Eric Dorr on his Genre-Spanning Debut 'Dream Routine'
By Brody Coronelli
Some songwriters find a sound and spend their careers building upon it, trying new things but never straying too far away from what built it in the first place. Eric Dorr-- a 28 year-old singer/songwriter based in Boulder, Colorado-- isn’t one of those musicians.
Instead, Dorr’s music has adhered to a constant sense of evolution; something he welcomes with open arms. When I spoke with him in a crowded café in Boulder, Colorado—his longtime home since he graduated college—he spoke about himself and his music with forthright authenticity, making no attempts to mask his excitement over the release of his debut EP Dream Routine.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, PA, music has played an integral role in Dorr’s life ever since he was young. The story of how he came into music is hardly unusual; he started playing trumpet as a child in school band, and gradually began to find a home in songwriting as he got older and was exposed to alternative music.
“When I was 12 or 13, all my friends were listening to pop radio and more modern stuff, and Ryan Adams and Ben Folds (artists Dorr cites as major early influences) were less popular. In high school, I started listening to Iron & Wine, Josh Ritter, Death Cab For Cutie, and Feist—bands in that indie corner,” he said.
By high school, he was playing in bands and beginning to write his own music. This led him to pursue a music degree at Temple University in Philadelphia, with plans of becoming a music teacher. Once he saw the job up close, however, he made the decision to become an independent music instructor, citing the increased freedom as the main motive.
“Some kids want to learn how to sing pop songs and strum on a guitar, and some want to approach it from a more formal angle, and [as an independent instructor] I have the ability to do both,” he said.
After college, he relocated to Boulder, CO with his longtime friend and collaborator Sawyer Bernath. It was there where he began to develop his career as an instructor while also becoming an intrinsic piece in Boulder’s rich folk and alternative scene. The connections he made, alongside his collaboration with Bernath, both led to the fruition of his debut EP Dream Routine.
Produced by Bernath and made with the help of his friends in the Boulder scene, the lion share of the record was recorded in apartments throughout the city, the exception being the professionally tracked drumming by Carl Sorenson and mixing by Brandon Calano at Coupe Studios in Boulder. Instead of settling on one sound, the EP was conceived with the intention of serving as a stylistically diverse portfolio of what Dorr is capable of as a songwriter and musician.
“As a beginner, I want to have a few different styles to catch someone’s ear. My goal for the next project will definitely be to see how this next couple of months go, how the EP is received, and see what I like and push in a more specific direction,” he said.
As a result, no two songs on Dream Routine sound the same. At their core, these are emotionally forthright pop/rock songs written from a place of circuitous introspection, but they each manifest in ways that make every song distinct when played in succession.
“Kerosene” opens with a screeching, Pavement-esque wall of electric guitars, only to subtly dissolve into an understated verse of slow-burning drums and distant, sparse guitars. The song changes gears again by the time the chorus hits—a euphoric, mid-tempo hook that effectively utilizes the contrast between distorted, harsh walls of guitar and a lush, melodic lead. The bold transitions and eclectic framework of “Kerosene” is a strong representation of what Dorr aims to do on all six of these tracks.
“Around Again”, a song elevated by lush vocal harmonies from Liz Berube, opens with a blossoming of doo-wop-reminiscent piano chords before falling into a shimmering, infectious, and sugary chorus; a sharp contrast between the atonal drive of “Kerosene”. “Leaves”—a beaming, windows-down pop-song by verse and a fuzzed out pop-rocker on the chorus— is carried by a warm sunbeam of ambient synths and a slew of catchy, quick-to-resolve melodies. Dorr changes direction once again on the last track "Next To Me", which features background vocals from Mitchel Evan-- another singer/songwriter making waves in Colorado-- is a beachy, reggae-driven song that ruminates on the comfort that comes from being with those closest to you. The harmless affection this track is hard to resist, and it's delicate assertion is reflective of Dorr's songwriting as a whole; understated, yet tough to ignore.
While the EP is ultimately rooted in introspection, Dorr spends more time looking outward on these songs that inward.
“At this stage in my songwriting, I have a hard time getting extremely personal with myself. I want to pursue that as I grow as a songwriter, but at this moment, I found that it was easier to connect to experiences I’ve had or people I’ve known, or how I see my relationship with them,” he said.
This intention makes itself clear on “The Loss”: a song written from the perspective of an old neighbor whose life went down a dark road. This shadowy, poignant track was written from a place of empathy rather than introspection, and it comes through as one of Dream Routine’s most potent moments.
The EP is also a portrait of an artist who writes with intention rather than abundance. Despite his significant amount of time as a songwriter, Dorr heirs on the side of quality rather than quantity.
"A lot of my friends have a ton of songs and they narrow it down for their records. There's six songs on this EP, but I don't have 100 put away. I haven't been extremely prolific [so far in my career]. So many of my favorite artists have a deep discography, but at the time, I'm very picky with the songs I choose to work with," he said.
This selective approach to writing only works in Dorr's favor. Each song on Dream Routine is spanning and fully realized from start to finish, layered with virtuosic intricacies that often only spawn from putting an idea under a microscope.
Throughout the remainder of the year, Dorr has his sights on promoting the EP and expanding upon his live performance. He just brought on a drummer, rounding out the keys, bass, and guitar trio he's been performing with over the past year. At this point, the song's on Dream Routine are reflective of something on a much larger scale, but his live show is headed in that trajectory in earnest.
"My goal when I perform is, first and foremost, to get everything together, and as I get more comfortable on stage, I'm working on talking to the audience more and connecting that way. Being able to connect with my band [is also important to my performance], as well as establish[ing] that fun, collaborative feel that can really catch people's attention," he said, speaking of his abilities with modesty that suggests faith in work while also acknowledging that there's plenty of room for improvement.
Above all, Eric Dorr is humble and grounded. He speaks about his music with an authenticity that commends himself for his achievements so far, while also holding himself to a standard he hopes to one day reach. This balance of ego and ambition renders him an understated yet convicted force in music and in conversation; he's self-assured without a hint of conceit, with his sights constantly set on something bigger.
Dream Routine is a debut that showcases Dorr as a songwriter of high caliber and ample diversity-- not only within his own catalog, but within the world of independent songwriters as a whole. Despite his desire to settle into a more specific sound as he continues writing, it's clear that his creative limits are vast and without any nearby borders.
When asked about how he sees himself against his counterparts, he replied, with slight hesitation: "I really don’t think there are a lot of artists that sound like me right now." If this EP is any indication, this comment isn't rooted in any semblance of overconfidence.