most proud of?
We were a lot more fearless with this record. We still wanted to make a pop album, but we also wanted to take things off into some interesting directions. I’m proud that we were able to find a balance there.

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