Many people have fond memories of the TV show Nashville but no one came away from the experience with more than Chris Carmack and Erin Slaver. They met and fell in love while filming the show, and their time on the drama set the stage for the married couple’s latest creative endeavor as the duo Life on Eris. Their new single “The Risk” releases today (2/26) and finds the couple returning to their country roots.
Carmack, who portrayed Will Lexington on the show, and Slaver, an accomplished musician who also worked on the show met on set and got married in 2018. “I was just a background musician. I started out on the pilot of that show and I couldn’t believe how down to earth the actors were,” Slaver tells Sounds Like Nashville during a lively Zoom conversation with Carmack. “They were so kind and welcoming to us as musicians. It’s like they really wanted to know what the world was like that we were living in.”
“I remember the first time I saw Erin she was playing in Sam’s band,” he says of Sam Palladio, who portrayed Gunnar Scott. “She stepped up to the front of the spotlight and played a fiddle solo. She had a big magnetic smile on her face and lit up the whole room. It was a moment where the whole audience fell in love with her, but only one of us got to keep her.”
These days the couple lives in Los Angeles with their four-year-old daughter Kai. Carmack is currently starring as Dr. Atticus Lincoln on Grey’s Anatomy, which starts a new season on March 11. During the pandemic, the couple has also been writing and producing new music. Last fall they released Stonewall, a five-song EP of finely crafted alt-pop tunes.
Their new single, “The Risk,” shifts into different sonic territory. “We’re really just kind of gravitating back to what is natural to us,” Slaver notes. “We are both instrumentalists. I was a trained violinist and fiddler, so when we sit down to write, we’re always writing acoustically with our instruments, guitar, fiddle, piano. We like to actually play it all and we find that when we shine the most when we’re playing our own instruments. We like production. We like programming and all of that, but we’re really our best with our acoustic instruments in hand. And also we spent so much time in Nashville. I lived there for 10 years. He was there for almost 10 years. Our songwriting is so influenced by the countless nights we spent at the clubs listening to songwriters at the Bluebird, the Listening Room. We’ve been to them all.”
In addition to writing all their songs, the couple also plays all the instruments. “Stonewall was our first EP and we produced it ourselves,” Carmack says. “Sometimes when you start doing it yourself, you dig in real deep. So we got a Moog synthesizer and started really having fun going down that rabbit hole, but in some ways it was a little bit swimming upstream for us because we do write in a sort of writer’s room Nashville kind of style. We try to keep it very personal and tell personal stories. We’re not writing for another artist. We’re writing for us, so it needs to be personal, but lately when we’ve been writing we’re like, ‘Let’s just record it how we’re doing it right now. Let’s just shoot from the hip a little bit more.’ Maybe we’ll go back to digging in and diving deep for sounds someday, but I think right now we’re having a lot of fun playing the songs and style that we’re used to playing. This feels like a song that I could have taken on tour with the Nashville cast and performed in front of those big country audiences. Nostalgically that does something very nice for me because even when we were rehearsing it, I imagined it was one of those Nashville tours as Will Lexington.”
As songwriters and musicians, Carmack and Slaver bring their own unique experiences to Life on Eris. Born in Washington D.C. and raised in Maryland, Carmack began playing music at a young age. He’s worked extensively in film and television and as a model, but Nashville gave him a chance to return to his first love—music. He toured with the Nashville cast appeared on the albums released from the show. Slaver began classical violin training at the age of three, and further honed her skills at a music conservatory. She’s worked as a background vocalist and fiddle player with a diverse array of major acts. She’s performed on several studio albums with JD & The Straight Shot, and toured extensively, opening for such iconic acts as The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers, Chicago, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Don Henley and Jewel.
“I feel like we’re finding ourselves as a couple writing together and I think we’re finding our happy place maybe more in the country world,” Slaver says. “Those songs we wrote on the Stonewall EP were very much about conflict in relationships. We were doing that and working through things. It was like therapy for us. Another thing is we’ve just been stuck in this pandemic for a year and we’re like, ‘We need light-hearted happy songs to be part of what we’re doing.’ So that was a part of it.”
“The Risk” is the first song from the new EP the duo is working on. “We’ve been trying very consciously to write a little bit more sort of aspirationally and positive,” Carmack says. “We’ve spent a lot of time during this pandemic being down and we wanted to do something that would lift our spirits as well as some of the fans that have been so gracious to listen to our music. We wanted to give the something a little more upbeat that maybe they could smile to.”
With their warm, evocative vocals and insightful songwriting, Carmack and Slaver are carving a unique space in the music community so it seems only fitting they would adopt a distinctive moniker. When asked to explain the origins of Life on Eris, the duo attribute it to a couple different things. “I’m working on Grey’s Anatomy now and I was quickly indoctrinated into the world of shipping where they take two names and put them together. Right now I’m Link and I’m with Amelia so we are Amelink,” Carmack explains of his TV character. “So we were joking [that combining] Erin and Chris, Eris would be our ship name and… we were writing all these songs about strife and discord and the difficulties of navigating a relationship. Then we were reading a child astronomy book to Kai and there was a dwarf planet in the solar system that I had never heard about called Eris, named after of course the Goddess of strife and discord. We were like, ‘Man that’s where we’re living! We’re living on that planet. We live on Eris. And then we realized that’s the name!”
They both admit that trying to navigate the pandemic has been stressful. “We’re living in Los Angeles. She moved here for the first time. We’re in the middle of a pandemic,” says Carmack. “She doesn’t know anybody, can’t get to know anybody. There’s no social life. There’s no nothing, so I think we were really reaching for something that was more familiar to us, which was the sounds of the music we were creating.”
“We’re homesick,” Slaver says of missing Nashville. “There’s just something about it. I know it’s growing every day and it’s gotten so much bigger, but the small town feel is so real in Nashville. When we do get to go back it just feels so good. It feels like you are so supported in the community. It’s our home. It’s where I gave birth to my child. It’s where we got married. It’s so special for us.”
Carmack wholeheartedly agrees. “We love Nashville,” he smiles. “I don’t know if we’d be able to take advantage of it right now in the current situation [due to COVID-19 restrictions], but what I miss most is the live music. We would go to see as much of it as we can. Of course we have a child now, but before we had a kid we were going out three or four times a week to hear live music— people we knew and people who were coming through town, big shows, little shows, so many of the music venues. When you live in LA for a long time and other places, you start to appreciate the fact that these music venues [in Nashville] not only have fantastic musicians coming through, but also have good sound engineers and equipment to put the sound into the room. I miss all those great sounding rooms and all those great musicians and the songwriting.”
Carmack and Slaver are hoping listeners will connect with the honesty and vulnerability in the songs of Life on Eris, and they don’t shy away from being transparent on social media either. “From day one, we wanted Life on Eris to talk about our lives and the truth of it and not sugar coat or pretend we’re these perfect people in this perfect marriage in this perfect life,” he says. “Let’s talk about what’s really going on and because we’re being so personal with the message of the music it feels very fitting to also be personal with some of the posts and some of the things that we put out there because no one else is writing our songs for us. We’re not putting on a character that we’re performing. This is us and it’s intimate.”