He can play any number of styles. If he's ever interested himself in some style of guitar playing, the odds are that he can execute it like a master of the form. From heavy metal to flamenco, from R&B to cool jazz, from Appalachia to India, he can make himself equally at home. But the style he returns to most often is a sort of Southwestern country rock, reflecting his New Mexico origins. And the Flamenco or Spanish Classical styles.
How good is he at it? Well, when it comes to the Spanish playing... have you ever been impressed by that guy who calls himself Esteban? Well, he's nowhere near as good as Eric.
Does he have a band? Of course... You should ask, how many bands does he have. Eric is someone whose creative energies can't be contained by any one project. At this writing he has about five active bands, all quite different from each other and most of them getting critical raves, and he still has music left over for sitting in with friends, his wife's solo project, and so on.
Now if I could play like him, I'd probably have an ego the size of the NASA Vehicle Assembly Building. But he doesn't, because he doesn't take himself seriously enough for that. If you were to ask anyone who knows him to sum up his personality in one word, the odds are pretty good that the word you'd get would be "clown". Not only does he have a unique and twisted sense of humor, but he also writes lots of songs about clowns (and carnivals and freak shows too), accumulates clownish parapernalia, sometimes props a clown doll up on stage before playing, etc. According to Mrs. McFadden, "He just has clown in his blood."
The following is a list of different Eric McFadden bands:
The primal Eric band is the Angry Babies. They were an Albuquerque power trio, now long defunct, with "Mr. Mystery" on bass, "Bugz Bunner" on drums, and Eric on guitar. The style is a kind of hard rock that some called punk-metal. I once described the Angry Babies as "the world's only good heavy metal band." Amps to 11, snarling chords and punishing rhythms, the kind of towering guitar godhood that the umlauted hair-farmers strive for... all in the service of the viewpoint of a cranky toddler! Most of the songs have a mental age of no more than four, sometimes quite a bit less. Eric turns the beloved macho posturing of hard rock ass-over-elbows and deflates the whole style without, as far as I can tell, even meaning to. He shows no sign that he's not just as serious about it as any other distortion slinger... after all, this was a time in his youth when, he says, he was trying to become a Rock Star. But hardly anyone seems to have heard of the Angry Babies outside of New Mexico, and outside of the fans of his current bands I have only run into one person who had heard one of their albums... and he hated it. It was too weird for the mainstream audience, I guess.
It may not have helped that two out of three members of the band were, Eric now says, raging alcoholics.
Their first album is called From the Womb (Acid Test, 1989). It exists in two versions, one of them sounding very homemade, the other somewhat homemade. I have never seen an official manufactured copy... I only have tapes sent to me by a guy who fronted another Albuquerque band of the time, Saddle Söres.
Their second album is Mr. Toyhead (Constitution Records 12184, 1992). It is an absolute work of genius, utterly unique. It is probably Eric's funniest record, as well as the hardest rocking, and maybe the most emotionally disturbing too. I scored it by sheer luck in a pile of used stuff, and discovered Eric. If you are not so lucky, do anything you can to get a copy. It is worth committing murder for, even if you get caught.
made this entire album available for download in MP3 format!! There
are even two songs that weren't included in the version of the album that
Go there now and start downloading!
Too late... he took down the MP3s and has instead made the songs available in RealAudio streaming format. It's okay if you have broadband, I guess.
This album contains two "Sicko the Clown" songs, and the title song "Mr. Toyhead" lives on in another form played by:
The Eric McFadden Experience. Musically the sound of this group is at the opposite pole from the Angry Babies. Eric sticks to acoustic instruments, the rhythm section is sometimes just a bass fiddle and a pair of congas, and the volume is kept moderate. Lots of traditional folk styles find their way into the songs. Originally, much of their material dated from the years before Liar was formed, and few new songs were written for the group. Membership in this outfit was not too rigidly fixed, but the group was generally Eric on mandolin and nylon-string guitar, Shaunna Hall (formerly of 4 Non Blondes) on steel-string acoustic guitar, Paula O'Rourke on bass, and Paulo Baldi on drums. From this time on, Paulo is generally the drummer in whatever bands Eric puts together. Many of the songs are pretty silly ("White Brain Circus", inspired by the Katherine Dunn novel Geek Love, is the weirdest), but often they are also grim or creepy enough that you might not think it's funny if you don't have the necessary little moebius twist in your lower left occipital lobe.
Later, the group expanded to include violinist Benjamin Barnes and cellist Samuel Bass. These two have a band of their own called Deadweight, a trio with Paulo on drums, which despite the string instrument lineup is quite loud and raucous. Ben plays a solid-body electric five string violin/viola. A full set of new songs was developed for this six player lineup.
At first there was no Experience album as such; what they had was an Eric McFadden solo album called Who's Laughing Now? (Fortune Records FR96102, 1996). Copies of this used to be very scarce, and in a just world would have gone for a hundred and eighty dollars each, but the album was reissued by NMX records. It contains a lot of the songs the Experience likes to play recorded by assorted pre-Experience groupings of musicians. Paula O'Rourke is on most tracks (under her previous name of Paula Blanchard), Paulo plays assorted percussion on many, Shaunna makes a couple of appearances, Marisa Martinez Mead makes one cameo, and on one or two tracks Eric plays all instruments. This album sets the record for songs about clowns and carnivals with a count of six out of sixteen (Mr. Toyhead had three out of nine), including the third "Sicko the Clown" song. The album includes several fine instrumentals, including one in which Eric does a Link Wray impression. It's the only time I've heard him use a tremolo bar after the Angry Babies.
Their new songs, with the six-player lineup, are on an album called Our Revels Now Are Ended (NMX Records NMX666EM, 1999). It continues the tradition of having lots of songs about clowns, carnivals, and freak shows (five out of fifteen). The large string section gives this record the richest sound of any Eric record. It's also Eric's gloomiest record, on the whole. "Sicko's Bed and Breakfast", which Eric calls "the fourth song in the Sicko the Clown trilogy", is here. (This song has occasionally snuck into a Liar show.) I look forward to Eric someday, in the distant future, releasing an all-Sicko retrospective collection. Shaunna has a song called "Macaroon" on this album. The album seems to have come together very quickly; the new lineup and most of the songs were, as far as I know, unheard of only three months before... yet some of the new songs can rank with his finest work.
Here is a link to a RealAudio of the song "Freaks Like Us" from this album.
Someday I hope he records the one I can only call The Lost Clown Song -- it has a line about being on the cover of Clown Magazine.
Another band which started in Albuquerque is called Alien Lovestock. Unlike the Angry Babies, they are still active. This band features Anton Kozikowski singing and playing guitar, and Eric playing guitar and singing. The bassist is Charles Gasper, and Paulo is the drummer. The style is jazzy and funky, rather than rock&rollish -- it's as different from either of the bands above as they are different from each other. The songs are somewhat more (ahem) serious-minded than those of the other bands here.
They have an album called We Are Prepared to Offer You (Vapor Lab / BMI, no identifying number I can find, 1997). To me it's one of the least interesting of Eric's albums, but I'm still glad I got it. It has been reissued by NMX Records.
Their second album is called Planet of the Fish (NMX-0334-2, 2000), and features guest vocals by George Clinton (contributing to the athem "Alien Love"), and Storm Large. If you don't know who Storm is... well, I'll just say that she puts on a show that everyone ought to see once, regardless of whether or not you even like her music. This album could serve decently as a party record.
It's funny, but whereas most bands have traditionally tended to have a strong first album and a relatively shaky second album, the second albums of Eric's bands are usually better than the first albums.
Eric McFadden's best known band, and his best band, was Liar. It was the one everybody knew was going to break big... yet somehow it didn't. In fact, the reason I originally put together this page was because I believed Liar to be the best band in existence, bar none. That was the original inspiration for me creating any home page at all, in fact. I made a whole separate Liar appreciation page here, which unfortunately has to now be considered historical, because by 2001 Liar had become inactive. But when the original Liar lineup (Eric, Paula, Paulo, and Marisa Martinez Mead) took the stage for a brief reunion at the Paradise Lounge in January, the crowd absolutely went ape -- I had hoped that Eric would get the message that what the world needs is Liar. They did one more official reunion show the following June, as a benefit. But now, alas, Liar is no more.
Another band is The Faraway Brothers, an acoustic trio (sometimes with guests) in which Eric collaborates with bassist Ed Ivey of the legendary eclectic Texas country-punk band The Rhythm Pigs. Ed was also in Polkacide, where he played tuba, and assorted other bands. Ed also plays guitar when Eric switches to mandolin, and he even pulls out a trumpet once in a while. They mainly play cover tunes, specializing in songs by dead people... but more originals are creeping in. Both Eric and Ed are famous for eclecticism, so when you put them together the range of styles is the broadest of any of these bands, from Hank Williams to Dave Brubeck to Black Sabbath. Paulo is the drummer. They don't rehearse, they just go out there and play whatever songs they all happen to know. So this band is sort of a throwaway compared to the others... and yet it's earning rave critical enthusiasm. At least one guy I know likes this band better than the Experience. They often play free on Tuesday nights at the Fourth Street Tavern in San Rafael.
They have a live CD called Long Ago and Far Away (NMX0092FB, 1998). On this record Ed and Eric demonstrate that they can be just as much at home with harmonically sophisticated cool jazz as with cowboy tunes, and good enough at it to leave some real jazz musicians quite startled when they hear that these guys are "really" country-rock types, not jazzmen... even when they sneak a kazoo into a Miles Davis song.
A new album is out, called Start the Engine and Drive Away (NMX0093FB, 1999), also recorded live. Unlike most second albums, I'd say it's better than the first. (Ed thinks so too.) NMX's mission was to showcase significant talents that have been passed over by the major labels. Eric's records sometimes constituted the majority of their catalog. Alas, they are gone.
Since that second album was released, The Faraway Brothers have expanded to include organist Chip Roland as a steady fourth member. He sometimes plays a cuatro, or tenor guitar -- an undersized instrument with only four strings.
A group called The Holy Smokes seems to be more or less a one-off... they toured for some months and then ceased to be heard of. Eric and Paula are teamed with Keith Wilson on clarinet and Dan Laks on second guitar, and no percussion. They play in the styles of the swing era -- you could call them the World's Smallest Big Band. They have a self-titled album (NMX1000, 1999). It includes several covers of old-time classics by folks like Ellington and Django, along with originals. It also includes a version of the Experience song "Freaks Like Us", which works very well with a clarinet, though it makes an awkward fit with the other material since it's not swing.
Along with all these other bands, Eric sometimes plays solo acoustic, and Eric and Paula took to sometimes touring as a duet.
There is a solo acoustic album simply titled Eric McFadden (NMX-2000, 2000). People like Paula and Shaunna help out on occasional songs, but it's mostly just Eric and his guitar.
A second solo acoustinc album is called Devil Moon (Window Records 335), and amazingly, it contains not a single clown song! Unless you count a cover of the Lennon-McCartney circus song "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite". This one sticks a bit more strictly to solo performing without guest musicians than the previous one did.
Both feature a lot of quiet, dark, and gloomy kinds of songs.
In 2001, Eric became a full member of George Clinton's P-Funk. Since this band is an institution unto itself, I won't discuss it here. I just hope that the outfit helps Eric as much as his presence will help them. But one side effect of this is the creation of yet another new Eric band called IZM, a trio with P/Funk veterans Ronkat Spearman (bass & vocals) and Ron Wright (drums) -- woops, make that Kevin Carnes instead of Ron Wright. Their album is just called IZM.
After 2001, Eric had kind of a low profile for a while and did a bunch of work in other people's bands, such as Stockholm Syndrome. But now he's back with a new rock&roll lineup: The Eric McFadden Trio. This group consists of Eric on guitar, James Whiton on doghouse bass, and Jeff "The Commander" Anthony on drums. They play quite a few old songs from previous bands such as Liar and The Eric McFadden Experience, and his solo work too, as well as new songs. The new ones appear to be gradually pushing out the old songs. They know what Eric's fans want: more than any previous band, this one takes lots of time for extended solos by all of the players. Guest musicians often make an appearance -- if someone cool is in the opening act, they'll probably help out on a song or two. They have two albums that came out more or less at once: a studio recording called Diamonds To Coal (Window Records 336), and a live recording called The Un-Official Non-Japanese Import Of The Not So Secret Northwest Club Shows (which does not appear to be affiliated with any official record company). The former has one clown song. That brings the count of Eric's albums up to seventeen! I have all but two.
On the studio album, this comes across as Eric's loudest band ever -- and maybe the dumbest too, an impression largely due to the relative lack of the extended solos that add so much to the live performances. But then the closing section has a group of quiet songs.
"The Commander" has recently been replaced by Paulo, playing a set with five cymbals and two bass pedals. James Whiton favors a slapping rockabillyish style of playing his upright bass, but he also uses a number of exotic effects pedals not usually seen in the acoustic-bass world, including samplers allowing him to overlay multiple loop tracks onstage. Eric favors principally acoustic guitars here. In spite of the acoustic instruments, this is Eric's hardest rock band since the Angry Babies. For Eric, it's as completely natural to play a really authoritative heavy metal solo on a little nylon-stringed classical guitar as it is on any other instrument.
Each of the bands has a different purpose. The Eric McFadden Experience is for connecting with traditional acoustic playing that isn't commercially in demand, and a safe place for Eric to let out the weird and twisted side of his sense of humor. The Faraway Brothers is, you might say, for relaxing and having a casual good time with musical friends, and silly stuff like showing how "Like a Virgin" would sound if performed by Metallica instead of Madonna. Alien Lovestock is a place where Eric is taking somewhat of a back seat to the ideas and styles of other players, and just letting the funk groove groove. Liar was the place for his finest rock&roll... a job that now has to be fulfilled by The Eric McFadden Trio.
What are the essential Eric
McFadden albums? Here is my list of favorites, most essential first:
1) Liar, Gone Too Far
1) [tie] Liar, Devil Dog Road
3) Angry Babies, Mr. Toyhead (now available free in streaming form)
4) Eric McFadden Experience, Our Revels Now Are Ended
5) Eric McFadden (Experience), Who's Laughing Now?
6) Faraway Brothers, Start the Engine and Drive Away
7) Alien Lovestock, Planet of the Fish
8) Faraway Brothers, Long Ago and Far Away
I used to have a section of
Eric-related links here, but the only one still necessary to preserve here
is Eric's own site, EricMcFadden.com.
But I guess I'll throw in a plug for Shelley
Doty too -- she and Eric sometimes seem separated-at-birth. (She
did live next door to him once...)
over to my Liar appreciation page
back to my home page
send mail to Paul Kienitz
"Come kiss your freakshow messiah!"