Eric Slick Creates an Electro-Funk Playhouse

Eric Slick Creates an Electro-Funk Playhouse

By: Tatiana Tenreyro
May 02, 2024

Eric Slick may have spent most of his career hiding behind the drum kit, but he's ready for the spotlight—literally.

On the album release day for his latest solo record New Age Rage in late April, Slick took the stage in a metallic suit, turning himself into a disco ball before making a costume change mid-set into a naked torso t-shirt.

Ridgewood's TV Eye became a dance party, with Slick even joining the crowd to show off his best running man. The musician made sure the show matched the LP's whimsical madness, accompanied onstage by an inflatable Halloween decoration, an '80s deco backdrop and a backing band consisting of Speedy Ortiz's Andy Molholt on second guitar (who also produced the record), Todd Bolden on keys and Fiona Palensky on drums.

New Age Rage is a departure from Slick's blissed-out 2020 record, Wiseacre. Taking as much inspiration from Pee-Wee Herman as David Byrne, Slick creates his own electro-funk musical playhouse where anything goes. Taco Bell gongs and AIM door slams on its title track? Sure, why not?

Rather than going the confessional record route that other indie rock veterans tend to take, Slick shows fans of his various projects who he really is by showing the whimsical, comedic side of himself.

"A lot of my friends were a huge proponent of this," says Slick on the phone during his day off on the road. "They'd be like, ‘Oh, you're putting out these records, but they don't really reflect who you are. You're actually fun to be around and you love to smile and you like to laugh and you like to dance, and none of that's evident in your music.'"

This was a wake-up call for Slick, who began to contemplate how to best represent himself through his latest album. He was inspired by seeing Earth, Wind & Fire, in awe of how the members of the group were having a blast onstage. "I think there's just an expectation of being the auteur and going out and being this serious artist,' but you go and see Earth, Wind & Fire or P-Funk, and it's just a party," he says. "And that's what I like. That's my favorite kind of show."

New Age Rage came at a time when Slick was fresh off his Wiseacre shows and Dr. Dog's farewell tour, ready to move on to the next project. He got back into the groove of writing by taking a School of Song class taught by Dirty Projectors' David Longstreth. From the three-week course, three songs made their way into New Age Rage, including "Ratboy Two," an imagined musical sequel to 1986 cult film Ratboy.

One of Longstreth's School of Song prompts was to write a song that was a pastiche of something that inspires you. Slick was influenced by Steely Dan at the time, wanting to write a sonic homage to the band. He also realized that his frenchie Herbie looks like a "little rat boy." This led to a Wikipedia rabbit hole, absorbing in all the details of what looked like a hilariously campy "horrible movie."

"I had a viewing party where me and my neighbors watched Ratboy and the whole time we were just groaning and laughing," says Slick.

The rest of the record came through during downtime on tour as Waxahatchee's drummer. Slick recalls that he and Katie Crutchfield would "tag-team" writing material for their respective new albums. "My song 'Anxious to Please' was written literally at the same moment as 'Right Back to It' while Katie was next door to me backstage at The Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia," he says. At times, Crutchfield would even use his computer to record demos for Tigers Blood, including the earliest iteration of "365."

With little downtime afterwards, Slick went to rural Pennsylvania to secretly record Dr. Dog's upcoming self-titled record, the band's first in six years. It marked a major milestone within the band, as he was able to write a song and sing on it for Dr. Dog for the first time. "I got a call that it was [picked] as a single and I just about lost my mind," says Slick. The moment is made even sweeter by having the song scheduled to come out on the Taurean's birthday, May 15.

It may be upsetting for Dr. Dog fans to know the band is sticking by its retirement from touring, not having to be on the road gives its members freedom to focus on their respective projects. "Scott [McMicken] pivoted to making these ever-expanding records, [while] Toby [Leaman] has another solo record on the back-burner, so I think there's a real emphasis on everyone finding their voices individually."

While Slick has found seamless chemistry with his Dr. Dog bandmates and shares that they've been "so supportive" of his solo work, the musician admits that he's always felt anxious over the concept of being mainly known as a drummer.

"So many of my friends joke with me, 'You're the only guy whose 9-5 is drumming.' That is already a hard enough thing to make happen," he acknowledges. "You made it happen and then you also want to be able to do your own thing and have it be accepted as just as important to you. So it's a struggle for sure, but I think with this record I'm really trying to make it happen."

Slick recalls that he "used to feel so much shame" around wanting to carve out his solo career. He's since accepted that he belongs on the stage as the frontman as much as behind the kit. Working through his people-pleasing tendencies during collaborative projects while setting aside his own creative ideas is what informed New Age Rage's "Anxious to Please."

"I'm so used to being the one to mediate and be the middle person. And when I'm in a band dynamic, I'm trying to be as democratic as possible. So being a bandleader now, [I get to be] who I am," he says.

While Slick has been busy balancing his solo material with his various other projects and touring gigs with friends, he's thrilled that his prolific work led to being tapped by his friend Jon Low to drum on Fearless (Taylor's Version), appearing in Taylor Swift's collaborative track with Maren Morris from the vault, "You All Over Me."

Though at the time he hadn't met Aaron Dessner in person, instead communicating through phone calls where Dessner would provide basic instructions for the music's vibe without revealing what the songs were for, Slick left a lasting impression on the Swift collaborator.

Slick shares that he spotted Dessner in the crowd at his Hudson show at The Half Moon. "He had to leave during my set, and I've never met him in person. So I was really kind of stunned, first of all, that he showed up, and second of all that I didn't get to talk to him," says the musician.

He's still hopeful that Swift, who recently featured Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche on The Tortured Poets Department, will invite him to drum for her again through Dessner. "Kevin Morby is opening for the National in July, and I'm playing drums, so I really hope that I get a word in," he says.

Photography: Athena Kulb