It's a good bet that the people who know who Erick Baker is—besides his family, friends, and co-workers—know him as the lead singer for Down From Up. Baker's fronted that band since its beginnings as an acoustic duo in 2004 through its evolution into a staple of the regional modern-rock circuit.
But in the last few years, he's slowly developed another outlet for himself. He's been writing songs on his own—the Down From Up process is largely collaborative—and as they've piled up he's decided to finally do something with at least a few of them. Six of Baker's songs appear on his new EP It's Getting Too Late to Say It's Early, his first solo project and a surprising departure from Down From Up. It's Getting Too Late isn't just an unplugged version of a hard-rock album; the songs are written and arranged for an acoustic format, embellished by piano, strings, bass, and percussion parts that are low-key and restrained but essential to the dark, candlelit mood of the disc. Two of the songs, "My Two Left Feet" and "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" are just Baker and his guitar. The songs are romantic and emotional, and Baker's reinvented the hoarse rasp he uses with Down From Up into a rugged kind of croon in the model of soulful New England folk singer Ray LaMontagne.
"A lot of music is so polished and overproduced," Baker says. "I wanted to put out something stripped-down and honest....The energy with Down From Up is tied in with loud guitars. I get caught up in being a frontman. With this music, which tempo-wise is mid- to slow, the energy's in the songs. I'm putting myself completely into the song. I'm more tired after a solo show than after a Down From Up show. Solo shows are more emotionally stressful."
The vulnerability of those solo shows may wear Baker out, but it's also what he regards as the strength of his songwriting. "It's not anything that's not been written before," he says. "But I hope that people can see that it's real. I'm saying, 'Hey, it's okay to be sad or it's okay to cry....I've tried writing songs that aren't love songs. But I write what I know and what I've lived."
Baker recorded It's Getting Too Late in just five days—"They were kind of long days," he says—with producer Travis Wyrick and a loose band made up of Down From Up guitarist Matt Brewster on piano, Taylor Coker on bass, and Alonzo Lewis on drums. (During his release show for It's Getting Too Late, Baker will be backed by Coker, Cruz Contreras on piano and mandolin, Erin Archer on viola, and Chad Pelton on drums.)
"I went from recording live demos, just a mic in a room, to having Travis produce them," Baker says. "My main concern was losing what happens when you play live, that raw element. But he was able to find the balance between that and production. It's funny, because I say I was the one who wanted to keep that live element, but there was a lot of first-take stuff where Travis was like, 'You've got to keep that.'"
For now, anyway, Baker says he'll keep his solo career a side project. He'll see what happens after It's Getting Too Late is out and keep writing songs for himself, but there's no question that he's staying the lead singer for Down From Up.
"I like rock music," he says. "I grew up on classic rock. But who I am is on that CD. That's what I'll be listening to and the songs I'll be writing forever. Down From Up is a whole different outlet. It's nice to have both of them. But writing is like my therapy."