Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Where he's going


Eric Himan is 'Everywhere All at Once'

Singer songwriter Eric Himan plays at Moby Dick's on Wednesday. Photo: Liz Ligouri
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Eric Himan, the roving troubadour of heartfelt acoustic music, may have finally found a permanent home — for now.

In-between touring at small clubs, cafes and regional LGBT pride events everywhere from Boise to Little Rock, Los Angeles to San Francisco (where he'll play May 2), Himan has found time to move from his most recent home in Pittsburgh to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where his partner of two years lives.

"I always wanted to live closer out west," said Himan in a phone interview. "I met my partner in Tulsa two years ago. He lived in Pittsburgh for a while, and now it's my turn."

Roving about the country is nothing new for Himan. Raised an army brat whose family lived everywhere from South Carolina (his birthplace) to Hawaii, Himan, 28, is enjoying praise for his fifth independently released CD, Everywhere All at Once, a genre-defying combination of folk, rock, blues and pop. The singer-songwriter credits a variety of influences, including his father, who gave him a guitar at age 8, and exposed him to diverse 60s music influences, including the classic Woodstock concert album.

That led to a prime source of inspiration: Janis Joplin, and her "pure soul just coming out through her voice through anything she did," said Himan, who read the singer's biography, Pearl, at age 13. "I was immersed in anything I could find out about her."

Her influence may have sparked Himan's decision to become a singer. "Growing up, I listened to whatever was on the radio, whatever my parents were listening to. Hearing an acoustic guitar being used made me want to play."

Himan cites contemporary influences Ani DeFranco and Tracy Chapman. "A lot of the people I'm naming are women," he said, adding that he often performs on bills with lesbians and drag queens, there being a dearth of out gay male singers. "I wanted the same listenership as these women. There's an honesty in them that speaks more than anything."

But does he feel limited by being identified as a gay singer?

"You're always limited by who you are," said Himan. "You can't be everything. That was a hard lesson to learn. I want to speak to everybody. I feel like I have this great connection with the gay and straight community. The only impediment is when people think I'm only making music for gay people."

Categorization is something that irks the singer, whether the presumptions are about his tattoos, being gay, or his diverse music-styling.

"Everyone classifies my music, which is almost always wrong," he said. "I wrote a song that seemed like a country song, but after I played it, people didn't think it was. Even I don't know how to classify my music."

Shortly before his first CD release ("an experiment") and following his 2001 graduation from Penn State with a degree in psychology, Himan was headed to New York City to work in music, but not onstage.

"In college, I took music classes, but not as a career option," said Himan. "I started in journalism, and found my way to visual art," which led to the gradually thickened array of tattoos.

There is an honesty to his musical style and his website, which includes a travel blog.

"When you're talking about your life and writing about your feelings," said Himan, "that's what makes blogging more open. Seeing who you are, it makes people want to know more about who you are."

Some songs on Everywhere All at Once have a contagiously cheerful tone, such as "Love Doesn't Have to Hide," which Himan performed at Gay Games VII's closing ceremonies in Chicago's Wrigley Field last summer. Games organizers loved the song so much, they asked to use it for the event's DVD closing credits.

Such high-profile gay events belie his wider appeal. Himan said many of his fans aren't gay or don't care about his sexual orientation.

"A lot of my songs aren't pronoun-heavy," he said. "When I'm singing songs for specific people, it's almost a confrontation. I am talking to specific men, but in my mind I don't think about it as a gay song. I'm singing to this person."

Even songs specific to the gay experience, like "One Night Stand" (also the title of his live CD), while specifically about the downside of the gay bar scene, have found fans who aren't gay, perhaps because they're more about the search for love and acceptance.

"When you come out, there's no welcome wagon, especially for those who don't get support," said Himan. "My own parents were like, 'Whatever.' But for a lot of people, nobody is gonna scoop you up and help you."

With his own label Thumbcrown and the assistance of online music store CD Baby, which Himan credits for "looking for new ways to get independent artists out there," the traditional grasp for major-label success is irrelevant for the singer. "Why spend all my time going to meetings with record companies instead of going to the public?" he said. "I cut out the middle man."

Occasionally performing and co-writing with musicians Andy Moore and Levi Kries "when I'm playing in a place near where they live," for the most part, Himan performs solo, booking his own gigs. When he called San Francisco venues, the bar Moby Dick [where Himan also played in Dec., 2005] was "one of the first places that said I could perform." For Himan, getting any gig where he has fans is more important than where he performs. "If I don't play, I get e-mail complaints!"

Himan said a highlight of his tours is visiting regional LGBT community centers, where "I've met the most amazing kids who are gonna be great leaders for the community."

Now, about those tattoos. A Penn State pal and tattoo artist did them years ago, and they were never intended to be part of some rock star image, which Himan brushes off.

"I wasn't even going to be in music when I got them," he said. "I always drew all over everything, so, as my dad said, I just drew all over myself. I decided to get cartoons. I'm not into ghoulish skeletons. Everywhere I go, little kids want to see them."

This seems appropriate for an artist whose youthful energy keeps him going on his cross-country tour. "I used to get hit on a lot," said Himan. "Sometimes, it's because you're the center of attention. You have to keep telling people that's not who you are. Just when I'd get discouraged, someone would come up and tell me they just love my music."

Eric Himan performs Wednesday, May 2, 9 p.m. at Moby Dick, 4049 18th St. in the Castro. Info: 861-1199.

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