SPARE ROOM is the debut LP by Los Angeles singer/songwriter ERIC HIRSHBERG. The songs collected here cover a wide range of what Hirshberg calls “life’s big small moments.” Hirshberg says he likes to write songs “about the things everybody lives…but don’t always talk about.”
Through unguarded lyrics and detailed storytelling, SPARE ROOM uses the extremely personal to find the universal. Hirshberg’s “I Just Want to be Here” explores what he calls “the long and winding middle” of marriage. “Can’t Find the Ocean” is about the emotional dislocation and physical toll from the endless miles of work travel. Hirshberg sings candidly about life with severe learning disabilities on “What You Get.” On “Hold You In My Arms,” a song about fatherhood, Hirshberg moves past themes of unconditional love to explore how having children became a “test of lack-of-faith.” As he says, “atheism has a hard time surviving fatherhood.”
Producer John Alagia, supported by a superb cast of musicians, brings a lush, rich, cinematic production to the album, giving what could have been a collection of intimate folk songs an unusual sense of scale. The album was recorded at the legendary Village Studios in Los Angeles.
The fact that the songs on SPARE ROOM cover very relatable themes of life, love, parenthood, work, and age is no accident. While Hirshberg has been writing songs non-stop since the age of 15, he took an unusual path to releasing this, his debut LP. He spent his college days (at UCLA) and most of his ‘20s playing Los Angeles clubs with his band and trying to build a music career. And while he wasn’t looking, a whole other career took over; Hirshberg had a remarkably successful run as a creative executive first in advertising, then in video games, ultimately becoming the CEO of Activision, a post he held for almost a decade. (He is one of the only people ever to become a CEO of a company of that scale to have an art degree.) Over the years, the demands of his life and career drove his music more and more into the background of his life, carefully hidden from public view, but his passion and output as a songwriter never diminished.
“It became an entire secret life,” he said. “And ultimately, I could feel that it was a deathbed regret in the making.” This led to Hirshberg walking away from his career at the top of his game to make this album.
Hirshberg’s father–a successful car designer, but also a lifelong painter–served as an inspiration. As long as he can remember, there was always a spare room (a converted garage, a guest room, a shed) in the houses he grew up in where his father’s painting happened. Similarly, he has always made spare room in his life for his music. From half of a closet in college, to a landing at the top of the stairs in his first apartment with his (now) wife, to a converted guest room, that spare room, in his life, in his home, in his heart, is the place from which these songs sprang.
In Eric Hirshberg’s Words
“I’ve been writing songs almost my entire life. From the time I was 14 years old until now, I’ve been grinding them out, at a pretty consistent and pretty high velocity. My first home recording studio was in a converted closet–not the walk-in kind. It took me ten years to graduate to a whole desk. One day you wake up and realize you’ve taken over most of your family’s basement and spent more money on it than your car. When I was a younger man, I thought this was what I was supposed to do. And I tried. Recorded in studios (during the midnight shifts.) Played all the clubs (not all of them cool.) Got on the radio on the down-the-dial stations. Got a song in a movie no one saw. Even had a few demeaning meetings with record label A&R men. But, it remained stubbornly just out of my grasp. And slowly, a whole other life took over.
But no matter what other responsibilities, ailments or demands my life threw at me, the songs just never stopped tugging on my shirt sleeve. And, my life threw a lot. A long, successful, fucking demanding career, a long, successful (and equally demanding) marriage, two kids, two back surgeries and 7.5 million lifetime miles on one airline. (That’s a real number. And I don’t just fly on one airline.) Eventually, I started feeling self-conscious about my music. Like I was too old and had too many other “more important things” I should be focusing on. So, it became a secret life. It never stopped, or even slowed. I just stopped sharing it. It got to the point where this huge part of me only really existed for a tiny audience of people. A few friends. My kids. My wife. Oh, my poor wife. I never got to play in front of 10,000 people, so she had to listen to each and every song 10,000 times instead. And she always did. (Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry.) But to everyone else, I was just a guy with a whole, big life that had nothing to do with music, who had an unusually good voice at birthday parties or around the campfire.
It felt like I was living with a giant pet grizzly bear that only I could see. And a pet grizzly bear requires a lot of food. If you don’t feed it, well, it’s a grizzly bear. It has ways of making you pay attention. To people who can’t see it, you just seem like one of those asshole/preoccupied fathers at a swim meet, the guy who won’t stop drumming in a meeting, or a distracted husband on a date night. But in actuality, you’re trying to wrestle a charging fucking grizzly bear to the ground. It’s not easy.
There’s never a single, dramatic moment when you give up on your dreams. You never come to that big, binary fork in the road like in the movies. It’s more like a long, slow fade. It’s the opposite of the frog that never jumped out of the pot of water as it slowly comes to a boil. You distinctly remember your life at a boil. You just can’t remember how you ended up sitting here in room temperature water.
Then someone sees a guitar leaning in the corner of your living room and asks if that’s your “hobby.” That word pierces your skin and spreads through your veins like a non-lethal injection. No. This is not my fucking hobby. It’s the other half of my fucking body. Why doesn’t anyone ever notice it’s missing? It’s my DREAM. My LIFE’S PASSION. My ART. Your hobby is something you do whenever you choose. Your art is something you do whenever IT chooses. This is ME! Or at least it’s the me I thought I was supposed to be.
But here’s the thing about secret lives. They’re not sustainable. Either they end, or eventually, you gotta come clean.”