He goes by E.M. these days and if you ask him why, he’ll tell you that Erik Michael Estrada was just too long. Not to mention if he goes by Erik Estrada he has to put up with the “hey isn’t that the guy from Chips?, is he your dad?” line that he is all too familiar with. So, it’s just E.M. and we like it that way. New year, new name, new projects.
Erik has come a long way since his Making The Band days. He has seen his group O-town come, and go, and come back again. Although they still tour regularly and don’t show any signs of slowing down, these days Erik splits his time between the band, his solo music, songwriting for other artists and his strong passion for storytelling. He recently went OnRCRD. Here’s what he had to say.
What music are you listening to these days?
E.M. : It’s an interesting question because a lot of the time, I am listening to my own music because I’m going in to re-record, and am always trying to fix it. So, right now, I’m currently listening to a bunch of my own songs. So, yeah, I’m listening to me.
It’s Friday night, dress up and go out, or order and cuddle up?
E.M. : [laughs] I’m staying in, I’m cuddling up. And I am binge watching something.
Favorite TV show?
E.M. : My favorite TV show of all time is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But right now, it’s this Italian show called Suburra on Netflix. It’s about the Italian Mafia, actually in Rome, and it’s really edgy, and yeah, I just finished it.
Favorite cheat meal?
E.M. : French toast.
Do you have a go to pre-show meal?
Erik: Pre-show, I don’t like to eat so much. I’ll usually eat, something light, nothing super heavy and saucy. If we’re on the bus or at any sort of catering, I prefer a protein shake.
One of your hobbies is toy collecting. What’s your favorite toy?
E.M. : Yeah, I’m an avid toy collector. I don’t necessarily collect everything, but there are a few that I still end up purchasing. I guess my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle collection is my favorite. My buddy, Danny, actually has the entire, complete set, and I’m so jealous of him. But I have no room in my house for that.
What other hobbies do you have?
E.M. : I don’t know, my generation’s sort of weird. We’re like big kids. I still like to game. I love gaming. I love to get down on the 2K. I love Call of Duty. I have a clan of 30-plus-year-old men who all jumped on Call of Duty with me. But overall I’m one of the lucky ones. I get to do my hobby for a job. I love being in the studio. I love creating. Making music is the best, and, storytelling, you know, storytelling too.
I think that’s one of the reasons why I liked collecting toys when I was younger. I was an only child. So, I would get these toys and I create these, like, epic tales and stories with them. And I sort of have taken that same spark of creativity that I had in my youth, and I try to take that into my songwriting. You know, create a story, create a dialogue, maybe something that happened with me, maybe something that happened to someone I know. But, essentially, telling stories is probably my favorite hobby.
What-what stories are you telling now? Are you making new music?
E.M. : Well, right now, I’ve been doing a bunch of different things. Music is still at the forefront. I’ve been songwriting a bunch. I have an EP that’s coming out with my band, O-Town. We’re in the middle of finalizing that. I am actually songwriting for a Latin group called Co City on their EP. I’m one of the premier writers on that. Musically, my total focus is on those two projects. I’m just trying to write the best songs possible.
I also have a couple of television, streaming production projects in the works that I’m really excited about. And as I progress in my career, obviously, telling stories in music is important, but there’s another medium that I’ve been after.
Are we gonna see you on the big screen one of these days?
E.M. : I don’t know. I hope. I got braces on right now, so I can’t really, do much. But, yeah, I would love to. I’ve done some acting over the years. My band has been touring pretty heavily for the last three or four years. So, I haven’t been able to do more recently. However, yeah, I would love to. I’d love to get on a TV show. It’s weird. I got my start in music, but I always felt like I was an actor first. And to a certain degree, I sort of felt like I was acting like a pop star [chuckle] when I first started. I felt that — I kind of fooled everyone to think that I should actually be in the band.
Do you ever watch shows like American Idol or The Voice and say, “Yeah, I did it first.”?
E.M. : [laughs] Um, yeah. There’s definitely a piece of me that thinks, “Wow, I can’t believe I was, a part of the first wave of television music artists.” I guess a piece of me will always think that. It was so long ago that my television show was on. We’ve had so much talent that’s come from that medium which is just really impressive from the Kelly Clarkson to Carrie Underwood, gosh. And she — Carrie Underwood, to be honest with you, is the one American Idol person that I actually called in for. The one time that I ever voted for American Idol, it was for Carrie Underwood.
The relationships you’ve developed with your bandmates starting at a young age, how has that evolved over time?
E.M. : I was 20 years old when we started. We were strangers. We didn’t know each other. We had no idea what to expect from one another. So the fact that 18 years later we’re still doing this, after being formulated on a show, I think that’s the biggest testament to us as a group. We found a way to appreciate each other’s strengths and tolerate each other’s weaknesses and our shortcomings. And I think, over time, our communication has just become a lot clearer and a lot more respectful. We’re better now than we were back then- closer now than we were back then.
You’re one member short from the original cast?
E.M. : We are one member short from the original cast of O-Town. But I think that was an essential part of us doing it now. We found a different identity four years ago when we started doing this again. We were forced to sort of look into ourselves and see what we had to do to contribute, to pick up the slack in order for the fans to get a show that they would come out and see over and over again. Every time we go out on tour as four, we get a little closer, we get a little better. Yeah, we’re missing a member, it happens in life, but you keep on going and you find a way to make it better.
Can you talk about your identity within and outside the group?
E.M. : There was a 10-year hiatus of us not actually being a band. And it was during that time that I was able to go back and connect with who I was. I think it’s hard when you’re in a band to sort of identify yourself individually because you’re constantly comparing yourself to other members of the group. That time alone really allowed me to sort of set in what are my talents, what are my real loves in life, my skillsets, how can I improve upon those.
To me it was always about the quality of the song, quality of the music. Obviously working with Clive Davis on the first and second record, his passion and his focus has always been on the music and on the songs. For me, it’s sort of the same thing. I took that advice and just started songwriting, and started working with guys who were better than me, and started learning from songwriters who have much more experience, and started taking the little experience that I had and mixing with them, and just started learning and being a student of the craft that I love. I think that has helped me carve up my own niche because I can get into a studio now and write my own song from top to bottom. I don’t necessarily need anyone else. An engineer? Sure. I think that’s sort of how I’ve been able to carve up my own ways, just figuring out my skillset and then improving upon those skillsets.
If you could pick one other person to collaborate with in the future, who would it be?
E.M. : I would love to work with Post Malone. I think what he’s doing is super cutting edge and melodic and infectious. I think Ed Sheeran is just a fantastic songwriter. Maybe a duet with Carrie Underwood or Nicky Jam, who knows?
Do you experience stage fright?
E.M. : It’s interesting, when I was younger, I didn’t. I was totally invincible. The older I get, I guess, reality sets in and the scope of it really comes into play, so I start to get a little bit nervous. But once you get to the stage, all those nerves just go away.
What is fame to you?
E.M. : Fame is such a ugly word to me. It’s weird. There’s so many sides to fame. I’ve always said I never got into this to be famous, I never got into this business to be famous. That was never the intention. It was to do what I love, and I just so happen to love the arts. I believe that fame could be an ugly thing, it could be a great thing if you use it and wield it the right way. It’s a power. It’s a responsibility. And when you are given a platform, it’s best to use it in as many positive way as you can, you know. Spread love, spread joy, spread peace.
What was your first experience with personal fame?
E.M. : I believe the first time I realized that I was famous was in Toronto, Canada. We went up for our radio promotion and we were actually doing the radio show. We were surprise guests on the radio program, and it was really, really odd, the way this sort of went down. They announced us on the radio. And as we were on the radio, they started noticing people gathering by the radio station downstairs. By the second, third segment, we had a street full of people that were closing down the street right in front of the radio station. And we went out, and we had security and they had to rush us to a car, and that was definitely the first time where I felt that taste of fame and that we mattered. Yeah, that was pretty intense.
Who is your musical inspiration?
E.M. : I’m a ’90s kid, so I grew up during the heart of hip-hop and R&B. And R&B was at the top of everyone’s list in terms of pop radio. So Boyz II Men, Jodeci, R. Kelly, B.I.G., Nas. I lived in New York City, so, to me, this is sort of, like, my influence from the get.
The first time I saw a Backstreet Boys video, I felt like, “Oh, wow, I have an opportunity as a Latin kid to sort of get into the R&B world and get into the pop world ’cause it’s the first time I actually saw, like, white kids and Hispanic kids, singing together. And they were given a platform on MTV. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that Backstreet Boys.
Is there anyone in your life outside of music that’s been there from start to finish that you can always turn to?
E.M. : No. No one [laughs]. I’m joking. Yeah. My mom has been the person the whole way with me. Pretty much the whole entire run my mom, my dad. My band. We’ve done a good job with keeping each other grounded. We’ve done a good job of letting each other know that, “I know where you came from [laughs].” It helps to have people in your life that actually ground you a little bit.
I was young when I got into the business, but I had already established a life, as a young man. I went to high school, I went to junior high school and high school. I wasn’t homeschooled. I wasn’t going out on auditions. I think that actually really helped because it gave me something to compare life to. There was this real life that I had, this block of time, my first 19 years of life, and then post O-Town, which has been not the same.
Do have a favorite career moment to date?
E.M. : There’s so many, really. Well, we talked about the influences, you know, for me Boys II Men, New Kids. These guys were doing what I wanted to do, so I always sort of looked up to them. And last year, we ended up doing the mixtape festival with New Kids and Boys II Men. We opened for them. Sharing the stage with those guys, even if it’s 20 years later and we all have platinum records, to share a stage with those guys who actually influenced me to get into the business, that was the moment, for sure.
Most embarrassing career moment?
Erik: My most embarrassing career moment would probably be the first season of Making The Band. I was this super vulnerable, green, mistake-prone, non-dancing, flat, sharp, singing, rough around the edges kid. So, to me, looking back is sort of embarrassing, but I don’t know. I tend not to get embarrassed that much, I feel like I love laughing things off. Everyone has mistakes, everyone falls short at some point and everyone has to start somewhere.
Actually, the time that my pants fell down during the show. That was pretty embarrassing.
Knowing what you know now and having had the experiences that you have, if you could go back and give advise to your younger self, what would it be?
E.M. : “You got this.” If I had an opportunity to talk to my younger self, maybe whisper a little something in my ear before I went to my audition like “You got this.” Hindsight is 20, 20 you know. I would say to my younger self, “Cherish these moments.” That’s a really good question because I have a list of things that I would probably say to myself. “Trust your gut. Trust your gut and never question it.”
How did you feel when you were selected for the group on Making The Band?
E.M. : I feel super lucky, you know, what can you say?
What was going through your head when they called your name?
E.M. : Um, [laughs] I was so cocky back then . I was like, “oh, I’ve got this. I’m in”. [laughs] But then he starts going down the line and he starts calling all the names, and I’m one of the last names. “Really, I’m not gonna make this. Oh my gosh, I’m really not gonna make it?” I felt like it was my position to lose at that point. I’d worked really hard to get myself to a place where I left them little to no choice but to move forward with me. I put everything on the line. I put everything out there.
It could have gone so many different ways. They could have wanted to cast a group that would never make it. I just feel a sense of gratitude for being at the right place at the right time and being prepared for the opportunity.
What advise would you give to a young person who aspires to be in your shoes?
E.M. : I would say, “Don’t.” [laughs] I would say, “Do it for the right reasons.” If you’re gonna do it, do it for the right reasons. Do it because you love to make music. Do it because even if you’re not gonna get paid, you’re gonna still do this because that’s what’s in your heart, that’s what’s in your blood and you can’t deny it. It’s a part of the fabric of who you are. If you allow that to be the most important thing that you focus on, then the losses won’t be as big and the gains, the wins will be more gratifying, because you know you’re doing it for the right reasons. Fame is fleeting. Doing what you love, that’s a gift many can’t say that they get to experience.
Anything you want to set the record straight on?
E.M. : Yeah. I think over time stereotypes have changed. When I started in the band, everyone had this attitude like, “oh, they’re this manufactured thing.” And, yes, to a certain degree we were, but that didn’t come without sacrifice. It didn’t come without a lot of hard work. I think a misconception is that when you’re in a group like I was in, that it’s just easy. I wanna go on record saying that, I love my fans, I love my family, I love my bandmates, and I can’t wait for everyone to see, and hear what’s gonna what’s coming. A lot of great projects, a lot of great music, and a lot of awesome shows. So, I’m on record saying I miss everyone, and I can’t wait to get back out there and see you guys.
Be sure to follow E.M.E. here to hear about all his new projects.