Exclusive Interview: "Nashville Mayor" Eddie Island
Photograph by Jesse Paul
Around this time last year, Eddie Island drove through a tornado to finish his record. A couple of short weeks later, the pandemic began. But the Nashville-based Eddie Island (not his real name; we’ll get to that) wasn’t discouraged. Sure, that album was ultimately delayed, but it’s now coming out this summer, and he thinks it’s the perfect time for it. True to form, it’ll blend pop, folk, singer-songwriter sensibilities into a work of art that defies any one genre. Plus, that’s Eddie’s style: he goes with the flow, and doesn’t let much faze him--not even a tornado. Don’t let that attitude fool you, though: Eddie is an incredibly hard worker, and he set the record for fastest album released after an American Idol appearance.
That famous competition show is where most of the world met Eddie Island for the first time. He got a “yes” from all three judges, and wowed Katy Perry with his style and his voice. It was clear that this 25-year-old with a googly-eyed-guitar and the Instagram handle "Nashville Mayor" was someone special. More importantly, this artist is bursting with the kind of creativity and marketing savvy that feels like a requisite for a creative career in this day and age.
A couple of years removed from the Idol spotlight, the hilarious, sharp-witted Eddie Island sat down with Artist Uprising to talk about that new album, his always-engaging social media presence and the advice he has for fellow creatives.
Artist Uprising: What are you working on right now?
Eddie Island: My biggest project is my first major label album, called Folk Star, which is coming out this summer. I’m the solo writer on all of the songs, and I’ve been carrying these for years. Some of them were written when I was 16. I was done tracking that in March of last year; in fact, I drove through the Nashville tornado to get it done. It’s been delayed because of the pandemic, but it’s all gonna work out. I’m also working on some covers -- “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash, and “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse -- and I have some EDM dance tracks coming out, too. I’m kinda becoming an EDM dance guy (laughs). Plus I have another project coming up soon called Sad Cowboy. It’s got some heartfelt folk songs with a cool aesthetic. All of that is leading toward Folk Star dropping.
AU: Wow. You sound incredibly busy. Do you love staying busy?
EI: Yeah, man. I’ve always loved writing songs, but what’s great is that it comes easy for me. So it doesn’t feel like i’m busy, you know? It just feels really great to be able to put this out there and have it reach an audience.
AU: It’s really interesting that you’re releasing songs you wrote when you were 16. Tell me more about that decision.
EI: When Idol happened, I realized how much people love it when I sing these heartfelt, acoustic songs. And I love those songs, but the thing is, I’m so much more than that. So long story short, I’m working with this label, and they’re asking me, ‘What genre are you?’ And I hate being in a genre. I want to do a little bit of everything as long as it feels like me. My mom has a flash drive of these songs because she would always embarrassingly film me. When I looked at it, I realized that there are some awesome songs from back then. I loved them, and didn’t want them to just fade away. So I was able to pull these songs I'd written back in the day and see how much I had grown. In a way, it helped me love myself even more. I grew a lot re-imaging these songs, and I'm not ashamed of them anymore. At the same time, I have tons of different things I’m working on: the EDM, the covers, my social media and marketing stuff, so it’s kind of a mix of learning to love myself while keeping everyone on their toes.
AU: I’m glad you brought up your social media and marketing skills, because I know that’s crucial to your story. Even though creatives are talented people, they can struggle to market themselves. How have you learned to market yourself so well?
EI: The thing that no one really tells you is, what is marketing but telling a story? It’s the same part of your brain, and for me, the social media skills were a necessity at first. Where I’m from, music as a career isn’t really a thing. The only thing we have is a Guitar Center. There’s so much culture around who you are and how much money you make, and no one talked about music or the arts or anything like that as a real career option. I was this weird kid in a band at this prep school outside D.C., and music was my way of communication with the world. When I got to college, I got an internship using social media. I didn’t know that was a job, I just always did it for my band or my music, and I always had fun with it. Through that internship, I learned everything about Facebook and Instagram and all these platforms, and even a little design stuff. That just helped me get even better at engaging with people through this medium, which is really a key goal of everything I do. So I started doing social media as my job, but I didn’t want to give up music. I would work in a corporate office from nine to five, then go to the show afterwards. Only recently have I seen how I can embrace both sides of myself. I can talk to corporate people, and I can talk to creative people. I’m even a licensed insurance agent now, because I just decided to get licensed one day during this pandemic. Why can’t I do it all?
Photograph by Bre
AU: You mentioned storytelling. Is that how you see your work: as a form of storytelling and world-building?
EI: You know, I really don’t, but maybe I should. I do have a whole Pinterest board and music video mapped out for each of my songs. “2021,” one of my new songs, is this crazy conceptual acid music with the acid aesthetic to go with. I’m telling a story with my "Nashville Mayor" Instagram feed, too. I’ve been trying to contact a sci-fi convention to see if I can do a Gerard Way-style comic for the video. Things are kind of organically growing in a way that feels like a story. I’m keeping the race car on the racetrack, but I was never told I was a race car. I was told I was nothing. People said, ‘Music is dumb. You’re dumb. You’re worthless.’ I was a joke. But then Katy Perry liked my style, and people started noticing.
AU: Do you have mixed feelings about the recognition you got from Idol?
EI: It’s a mixed bag, but i’m proud of it because I made a decision to show up as myself and made a decision to be myself. That was me. That’s who I am. I dress like that, and the song I sang for my audition is my original song. But you’re right: it’s bittersweet, and part of it is heartbreaking. I know people weren’t taking my calls before this, or sharing my videos, or supporting me in any way even when I would reach out, but now those same people were asking me to call their cousin on his birthday because I’m the guy from American Idol.
AU: How do you avoid feeling bitter when you find success and people start showing up for you who never showed up before?
EI: You know, I talked to Erykah Badu about this, and she told me, “You just gotta wish ‘em well.” Because the truth is, I’ve always been being me and doing my own thing, even when no one was paying attention. I drove here to Nashville without knowing a single person, I was homeless at times, but I committed to it. I went full artist, and I was really okay not making it and just doing what I love. Then came Idol. But I still think about that time when I realized I was okay not ‘making it.’ It was freeing. It was really, really freeing. I’ve always done this 'Eddie Island' thing for myself. I was dressing up how I liked, and just doing me.
AU: Let’s talk about your name. You are Eddie Liggitt III, but everyone knows you as Eddie Island. You are Eddie Island. Where does the name come from?
EI: It’s kind of a crazy story. I was depressed, and I was living in my friend’s living room with another guy next to me who was working at Target with me. A friend texted me and said, ‘You’re isolating yourself. You’re becoming Eddie Island,’ and I thought, ‘You know what? I am Eddie Island,’ and I turned it into a positive. I started going to shows and parties, and my friends would say, ‘that’s Eddie Island.’ I just ran with it. Out of all the names I ever tried, Eddie Island stuck.
AU: What advice do you have for people who, like you, want to turn their passion into a career?
EI: Stop listening to negative people. I had to stop listening to everyone but myself, but I also had to know when to listen when I thought it was something that could really help me. The key is loving what you’re doing, and falling so in love with it that you’re obsessed. Don’t be afraid to have a job, either. And if they don’t see you, show ‘em.
For more music and content by "Nashville Mayor" Eddie Island, follow him on Instagram.