Eric Stromer Gets His Country Fix
His fans are used to seeing him with a tool belt around his waist, but Eric Stromer actually moved to Los Angeles with a guitar slung over his shoulder. The charismatic host of such do-it-yourself shows as AOL Living's 'GMC Trade Secrets' and HGTV's 'Over Your Head' is now returning to his first love: country music.
Set for an early 2010 release, Eric's album, appropriately titled 'Fix It Man,' lets fans in on a little secret: the PEOPLE's 'Sexiest Men' honoree can teach you how to drive a nail, but he can also hammer out a tune. Written and produced with buddies Rich Herring and Scott Van Zenn, the collection showcases the varied musical influences Eric grew up on, merging classic country with soul and old school rock 'n' roll.
The Boot sat down to talk with the Chicago native and dad of three about his new venture. Eric couldn't mask the excitement in his voice as he spoke about finally fulfilling his lifelong dream.
You're not just jumping on the country bandwagon -- you actually started out singing as a kid. What sidelined your music career?
I've been a musician -- playing drums, guitar, singing and writing songs -- for forever. That was the original plan, and it somehow got derailed by this TV and construction thing. That took over just because it hit first. Music is why I became an artist in the first place. It's the thing that terrifies me and gives me the most spiritual uplifting -- fear and confidence all wrapped up into one. You put your ass on the line -- so raw and exposed that it's scary sometimes -- but when you're done, it's amazing.
Why country music?
Country music has always been the theme music of construction sites. It's what the radios across the country blare when you're trying to frame a wall. It's been part of my life forever. I love the simplicity of it, yet how focused it is on words. The simple chord structure makes it seem rudimentary at first, but then you really are featuring what people are trying to say. It's like the original talk radio to me -- these songs help so many people.
Can you give us a sneak preview of the album?
It's got a country-rock sensibility, like Keith Urban. But it also has some real heartfelt ballads. I'm rooted, as a singer, primarily in old R&B and balladeer stuff. And Jimmie Rodgers. As a kid, my brother and I would be like ... [Eric yodels at the top of his lungs]. We'd do that and drive my parents crazy! So I'm like a mutt when it comes to music appreciation. I go from the Joe Cocker influence from the Woodstock era all the way to guys like Johnny Cash, Keith Urban ... to Bill Withers and the soul stuff.
That seems to be the formula for successful country music these days -- staying respectful of the past while keeping it fresh and a bit eclectic.
I started to see the trends change, like when Mutt Lange showed up in Nashville and started to produce artists there. He came from such a rock 'n' roll background, and all of a sudden this '70s rock is showing up in country. People are starting to appreciate the hybrid, but at the same time they'll bust out a beautiful ballad like they're in the Ryman Auditorium and take you back to what original country music was. I love that the genre is open to all of that.
What song on the album do you think best highlights the hybrid of your musical style?
There's a song called 'Fix It Man' that's right up my alley. It's a bluesy country song that gives a sense of what I do on TV, but at the same time it's that soldering between a man and a woman. There's another one called 'Ton of Bricks' that just floors me. It reeks of a big country-pop crossover hit. I'm just really proud of all of them. It's been a long time coming.
What's one song you wish you'd written?
Anything by Jimmy Webb. I think 'Wichita Lineman' is one of the greatest songs of all time. That moves me every time I hear it.
You're an independent artist, even though we hear a lot of record labels are interested in picking up the project. But for now, what do you find most beneficial about being an indie artist versus answering to music execs?
I actually had a deal for a while on a couple of different labels throughout the years. I've had that experience where the advertisers look at you and say, "You look like you should sound like this ...," and the music ended up being something that wasn't in my heart, and performing was like putting a wool coat on without a shirt on under it. So I walked away. I couldn't do it. Now I'm doing it because I love it. It doesn't matter what the outcome is, I'm just happy to be above ground [laughs]! With this crazy schedule that I keep, the fact that I can even play music is such a dream.
That crazy schedule includes hosting 'GMC Trade Secrets' and 'Over Your Head,' along with regular radio guest spots and writing a monthly column in LA Parent magazine. How do you think coming into country music as an already-established celebrity will help you versus how it may hurt you?
You've done the promotion already. You've got the audience who understands who you are and what you do. That will help. And what will also help is that when you hear it, you're not going to believe that this stuff is coming out of this guy. I see a lot of these guys try and cross over, and they're fine at doing what they do, but I've got a really good ability to deliver a song in a way that people will really respect and enjoy. So what might hurt is preconceived judgment. People are going to go, "Are you kidding me? What is this knucklehead doing?" And I understand that, because I'm guilty of it myself when I see people do it. But give me a chance and let me play for you, and then decide.
Have you started to worry about how you're going to juggle all of your careers?
If I could escape for a summer and go on tour, I would and I'd take the kids with me. Compartmentalization has always been an easy thing for me, because I'm so spread out in what I do and I'm good at delegating. If I have ten things going on, I'm good. If I have nothing or just one thing going on, I'm sitting in a sweatshirt with my hood up, watching 'Gilligan's Island' re-runs.
You have three kids under the age of 11. Can you get them into this music you love, or are they just into the Jonas Brothers and Taylor Swift scenes?
My wife directs a bunch of pop tours. She's done Paul McCartney, the Dixie Chicks, Earth, Wind and Fire, and she's doing the Martina McBride tour right now. So their musical tastes have been what Mom does as a job. My son's a drummer, really funky. So he's into the hip-hop thing. My daughter's really into the Cheetah Girls, because they came to her birthday party. And my son Dusty is really into my music, which is sweet. He can sing all the lyrics to my songs.
And how did your wife and kids react when they heard you made PEOPLE's 'Sexiest Man Alive' issue?
After the editors of that magazine called me, I said to my wife, "Hey! Guess what? I'm sexy right now!" And she said, "OK, great. Now give me the baby and go to the store to get diapers [laughs]." I had about 14 seconds of being sexy, and that was it!
How about infamous moments on camera? Do you have any crazy mishaps that would make a blooper reel?
My first day on the world of television and remodeling, I literally nailed half of my thumb to a shelving system with a nail gun. "Welcome to TV! It's time to pay attention to what you're doing!" And we've had things catch on fire and blow up -- explosions, paint falling on people's heads -- you name it, everything has happened.