Break helps former frontman find new musical path

Special to the Record-Eagle/Anthony Norkus, Local Spins Eric Engblade plays Friday night at 7 p.m. at Traverse City's Northern Natural Cider House.

TRAVERSE CITY — Maintaining life balance isn't easy for a frontman “trying to hold down a day job and still be close to family and friends can be really hard.”

That's why singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Eric Englade about a year ago decided to take a break from playing music regularly as band leader for folk-rock’s The Northern Skies. He took the time to concentrate on other things, including taking classes in college counseling at Western Michigan University.

The departure from The Northern Skies — which recorded albums and played venues throughout Michigan for several years, delivering a mix of Americana, bluegrass, rock and Celtic music — also opened some new musical doors for Engblade.

He started pursuing solo projects, with plans to record some new and old songs this spring for an upcoming album, but he recently started a gig as bassist for Bigfoot Buffalo, a jam-oriented, psychedelic Grand Rapids Americana/blues/rock band.

“It has been nice to play a different role than frontman like I did in The Northern Skies. I love being able to sit back in the pocket and support the song with the bass and harmonies,” said Engblade, 32, a native of Ludington who also occasionally plays banjo and percussion for Grand Rapids blues-soul band Hannah Rose & The GravesTones.

Engblade has recorded harmonies and some bass lines for this summer’s expected debut album from Bigfoot Buffalo, a band heavily influenced by The Grateful Dead, The Band and Bob Dylan.

But Engblade is also excited about his own songs and solo shows. 

“We were going to record a new The Northern Skies album but did not, obviously. I am planning on recording some of them (Northern Skies tunes) and new songs as well,” he said, adding that he hopes to release the solo album this fall.

Engblade returns to Northern Natural Cider House in Traverse City at 7 p.m. Friday, performing with upright bassist Justin Avdek. 

“Northern Natural is fun because of the intimacy of the small venue and the great cider,” Engblade said. “The greater Traverse City area is such a great place with a strong musical community and supporters of that community.”

Engblade’s own musical community includes performing occasionally with his dad, Bob, a harmonica player. He grew up listening to his father play John Prine songs on guitar, and the pair even made some home recordings together.

Engblade and his wife, Tammy, who sings and plays ukulele, guitar and kazoo, have played together as a duo under the name Molten Lava Schneider, performing recently at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.

Clearly, the brief “break” in Engblade’s career was more like a speed bump that helped rejuvenate his zeal for music.

“I will always write, record and perform my music,” Engblade said. “It will never be just a passion for me.”

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