Funned Out? An Eric Funn Interview

Last week Eric Funn announced via social media that being Eric Funn had become “not very fun” for him. He is dropping the moniker in pursuit of other goals and musical projects. His allusions to an upcoming, potentially non-permanent retirement in this interview from a couple weeks ago gives us hope the Funn’s not gone forever.

Recently I saw Eric Funn play on a farm outside of Portland, Maine. As he sang his songs the sun set and a baby goat worked the crowd. I was struck by his lyrical sensibility and the thought he put into his songwriting. The songs were emotionally forthright, self-reflective and politically challenging. They came from a viewpoint that seemed funny and sad with a doomed determination to be optimistic.

Eric was on tour from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, getting from show to show by bus and train and in the cars of friends, fans and opening bands. We talked on the phone shortly after Eric returned from tour. It was his last or next to last day in Bethlehem. He’s since moved to Minneapolis where he hopes to have a happier summer and write happier music.

Eric Funn in Maine
Eric setting up the stage

Spark & Fizz: How did tour go? Did you get stuck anywhere?

Eric Funn: It all went fine. The second to last show, Brighton NJ, fell through. I was supposed to play a bar there. The girl who set it up disappeared and the bar didn’t have any record of our show. My friend Luke came through and set us up to play at a coffee shop, which was fine but kind of terrible because everyone was talking over it the whole time.

I was really weary and decided I was retiring after my last show of the tour at Coffeeshop Without Limits in Allentown. It was a good, my retirement show… but I’ll probably un-retire in a few months.

Why the retirement?

I feel a little burnt out. When I wrote the songs leading up to the tour I was living in an attic in Bethlehem and working a really awful job and I was really depressed. The songs are reflective of the state I was in. Then I had this moment of, “Fuck this I can’t be miserable anymore” and determined I was going to book a tour and just go, even if I died.

Maybe two or three weeks into the tour I was feeling a lot better about my life than I was before, so I had a hard time relating to the songs. It felt kind of dumb singing them, since I’d already moved on. It was good to sing them and show them to people. But now I need to write new songs.

So you’re happier now–do you think you’ll write happy songs?

Yeah I think so–that’s partly why I’m retiring. I’ve been so focussed on music. It’s not like I’ve lead a totally empty life, but there are definitely ways I’ve sacrificed certain quality of life concerns in order to pursue music and try to achieve recognition. All of that has been sort of detrimental to my health. You only live once and I don’t want to be miserable.

I’m trying to find a balance where I can enjoy the process of getting a little more recognition, but also live my life and see friends… riding bikes, cooking meals, being a human.

That might give you more fuel to play music longer.

Yeah and it will probably make my songs more relatable. I’d like to write about the good times I’m having this summer. That may be more fun to listen to than just some guy talking about his mental health and trying to figure out how to be happy. I mean that’s important, I listen to a lot of artists who sing about those kind of things and it’s helped me get wisdom and understanding, but I’d rather enjoy my life and sing songs about that.

Do you think your musical style will change if you’re anticipating such a big shift in your content?

It’s hard to say. When I roll out of here on Thursday I will just be a suitcase and a guitar. It’s a folk, country, blues way of living so I think I’ll continue writing folk music because that’s what I’m primarily fascinated by. But one of the things I look forward to about this retirement period is that I’ll be a music fan again and I can listen to more of what’s going on.

It’s hard to listen, write and play out at the same time.

I feel kind of sick of music a lot of the time so I don’t listen to it. If I’m not playing shows every single night maybe I can just hang out with a record player on.

Eric Funn
Eric performing in front of a freshly built stage while cows dance in the background.

Have you retired before?

Oh yeah. I retire all the time. I always get really miserable and burnt out and since I’m kind of dramatic I say “That’s it! I’m done! I’m not doing this anymore!” and usually I’ll write a new song after a couple days. I can’t quit.

It’s a ton of material between your last two albums, Post-Columbian Head and Bedroom Stage. They both came out around the same time. How long did it take you write all those songs?

A few months. Some of those I wrote after my album from 2014. After I put that one out I wrote songs but didn’t feel particularly excited about most of them. I had a handful.

From the end of December to the beginning of March I committed to composing and recording songs directly to my tape machine. I wrote over a 100 songs in that time period. I was cranking them out. Some of them haven’t worked out, some of them I released as-is to experiment with putting them straight out to the world. I have another album written from that era called The Marigold of Forgiveness.

What is drawing you to write about forgiveness?

Just getting older and coming to terms with ways that people have hurt me in my life and ways that I’ve hurt people in their lives… going through the experience of being forgiven by other people for hurts that I’ve done to them. I’m as flawed as anybody–I’ve definitely fucked up and hurt people. And people have hurt me too and we’ve had to forgive one another. I’ve just been thinking about that a lot.

It’s really why I dropped off the scene for the past year I was just trying to grow as a person. It’s easy to be mad at the world all the time. I think I know a lot of people who struggle with forgiveness and being forgiven. It’s just what I’m focused on in my own maturation. It’s what’s on my mind. I wanted to get it out while I’m going through it so the material would be fresher.

What bands or albums got you started playing guitar?

The people that really impacted me were Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams and Bascom Lamar Lunsford who’s an Appalachian banjo player and ballad singer. Patti Smith had a huge impact on me. Bob Dylan’s book Chronicles: Volume 1 is really like the foundation of everything I do as an artist. I read that book over and over again for a year and a half. I’d just get to the end and start over. I wanted to internalize the state of mind that was expressed in that book. Bob Dylan has a lot of confidence and a certain enigmatic way of expressing himself and I wanted to internalize that.

Your guitar playing reminds me a lot of Bob Dylan.

That makes sense. I’ve avoided learning Bob Dylan’s songs because he always said not to do that, that if you really want to be like him learn the material of old folk artists. I’ve found my own people from the folk tradition that fascinate me that I want to learn from, people who are long dead. I learned “Maggie’s Farm” and “Highway 61 Revisited” but that’s it. I learned a lot more Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Carter Family songs.

A goat in the audience listens intently.
A goat in the audience listens intently.

What’s a crocodile beanpole?

That’s a nonsense lyric. I like writing lyrics stream of consciousness. I went to school for art and the surrealists would do a thing called automatic drawing where they just put their pencil down and let the drawing create itself. “Crocodile Beanpole” is kind of an automatic song.

Were you ever a cool guy? You sing you’re “not a cool guy anymore”?

Wellll I don’t know… that’s for other people to say. Probably not. I thought I was though–I’ve been cool a couple times maybe but for the most part, no. I’ve always been kind of a nerd.

Who or what is Jesus, Ganghis Khan, Socrates standing in for? You sort of set them up as representing different sides on Post-Columbian Head.

I can’t remember what I was thinking when I wrote that. I have my own interpretation of it, but it’s not definitive. But in our present situation we have our options as to how to run the world that we live in. You’ve got like your Jesus people, they’re all fine. They’ll sort of speculate how they will. We got like your philosophical people who want to base decisions on reason and rationality and we’ve got like Genghis Khan people, the dividers, the haters, the warmongers.

Some of those people blend together. It’s not defined. I think that we live in a dualistic society where everything is set up in contrast, one or the other. A lot of people say “it’s not black and white it’s a shade of grey” but it’s not any of those––it’s full color, you know?

In “I’m Not a Loser” you give a shout-out to who? Ziki bird?

Ziki bird yeah that’s my friend Zeke back in Charlesburg, PA. There’s a lyrical theme throughout these albums where I’ll say, “Oh well oh well lololol” that’s a quote from one of Zeke’s songs. It’s just a great song, I love that lyric, I wish I wrote it, so I always thought it’d be fun to pop that in every so often. Since I’m stealing it I gotta give Zeke credit where credit is due so there’s multiple shoutouts to Ziki Bird on Bedroom Stage, Post-Columbian Head and also The Marigold of Forgiveness––if it ever comes out.

I have a mission of helping to make Zeke famous. He lives in a cabin in the woods out in Pennsylvania with his wife and son and he isn’t really able to go on tour and put himself out there.

Okay more lyrics to throw at you: “I don’t know what god may be / in my head I picture a tree / that’s different from your tree.”

It’s something from Nietzche actually. I read this essay that he wrote called “Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense.” It really made an impact on me. He talked about the nature of words and how a person can say a word, but because that word invokes a different image in each person’s head we can’t communicate with each other sometimes. A person might lie to another person without intending to do so.

When people try to talk to me about god or god’s will or what god’s supposed to be or they’ll gender it. I just can’t relate to it. The thing about the tree is a person says the word “tree” I might picture a pine tree, you might picture an oak tree. We each have our own tree in our own head. But if a person says god to me or starts trying to talk about god they’re talking about the picture in their head, not what I see in my head.

You talk a bit about getting old: “somehow he made it to old age living the punk rock ideals.” I don’t know where you would fall on that aging punk spectrum. Want to say anything you were thinking about when you wrote the song?

Yeah I don’t know. You meet these old punks and you can’t tell if their pathetic or heroic sometimes. Sometimes you meet a heroic old punk but sometimes you meet one that’s really sad and you feel like “Geez how do I help this person?” It’s a real concern getting old in the scene. Punk music is mostly for young people, but there are elements of the punk ethic that I really do think are very valuable as an approach to living and treating one another. I identify with that and want to carry it with me whether I’m punk or not. I don’t know if I am.

I think it’s a fairly meaningless word at this point.

I’ve been asking myself for twenty years if I’m punk or not. Well why do I care?