Revealing hidden tracks
Former Foxtails musician Erik Hanson opens up about his drug addictions and comes out of hiding to play a show
The most personal song local singer-songwriter Erik Hanson ever wrote— “Boulevards”—might not seem like it’s revealing much about him. It’s a breezy, melancholy country-rock song he wrote for his band the Stragglers back in 2009, and it vaguely recounts losing himself and riding around on the streets.
“Missed calls as evening falls / Lonely souls losing hold of what they’ve been told.”
Hanson kept the song’s true meaning buried. Though now, nearly a decade later, he has no problem speaking openly about it.
“It’s about riding these streets here scoring drugs and my wife calling me,” Hanson says plainly.
At the time, he was secretly smoking crack and popping opioids, and he desperately wanted to stop. This habit would escalate to 20 pills and crack usage daily until June 2014, when his addiction—and the fact that he’d routinely stolen from friends and family to fund it—came out. He tells me his need for crack was so bad, he would scour the carpet in his apartment when he ran out, looking for nuggets, sometimes accidentally smoking pieces of cat litter.
“It’s a sick disease,” he says. “You want to isolate and do it all by yourself. It’s horrible. Once I started, I couldn’t stop.”
The last time I saw Hanson, he was rail thin and seemed distracted, dark and brooding. This was in 2014, literally weeks before he checked into Sierra Vista Hospital in their suicide-watch ward, which would lead to a full year rehab program at Joshua House Men’s Center 11 days later.
Today, he’s nearly four years sober.
Back then, I interviewed him for his band the Foxtails, unaware that he was a junkie. At that point, he’d been a prominent member of the music scene for years with bands Forever Goldrush, The Cassidys, The Stragglers and the Foxtails. For all but the first one, he was the singer/songwriter/guitarist of the group, writing emotional and often melancholy Americana tunes—a cross between Gram Parsons and the Cure.
He was so involved with the music scene that, earlier in 2014, I’d also interviewed him for his Living Room Sessions singer-songwriter monthly series he curated at Old Ironsides, where he brought in all the top singer-songwriters in town and casually played songs like they were in his living room. There were even couches onstage.
Now 46 years old, he looks healthy, filled out, like a completely different person. Judging by his Facebook posts, he spends his free time watching Star Wars and hanging out with his daughter. I suspect he has a swath of dad jokes on deck.
I mention how he’s changed. “It’s the drugs, man. It physically changes everything about you,” he says. “Normally, I’m not a dark person.”
He’d apparently smoked crack an hour before the Foxtails photo shoot for SN&R.
Some musicians still feel animosity toward Hanson. It’s because of these burned bridges and a deep shame for all the people he’s hurt that Hanson has stayed away from the scene.
But now, he’s finally playing his first show in public, and he’s both nervous and excited to return. Hanson will be at Luna’s Cafe & Juice Bar, with sets also by Underwood and singer-songwriter Alex Walker.
When Hanson first got out of recovery, some old friends and acquaintances were willing to give him another shot. The first musician to encourage him to play again was Gillian Underwood, who initially shared a bill with Hanson back in 2008. By late 2015, she was telling him that they should play a show together sometime.
“He’s an amazing musician. He’s an amazing songwriter. I have openly told him I believe you deserve a second chance,” Underwood says. “He’s looking for community. He’s looking to feel normal again. Music is so important to him.”
It wasn’t hard for Underwood to feel compassion for him. She, too, is in recovery. Underwood has been sober in her program for eight years and had lost friends and her marriage because of her addiction. She saw his open, honest Facebook posts that conveyed the seriousness of his conviction to live a sober life. He would reveal ugly facts that, in his addict days, he would have kept a secret.
Underwood says she’s worked really hard to rebuild and establish new healthy relationships in sobriety. Part of that is helping others.
“I think he was reaching out to whoever would listen,” Underwood says. “He was bearing his soul. I consider myself a good person, and I totally fucked up, too. He was brave enough to ask for help, and that’s what led me to believe that he was sincere.”
A particularly low moment for him that he clearly still feels guilty about was stealing money out of his grandmother’s wallet. But addicts often talk about hitting rock bottom, and for Hanson, it came a week and a half after he’d been sober. As his life was falling apart, and everyone was learning the truth about him—among other things, his roommates kicked him out for stealing. He got suicidal and checked himself into Sierra Vista Hospital, taking his last dose of pills right before going inside. When they released him 11 days later, all he had were two suitcases and a city’s worth of burned bridges. He sat at the bus stop on Watt Avenue, trying to figure out what to do next.
“I realized that everything led to this bus stop,” Hanson says. “It wasn’t a moment of clarity. It was just a moment I realized what I had lost. I think at that moment, I’d made the decision to live. I could give up or I can go to rehab and give life one more shot.”
June 29, 2014 is also his sobriety date. At nearly four years, it’s by far the longest stint since 2002, when he first started drinking. In 2004, he moved on to cocaine, then crack in 2006.
After sitting on that bus stop contemplating the failures of his life, he called his parents. They’d found a yearlong rehab center in Marysville called Joshua House Men’s Center. He decided to do it, and the continuing work he’s done has changed his life.
“I will never be healed from this disease, but I can manage it,” Hanson says. “My addiction is a sleeping dog. If I poke it, it will bite me. But if I know how to navigate around it, he will be asleep.”
Facebook became a major part of his recovery. After a month of getting out of rehab, he decided that he would manage his disease by being completely open and honest. He’s currently doing yard maintenance at the Historic Sacramento City Cemetery every Sunday as part of court-ordered community service.
“I have no secrets—I don’t know if you know how freeing that is after living a complete lie for years,” Hanson says.
During a full year of rehab, he had to let go of everything: no TV, no internet, limited contact with friends and family, and probably hardest of all, he couldn’t play music. After the sixth month, they’d let him play guitar on occasion and even lead the songs at the bible study.
While still in rehab, Hanson had joined a church, and when he got out, they offered him the position of worship leader, which lasted until December last year. He left due to some conflicts with the church leaders. It was a major outlet for his music. Alone in his room, he would still write his own songs, and he feels his style has taken a major shift.
“It’s simpler, less contrived,” Hanson says. “I’m not hiding anymore. That just came from the confidence I have. Are the songs better? No. There’s some really good Foxtails songs.”
Hanson is excited to show Sacramento his new music, but he’s also nervous that people won’t give him another chance. He even understands why some people might not and doesn’t hold it against them.
“I was pretty deep in the music scene,” Hanson says. “Unfortunately, all of that went away because of my actions. I hurt a lot of people. There’s a lot of people in the Sacramento music scene who probably don’t want me around. Playing music: It’s who I am. Without that, I’m missing a part of myself.”
Now, Hanson’s thinking about positive things he can do with his music, like getting fundraisers going for rehab facilities, in addition to telling his story and encouraging other people to seek help if they need it.
“Life is good. I’m happy living in my one-bedroom apartment in a crappy part of Marysville,” Hanson says. “I lived in constant fear. It takes its toll on you. Through this rehab, through self-introspection, through working out, I’ve tackled that fear. I like life now. I know this sounds cliché, but it’s true.”