Eric Tollefson once wrapped his hand in duct tape to improve his playing. That's how much his music means to him. Such dedication is part of what's propelled Tollefson to the top.
The longtime Bend resident is the new king of Central Oregon pop, and his new album, The Polar Ends, proves it.For his sophomore self-release, Tollefson employed the help of a number of notables from within the music industry to create an all-star cast. From the producer, to the backing musicians, to the recording studio itself, Tollefson spared no expense in his quest to create a solid offering. In doing so he's recorded an album that stands apart from the rest of the pop pack.
After two years of writing songs and planning melodies, Tollefson met the album's producer, Rob Evans, at a recording studio in Charlottesville, Virginia. Over the course of a week the pair laid down The Polar Ends, Tollefson's new album, which was released on April 24.
The singer-songwriter said that the recording equipment was so sensitive that at one point he had to wrap his picking hand with tape so he wouldn't rest it on his guitar - a bad habit that was resulting in a dull sound. Such seemingly minor touches, when coupled with the trained ear of a professional producer, make the local musician's album iTunes ready.
The 28-year-old artist's latest release covers many of the thematic basics: love, death, betrayal and more love. But at the record's root are emotional vocals and guitar work. Tollefson said it was working with top-notch musicians like Eric Heywood, Ray LaMontagne's pedal steel player, which brought out the best in him.
"It was definitely daunting," Tollefson said of working in such accomplished company. "But it's your project. And you can't let the project run in a direction you don't want it to. You just have to treat them [the musicians] with respect, like they're regular dudes."
Heywood contributed to the track "Before You Go," a lonesome song about love lost. The electric guitar of Alberta Cross's Sam Kearney is featured on six of the album's eight songs and Jay Foote, a bassist who toured with Fiona Apple, is also on a majority of the tracks. Drummer Brian Jones, a college music instructor who's worked on Jason Mraz records, keeps time throughout the album.
Rubblebucket, the horn-heavy Brooklyn dance band, helps Tollefson close The Polar Ends with a rowdy song called "Whose Love." The trumpets and sax fit well with Tollefson's commanding vocals as he bellows, "Whose love is better than mine?"
The release certainly benefited from the professional production touch and has already gained a toehold among the mainstream pop radio crowd.
According to Tollefson, the album has been in heavy rotation on almost 200 college radio stations, which, for the up and coming artist, is the first step toward nationwide exposure.
"I want people to like the record," Tollefson said. He hopes that the growing enthusiasm for his baritone vocals and catchy melodies will help bolster his upcoming Northwest tour - a five-show run that kicks off at McMenamins in Bend on May 3. The plan is to play the new album in its entirety.
Of course there will be folks who don't like the record, but their indifference won't be for the album's production quality. After working with Franchot Tone on the tracks "Before You Go" and "Heart on a String," Tollefson joined up with Evans, a producer who has worked with the likes of Taj Mahal and Gomez. Though the album's quality is crisp, Tollefson's lyrics are often too over-the-top and border on trite.
"I know with all my soul that you and I were destined to meet and everyday spent without you feels like a week," sings Tollefson on "Before You Go," a sappy love song.
The album also contains several references to God. Though not a Christian musician per se, Tollefson said he likes the image that the word 'God' conjures. It was the Dave Mathews Band, a group with a similar vibe, that taught Tollefson he could invoke such references without actually identifying as a Christian, Tollefson said.
Also in the God-realm is the song "Sister Sarah," a tune about a nun who begins to question everything she knows. Though it's about a fictional character, the message should resonate with most, said Tollefson.
The album manages to run the spectrum, from dark to sunny, from heavy to light - much like Tollefson himself.
"As a person, I'm very rarely at zero," said Tollefson of his personality extremes.
After listening to all of the mastered tracks and reflecting on the album as a whole, Tollefson settled on the name The Polar Ends to capture the wide range of emotions that spilled onto the record.
So. Aspiring musicians take note: whether you dig Tollefson's emotive style or not, there's much to learn from the man whose heart and production savvy helped him crank out a potential hit.
with Sara Jackson-Holman, Kat Hilst and other local guests
Free, all ages.
7pm, Thursday, May 3
McMenamins, 700 NW Bond St.