Tim Eriksen (born in Northampton, Massachusetts) is an American musician, musicologist, and professor. An active musician since 1987, he is the leader of the band Cordelia's Dad as well as being a solo artist. He was a performer and consultant for the award-winning soundtrack of the film Cold Mountain.
Based on his musical interests and abilities, singer-songwriter-ethnomusicologist Eriksen might have been born in a splintery wooden crib during the Revolutionary War, in a backwoods North Carolina church, in a hut along the Ganges, maybe even in the CBGBs bathroom. But no, the late-30s Eriksen was born in Massachusetts and grew up surrounded by the sound of his parents singing and by “natural sounds,” says Eriksen . “I always loved listening to bugs and wind and water and stuff.”
While absorbing a love of America’s history and early music from his New England surroundings, the sounds of The Beatles, Kiss, and Motorhead were mingling with his family’s voices. When the Eriksens moved to Long Island, the punk-rock roar of the Ramones reached Tim’s ears. He was soon involved in hardcore/punk/garage bands like The Lobster Men, which gradually evolved into Cordelia’s Dad, an acoustic/electric “folk noise” band that recorded a number of albums (including Spine for Appleseed in 1998) and built a strong European following before lapsing into current but impermanent retirement. England’s Mojo magazine lauded the band for “examining the full, rich depth of the American folk tradition with startling conviction.”
Even as Eriksen was thundering along as a bass-playing teenage rocker, he was also tuning in to Indian classical music (and subsequently studied the seven-string vina for ten years, during and after college), the challenging 20th Century composers Edgar Varese, George Crumb, Harry Partch and Krzystof Penderecki, and the blues of Mississippi Fred MacDowell. The source of these enthusiasms: parents, concerts, and “a lot of weird friends.”
During Eriksen’s four years of vina-study at Amherst College in western Massachusetts, he and some of his “weird friends” started singing together, often in the traditional “shape note” style encoded in the 1844 “Sacred Harp” songbook. Shape note singing uses printed geometric shapes – triangles, circles, squares – to help untrained vocalists perform choral hymns.
Eriksen kept amassing different musical influences. During the 1987-88 period when he spent months in India and England studying the vina and the connections between the two countries’ music, Tim also heard a cassette of the archival recordings of traditional American songs collected by Frank and Anne Warner on the eastern seaboard of the US between 1940 and 1966 – bedrock Americana like “Tom Dooley” and “Deep Elm Blues” that helped trigger the folk revival of the late 1950s. Tim was instrumental in the first commercial release of two volumes of these recordings in 2000 as Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still and Nothing Seems Better to Me on Appleseed Recordings.
After his studies overseas, Tim’s return to the US led to membership in the Northampton Harmony quartet with his friends, the resurrection of Cordelia’s Dad, and more Indian music studies at Wesleyan University, where Tim met his future wife and fellow ethnomusicology student Minja Lausevic and formed the Bosnian/Balkan band Zabe I Babe with her.
Tim spent the early ’90s in graduate school, touring the U.S., England, and Europe with Northampton Harmony and Cordelia’s Dad, and recording with those groups and Zabe I Babe. The various bands appeared on MTV, the BBC, CBC, Belgian National Television, All India Radio, and America’s syndicated “Mountain Stage” live performance radio program.
The most recent decade of Tim’s career has been spent in working with his many bands (all currently on hiatus), serving as visiting professor of American Music at Dartmouth College and the University of Minnesota, conducting ethnomusico- logical research with Minja in the US and abroad, recording and touring as a solo artist, and immersing himself in the Sacred Harp community that exists in unexpected pockets around the country. His “Cold Mountain” work took him and his family to Romania, where much of the movie was filmed, and Tim found himself employed not only as the offscreen singing voice for actor Brendan Gleeson’s character but coaching stars Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, and 50 Romanian extras in the shape note style for the movie’s two Sacred Harp songs. He also organized and participated in the chorus that backed Allison Krauss on the Oscar-nominated “The Crimson Tide” in the 2004 Academy Awards telecast.
Tim’s musical explorations have not gone unnoticed within the international cultural community. His collaborators and fans, aside from T Bone Burnett and Billy Bob Thornton, include famed record producers Joe Boyd and Steve Albini (who engineered Spine), South India vina virtuoso K. S. Subramanian, bluegrass banjo virtuoso Tony Trischka, classical cellist Yo Yo Ma, and England’s legendary singer/guitarist Martin Carthy. Of Eriksen, Carthy says, “The watchword is Passion.” FRoots magazine echoed that sentiment, calling Tim’s music “dangerously sparing and utterly compelling,” and pronounced Tim “a balladeer of the best kind.”
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