Award-winning songwriter Eric Bettencourt is making the journey from Austin to compete as a finalist in the Al Johnson Performing Songwriter Contest at the Wildflower! Arts & Music Festival in Richardson. Over the years Bettencourt has released four albums, two EP’s, and collected a steady stream of national recognition and prestigious songwriting awards.
Bettencourt rested his guitar long enough to vibe through our set list of questions as we attempted to seek answers about the unique sound that labels his songwriting career.
Wildflower! Arts & Music Festival: How would you like me to describe your sound? Rock, Blues, Folk, ‘Ganked?’ And please advise what ‘ganked’ means.
Bettencourt: ‘Ganked’ is bluesy folk with groove on the rocks.
WAMFest: When did you learn guitar and was it self-taught?
Bettencourt: I began in my early teens, and I’m still learning. I had a neighbor/mentor Frank, who showed me my first few chords, but I took it from there. Mostly from books and other kids that were messing around with guitars.
WAMFest: Do you play any other instruments?
Bettencourt: It is often a necessity to recording and producing my own music to figure out other parts on other instruments so by default I have had to dabble heavily and become somewhat proficient to varying degrees; on piano, drums, banjo and bass.
WAMFest: Are you solo? We see you’ve performed with Club Staccato- is this a former or current group?
Bettencourt: Most of my shows are solo because affording a great band is often not in the budget, unfortunately. But I do LOVE playing with groups and still dream that someday I’ll have some regular players. Club Staccato is a band I started with a world class guitarist from Austin, David Hamburger. We became mutual admirers of the other’s songs and have a similar finger-style technique. We played a few gigs together, trading songs and had a lot of fun, and eventually thought it made sense to bring in the bass and drums. It’s a fun group but we don’t play very often anymore because everyone is so busy with other projects. We’re hoping to land a weekly residency somewhere soon.
There’s another band I just started called The Fursdays. It’s amazing fun, and we play every Thursday at Hills Cafe in Austin, and occasionally play other spots too. It was originally just David Jimenez, one of my absolute favorite guitarists and singers ever, and then we invited in our mutual friend Andrea Magee (Beat Root Revival) who plays an Irish hand drum called the Bodhran. Everything jelled in such an unexpected way; Andrea has such a powerful personality and is one on the funniest people I know. We have a lot of fun and the music is really becoming its own thing.
WAMFest: What song inspired you to become a songwriter?
Bettencourt: No one song or one anything; I remember having lyric and melody ideas as soon as i was able to switch between two chords in time. Actually, I’m pretty sure when I was young I’d make up my own words to catchy TV jingles, or whatever was stuck in my head. I still do it, but with dirty lyrics purely to amuse myself. Discovering The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix really blew open my view of what songwriting is, and what it could mean. I’m still endlessly fascinated with each of them.
WAMFest: What else inspires you to write?
Bettencourt: Writing for me is a way of working out internal conflicts. It’s for figuring out, understanding, and working through my inner struggles and hangups. I don’t really write with a sense of storytelling, or a solid idea, like a lot of songwriters. The songs that come from a deeper place, for me, are more like images thrown at a screen and the listener can make what they want of the picture, and relate to it how they feel like it. That said, I have found myself writing more ’topical-ish’ songs lately. It’s not my typical thing, but it’s been happening pretty naturally due to the level of insanity we all have to witness everyday.
WAMFest: What makes your music and style unique?
Bettencourt: I just try to sound like myself and use my ideas and feelings to write songs. That, to me, is really all any musician has- it’s our fingerprint and it’s nearly impossible to copy. Anything else is copying or emulating something that someone already did, which is fine for some people, but I have no interest in it.
WAMFest: What song can make you cry?
Bettencourt: I was really into this chick once and she wasn’t into me in turned out and remember hearing Bell Bottom Blues by Derek and the Dominos, around the time I figured out it wasn’t happening and almost lost it. But typically, I’m pretty impervious to emotional breakdowns facilitated by music.
WAMFest: Best live show you’ve seen?
Bettencourt: Lake Street Dive at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine. I had no idea who they were but went at the intense urging of my roommate at the time, who was running sound that night. This is before they got huge. OLS a small 200 seat theater, and from the downbeat, I was floored by every aspect of this show. Song-writing was off the hook, harmony singing, fat sticky grooves and wildly infectious energy from these four musicians. I’m not the least bit surprised to see them ascend to fame they have achieved.
WAMFest: If you could play with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Bettencourt: Oliver Wood of the Wood Brothers. The guy is a conduit to all I love and value in music and would kill to play music with him someday.
WAMFest: Do you have any other skills or talents?
Bettencourt: I have become as self-reliant as possible in almost every aspect of life- depending on other people has often been a source of aggravation I make efforts to avoid. I can fix cars, guitars, computers, houses and do some electronic repair an amps and stuff. I record, mix, and produce music and have recorded a few albums for other artists. I can also draw okay and I cut my own hair.
Eric Bettencourt is one of ten finalists in the Al Johnson Performing Songwriter Contest competing for several $500 prizes including the Michael Terry People’s Choice Award. The finals will be held Saturday, May 19, 2018 at 11:30 a.m. on the United HealthCare Singer Songwriter Stage in the Eisemann Center. On Friday, May 18, 2018 Eric will perform on the CityLine Stage at 8:30 p.m. at the 26th Wildflower! Arts & Music Festival in Richardson, Texas. #WAMFest2018