Revelations: Eagle Eye Cherry, New York, 1996: Don's death changed my life

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ALL MY senses had been worked over by New York. Although I had a nice pad out in Brooklyn, a loft which was very cool, with a pool table and a lovely garden out back, you're always on the move in the city - it wears you down. I'd grown up in beautiful countryside in Sweden - lakes and forests. I used to really love chopping wood - the pace of life was quite different from New York. Finally I began to realise it was time to change space and perhaps have a change of career.

I had played drums with my father's band when I was very young - nine - and at that point I was going to be a musician too. But as I became older I needed to step away from music because it was such a big part of our lives. I didn't consciously feel in competition with my father and sister, though Neneh was having huge success when I was in my late teens, but I thought I should check out some acting classes and enrolled in the New York School of Performing Arts. I didn't expect to get acting work - after all, I had dreadlocks - but it took off. I was quite successful, mainly TV, like The Cosby Show. It felt good to be doing my thing.

While I was thinking of leaving New York, my father died. Don Cherry was a jazz legend and left behind a lot of great music and touched a lot of people, but he was quite young, only 59. His death inspired me. I realised I wasn't going to live for ever; I hadn't even set out on what I really wanted to do.

By 1996, I'd fallen in love with a girl who is Swedish, and thought Stockholm might be the answer to my burn-out. The final straw was when a very good friend of mine overdosed. Our friendship had dwindled because I'm not into drugs, but I'd talked to him the night before he killed himself. He had asked me to hang out, but I said no. I thought, get out of this town. As Frank Sinatra sang: "New York, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere." So I decided, why not go anywhere?

I arrived in Stockholm in the middle of the winter; it was dark and quiet. There were certainly no distractions; after all there's only 8 million people in Sweden. I was 25; knew I wasn't going to act but wasn't 100 per cent certain what else I could do. My girlfriend and I borrowed an apartment where there was an acoustic guitar - an instrument I'd never had a chance to mess about with before. It was like the key to the door. In one day I wrote two tunes, "Comatose" and "Permanent Tears", both of which ended up on the album. "Comatose" was the first song I'd written that I felt good about - lyrically it works all the way through and musically it is fine too. It suddenly hit me: this is it. This is what I want to do. I couldn't wait for my girlfriend to come home and play her the song. I felt it didn't exist until I'd shared it with someone. Also I hadn't been sure about being a singer, but I found the guitar was good to sing with too.

I started writing a lot, very quickly. I was very excited; there is a moment where you get into your head and disappear. I'd been a happy-go- lucky kind of guy and thought, being happy is good but sad is bad. But from my father passing away, I realised that being sad was also all right - I needed to allow things out. Getting in touch with my blue side was part of me becoming a rounded human being - growing up I think they call it. But I still wish I could cry a bit more.

I didn't talk to Neneh until after I'd got the record deal, and she didn't get to hear my album until it was pretty much done. I guess it was important for me to do it on my own. However, her advice has been very useful: "don't take it too seriously and don't lose yourself." It's scary stuff; I never thought of the consequences. Originally the album was just going to be released in Scandinavia. If I'd known it would go like this I most probably would never have dared to make it. By coincidence, I had my release party on the second anniversary of my father's death.

Performing is something I need to do, so I'm really looking forward to touring Great Britain. Live music is not as scary as theatre; my nerves on stage are nothing compared to the acting. I'm very much savouring the moment. Every artist has their ups and this time is definitely mine.

Talking through the story today, I'm beginning to realise that becoming a musician may be connected with the death of my father. I no longer felt in his shadow; although painful, it is also liberating. If I'd gone into jazz it would have been a lot harder for me mentally. I would always have felt I was trying to fill his shoes. Fortunately I'm not a jazz cat and I never will be; I like words and melodies too much. It's take me a few years but I've finally discovered what I should be doing. I think my father would have been very happy that I've made a live instrument album, rather than a computer one. But the hardest track to record was the one written by him. I wonder what he would have made of that!

By moving out of New York, I learnt things about myself I never knew: I can write songs and I can sing. Nevertheless, New York remains my favourite metropolis. It's a great town to come back to.

The single `Falling in Love Again' is out now. Eagle-Eye Cherry's tour starts at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire on 19 November and takes in Manchester, Wolverhampton, Leeds and Glasgow

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