Songwriter Eric Hutchinson is almost a bona fide pop star. A few years ago, he was negotiating deals with Madonna, catching the ears of celebrity bloggers, popping up on the small screen as a VH1 "You Oughta Know" artist, and touring around the world. This year, traveling behind a critically acclaimed album titled Moving Up Living Down (Warner Bros.), Hutchinson is more confident and mature than ever. He still retains some of the sorority-heartthrob pop-star power, but he's a bit more grounded about it all. In fact, despite his new affiliation with a major label, he practically qualifies as an indie-pop act.
"I do still consider myself an independent artist," Hutchinson says. "Warner Bros. has always been so supportive of my music. This is the first time I've released a record with them, and it's been a blast. They believe in me and the music."
Hutchinson, 32, first started writing songs and performing as a singer/songwriter, guitarist, and pianist while attending Emerson College in Boston. His melodic pop songs had folk-rock and jazz flavors that drew comparisons to Jeff Buckley, John Mayer, and Ben Folds.
After relocating to Los Angeles, he self-released a debut titled That Could've Gone Better on his own Let's Break label in 2003. Madonna's Warner Brothers-distributed label Maverick took notice and signed him, but a legal battle in 2005 effectively shut down the label. Hutchinson eventually produced and released Sounds Like This, his second studio album, on Let's Break in 2007. After celebrity blogger Perez Hilton raved about the collection online, Sounds Like This shot into the Top Ten on iTunes. Riding a sudden wave of popularity, Hutchinson crossed the U.S. six times to play shows, and he even ventured to such faraway places as Norway and Dubai.
"It's been a very busy lead-up to this new album," Hutchinson says. "I toured so much on the last record, around the country and all sorts of crazy places. After that, I came home to New York and started recording this new one, It's been nonstop, and that's the way I like it. I feel like getting to do this for a living, playing my music and having people sing it to me, it feels like a real privilege. I never forget that."
Moving Up Living Down is a fluid, enjoyable set, heavily melodic, amusingly romantic. The piano-driven ditties come off as the most optimistic. It's clean, but the production is not overly slick or clichéd. Hutchinson seems very proud of it.
"I love being involved with the creative part of the recording, and I was able to be involved in the making of it all," he says. "It reflects a period of transition. I was definitely working out some stuff and trying to figure out what to do with myself. That ties into the title."
A hint of melancholy sneaks into a few songs on the new album, more so than the upbeat amusement of Sounds Like This. The first single, the laid-back and dance-y "Watching You Watch Him," manages to straddle both moods pretty well (see clip below).
"I felt that I had an obligation to my fans because so many of them told me on my first record, 'Oh, this is the music I put on when I'm in a good mood or need to be cheered up,'" he says. "I took that really seriously, and I wanted to make an album that would continue to make people feel good and inspire. So far, the reaction has been quite good."