JD Eicher was returning home to the Youngstown area from a tour and crossing the Carolinas.
Thoughts swirled in the head of the singer-songwriter who grew up wanting to be a marine biologist before discovering his passion for music.
Working as a freelance artist was a chore. Nearing her thirties, his wife was carrying their first child. Maybe it was time to quit the man-boy lifestyle and get a job to support the household more easily.
“So I was kind of preparing my mind to slow things down and move on to the real world and be an adult in society and everything,” Eicher recalled with a laugh.
And then he got a phone call that changed the trajectory of his career.
A record company executive connected to famed novelist Nicholas Sparks heard Eicher’s music and became a fan. Sparks, who wrote ‘The Notebook,’ ‘Message in a Bottle,’ and ‘A Walk to Remember,’ among other New York Times bestselling books, was looking for music to include as a digital companion to her 2016 work. , “Two by Two.”
Sparks chose Eicher. Phone calls and collaborations between the two followed. Admitting his nervousness, Eicher composed the title track on the piano in the basement of his Austintown-area home before notes were sent back and forth with the authorship which sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.
“It’s kind of one of those stories that I never really believed in, which was (about) being in the right place at the right time,” Eicher said. “You gotta take your breaks…and people will find you. That kind of talk you hear in the music industry, and I always thought you were just touring until you died.”
The synchronization of song and book did not propel Eicher to national stardom or land him on the Billboard charts. But it undeniably boosted his notoriety, allowing him to tour more and helping him commit to music full-time.
“They played the song on Good Morning America, and (Sparks) got me in the book as a character that’s on the radio, so it was really beyond honored and a really lucky thing.” , did he declare.
“They put my name on the cover of the first printing, which is around 800,000 pounds,” Eicher said. “I was really a little shy throughout. There are so many wonderful songwriters – it was really ridiculous that I had the chance, but I tried to be a good steward of opportunity and all.”
“It was a wild ride,” he added. “I did a book tour with (Sparks), and I always joke that some gigs were like signings at Barnes & Nobles, so I’d be between shelves playing songs.”
Other events took place in a theater setting, with Eicher joining Sparks on stage.
The experience with Sparks also inspired Eicher to write a novel himself, “The Lights Along Majesto,” pairing it with his new album, “Majesto Sessions,” which was released earlier this month.
Set against the backdrop of life on the road for the working-class musician, the 213-page paperback follows the adventure of four unlikely companions as they find themselves in a touring van across the country and straight to hell, Eicher said.
Eicher said the book is “realistic fiction aimed at adults, and borrows certain conventions from the thriller and drama genres.”
Dad who strums the guitar
Life has changed since those days on the road with the romance novel icon. Eicher is now a 35-year-old father of two young children experiencing both the beauty and milestones of parenthood as well as the challenges.
Talking about first steps and first words fills his voice with the tenderness of a doting father. One-year-old son who doesn’t tend to sleep through the night leaves him for another cup of coffee.
“The little one isn’t sleeping well at all,” Eicher said. “He’s slept through the night like twice in his first year, so we’re definitely exhausted parents. When he’s awake…we call him ‘Sunshine Jack’. He’s like a little ball of joy. And his sister (5 years old) is really nice to him, and it’s a good time for us. We feel good.”
Eicher said the novel pushed him into new lyrical and musical territory.
Fans of his work will no doubt recognize his acoustic melodies and raspy, soulful vocals, but the new album features a back-and-forth between pop sophistication and quieter moments.
“Sometimes I start writing a song and just see where it’s going, and I end up with a little batch of songs and half-written songs that I liked, but felt like out of place for me, ” he explained. “I remember thinking that they almost felt like each other’s alter egos and that I would need to sing them like I was taking on different roles.”
These songs led to Eicher’s novel by “consolidating these song characters into a story”.
More songs followed in this mold. “I allowed the music to play a role in the story and the story to play a role in the music,” he said.
Sparks was not involved in Eicher’s novel.
However, “it was those days on the road with him that really pushed me to try it all out,” the singer said. “But it didn’t feel right to ask him to get involved because it was really a crazy business, and I would have been the only one to really gain something from his involvement. I didn’t want to put him in that position. .”
The album release airs this month
Eicher recently signed with AntiFragile Music, which has offices in New York and the UK and a reputation for developing independent acts.
Previous plans for a show at the Auricle in downtown Guangzhou were canceled due to the pandemic. Eicher has been performing for the past few summers at Gervasi Vineyards in Canton.
He has also performed in Summit and Stark counties as part of the Sidewalk Serenades Northeast Ohio series, while performing a few house gigs in the Canton area.
In 2019, Eicher performed as part of the Canton Symphony Orchestra’s “Divergent Sounds” series combining a string ensemble with his band’s music.
Before the pandemic, he played about 170 shows a year, including tours of the West Coast, Midwest, Europe and Florida.
A rise in COVID-19 cases forced him to scale back his initial plans for the album release tour.
Saturday’s show at The Soap Gallery in Youngstown is sold out.
Other upcoming concerts include February 23 with Ted Tedesco at Hey Nonny in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and February 25 at 20 Front St. in Lake Orion, Michigan.
Other shows will be held March 4 at The Loft in Washington, DC, and March 26 at the Club Cafe in Pittsburgh.
“He’s the Real Deal”
Eicher formed relationships with many fellow musicians in the area.
Producers of his new album include singer-songwriter Ryan Humbert, who is now the lead singer of The Shootouts. Marc Lee Shannon, who played with the late Michael Stanley, also worked with Eicher.
“Instantly I could see he was a person of the highest integrity, a great husband and father, a hilarious, talented guy who also wrote great songs,” Shannon said of Eicher.
The musical artists performed on each other in 2019. Shannon also performed in Eicher’s band.
Shannon continues to be an avid fan.
“JD is as good or better than anyone on local, regional and national platforms,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time for the rest of the world to catch up with what I know about JD. This is the real deal.”
Covering both classical and contemporary artists, Eicher’s musical influences include Paul Simon, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Queen, Sting, Coldplay and The Killers.
However, being a fan of such remarkable acts does not mean that stardom is his main aspiration. Working as a full-time freelance artist is about courage, not glamour, Eicher assured.
“It’s a sustainable income, but it’s modest,” he said. “Fame is an engine that can help you live comfortably, but if you’re like me or a lot of those developing artists who are still working to spread our music, being full-time just means you’re hustling all the time… (but) I’m willing to do it because it comes with its rewards and I can make art.”
Playing in front of arena crowds would be fun, Eicher admitted. But he’s more realistically focused on supporting his family, his band, and his support staff “while making the art I want to make.
“If I can chase the stuff that I really want to chase, it’ll feel good when people hear it, I think, so I’m sticking with that.”
Contact Ed at 330-580-8315 and [email protected] On Twitter: @ebalintREP