It is difficult to place a label on Erik Koskinen’s music… and well, the man himself. From a young age, music and travel were in his blood. From the rural corners of the U.P. to the mountains and valleys of Colorado Springs, regardless of where he was at or what he was doing – music remained a constant part of his life. This life of music and travel eventually settled him down in the rural farmlands of southern Minnesota, a place that can be felt in his upcoming album, “Burning the Deal.”
Something about Erik’s music hits home for us. A little country, a little rock ‘n’ roll, folk, Americana – it all comes together seamlessly on each album. His music paints a picture, one of wide open spaces, beer joints, heartache and being unapologetic for relishing in a simple(r) life. We often find that songwriters can be extremely honest, which is what makes their music so damn good. The song puts it all out there and you can find yourself in the story, stomping your feet along with the narrative, at times maybe even crying. In all of Erik’s travel and experiences, he has been picking up the right pieces along the way and it comes together on “Burning the Deal” out June 28th.
We recently had an opportunity to talk with Erik about the new album, the Midwest, baseball, Dylan and what to look for from him in 2019. So pour yourself a whiskey, dive on in…
MWG: Where is your hometown?
EK: I feel I have a few hometowns. My parents met in Marquette, MI but I was born in Fort Collins, CO. I mainly grew up in the Houghton, MI area of the Upper Peninsula, up on the Keweenaw. Also, some of my high school was in Plattsburgh, NY. Now I’ve been in Minnesota as a home base for 14 years. People say time flies, it’s a phenomenon to me regardless of what it does.
Going back a few years, you wrote a song titled “Detroit, Detroit” filled with very specific references to the city and the state of Michigan, we have to know the story behind that one.
My mom’s side of the family ended up in Flint, MI. My great-grandpa worked at Buick and my great-grandma worked at Grand Truck. My grandpa worked at Vernors for 18 years and owned bars across from plants in Flint such as The 350 plant, The 3800 Plant, etc. He had stock in GM. My grandma worked all kinds of jobs along with raising 5 kids. She made all their clothing and they had the most stylish outfits back in the ’60s. Our family had pride in all things Michigan made. It’s a tribute to my family and to all of the great things in Michigan. The music, the cars, the beer, the lakes, the steelworkers, the down and outers, the trees, the farms, the snow, and the endurance.
What are some of your earliest musical memories and how have they influenced the artist you are today?
My parents brought my brothers and I to music festivals, mainly in Michigan, Michigan does well with their music festivals. I saw some impacting people play from Dave Moore, Dick Siegel, Dave Van Ronk, Spider John Koerner, to The Bason Brothers, The Balkan Rhythm Band, etc. Great musicianship and songwriting. Those people were not slouching.
What about the Midwest has had the biggest impact on you musically?
Well, most of those people I mentioned came from the Midwest and are still around. Bob Dylan is a Midwesterner, Prince is too, Motown, Madonna and Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen – then we have all the regular folk. Fishermen, loggers, farmers, motor city, lake effect snow, the Great Lakes, the prairie, Milwaukee, WI. We have space and urban areas with the arts and industry and all the revolving doors that influenced great American music.
You are set to release your 5th studio album, where did the title “Burning The Deal” come from and what does it mean to you?
“Burning The Deal” came from one the songs on the album called “Crazy.” It’s a form of not selling out. I recently turned down a record deal that wanted to own all the songs on the record… forever. The financial turn around on that didn’t make sense to me so I ripped the record contract up. I’m not sure I did the right thing but I feel fine about it. Jeffrey Foucault, another Midwestern musician, suggested the album name. I was struggling with a title on this record for the first time and I asked him for advice.
What can fans expect with the new album? Any details or aspects of the project you are particularly proud of?
I am proud of the songwriting but also the patience all the players had. The guys and girls that played on the record are astounding and I was blown away by their musical ears, their humility, and patience as players.
What would you say sets the Midwest music scene apart from the rest?
Well, one example is here in Minnesota. We have an organization called First Avenue. It’s one of the last great independent rock’n’roll clubs left in the United States. Countless bands and musicians from around the world still say it’s one of the best venues to play in the world… I agree. Chess Records was made up of artist from all over but it happened right here in the Midwest.
Do you have a favorite place to perform around the Great Lakes?
Blissfest, which is right on the shore of Lake Michigan just south of The Mackinaw Bridge in Lower Michigan. I play a rock club called Papa Charlie’s in Lutsen, MN that looks over Lake Superior. Other than being next to water, Iowa is a state that supports original music a bit more than one might think. We have a good time every time we go.
How do you recharge? What outside of music gives you balance?
I ski cross country and downhill. I do a little fishing in the summer, but summer is my busy time with the music so not as much as I wish. I have XM radio in my truck and at home on the farm, so I listen to Dan Dickerson and Jim Price announce the Detroit Tigers Baseball games. With XM I can listen to any game of any team, which I do as much as possible. Detroit is my favorite team but because of how often teams are trading players, I follow all of the teams and just enjoy how it all works.
What can fans expect from you in 2019?
I’ll be playing around the Midwest as much as possible. I am writing more songs so a follow up is right around the corner. I also produce records for other artists and there are a few gems to be released this year.
Big thank you to Erik for taking the time to chat with us. Be sure to stay up to date on shows in your area, news, music over on his website. And be sure to pick up a copy of “Burning the Deal” on Real-Phonic Records / Tone Tree Music – June 28th.
Now, hold on. There was no way we could leave Erik’s interview, a man who resides in southern Minnesota and regularly sports the Old-English D on his ballcap without asking… How would define a “Midwestern Gentleman”?
Erik: Ha! Well, a “gentleman” should be able to use an ax for splitting sauna wood, should always help out another in need. For example – holding doors, changing flat tires, shoveling a neighbor’s snowy walkway and getting out of the fast lane when someone is trying to pass. The powers of social pressures will not affect the patience you exercise when an elderly lady needs you to help carry groceries, fix leaky plumbing, water the flowers, reroof the garage or take out the recycling. Patience. Patience. Understanding.
Images: (c) Darin Kamnetz Photography