Rock ’n’ roll has a long history of battling the man.
The folk explosion of the 1960s. Vietnam protest songs. Punk rock.
Kurt Cobain defiantly wearing a “Corporate Magazines Still Suck” shirt on the cover of “Rolling Stone.”
Eric Tollefson hasn’t pushed back quite so overtly, but there’s no doubt his time in corporate America has indelibly influenced the man he is today and the music he makes. He’ll celebrate the release of his new CD, “The Sum of Parts,” with a show tonight at Silver Moon Brewing & Taproom (see “If you go”).
Tollefson, 25, moved to Bend from Missoula, Mont., three years ago and took a job working for a large financial company, which he declined to name.
He did good work, he said, but his inner artist felt constrained in the rigid corporate atmosphere.
“I had to ask to play music. I had to ask to be a musician. I had to ask to record an album,” Tollefson said in an interview earlier this month. “My manager said, ‘Well, what if they say no?’ (I said,) ‘Then I’m gone. I’ll go work somewhere else.’”
They didn’t say no, but Tollefson left at the beginning of 2009 anyway, intent on focusing on his songwriting.
“I’ll never put myself in a position like that ever again,” he said. “I’ll dig ditches before I do that again.”
As a child growing up in Juneau, Alaska, Tollefson heard his parents’ record collection being played in the house. His dad played guitar and his mom sang Patsy Cline songs. At age 8, he began playing guitar, and at 18, he was writing music.
“Music is my lifeblood. It always has been,” he said. “I just listened to really great artists growing up (and) great songwriters. Clapton. The Doors. The Who. Zeppelin. It’s been ingrained in me.”
After high school, he went off to college at the University of Montana in Missoula. And then it was straight into the corporate world. So when he dropped out of that scene a few months ago, Tollefson suddenly had free time for music that he hadn’t had in a long time.
When he had a full-time job, he’d set aside a few hours per weekend to work in the studio. It wasn’t enough. Being between jobs gave him the freedom to pursue his dream whenever he felt like it.
“It was cool to just sit and be a musician for once,” Tollefson said. “I found me again. It was comfortable.”
Tollefson used the time to finish “The Sum of Parts,” a nine-track album he’s been working on for about two years. It’s a pristine-sounding set of songs that amble through the worlds of blues, folk and pop, a la Jack Johnson or Ray LaMontagne.
The tunes on “Sum” sound meticulously crafted, and they are; Tollefson is a self-described “tinkerer,” working deliberately and taking “intricate care” to make music that goes beyond a standard, vapid pop song.
“I just wanted to put something together that’s honest, and that’s what it is, 100 percent. I can say it’s honest. There’s no bubblegum. There’s no filler,” he said. “I want to make sure … I get a point across (and) that it’s not just a verse and a hook. It’s something that gives a message that just knocks you off your seat.”
For Tollefson, those messages are born of his own experiences. He said it’s been a turbulent year for him, though he doesn’t offer much detail. But those experiences are part of who he is as an artist, and it’s that dynamic that gives “The Sum of Parts” its name.
“Some of these songs really dig down into some stuff that’s gone on, and I guess I kinda consider anybody (to be) the sum of their experiences,” he said. “This is just that: the sum of parts. It’s just little pieces of my life in there.”
And perhaps more than anything, Tollefson hopes you’ll find little pieces of your life in there, too.
“You know when you hear a song and you’re going through something in your life and you never forget that song, where and when you heard it?” he said. “If I could just have that happen with three, 30 or 300 people, that’s awesome. If I can connect people to something and give them that moment … that’s really what I’m going for.”
The new album is not Tollefson’s first recorded effort, but it’s the first that’s gone beyond just a few copies for friends and family.
That’s because he feels so strongly about the material contained within.
“I’ve dreamed of this since I was 3, just to have an album that I feel solidly about each song,” he said. “This is it. It’s not perfect. It’s nowhere near perfect. But I believe in each song. I believe in what it is.”