On and On: Aaron Einhouse Talks New Abum, 'It Ain't Pretty'

Hearing the words of Townes Van Zandt’s “To Live Is to Fly” and Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Getting By” were defining moments in singer-songwriter Aaron Einhouse's life. It was those songs that truly spoke to him and helped him realize his calling as a musician.

The late Kent Finlay encouraged Einhouse to pursue songwriting, which he did, being embraced by such luminaries as Walt Wilkins and Hal Ketchum along the way. On May 13, he released his new record, It Ain't Pretty, which finds the troubadour further refining his sound on ten well-crafted tunes. 

In advance of its release, Einhouse kindly took some time to talk about the new record, the duality of a musician's life, and more.

Tara Joan: It Ain't Pretty was successfully funded via Kickstarter. Had you taken that route with any of your other records?

Aaron Einhouse: No, this was the first time I had done a Kickstarter and it was nerve-wracking. I was worried about making the goal, which I did, but by the skin of my teeth!

One of the really neat things about doing a Kickstarter, though, is that it gives you a direct feeling for how people appreciate you, the music, and the sacrifices you make. It’s cool for them to see the time and effort that goes into making a record and have them support it. You get that on a certain level when people say, “Keep it up” or “Great record,” but it’s such an amazing thing when people support you like this. It’s a little bit more visceral than a pat on the back.

I totally get that. As compared to your previous albums, It Ain’t Pretty seems to have an edge, with a real energy pulsing through it. Do you think that's the case?

Absolutely. I think there are a lot of twists and turns, with an emotional drive and a general energy that I think starts off with “Dancin’.” That song really sets the tone for the album because it’s so up-tempo and toe-tappy that it’s hard not to feel excited listening to it. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record, partly because it’s just so different from what I’ve done before, but also because it’s something that, whether people listen to the lyrics or not, there’s just this kind of [an] unintentional response. It rises and falls with energy and keeps you moving.

The melody definitely is one that energizes and gets you moving, but in contrast the lyrics are pretty serious.

Yeah, they really are. The idea behind that was this kind of duality of the life that I live. In one aspect, I’m on the road, playing in bars and staying out until forever, and then I’m home and getting up super early because of my kids [Einhouse has a four-year-old and an eight-month-old son]. They’re polar opposite [lifestyles], really, and sometimes the back and forth can beat the hell out of you a little bit.

Undoubtedly, they’re two very different lifestyles and even more so when kids are involved. “Dancin’” also grabs you with its really cool introduction and ending. It sounds like tapes from a radio station...

That’s an interesting question. I was talking with Erik about how I wanted it the song to be weird [laughs]. Turns out, after they finished filming Apocalypse Now, they took all of these sound bites and put them in a database. What you hear on “Dancin’” is from the movie and it has all of these different subliminal messages on it.

Another cool thing we did is, in the middle of the song where there is this Doppler effect, [that] is me running by a microphone. The place we recorded the album is this big cavernous storage area that’s all concrete, so it has a lot of reverb. I started at one end and ran all the way across and back again [laughs]. And finally, there are all of those really big buildups in the very beginning of the song. What we did there was open a piano and take a guitar pick and strum the piano strings, which gave you a real long-lasting sound.

All of those elements really add to the song in such a unique way. On your last album, Blue Collar Troubadour, you worked with Mike McClure. This time, you brought in Erik Herbst as producer. What did he bring to the project?

I was talking with Jeb Hurt [Sam Riggs' manager] and he had really good things to say about Erik. I know [Erik] has a great ear and a way of honing in on the sound you’re looking for. He takes what’s cool about your sound and magnifies those things, which I thought that was a really great way to approach it. Erik also really wanted to make sure we captured my vocals on this record, so we spent a lot of time getting good vocal takes, which I think really comes through, particularly on songs like “Thinking of You,” where I am really singing out. I’ve never really done that before on a record so it was really challenging to push myself in that way.

One of the stand-out tracks is “The Fall of Eli Wilde.” Is there a story behind that one?

Everybody asks about that song, which I think is great because I really want people to dig into it. It’s one of my favorites -- like [in the] top three on the record. There was this movie from the 1970s, Jeremiah Johnson, whose namesake was John “Liver-Eating” Johnson. He got in a war with the Crow Indian tribe [legend holds they killed Johnson’s wife] and he supposedly ate the livers of any of the Crow tribe he killed so they couldn’t make it to the afterlife.

Well, wow. I’m at a lack for words.

Yeah, I know [laughs]. I have told that story at shows before and that’s the response I get. People are just like, “What?” 

In addition to that story, there’s this old Sam Houston stump speech I read where he says, “I can out-gun, out-fight," and so on. So a few years ago, a friend said to me I should put those things in a song ... and I finally did it.

You mentioned that is one of your top three songs on the record. What are the other two?

I need to look at track list“Eli Wilde,” “Thinking of You,” and “Oh Susannah.” That one is such fun to sing live because I can get pissed off and sing the hell out of it.

That’s my personal favorite too, and one where your vocals really shine. The title of the album, It Ain’t Pretty, is also a track on the album, which really presents a truthful depiction of life in general. Is that why you chose it as the title?

This record has a lot more of a gritty realism in it than any of my previous ones, and I think that’s the idea behind It Ain’t Pretty, which I wrote with Hal Ketchum. From relationships to your professional life, life isn’t always a sunny picture -- that’s the truth and that’s what songwriting is supposed to be.

Do you have any plans for a release show? 

We actually have a show with Reckless Kelly on release day. We knew that we could either do a CD release, which always turns out to be like a regular show -- there’s nothing different about it other than you put out an album -- or we could play with Reckless Kelly, who are just such good guys. It’ll be a really cool show... and there’s probably going to be more people there anyway..