Erik Koskinen draws inspiration from Sam Shepard on 'Cruising Paradise'

Erik Koskinen

Erik Koskinen Darin Kamnetz

In the belly of a nondescript brick building in Northeast Minneapolis, Erik Koskinen sits and digests his alone time.

The room, his recording studio, is eerily quiet save for occasional noises from the other building occupants. It’s the perfect space for Koskinen to work out and write songs.

Koskinen is not a city boy -- he currently lives on a farm just outside of St. Peter -- and he didn’t come to be a musician the conventional way. The singer spent 20 years working in construction and called places like Colorado, New York, and Michigan home before the back-breaking labor in sweltering heat and bitter cold convinced him he’d rather be making money with his guitar.

Koskinen does all his writing in the studio. He built his studio, Real-Phonic, to eliminate paying for expensive studio time; he now has the luxury to capture every little thought, every little sound that he creates when tinkering.

“One day you write a whole bunch, and it’s great,” he says, his thoughtful eyes peeking out from beneath a weathered baseball cap. “You’re happy with it. The next day you’re not able to do it again. When you’re in the studio, you get in a certain mindset, and I’m grateful I can have a studio to be able to do this. Sometimes you have to sit there and throw shit at the wall.”

Countless such moments of happenstance went into Koskinen’s latest EP, Cruising Paradise, which he’ll release at the Hook and Ladder Theater Friday night.

In the three years since Koskinen’s last release, he’d flown out to L.A. and recorded a new album for Red House Records. But when it was done, the label wasn’t crazy about it, which gave Koskinen second thoughts as well. Instead of releasing those recordings, he dug through his vault of songs -- almost enough for four full length albums -- to find six songs that had a common thread.

The child of two English professors, Koskinen immersed himself in literature at an early age and learned to tell stories. Sam Shepard was a special favorite, and the new album is loosely based on a book of his short stories with the same title.

“Certain events can make you write songs,” Koskinen says. “John Prine once said that when his wife left him, the song truck pulled up to his driveway and dumped off a bunch of songs. Which is true. Now he’s got things to write about, but maybe you don’t have anything tragic or desperate happening in your life. There’s a whole lotta other people that do. You can find subject matter pretty easily if you want to. That’s part of the theme. These songs are not about me.”

Whether his songs are autobiographical or not, Koskinen can craft an old blues tune that speaks to everyone, a song that is more than the sum of its parts, such as the opening track on Cruising Paradise, “Broke Down.”

“If I was the best songwriter in the world, I’d have a hit record,” Koskinen says. “My audience can be very vast. I like to make people think, and that’s not always commercial. Good literary writing can make one person read it differently than another person. I try to do that. I try to write songs that are catchy, but I don’t know how to write modern popular songs. I don’t think I can write something I don’t mean.”

Koskinen can be humble to the point of self-deprecation, but he knows he has something to share. “All musicians have a sense of ego,” he says. “Your ego gets crushed quite often, but we all have something to say. When you hit that groove during a performance -- that thing -- it’s euphoria. You’re always searching for it. That’s going to get you to play music for as long as you can.”

Erik Koskinen
With: Dana Thompson
Where: The Hook and Ladder Theater & Lounge
When: 7 p.m. Fri. Nov. 24
Tickets: 21+; $15-$20; more info here