Youngstown singer-songwriter JD Eicher pens debut novel after working with Nicholas Sparks
JD Eicher is no stranger to national attention, having shared the stage with the likes of Coldplay, Dave Matthews Band, Train, Kelly Clarkson, and Maroon 5.
The Youngstown artist’s written words have typically been delivered to audiences through his original songs.
This year, Eicher added novelist to his repertoire, pulling in a new kind of audience.
“I kind of always, in the back of my mind, thought it'd be fun to try my hand at writing a novel,” Eicher said.
The singer-songwriter was inspired to write the book after joining author Nicholas Sparks on a book-signing tour.
Sparks chose Eicher to write songs to accompany his book, “Two By Two,” which was released in 2016.
Gaining new opportunities as an artist
Eicher began playing guitar at age 12 and began seriously pursuing music at Westminster College in Pennsylvania.
He pitched an idea to the college dean about combining business administration with music so he could focus on songwriting during his educational experience.
“This was an interdisciplinary major that I pitched, and they ended up letting me do that,” Eicher said. “And, so, that kind of began this wild journey into music.”
The Youngstown musician cut his teeth playing in smaller venues like coffee shops, bars and wineries.
Eicher put together a band called The Goodnights and began touring around the U.S., finding funding via Kickstarter and releasing albums since 2009 on a budget.
“Over the years, it's just been a lot of a lot of touring on the road and trying to kind of find our folks who like what we're doing,” Eicher said.
He and the musicians he played with blended pop and rock and started attracting a following.
“Along the way, we signed with a management indie label,” Eicher said. “They were kind of establishing their own headway in the industry, and we were lucky to be on the roster.”
Warner Music began distributing Eicher’s music through its independent arm, ADA.
“Over the years, it's just been a lot of a lot of touring on the road and trying to kind of find our folks who like what we're doing."
Bigger opportunities began opening quickly for the Youngstown artist, including having his song, “Aaron,” featured in an Olive Garden commercial.
In 2016, Eicher and his band recorded the album “The Middle Distance” in the basement of his home in Ohio.
This same year, the band decided to drop The Goodnights from its name and begin releasing music and performing as JD Eicher.
Also in 2016, Sparks approached Eicher about creating original music to accompany his 20th novel.
Eicher said his name was put into a hat via a distributor, and he was chosen for the opportunity.
“I wrote a song and then included some other tunes to kind of round out the themes of the book as a companion piece,” Eicher said. “And so through all of those little, little things, we were able to reach more ears and the audience was suddenly a little bit wider for us, even though we were still very much, just ‘scrapping’ along.”
Developing the idea for a novel
Eicher credits the Sparks project as a big reason why he is still making music. He said he took careful notes and approached writing the soundtrack very seriously.
“There were definitely some moments—and a big one right before that opportunity came along—where … I was going to be shutting down and moving on to more traditional lifestyles,” he said. “You know, contributing to society in a regular position, that kind of thing.”
Sparks and Eicher toured together at various bookstores around the United States, where the author would sign copies of his book, and Eicher would perform songs he wrote for the book, including “Two by Two” and an alternate version of his tune “Not Afraid.”
It was during this book tour that Eicher felt inspired to write his own novel.
“I listened to [Sparks] talk about how he approached writing a novel and what that was like,” Eicher said. “And I always kind of came at music with a love for lyrics and also just like to write.”
On the plane ride home from the book-signing tour, Eicher began toying with some songs he’d written, assigning characters and profiles to the story.
“With the idea being that I could tell the story in tandem with the songs and kind of write them at the same time,” Eicher said. “And then, hopefully, have a concept project.”
He said the songs he was working with to develop a story went in a different thematic or sonic direction than most of his other original material.
He wanted to see the songs through, he said, but they weren’t fully baked because they didn’t feel authentic to his typical songwriting.
Rethinking the songs and reimagining them as a novel gave Eicher the motivation to complete the companion EP, “Majesto Sessions,” and flesh out the 213-page “The Lights Along the Majesto” novel.
“I wrote that book in 2016 into 2017,” he said. “Then more recently into the pandemic, those songs started to kind of float to the surface again as possible tracks to record.”
Eicher tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, and during that time, he completed the book, found a printer and hit the deadline for his album release just in time.
"I wrote a song and then included some other tunes to kind of round out the themes of the book as a companion piece."
Both the book and album center around the fictional Majesto Theater in Youngstown, where Eicher is from.
The album contains eight tracks, some of which are bombastic pop songs, while others are more intimate.
“Something to Love,” in particular, was recorded as a voice memo.
The book tells the story of two characters, one who Eicher said “is very rock ‘n’ roll,” while the other is a more reserved singer-songwriter type.
“I took these two characters, and they're both artists on tour together,” Eicher said. “[The narrator] ends up becoming their tour manager of sorts and goes on the road with them, and they're very opposite characters.”
The plot of the novel is no doubt inspired by Eicher’s many years touring as a singer-songwriter alongside numerous rock stars.
His companion album refers back to plot points in the story. Eicher said both bodies of work inform one another.
“I think some folks are like, ‘You know, I didn't sign up for a book,’ or they're just kind of rolling their eyes,” Eicher said. “And I'm like, you know, hopefully they can stand alone.”
Keeping busy during the pandemic
Eicher was signed to a new label, AntiFragile Music, in 2021.
The year prior, he released the album “Court Street” at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The musician said he has spent much of the pandemic focusing on his family, especially since his prolific days of touring came to a sudden halt in 2020.
“It's not a good pairing, musician and parent … Just because I have to leave my house to earn money and usually to leave for extended periods of time,” Eicher said.
Eicher’s children have inspired his music, from the song “Find Me Here” that was written for his daughter and released on 2019’s “Songs from Before” EP, to “History,” which began as a song for his son but evolved into a commentary on political and societal divide.
“As I started to write about it, things went south,” he said. “And I was like, ‘Maybe I'll write a song for Jack in a better era, you know?’”
Eicher said in 2020, he and his band lost around 75 shows and an album release as a result of the pandemic.
“In hindsight, now, I can see a lot of silver linings,” he said. “But when I remember that first week or two, when everything sort of shut down … I remember just truly being terrified, couldn't sleep.”
The musician pivoted and pursued online performances and merch sales to sustain him financially since so many shows were canceled.
He launched a Patreon, which he credits to covering much of the loss he endured in the midst of COVID-19.
“I kind of just turned toward finishing songs and trying to record,” he said. “And also at the same time, you know, trying to kind of hold on to the fortunate pieces of it.”
Eicher has resumed in-person performances this year.