Eric Hall got his big break in 2005. He and his band the DEA Horns, were asked to accompany Mary J. Blige on tour to promote her seventh album The Breakthough. Since then the multi-talented musician has toured and played with some of the biggest names in music, from Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, Kid Capri, Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan, and more.
After commencing an international tour with Trey Songz February 2013, Hall is ready to focus on his solo career. His 2013 debut mixtape “Music Room” showcases his jazz, soul, and R&B influences. Both modern and contemporary “Music Room” features a blend of originally composed music starring Hall’s vocals and him on the piano, alto sax, flute. Check out Hall’s Artist On the Rise Q&A as he talks the importance of music education, touring with Grammy Award winning artists, and true vocals in an auto tuned industry.
You are more than an artist, you are a musician; how many instruments do you play?
I play 3 Instruments. Alto Sax, Piano, and Flute.
You come from a musically inclined family. Your mom is a pianist, your dad and brother is both on the horns; how important was it for you as the youngest child to continue your family legacy?
It was very important! At that age I just wanted to play. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about a legacy then. I felt left out at first…so I figured I should try to pick up something to fit in (he laughed). It started with the little plastic recorder, and eventually I moved on to flute and saxophone.
After studying music in high school you continued your education in music as a Jazz Studies and flute major in college, how important is music education in schools?
To me having a great music education is just as important as having a good math, English, or history programs in schools. There are so many kids that want to pursue music, but the school systems don’t have good programs, or even a program at all nowadays. Art programs are being cut everyday. If these programs keep getting cut I feel as though the standard for music will keep on dropping and the passing of information from one generation to the next will cease to exist.
Tell me a little about you musical background, who are the DEA Horns? The band is composed of you, your brother Danny, and friend Adam Burton, how did that union come about, what do you bring to the group?
We all grew up together. Its composed me on the alto sax and flute, Danny on the trombone, and Adam on the trumpet and fugelhorn.Went through the same school systems all the way up until we graduated High School. So the relationship was already there. It wasn’t until they graduated College in ’05 and I was still in undergrad that we started to come together as a Horn section. One of our Mentors Loren Dawson really helped solidify the name, as well as Mary J. Blige. I believe I bring a fearful and go-getter type of mentality to the group. Being a horn section in the age we live in isn’t common. When we tell people we’re in the music industry people always ask, “Oh you rap?” or “oh you produce?”. They don’t expect you to say, “We’re a horn section”. There has to be a strong identity and fearlessness of not caring what the norm is of the generation that’s out now. And I think I bring that quality to DEA Horns.
Eric Hall and The DEA Horns with Mary J. Blige. AOL Sessions, 2005
You kind of hit the ground running after your first gig touring with Mary J Blige. How did that influence your career with respect to performing with other artists?
Mary released “The Breakthrough” that year and we started touring with her immediately. We were so excited to do it. We also stepped out our comfort zone. We wanted to make a good impression and be as professional as we could. After playing with Mary our phone started ringing a lot. Mary led to Beyonce, Beyonce led to Stevie Wonder, and the cycle continued like that. I feel as though if you do well in something small, when the big opportunities come you will be more than ready.
What was one of your most memorable performances and with whom?
Wow. It’s hard to answer that. There were so many. I’d have to say my 1st really big gig was with Mary J. Blige and the shows we did with her were special to me. I remember the first show we did in NY at Lincoln Center, so many celebs from Jerry Seinfeld to Swizz Beats to Missy Elliot…I was so nervous. Playing with Beyonce was also very memorable to me. I never meant someone who not only had the natural talent but the drive that she has. Her work ethic is impeccable, haven’t seen a lot in this industry with that type of work ethic. Oh and one more performance, Stevie Wonder. I mean….it’s Stevie Wonder…there’s nothing else to say.
DEA Horns with Beyonce. Live at the Jacob Javits Center NYC. June 2006
You just wrapped up tour with Trey Songz, how was that experience?
Tour life is amazing lol! We were on the Chapter V World Tour. It was from October 2012 to February 2013. So it’s done now, but we still play with him and actually have some shows and light touring with him during this summer.
You are in the midst of breaking out as a solo R&B fusion artist, how did touring with him influence your own music?
I just started doing my solo artist thing, so the only artist who really has heard my stuff is Trey Songz. He actually surprised me by having a really long talk with me about pursuing my solo career. He poured into me so much, and I didn’t ask him to do that either so I respect him a lot for that. He just told me to be mindful of honing in on my sound even more than I already had and to stay at it. He also told me that I will have a lot of No’s in my career but I can’t let that stop me from getting the Yes’s.
Armed with that advice you released the mixtape, “Music Room” can you tell me about the concept behind the project?
Music Room was about me stepping out. Concept wise I wanted people to see that I wasn’t just a horn player, or a pianist, or a flutist, or a vocalist. That I was all of these things combined. I wanted fans to hear what inspired me from when I was kid to now. From groups like Take 6, to a rapper like Biggie, but also to newer artist like a T-Pain. But I didn’t want to say that. I wanted people to just hear it, hence the word Music Room, a platter of my musical influences through me. That’s why I play sax on it, and sing on it, and added DEA horns to it, and did an acapella track with just beat box…I want you to hear everything.
With advances in musical technology such as tools like auto-tune and other voice enhancing technology how important do you think it is to maintain the art of true music and vocals?
I’m very partial to technology! True vocals and pure vocals are 2 different things to me. I’m by no means a huge fan of auto-tune, but I do use it tighten up some of my harmonies, being that I’m very daring with my harmonic progressions. I think developing good tone, intonation, range and air control are basic tools every singer should have and you should always be working on improving them. Once those are established well enough, then I think it’s actually cool to play around with all types of voice enhancements as well as any type of effect to produce a new or different sound. True music and vocals are exactly that…subjective to the person who’s creating them. For example I actually didn’t like T-Pain at first. The more I listened to him the more I said to myself, ‘Auto tune or not, he still had to hear those harmonies and understand that chord progression.’
Do you think there is an unspoken demand for multifaceted artists and all around entertainers, such as yourself?
Hell yeah! People are always looking for new sounds and new musical ideas. Just not enough people choosing to go this route. People don’t know what’s hot until YOU tell them. Before Prince who was doing what he did? How did he know there was a demand for it? He didn’t-he just knew he had a sound and that it needed to be heard. But it also has to be at a high level, so I’m going to just keep working on improving and improving and improving.
I would ask your musical influences but with one listen to your “Music Room,” it is obvious that you draw inspiration from various artists from an array of generations and genres.
My parents put me on to their music from when I was little kid. So Earth Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye, The Stylistics and all that good 70’s black music I love. I also grew up in the 90’s so you know Hip-hop has a HUGE influence on me too. I am a huge Jay-Z, Snoop, Dr . Dre, DJ Quik, and A Tribe called Quest fan- there are so many artists. But I also loved Grover Washington Jr who was the main reason why I wanted to play Sax. Oh and Take 6 is my favorite vocal group…I’ll stop now cause this can go on forever…
It sounds like you have something for everyone from “Party On,” which has the heavy horn influence in addition to the catchy hook and lyrics, to remaking the 112 classic “Over Now,” and “Come With Me,” which samples Marvin Gaye’s “Come Live With Me Angel.” Have all of your experiences working on difference projects with artists in all genres influenced your own sound?
Yea! I love music. As a musician you have your phases. Each artist I worked with influenced me whether they knew it or not. The reason I even decided to be an artist was because just like them, I slowly started to believe I had a “Sound.” That belief slowly turned into action.
It’s amazing to hear the jazz influence through out your modernized R&B sound. How do you fit into the progressive Jazz movement?
I don’t even know, I mean it comes out so naturally. One of my Favorite groups is Take 6. I love how they blend jazz and harmony with their own twist. That’s something I always wanted to do that. I guess me trying to do that so long and feeling it wasn’t as good as Take 6 eventually made me have my own sound. Also studying jazz in High school and in College also helped with cultivating my own sound.
You also recently worked on Madonna’s Album with Kid Capri for the remix of “Masterpiece,” for her new album MDNA, tell me a little bit about the project…
That opportunity kind of fell in my lap. Right place right time kind of thing. I was over Kid Kapri’s house with my partner Ron Faison and he just started playing some acapella vocals, and they were Madonna’s. Next thing I know we’re working on the remix. A week later it got placed. The key thing I got from that experience is to always be prepared, because you never know when and where your next opportunity lies.
What is next for Eric Hall the solo artist?
Right now I’m working on a new single. It’s actually already done. I’m really proud of this one and I know it will make some noise in the music industry. So I’m gearing up for promoting it and getting some shows and possibly touring. I’m going to reveal the title soon. I hope to drop it by early fall, possibly September.
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