WRECKLESS ERIC: SYSCO TRUCKS
In the ‘70s, when he was a young man and at the height of his fame, British musician Wreckless Eric had a seven-man road crew.
These days when he tours the USA, Eric, now 61, loads up his midnight blue 2002 Buick LeSabre by himself. He packs the amps, guitars, clothes, a loaded iPod and the other necessities a working musician touring solo needs and unpacks it all at each stop along the way.
This past summer alone, driving from his home in the New York Catskills, he played Jackson, Mississippi, Memphis, St. Louis, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston and Austin, among other cities. Driving along after each gig and before the next one, there were streams of highways, fast food joints, and gas stations, along with other travelers and truckers.
“I just would see at 4:30 in the morning, I would see Sysco Trucks everywhere,” Eric said in a telephone interview before hitting the road, once more, for a tour of Europe, in support of his most recent album, AmERICA, on Fire Records. “And then I’d see mom and pop diners, you know, the kind of places that speak to you of homemade food and wholesomeness. And then you see a Sysco truck parked outside and they’re wheeling dinners and God knows what off.”
Sysco trucks are rolling through the night
Delivering the stuff that people like
State to state along the interstate
Catering for appetites they’ll never satiate
From truck to plate
Across the USA
The album, he said, is “about me. It’s about America and it’s about my relationship with America, but it’s mostly about me. I thought that was funny as hell. I can call my album AmERICa because my name is sitting there in the middle of it.”
The road, and these days he’s a touring machine, also offers Eric a time to write.
“I could never do that sitting down to write a tune, ‘I’ve got to sit here and I’ve got to write something.’ I mean, I wish I could. I never seem to be able to have the time when my head is clear and where the schedule is clear, to get into the habit of doing that. So I just write on the fly and a lot of time I kind of write while I’m on tour. And I write stuff down as it occurs to me.”
With the exception of some tunes in his catalog featuring frenetic guitar, and the visceral, skinned-knees-on-asphalt raw songs chock full of his beloved sound effects and distortion on his Bungalow Hi record, Eric’s been crafting pop and rock—if there is a distinction—gems. (Which isn’t to say there aren’t gems on Bungalow Hi, 33s + 45s, as an example.) He attributes his successful songwriting, in part to editing.
“That’s what a lot of people aren’t good at. They want to use everything that they’ve got and they can’t take something out because they go, ‘Oh, that’s a good line. I can’t take that out,’ even though it’s superfluous to the plot. So I try and take the stuff out that doesn’t seem to be germane to the issue and I try and put stuff in where there’s something that seems a bit weak. I try and make it better. And sometimes the songs have got stories. And sometimes they’ve got no story. And sometimes I’m not quite sure what they’re about. And sometimes it becomes apparent. And sometimes it doesn’t. Usually I do know what they’re about, really. But sometimes I think they’re about one thing and they’re about another.
“It’s just a bloody great big accident, really, when you write a tune. I mean, it’s a good accident, it’s a random thing, really. It’s just a question of two minor satellites colliding at the right moment, really, something like that.”
Whatever his process, it works. MOJO magazine puts him in damn good company, writing, “Wreckless Eric is a hero to all those of us who love a good kitchen sink drama set to music. He takes the strangeness in the everyday and sets it to song. Like Ray Davies, Kevin Ayers and Ian Dury, he is a truly great British songwriter.”
Tins and tubs and stacks of frozen meals
Are moving day and night on Sysco wheels
The food is on the table so pull up a chair
Everything we’re eating comes from somewhere
To diners everywhere
“It’s a song about Sysco trucks. It’s a song about food. It’s a song about food being delivered. It’s a song about processed food,” Eric said.
And it’s a quiet protest of a song.
“I travel a lot. If you travel you know what trying to get anything decent to eat is like. It’s very hard. You’re not going to get home cooked food just the way mom made it. You’re going to get something that’s processed to pieces and has very, very little nutritional value to it. I think.
“Stuff that comes in tins and tubs is generally processed. It has preservatives in it. It has enhancers in it.
“I think there’s a good possibility that the food that they provide, which gets trucked across America, is not as good for you as something that might have been home-grown or pulled up in a field nearby.
“I’m just saying check the labels on the food you eat. I wonder why when we have fertile soil everywhere all across the Western world, why we have to have food that is trucked in from thousands of miles away?”
As Eric tunefully suggests that you give some thought to what you’re eating and where it comes from, he does so in loping fashion, with mostly gently strummed acoustic guitar. It’s a song that feels like it was built for listening to while on the road.
“People think the only emotion is anger in music. If you scream your head off and play loud, big chords they think that’s angry,” Eric said. “And sometimes that might be just having a fucking great time.
“There’s all kinds of ways of expressing things. To make a point you don’t really always have to raise your voice. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. I think it might speak to more people because it’s kind of a romance.”
Instrumental flourishes add texture to the song, including some signature guitar squalls from Eric and keyboard touches that complement the lyrics.
Eric said he told keyboard player and organist Brian Dewan, “We need something glorious, like a synthetic choir or something. But really approachable, nothing bombastic or overblown, but something that’s low budget, cheap and synthetic. I thought that was the perfect thing for the song.
“Then by the end of it I thought it needed something in the instrumental break and I started playing these guitars and they just seemed to stack up and they built into something … it’s like a spaghetti western by the end. By the end of the instrumental I think the sun is coming up. It’s kind of glorious. It’s very odd that something so mundane would get to be steeped in glory.”
Sysco trucks are rolling through the night
Delivering the stuff that people like
“My life would be a lot easier if I wasn’t driven to do all this crazy stuff. I don’t have a pension. I rely on doing this. I rely on getting in a vehicle or on making something up, kind of creating something. Creating, it’s not like making boxes or something like that. You don’t have to be fucking inspired to make a box or to put garden furniture together.
“It can be very rewarding but fucking hell, it comes at a cost. You struggle through and sometimes you get something right and you think, ‘Oh, this is just fantastic,’ but it’s never quite enough.
“There’s always more. I used to think, I always had this thing, if I tidy the house up, I think, “Oh, great. Okay, I’ve done that. Something in my mind says, ‘Well, that’s done. Never need to do that again.’ And then a week later it needs doing again.
“This urge to create is a very weird thing.”
You can listen to Sysco Trucks here:
Visit wrecklesseric.com for Eric’s touring schedule and other information.
Visit Wreckless Eric’s blog for the lyrics to AmERICa.
You can read more about AmERICa here:
You can buy Wreckless Eric’s memoir here: Buy A Dysfunctional Success: The Wreckless Eric Manual
You can buy AmERICa here: Buy Wreckless Eric’s AmERICa
Eric’s #1 Record: Parachute, The Pretty Things
“That’s such a strange record. I’ve known that album since it came out in 1970. And I come back to it, and I come back to it, and I come back to it. And I’m fascinated by it. And I could never figure out why. It’s an odd thing, that.”