Session guitarist, Lonny Eagleton, talks in-depth with Geyser about what it takes to do his job, why he can't stop touring, the business side of music, and hair tips. Eagleton has worked with a wide variety of musicians, making his knowledge of the music industry diverse, extensive, and interesting.
G: What would you consider to be the most fulfilling aspect of working as a studio musician?
L: I’ve always liked studios. There’s just something about them. No matter whose studio you’re working at or which country you’re in, they all have that same creative feeling in the air, and it’s very inspiring. I love the process of coming up with guitar parts for a song, laying them down in the studio, seeing the artist get more and more excited about their tune, and then eventually hearing the mastered mix. Whenever someone asks me to play on their record I feel honored.
Hearing yourself on the radio is very fulfilling too. The first time I heard myself on the radio it was an artist’s Christmas single that I’d played guitar on, which happened to come onto one of the stations in Kelowna one evening. I was 17 at the time so I was still living at home, just sitting on the couch playing along to whatever song happened to get spun, and then all of a sudden I heard myself. You never forget the first time that happens.
G: You have worked with a multitude of artists, both in studio and on the road. How has this shaped you as an artist?
L: I’m fortunate to work regularly with so many super talented singers, bass players, drummers, and piano players, that I can’t help but be inspired by them. Being a session musician means that you need to be stylistically versatile and know how to use a calendar. There have been occasions where I’ve played gigs with 5 different artists in the span of 1 week. This is something that I really enjoy, and it means developing the proficiency on your instrument to be able to play a pop gig one day, a country gig the next, record on an indie song in the studio the next morning, and then go to your acoustic gig that same night. Any session player will tell you that the key to getting steady work is to be versatile. I myself have always been into so many different types of music, so jumping from genre to genre feels very natural for me.
G: What part of touring Canada proved to be the most enjoyable?
L: I absolutely love being on the road. I’ve never felt too domicile about the city of Vancouver, but when I’m on the road I always feel at home. A fresh hotel bed is literally one of my favorite things on the planet! I know some musicians who prefer to play local gigs, but I personally love the experiencing of seeing a new city every day, observing how culture and landscape can change from province to province, and walking into a new venue every afternoon knowing that you will be rocking out to an awesome crowd that night.
Another benefit of being a touring musician is getting to stay in touch with friends who’ve moved to other cities and who you otherwise probably wouldn’t get to see as often if you weren’t passing through their town on tour every now and then. Also, there’s nothing quite like the bond you experience with your band mates while being on the road together. If you go on tour for a week you will without a doubt come back from that tour with at least 3 awesome stories that you can tell together and laugh about for the rest of your lives.
G: Who are some of the artists/producers you enjoyed working with and/or were inspired by?
L: Some of the artists that I’m maintaining a regular playing or recording schedule with these days are Kate Morgan, Sister Says, and Paul Filek.
As far as artists who’ve inspired me over the years, my influences are quite broad. My first favorite band was the Backstreet Boys when I was 7, laugh if you want but they’re sick. I later got into classic rock when I was 12 and that’s what made me want to start playing music, bands like AC/DC, Nirvana, and Led Zeppelin. After that I got heavily into country music, artists like Brad Paisley and Alan Jackson were huge influences on me around the time I was 17. At around 19 I was bitten by the pop music bug and immersed myself with artists like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. These days I’m getting more into heavier groups like Black Veil Brides and Falling in Reverse.
G: This past summer you’ve worked on four separate albums, while performing simultaneously! How was that experience for you?
L: Yeah, this past summer was very productive. Summer months are always the busiest time of year for a musician, given all the park gigs, festivals, and weddings that go on. So I was quite busy doing those types of things, and I have been doing a bit more studio work these days too. The thing about playing in the studio is that you need to be perfect, no matter how you’re feeling or what you’ve been through that day. Unlike live playing, in the studio any little mistake you make will be blatantly obvious when heard through play back. You don’t want to waste people’s time by spending too long on a certain part, and you don’t want the engineer to have to spend the rest of his day editing your takes. If these types of things are happening then you won’t be getting called back. It also involves things like not breathing too loud or tapping your foot while playing because those activities may get picked up into the microphone and ruin the pass. But, that’s what makes playing in the studio so fun and spontaneous.
G: As someone who plays live often and to various audiences, what do you feel is most important about performing live?
L: I think the most important thing about playing live is to actually put on a show for the fans. Some people just stand there on stage and look at their hands while they play, but to me performing is and should be so much more than that. It’s a sacred experience for both the band and the audience. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m the kind of guy who likes to bust out rock moves on stage and entertain a crowd. Playing a solo with your guitar pointed straight up into the air looks fucking cool, and if you can do that while holding a wide power stance then that’s even better! At the end of the day, if I can help my artist gain a couple fans or sell one more album after a show then that’s a successful performance in my books.
G: What are three things you can’t live without?
L: 1. Hairspray- Spray and Play by Big Sexy Hair. It’s the expensive stuff, but it’ll hold through the hottest of stage lights and the thickest of fog machines. That’s what I look for in a spray.
2. The opening riff to Heartbreaker by Led Zeppelin- I had to change my pants the first time I heard it.
3. My wig- …Just kidding.
G: How does working as a studio musician compare to being in a full-time band?
L: I’ve done both, and I think they each have their benefits. I started off playing in bands while in middle-school when I was 13. As soon as I could play 3 chords on a guitar I decided to start a band with my best friends from school at that time. I did all my first shows with those guys, we played cafes, restaurants, parties, events at our school, and we even got to play in a couple bars. Those were seriously some of the best times I’ve ever had, and we played together for about two years until we broke up. Soon after that I was given the opportunity to do some sideman work for an artist named Ryan Donn and I absolutely fell in love with it. Just like that I was instantly booked for tons of great gigs, developing my stylistic knowledge and musicality, playing alongside seasoned professionals, and getting paid for it. The Ryan Donn gig eventually led to opportunities with other singer/songwriters in the Okanagan and by the time I graduated high school I had built up a steady clientele of artists and was gigging around 2-4 times per week. By this point I realized that I was playing far more gigs and making more money than my friends who were playing in bands at the time, so continuing on as a session musician seemed to be the natural path for me to take. When I turned 18 I decided that Kelowna wasn’t the best city to live in if you wanted to make a living playing music, so I made the move to Vancouver and did it all over again.
If you want to compare the two routes, I think maybe the biggest difference is that in a band setting there are four leaders, whereas on an artist gig there is only one. When you’re in a band everyone gets a say in things, and no body’s opinion outweighs anybody else’s (unless you’re Axl Rose). When you’re a musician being hired by a band/artist it’s different because you have to go into it with the mentality that it’s not your show, it’s your artist’s show. As a sideman you are there to make your artist sound the best that he or she possibly can, simple as that. You need to show up on time, all time, and be able to play the music perfectly because that is what you are being paid to do. The same thing goes for image. If you’re being hired by an artist, that artist will no doubt have a certain look they’re going for on stage, and it’s up to you to fit in with that visual. Whenever I’m about to play my first show with a new artist I’ll be sure to watch all their videos and check out all their photos so that I can see what kind of style they’re going for and coincide with it the best I can. If it’s unclear I’ll ask. In a band situation, things are a little different.
G: What is the best part about being a freelance musician?
L: Apart from the chicks? The best part about being a freelance musician is simply being able to play music every day and have it be your life. A lot of people can’t wait to get home from their tedious jobs so that they can play music, but when your job is to play music then that’s something to be thankful for. Being a session musician is like running a business, you have a product that you’re selling, and that product is the service of executing musical parts accurately on your chosen instrument while using the proper tone and stylistic inflections. If you’re good at your instrument, always show up on time, you’re easy to get along with, and you nail your parts musically on the first try then you’ll most likely have a propitious career as a session player.
G: What is your favorite song to perform?
L: This is a question that I often get asked. As a musical performer, we tend to divide songs into two categories: covers and originals. My favorite cover to play is Sweet Child O’ Mine. I’m pretty good at rocking the Slash pose during the intro, and then of course it has a big juicy guitar solo that I get play while people pull out their phones to take Snapchats.
In terms of playing original music, I sometimes write with the artists who I play with, and whenever there’s a stranger in the audience singing along to one of those songs it’s truly the best feeling ever. Even if it’s not a song that I co-wrote, I still feel a great sense of accomplishment in playing for an artist whose music is able to reach out to people in a way that makes them want to learn the words. When Kate Morgan’s Boys with Girlfriends was on the radio last year there were always people singing along at the shows and that was really special. Paul Filek has a modest fan base too, and his fans love to sing!
G: What can we expect from you in the near future?
L: I played guitar in a music video last week for 5 time Juno award winning artist Jimmy Rankin’s upcoming single Whiskey When the Sun Goes Down. The song gets released to country radio later this month, and you’ll be able to see us rocking out on CMT rotation come October.
G: Thank you for chatting with us!