Q&A with Eric Shiveley

Eric Shiveley is quite the character. Several years ago, a week or so after he'd appeared in my column with a brief one-line mention of how I'd dug his music and everything he'd had a hand in producing at that point, he sent me a note (which I still have in my office) along with some homemade cookies (which I, of course, promptly devoured), and that ultimately served as our first official introduction.

"Dave," he wrote in a jittery scrawl that could've given any physician a run for his money, "You're probably much bigger than I am, but if that was an April Fools joke giving me a nice mention, I'll beat you like a rented mule. I didn't even think you knew who I am."

I wasn't being wry. Shiveley geniunely struck me as a talented songwriter, engineer and producer. I still felt that way, even despite an awkward exchange we had in June of the following year. I received a voice mail from Shiveley, followed by a similar e-mail, apologizing for some off-color remarks he'd made about me on a message board.

Although the exchange took place more than two years ago, I vividly remember it. My dad had just suffered a heart attack, which resulted in me taking a week off from writing my column. Evidently, there was some chatter on the board that week as to why the Beatdown was missing, and Shiveley posted something to the effect that I was a "filthy cocksmoking whore" and that a "pregnant Laura Bond and I had skipped town" because a band caught me posting anonymous comments about them.

By the time I received his messages, the offending post had been removed, so I had absolutely no idea what he was apologizing for exactly. Some other posters who knew of my situation had taken umbrage at the insensitivity of his ill-timed remarks, prompting him to reach out to me. "I didn't think anyone would take it seriously," he wrote, after cluing me in to the offending comments. "It was honestly just a joke."

Although he then went on to wish both me and my father well and I accepted his apology, I honestly didn't really know what to make of the guy at that point. Nonetheless, I remained a fan of his music. And my mind hasn't changed -- well about his music, anyway. Turns out, Shiveley's actually a pretty likable guy once you get to know him. And I still think he's fiercely talented, even more so now, in fact, after screening Everyone But You, his new film. After trading a few e-mails early last week, Shiveley sent me the final cut and, as you've probably gathered from my column this week, I was duly impressed. So earlier this week, I caught up with him at his home in the San Luis Valley, and we chatted about the movie and about why he moved to the Colorado desert. Below is the three-minute trailer from Everyone But You and excerpts from our conversation.

-- Dave Herrera

Westword: What inspired you to make the movie?

Eric Shiveley: It's just so pretty down here. Literally, the night before the guy was going to come out to break ground on my place, I just went to Wal-Mart at, like, four in the morning and got a video camera and just started to do it. I thought I could find - I have a few friends who do movies - I thought I could find a friend who could help me put together some kind of documentary about it. It's just so pretty down here. You'd have to see it, I guess. I tried to show it in the movie. So, it just seemed crazy to, yeah, to really not try to videotape that -- building the house, anyway -- and then it just turned into a documentary.

Did you know before you moved down there that that was something you were going to do, or was it completely a spur of the moment type of thing?

I have a friend in Denver who does movies and I thought he would be interested. We talked just a little bit about doing some kind of documentary. And he just wasn't. It was kind of cool. He said, "No, it doesn't sound interesting, and I don't think that..." He said, "Your music isn't that good, either, and you should just probably stick with your music and work at that." It kind of made me mad, but I thought it was kind of cool that he said that. Because to me, if you visit here at all, it's just so pretty, and it's hard to... yeah, it would've been nuts to not do it. But, no, I didn't plan for it to be like this. What ended up being a two and a half hour thing, I chopped down to two hours.

So how did you come up with the name for the movie? It seems like it fits the theme perfectly.

It's actually a song on my first album called "Everyone But You." It's about when sometimes... well, it applies to music, where you often feel like everyone seems to find there place or find their peace with it or it seems like they belong. But, uh, probably everyone feels that way. Like I was always, sort of socially, just the lowest, the absolute lowest on the totem pole in school, and I often still feel that way. And it seems like everyone else, you know, is meant to be happy or feel alright or whatever. And you're just alone all the time if you're trying to make your living off paintings or writing poetry - which sounds miserable, actually, writing poetry. God, how boring that is... I mean, that was my major in college, and I was so bad at it, and I don't know how people can do it, actually. But, yeah, that's kind of the theme for everything. You're trying to get noticed for music and you just feel alone most of the time.

You open up the film with the albums of the year for 2003...

That was the last thing that I wanted to do with the movie. I wanted to do something like, "Oh here's somebody I don't know," and hopefully, the scenary and the music would be enough that people would be moved by it. It was honestly the last thing I wanted to do was to feel necessary to qualify. But then you realize eventually - 'cause I'm no one, right? I'm absolutely no one. And if I could... anything you can do to get someone to be like, "Oh, well, someone put him above Otis Taylor on this thing. Maybe I'll actually pay attention." It's weird, you have to use anything you can... when you're no one, which I am, that kind of... And so, yeah, that's really was the last thing I wanted to do. But, uh, yeah, I cut you off before you finished the question...

Oh, I was just going to comment on how that segment tied in well with the name and theme of the movie, how you contrasted how all those folks have moved on compared to yourself.

And there's a reason. They're way better. I mean, songwriting, I'm seriously proud of my songwriting and my production. When I go to town today, there's high speed [connection] at the coffee shop. I want to e-mail you the first song off the last album that I did, which I only put on my website because I didn't have the money to have it duplicated. But if you listen to the song, you can put it side by side with anything Rose Hill Drive or Otis Taylor or Dressy Bessy does and think, "Yeah, this is inferior." But live, no I never... I'm just now starting to work on that. So there's a reason that those bands are way bigger and way better. But the songwriting, I think it stands up to theirs or anyone's, actually.

That's the thing that struck me about you. Throughtout the movie, you were very self-deprecating.

I've been telling friends all along: I know that when I play live I still suck. It's just 'cause I haven't worked on it yet. I'd never seen myself live before I did this movie. And when I saw it, it was really, really painful. If you see, though, then you work on it, and there's no reason you can't get better at it. I've always wanted to tell people, "Look, yeah, I know that I'm not that good, but could you just listen to the songs first anyway?" I'm just really no where near where I want to be.

That's the thing. You really don't know. You only have your gut to go on. Even when you feel you've hit the nail on the head with a song and now it's recorded, 99 people you give it to and 99 would be, like, "Yeah, yeah, it's okay." So it's weird. You really don't know. You have to constantly work on calibrating your self opininon. You know, everyone thinks they're better, way better, than they actually are. But the scary thing is not knowing exactly how good you are, even when you really think you've done something good.

So how did you end up in Alamosa? What really inspired you to move from Denver down there?

It was cheap and pretty. And that was really it. I needed to find somewhere where the money I got out of my house, I could build a place and have it completely built and have no mortgage. That was it. I don't know if you ever watched Northern Exposure, but I loved that; it was a great show, and one of the themes of it was "Wherever you go, there you are." And even though it's a small town - people love to say small towns are kind of dead, culturally dead or something, which I don't agree with. It's amazing how many good painters and musicians there are down here. Anyhow, it was cheap to live here, and that was kind of it. I looked into east, out on the plains, but it just didn't work. And I had been down here to the Sand Dunes a couple of times, and one night, I was just like, "That's it! The San Luis Valley. It's perfect." It's so pretty and probably the cheapest place in the state to build. You have to live here to see it. The sunsets are just - it's the prettiest part of Colorado I've been in, but it's kind of funny how no one knows about it and how cheap it is to live here. But I love it. I'd love to be here as long as I can.