When Derik Hultquist declares, “my life is defined by parallel lines” one is tempted to assume he/she is listening to a road weary troubadour who is reflecting on a long musical journey of one night stands playing for tip jars. While Hultquist certainly hasn’t been exempt from these experiences, the twenty-something is sharing more of his narrative of life, than simply recounting his musical reality. An East Tennessee native, Hultquist has always been drawn to a life equal parts imagined as realized.
After leaving Alcoa, TN he spent time at Kentucky Wesleyan College tending to the business of getting an education and defending the net as goalie for the men’s soccer team. After an injury left him sidelined with too much time on his hands, he fell back into the familiar practice of songwriting, which he had been mining since before high school. The next few years, while waiting on graduation, he spent reinvigorated with the art of the song. Upon graduation, on a whim, he migrated to Nashville. While this might seem like a clichéd, predictable move, Hultquist didn’t show up ‘demo tape in hand’ and start beating on the doors of music row. He decided to make his own path and took on flexible jobs (legislative legal clerk, server, handyman, paperboy, pharmacy tech, valet, and others), which didn’t merit much income, but did allow him time enough to write everyday. He continued making an earnest attempt to craft his songwriting into a symbolic tale of the potential in all of humanity. From this writing spawned the self-released, Anthologies and Blue Blues.
Hultquist eventually did find his way to Carnival Music, a multi-faceted company who has established itself as one of the last holistic breeding grounds of the artist/writer in Nashville. Carnival released two EPs on Hultquist, Whether Report, in early 2012 and Leaning On The Rain, later the same year. These releases revisited a few songs on his previous self-released albums in the hopes of honing in on a definitive sound. “I’m a perfect stranger in a strange place,” he laments on “Cowboy Cliché” a track off of the Whether Report set. With such a simple statement, Hultquist immediately invites the listener to identify with his plight. It’s his subtle reflectiveness that is at the core of these songs.
On his forthcoming release, Mockingbird’s Mouth, due out in February 2014, Hultquist builds on the cerebral nature of Whether Report and Leaning On The Rain almost seamlessly; transitioning from the stark atmospheric nature of the 2012 releases to a blithely journeyman’s account of past, present, and future. The opening track, “For The Good Of The Rose” situates itself exceptionally as the tone-setting cornerstone of the seven-song collection and tempts the listener to ponder what might have been if James Taylor had developed his sound in Laurel Canyon, CA.
While the EP is loaded with imagery of life on the road, sonically, the set explores new territory for Hultquist. The upbeat “Give Me The Highway” beckons one to speculate what country radio might sound like if the ‘powers that be’ were willing to promote a more pensive agenda. The entire album juggles an introspective sentiment with an optimistic attitude, one that is certainly a testament to the values of Hultquist. It only requires a first listen to selections like “Strange Love” and “Stay Young” for one to realize he/she is witnessing a complexity that is created by a marriage eager anticipation and brooding carefulness. Hultquist beautifully assumes the role of storyteller on “#29.” He employs the four-minute vehicle to convey his observations of life, instead of letting it become just another train song.
Hultquist’s work could lead one to draw obvious comparisons to the likes of Jack Kerouac or John Steinbeck. After delving deeper into the crux of Hultquist writing, though, one might shift his/her semblance towards a Langston Hughes or Ernest Hemingway association instead, as witnessed when he closes the new project with his own spin on a love song with “Parallel Lines” and the meditative “Country Song.” In the closing number, when Hultquist asserts, “Questions don’t get clearer, just more often asked. If I knew the future, I’d still want to wait, to see if I use it before the past gets in the way” it unveils the spirit of Mockingbird’s Mouth, an album that summons a deeper examination of the ordinary.