Erik Shicotte delivers hard-earned Midwestern twang that cannonballs with diesel-powered intent on his new EP Miss’ry Pacific. Wielding a cast iron voice seasoned to smooth perfection, the 28-year-old Shicotte (pronounced Shuh-kaa-tee) rumbles from rail yards to roadhouses on train songs, highway anthems, and good ol’ fashioned heartachers that lament the rambling life while celebrating its freedom. Miss’ry Pacific, due to arrive on July 16th, marks the Wisconsin native’s debut for Shooter Jennings’s Black Country Rock Media and extols the virtues of the remote recording process that’s become an evolving marvel and tragic necessity since COVID-19. Featuring bass performances from Miss Tess and Dennis Crouch as well as Colter Wall regulars Patrick Lyons (pedal steel), Jake Groves (harmonica), and drummer Aaron Goodrich (who also engineered and wrangled sessions for the affair), Miss’ry Pacific balances between a working man’s sense of pride and a troubadour’s hunger.
AI- When I was a kid, in my household, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Chuck Berry, all that stuff was the normal soundtrack to everything. It was actually movies that introduced me to a lot of bands and artists that I wouldn’t have heard bein’ at the mercy of local radio and whatnot. You had a similar tale? It was a video game that spurred you on to pick up the guitar?
ES- That is correct! The main menu music in NASCAR ’99 for PS1 was “Scuttle Buttin'” by Stevie Ray [Vaughan]! I just thought that was the coolest shit I’d ever heard!
When did you start playin’? Is that what got you into it then and what you started doin’ first– that Texas blues style?
Kind of. What happened was, I kept hearin’ that song whenever I’d fire up [the Playstation] and I’d drive the wrong way around the racetrack and crash into everybody– but I’d always come back to that song. I looked up who that was and I started listenin’ to Stevie Ray and I started to listen to the blues, started listenin’ to all the old shit all the way down to the Delta and the origins of American music for God’s sake! But after about six, eight months of that, I suppose it would have been the middle of eighth grade… My parents had me take piano lessons all growing up. I wasn’t very good at it so they’re like, “Maybe we’ll try a guitar,” and lo and behold, I could actually play that fuckin’ thing!
Where’d you learn to fingerpick? I’ve been watchin’ some of your videos on social media and your style is so smooth. It’s so cool. Where’d you learn to do that?
I mostly self-taught myself all the things I know now, but the groundwork was laid by an Irishman, actually, by the name of Ian Gould. I took lessons when I got my first guitar, and he taught me chords and a little fingerpickin’. He was tryin’ to teach me a Leo Kottke tune! It’s like three weeks into me playin’, and I’m like, “Holy shit!” But yeah, he laid the groundwork and the rest I’ve just managed to build from there. I started doin’ whatever I wanted and I wasn’t really doing what he asked me to (laughs) and he was like, “I think you can figure this out.” Yeah, my style, that’s where it comes from. It was just made messin’ around until somethin’ sounds good, basically.
You had some bands in high school, but when did you get on the track that you’re on now, writin’ the kind of songs that you are and gettin’ ready to introduce the world to?
Yeah, you nailed that one! I was in shitty cover bands for a lot of years! I was always tryin’ to get the guys to just play one Waylon song and it just never happened! I started writin’… Hell, I’ve been writin’ the whole time, but seriously, probably three, four, five years ago started comin’ up with tunes that I wanted to actually play. As time went on, about four years ago with the boys in the band, they were all movin’ on to other stuff. One of ’em’s practically a doctor now for God’s sake! But then I started really sittin’ with myself and how I felt and started actually writing– and writing in the style that I wanted to. In the bands, we did a whole lot of weird shit– a lot of modern country, some classic, but a surprising amount of like R&B and blues. We’d try to play Bill Withers songs for some reason! But, yeah, about three, four years ago, I started down this path of really gettin’ into what my sound is turnin’ into. I’m a Waylon fan for sure! I took a little pilgrimage to Littlefield, Texas to see where he come from and started writin’ about the road because I’ve been on it for a while now!
Let’s talk about that part. In addition to being a musician, you work on the road, you go around settin’ up and building fire training towers. I see your busted knuckles when you’re playin’ guitar. I see you out in your work boots in the snow. You’ve been doin’ this for a while?
This has been about two-ish years I’ve been with this company and then I did a little construction before that. I’d done a whole lotta shit over the years just tryin’ to get by makin’ enough money that I can keep playin’ guitar. But, yeah, this is about two years with this outfit, and we’re all over the damn place!
I’m assuming that the pandemic did not slow that occupation down much.
Well, it actually had a bit of a weird effect ’cause right at the start of it, I went out to Oregon, did a job out there, and then at the urging of a doctor of mine, I laid off a job in Florida. Turns out, I got fired and didn’t even know it! Three months later, I talked to the boss again and I spent all winter plowin’ snow for him! Now I’m back on the towers and I’ll be heading for Montana… Might be next week, might be the week after! We don’t know (laughs)!
Meanwhile, during all that, somehow…
We made a damn record!
Yeah! Many hands, many rooms went into making the Miss’ry Pacific EP. Is this your first studio effort? Is this the first formal studio [record] that you’ve been involved with?
Yeah, this is my first solo studio anything. I’ve messed around with my buddy [who’s] got recording equipment in his living room here in Wisconsin. Back a while ago, I used to mess around in there and we tried to put something out. We did our damnedest, but the production quality just was not there. It was on Spotify for a little bit and it was fun, but definitely not something I really wanted representin’ me forever.
Was [Miss’ry Pacific] all recorded remotely? Was it all pieced together with different musicians at different times? Or were you ever able to actually join anybody in the studio?
No, I never got to join anybody in the studio. I’m lookin’ forward to meetin’ all them cats ’cause they’re a talented bunch! But no, I have not met any of ’em. The vocals for one of the songs was recorded while I was on that job out in Oregon and then the rest of ’em, I did the vocals and guitar back here in Wisconsin. It’s been a lot of files bouncin’ around, but I’m pretty pleased with how “live” it sounds for all the piecemealin’ we did!
It’s not a unique situation, especially right now with the way folks have had to work and put together records this last 15, 16 months. I don’t know if that part of it’s gonna stop. As a matter of fact, I feel like it’s changin’ the way things are done goin’ forward forever onward. There’s been a lot of discussion as far as new artists coming on the scene during COVID-19 and how what they’re facing as far as breaking into the business and building on it is different than it’s ever been for any other generation playing music. Do you feel that?
Yeah. You can’t beat a live session where you’re actually sittin’ down with all the players, but this opens up many other avenues. You can play with anyone from anywhere at any given point in time– which is kinda exciting, I’ll be honest with ya! If I got other buddies that play, and God forbid someday I make another [record], bein’ able to pick and choose someone from somewhere else to just come track and send us somethin’ that we can use– that’s really cool!
Tell me about who put this [EP] together with you. Who’re are the producers of note that helped you wrangle all this together?
My manager, Britt [Dimattia], and the other member of the management team, Ash Seiter, they were instrumental in gettin’ everyone together. Aaron Goodrich really spearheaded the whole damn thing. Because the way we did this is I’d play the song just as a demo, scratch track to a click, and send it off to him. He arranged the whole band! He played drums on everything and he arranged it so they could record to it. And then they’d send me files back and I listened to ’em and shit my pants a little bit and be like, “Oh God, this real!” Aaron was absolutely key, just top of the line! He did an amazing job makin’ this happen! I’d give Aaron Goodrich a lot of credit for organizin’ the sound. I was doin’ my best to describe to him over the phone what I was hearin’ when I play my own songs, and he managed to make that happen with my not-so-extensive vernacular!
You have said that there isn’t and there can’t be too many train songs. Now, the train song itself, I don’t think has as dedicated a genre as perhaps trucker songs and that legendary grouping of artists and music. And I think that’s due to the presence of radios in truck cabins. For you, what’s the challenge of writing a train song in the 21st Century considering all that’s been said and done before? How do you approach it in a new way?
That’s an interesting question, actually, ’cause the industry itself is ever changin’. I’m huge into trains. If you were tryin’ to find stuff on me I’m sure you found some goddamn train pictures! A lot of my friends worked for the railroads and it’s a dyin’ art in and of itself within the industry. But the romance of the outsider looking in? You have a point there with trucker songs. That’s almost its own genre. But train songs, I find that they transcend. ‘Cause you can mention a train in a song and just know what someone’s thinkin’ about when they write that line. You’ll hear somethin’ about a whistle whinin’ or the clickety-clack or whatever cliche bullshit gets thrown in, and it’s still very present and standard. However, dedicated train songs? You ain’t got Hank Snow and Jimmie Rodgers writin’ nothin’ anymore, obviously. Those boys really got into their train shit! And so did Merle [Haggard]! I think he put out a whole record about that stuff!
Approachin’ it in the modern day, “Miss’ry Pacific” is lookin’ back fondly on an era that I never actually got to witness. I’ve only gotten to see the pictures and the videos. It’s based on the ’60s through the ’90s of railroading, the diesel era fast freights and bankruptcies and all that kinda shit. I just wanted to approach it from a traditional sense but put at least a little bit of that stuff on it. ‘Cause I haven’t heard any songs about the fast freights of the ’80s and ’90s on the Santa Fe. It’s a song about where my mind goes when I think about this kind of stuff. ‘Cause that’s what I do every night to get to bed! Instead of countin’ sheeps, I’m countin’ cars! I envision these things in my mind. Don’t you laugh at me (laughs)!
Oh man, that’s admiration, not contempt (laughs)!
No, it wasn’t you! My manager’s sittin’ in the other room gigglin’ (laughs)!
I like that idea of a train being something universal. You’re right, when you hear that or when you consider it, you know exactly what someone is talkin’ about.
That’s somethin’ that won’t ever go away. There’ll always be a lonesome whistle whinin’ somewhere, ’cause that freight’s gotta move one way or the other and that’s the most efficient. The industry will never die. It might get its balls chopped off and lose every bit of romance it once had, but them trains are still gonna move! And someone’s gonna have to sing about it!