When Todd Eberwine announced that he was planning to leave Dive House Union several months back, jaws dropped on the local music scene.
DHU, as its plentiful fan base is fond of calling it, was one of the most successful bands on our independent music circuit. The group crafted a fiery blend of soul, R&B, gospel, blues, and funk that left plentiful space for wild flights of improvisational fancy.
Eberwine and co-guitarist/vocalist David Michael Miller provided incendiary guitar playing to a mix bolstered by the talents of keyboardist Tom Scime, bassist Dave Herr, drummer Shannon Street, and saxophonist Barry Arbogast – virtuosos all, but even more significantly, a group of musicians that offered every indication that they had been born to make music together.
DHU plowed its own furrow through the Western New York music scene, mostly through performances that felt more like major concerts than simply local bar gigs, but also by insisting on doing things in its own way. If that meant recording a live album at Kleinhans; booking the Aurora Theatre for a full-blown, ticketed concert event and recording the whole thing; or gathering self-generated finances together in order to purchase a building in Tonawanda and converting it into a rehearsal space/studio/live concert venue – dubbed The Strand, by the time Eberwine announced his departure from the ranks, the venue had hosted several DHU & Friends-styled shows – then the guys in the band were game, and seemed to be unified in their sense of purpose.
So Eberwine’s departure came as a shock.
Why would Eberwine leave a successful band at the top of its game?
For the answer, one needs to look to India, birthplace of a form of music known as Kirtan. Based on chanting, and rooted in Sanskrit writings, the form blurs the line between “performer” and “audience member” by directly involving attendees in the performance itself. A mantra is introduced by the singer/musician – or Wallah in Kirtan’s parlance – and then the audience sings that mantra in a call-and-response fashion.
More than simply an idiomatic musical exercise, Kirtan is designed to calm, much more than to incite. Most popular music celebrates the ego, but Kirtan’s goal is to provide a sense of calm by urging both performers and listeners to transcend the ego.
It might be surprising to fans of DHU’s soulful body-slam of a sound – or to anyone who has witnessed Eberwine’s gut-punching, deeply emotive blues-based guitar playing – that it was to Kirtan that Eberwine turned in order to deal with what he said was an incredibly difficult personal decision.
On Friday, Eberwine was joined by friends – including DHU’s Miller – for a Kirtan performance to celebrate the release of his first post-DHU album, “A Cry Out Loud.” Following the event, which took place at Shakti Yoga on Grant Street, I spoke to him regarding life in his post-Dive House Union world.
Miers: Can you discuss the genesis of “A Cry Out Loud”?
Eberwine: This record came about because I couldn’t be musically idle after leaving Dive House Union and needing time away from “the scene.” A “home recording” began, if you will.
The title of the record is significant to the way I felt right around the time of the departure from DHU. I was finally – and out loud – letting the small world around me know I was desperately seeking something to fill a void and I was surrendering to that need through self-reflection and hopefully, ultimately, moving toward self-improvement. Kirtan was an easy vehicle for the ride ahead and also seemed to mirror the ‘cry out loud’ concept, as the music is primarily repetition of Sanskrit mantras.
Q: Trace the genesis of your interest in Eastern music in general, and Kirtan specifically.
A: 1999 was the first time I heard Kirtan. It was being done at an ashram in Austin, Texas. I soon after heard the music of Krishna Das, and that was it, as far as falling in love with a musical component to join my spiritual search. Music as a whole has always been a spiritual experience for me, both listening and playing.
Q: Did your growing interest in this area affect your decision to leave Dive House Union?
A: Ultimately my decision to leave DHU was a result of 35 years of self questioning. (laughs) Kirtan ends up being a part of it, but only because it’s my spiritual practice. So I didn’t leave DHU because of or for Kirtan – rather, Kirtan became more present as I devoted more time to my spiritual search, you might say. There was no serious plan for a Kirtan career or anything that weighed into my decision to leave Dive House. Somehow, the two could be perceived as being connected, because again, the Kirtan is so central to my philosophical and spiritual being that it was inevitable that it would surface.
Boy I hope you can make some kind of sense out of that mess. (laughs)
Q: You mention a growing feeling of frustration with the music scene. What is the source of the conflict you’re hinting at, and of your need to distance yourself from the scene?
A: The source of the conflict is my internal struggle, I would say. To define that struggle would be almost impossible. But basically, it’s a question of self-awareness, of understanding that our true nature is unconditional love. What became tiresome was the ease with which the scene provided a never-ending escape from tackling these big questions. And also, how I would let myself down by not exerting that unconditional love at all times. This had to do with dealing with various personalities, and with substances, and failing myself by trying to please everyone, which left me at times not being myself. All of that stuff made me take a good, hard look, I guess.
But to be fair, this has been a lifelong dilemma. When you’re going through a dramatic shift like this, I think it’s easier to completely rearrange your surroundings, in a way. As in, provide a more supportive environment at the beginning, because you aren’t as strong. Once we build up some strength, or in my case, some more sense of our true nature as a being of pure love, then we can reinsert ourselves, hopefully anywhere, with some confidence and conviction in our actions. I’m still a mess, but the Kirtan is a method of coping, healing, realization and communion, all at the same time.
Q: What plans do you have to promote the album, now that it’s completed and released? And where can people find it?
A: I’m waiting for the digital distribution to finalize. It will be available on iTunes and Amazon shortly and once it is, I’ll do some pushes through Facebook and those types of means. I will also be approaching a well-known podcast in the Kirtan community to see if they’ll give it a look. Besides that, I’m hoping it will organically blossom into opportunities that provide me with the ability to continue and nurture a harmonious lifestyle – and ultimately to “find myself,” I guess. So I wouldn’t turn down gigs at yoga centers in the Northeast, basically.