Smile Politely

Pocket fulla vinyl

Pocket Vinyl is a musical/painting duo made up of Eric Stevenson (piano, vocals, harmonica) and Elizabeth Jancewicz (“on stage artist, inspiration for lots of things”) whose goals include writing a soundtrack for an independent video game. They would also like to tour for over 3 weeks without sleeping in a car -not even one time.

I talked to Eric about his musical and romantic beginnings. We delved into his time in South Korea and what it must be like to meet Thom Yorke. 

Smile Politely: How did you and Elizabeth start this collaboration?

Eric Stevenson: We both met in college. I had graduated but was still in the area. Through some mutual friends we started hanging out and formed a good friendship (this is in 2009). Then I left to go teach English in South Korea. We kept in touch and, long story short, she then got the opportunity to come over to South Korea as well. We started dating there. In the months leading up to my return to the USA, I started booking a tour around the Northeast USA. I was just going to go it alone, but as relationships tend to progress, we wanted to hang out with each other more and more.

We took a note from one of our favorite bands, Cloud Cult, who also has on stage painters. We figured if they did, we might be able to as well. So, ultimately, I guess the answer is that we just liked each other and wanted to hang out more. This collaboration gave us the means to do so.

SP: What gives you musical inspiration?

Stevenson: To be honest, we always kind of laugh at this question because inspiration can come from anywhere. It’s hard to kind of pinpoint it down.

But speaking for myself, more recently I’ve been trying to take note of personal things that not many songs are written about. I really like trying to find universal things that many people can relate too yet not many write songs about. Our new album, Death Anxiety, is all about death but from a non-depressing way. At least, that’s how I tried to approach it. Death is something that scares me quite a bit, and it brings up so many questions about how it might feel like, what others will say [about me] after I die, what might happen after death, etc. I feel like there aren’t many songs that try to confront the fear of it from a curious way, yet I feel like many people think about it. I’m kind of backing off from writing about that recently, but internal struggles and curiosities along those lines are what I’ve been trying to pay attention to inside myself.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about sexuality and how we all identify with it, so maybe I’ll write a bunch of songs about that in the future, but who knows?

Also, the new Beck album, Morning Phase, is amazing and musically, I’ve been really in awe of that.

SP: Yeah, that Beck ain’t half bad…

So were you able to play/write anything in South Korea, or were you busy teaching and booking?

Stevenson: Yeah I wrote a lot there, actually! I’d say a majority of our second album, Monsters Talking, was written while I was over there. (Our first album was already in post-production phases.) I was still trying to figure out things to write about though. Most of it wasn’t really about my time in South Korea though. Just about this or that thing. That was a bit before I got preoccupied about death and all that.

SP: How did that experience shape your music and/or performance style?

Stevenson: I actually lived on a college campus and I would go to the music building and use their practice rooms. But then one day the practice rooms has locks on them with number pads. I’m pretty sure they put locks on them to keep foreigners like me out. (Not in a racist way, but in a “these are for music students only” kind of way.) I would hit their pianos pretty hard and I don’t think they liked that. Even while I was in college and would use the practice rooms on campus, I heard that the piano majors hated me because I would put all the pianos out of tune. Thankfully, I heard that after I had already graduated.

SP: Hah! As I always say: I don’t want to know what you say about me when I’m not in the room.

So you were really busy over there! How did you find time to fall for a girl?

Stevenson: I think it’s human nature that, no matter how busy you get, if you feel attracted to someone, it’s easy to free up your time.

SP: I agree. Absolutely. When we say, “I don’t have time,” it means a.) I don’t have the patience for this. b.) I don’t want it that bad.

How did you get started playing? What instruments can you play?

Stevenson: My parents forced me to play [piano] since I was 5 or 6. I hated it most of the time, though. Then, in 10th grade, on a fluke, I got together with a couple guys and formed a band. We were joking at first, but we found we really enjoyed it and would practice quite a bit. Then I started to really like the piano, specifically hitting it very hard. I started to get into Radiohead, Beck, Ben Folds Five, Badly Drawn Boy, Phish, and a lot of other bands that kind of taught me what could be done with music. I still hated lessons, but I loved writing and playing my own stuff. It kind of took off from there.

I don’t want you to think I hate my parents for making me play or anything. I’m glad they did! In fact, I’m a definite advocate towards parents making their kids play musical instruments, at least until they’re 18. Then I feel like they’re old enough to realize it’s valuable to them or not. Obviously that’s not something that can be applied to all situations, but I think it’s a good rule of thumb.

SP: What other instruments can you play? Any favorites?

Stevenson: I can play a lot of things a little bit. The guitar, bass, drums, and ukulele, I all know basic chords for. I could play simple songs on all of them, but the piano is what interests me that most. Going back to Korea, I actually took [drum] lessons there from a guy who couldn’t speak much English. It was absolutely awesome. I wish I could play those more but I don’t own a set, unfortunately.

SP: If you could play with any other musician or singer, who would it be?

Stevenson: I honestly don’t know. If it was people I truly admired, I think I’d be too afraid to do anything with them because they may think bad of me if I sucked. I’d love to work with the guys from Radiohead, for example, but they’re also very particular about what they do and we might get into fights about what would sound good. Beck (to bring him up yet again) would be fun to play with in the studio. Ezra Furman is someone I’ve been listening to a lot recently and he would be a good time to rock out with, but he’s also a songwriter, and I’ve found that, when two songwriter’s get together, they’re usually too insecure to lead the other in a song. That’s why supergroups hardly ever end up being very good, I think. A great band has a lead songwriter usually who can direct the project, for the most part. When too many “leaders” get together, it doesn’t work out.

But still, maybe just playing some covers with Ezra Furman would be sweet. I always thought it’d be fun to try and jam with some free-style rappers, too. I don’t listen to hip hop that much, but I think it would be entertaining to try and come up with hard, fast piano riffs for someone to rap over.

SP: The trouble with meeting one’s idols is that we don’t feel we can live up to them, no matter how much we want to create something great with them.

Stevenson: The more we’ve done this, the more I’ve kind of realized that celebrities and idols that we have are just people at their core. It’s easy to forget that and just think of them as fake cartoon characters or something. Still, if I were to meet Thom Yorke, I’d certainly forget all that and get tongue-tied and he’d probably ask me to leave.

SP: How would you spend your last $10? (You have the life you have now.)

Stevenson: My last $10? Well, probably on some food or something similarly survival oriented. I guess I’m confused by this question and am almost certain that I’m answering it wrongly. If you meant how DID I spend my last $10, it was on a Nate Bargatze comedy album, I think.

SP: No wrong way to answer it! It’s a beautiful question in that way.


You can check out Pocket Vinyl at Indi Go Artist Co-op on Sunday at 7 p.m. You’re sure to hear some tidbits from their third album, Death Anxiety.

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