One would think that Eric Bates has quite enough on his plate with a 12-year stint as a violinist for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a wife and two kids at home. And yet with a career and life already filled to overflowing, Bates found himself being inexorably drawn into a Rock frame of mind as he picked up a guitar and began giving voice to the songs he'd been writing since he was a teenager in his native Louisiana.
"I started dabbling in writing music on my dad's guitar," Bates says from his Cincinnati home. "My dad played a flattop Bluegrass guitar and my mom played piano. Then I got into lyrics. I was really drawn to Ian McCullough from Echo and the Bunnymen and Morrissey from The Smiths. I dabbled in very aloof, more artistic-type lyric writing, just being vague. All of those things are basically what I do now."
As a result, Bates now lists "frontman" on his resume as he and his band Fillmore's Therapy play out in support of their just-released self-titled debut album. The trio (Bates on guitar and vocals, Greg Hansen on bass and Rusty Burge on drums) works an Alternative groove that suggests Morrissey fronting The Smithereens.
"I ended up really getting into the Alternative (music) of the time," Bates says.
"Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, all that kind of stuff. I was so drawn to it and it was such a special thing to me because it was all done in secret. It became something more special than it would have if I hadn't held it so close to the vest."
Bates' Alternative fixation went underground because he grew up in the small rural Louisiana town of Ringgold in a religiously strict household that forbade the playing of Rock. Naturally, Bates sought it out, listening surreptitiously to his favorites while maintaining his Classical education, which began with violin lessons at age 6.
"Right around middle school I started going to summer festivals to study and I met a teacher who I really liked who taught here at the University of Cincinnati," Bates says. "I ended up here for college."
Bates attended the UC-College Conservatory of Music and auditioned for the CSO after graduation. After a handful of rejections, he sought the assistance of an audition tutor and eventually won a spot with the orchestra. Bates has moved steadily up through the ranks over the past decade and a half; he is now fourth chair violin and second assistant concertmaster.
After a decade with the CSO, Bates felt the need for a more personal creative outlet beyond the technical translation of Classical composers. His first club appearance in a Rock format two years ago with a couple of friends in the CSO gave him the jolt of adrenaline that has sustained him through that initial phase to the formation of Fillmore's Therapy with Hansen and Burge (a CCM professor and member of the Cincinnati Percussion Group who hadn't drummed for 15 years when Bates asked him to "bring out your inner John Bonham") and the home recording and self-release of their first album.
"We've been playing together since spring of last year," Bates says of Fillmore's Therapy. "I've been writing songs a lot since I moved away, in my late teens and early twenties. I bought an acoustic guitar but that wasn't a focus. I didn't have time with all the violin practicing; that whole world takes a lot of work to get into and stay into. So I had a lot of songs floating around, and I thought, 'Let's just do it now."
At the fairly late age of 35, Bates doesn't really harbor any Rock fantasies about breaking out, signing to a label and hitting the road. His duties with the CSO and his family responsibilities keep his schedule tight, although he's booking Fillmore's Therapy on a more regional basis. He's looking at some possible dates in Chicago, and he's booked a January show at Arlene's Grocery in New York's East Village.
So, as much as any man can, Eric Bates seems to have it all. But one question remains: What do his parents think of his new Rock avocation?
"My mom hates it, my dad likes it," Bates says, laughing. "But we don't fight about it. It's something I've dreamt of doing and I'm just having a ball doing it. I love having the two different outlets. One requires a completely different discipline from the other. And songwriting scratches a different itch than performing someone else's music."
FILLMORE'S THERAPY performs Thursday at Northside Tavern. Get details and find nearby bars and restaurants here.