The life of an independent musician can be hectic, but in between releasing an album, booking a tour, rehearsing and working a day job, Eileen Hazel finds time to laugh even if it is at her own expense.
On April 4 at 8 p.m. smiles should abound La Peña Cultural Center, when the Berkeley singer-songwriter teams up with other local musicians for a CD release concert in support of her first solo album, “My Interesting Condition,” released on FolkDiva records.
“It’s been like planning a wedding,” said Hazel who is in charge of nearly every facet of the event.
Once the party starts, she will get lots of help.
Joining her on stage will be a six-person band including her FolkDiva cohorts Green and Root, the CD’s producer, Lisa Zeiler, of the recently retired Berkeley-based trio “Rebecca Riots,” as well as drummer Jerry Peraza, bassist Jean Dusablon and electric guitarist Rick Auerbach.
“My Interesting Condition” explores the contradictions ingrained in life, especially those that arise from relationships that have gone awry.
This is a theme that easily lends itself to angry rants or melancholy ballads, but Hazel earnestly conveys the tortured emotions felt by the subjects without resorting to melodrama or bombast.
“I think relationships can often be absurd,” said Hazel. “It’s ridiculous how you feel when one is ending, like your world is falling apart, but then all of sudden everything is OK again.”
This perspective permeates the entire album. The songs are imbued with an optimistic confidence that no matter how the subject feels at the moment, everything will turn out for the best.
Although the emotion in Hazel’s songs is heartfelt and sincere, she refuses to take herself or her subject matter too seriously. The song “Fooling Me,” in which Hazel bemoans the credulousness of her “big, overdeveloped and highly evolved brain,” shows that she feels more comfortable laughing at her own mistakes than scowling at another’s misdeeds.
The lighthearted resilience displayed by the subjects in several of her songs is evident in Hazel as well. Arriving in the Bay Area 10 years ago as a traveler from Minnesota who played bass in folk rock bands, Hazel endeavored down several different creative paths. She learned to play acoustic guitar and the Appalachian dulcimer, and from 1992 to 1997, she performed on stilts with the troupe Women Walking Tall.
In 1999 Hazel and three friends — Green, Root and Helen Chaya — formed FolkDiva Records, an independent label created to further their musical pursuits and support women’s causes. The label has released three CD’s, and together, its founders have organized and performed at benefit shows for several organizations including The California Coalition of Women Prisoners.
In December of 2000, buoyed by encouragement from her friends, Hazel decided that what she had to say was important enough to share with a larger audience. In July of the following year, she entered the studio for her first lesson in recording.
Instinctively a live performer, Hazel had to adjust to a setting in which her movement was restricted and every note had to be perfect. Hazel, who was not used to playing guitar sitting down and having three microphones flanking the instrument, joked that sometimes the hardest challenge was merely staying still. "I’m used to moving around when I play, so it took some getting used to sitting perfectly still and keeping the same distance from all three mics."
Hazel credits Lisa Zeiler, her producer and former guitar teacher, with helping her to enjoy the process. "Lisa has been a mentor to me," said Hazel. "There is no way I could have done this or be as pleased with it without her support."
Now a published musician, Hazel faces a new challenge – promoting herself. For a woman who is given to self-reflection and lighthearted humor this is no simple task. If she is fortunate, then perhaps one day she can devote herself to music full-time and maybe even hire someone to do the grunt work. But, for now Eileen is enjoying her newfound burdens, and she has plenty of reasons to smile.