PHOTO CREDIT: Derek James Miller
YOU only need check out reviews from the likes of…
NME and BBC London to realise Erin K has touched the hearts of many. Having just arrived in London – where she moved to as a child – the U.S.-born singer-songwriter discusses her attachment to the capital and why the last few weeks have been especially busy. I was interested in learning more about her debut album, Little Torch and the sort of themes addressed. No Control is Erin K’s new video so I ask about both: how it feels to have the album completed and what it was like shooting the video. The feisty, memorable musician has been compared to artists as disparate as Pam Ayres and Suzanne Vega. I ask how it feels to gain those comparisons and who are the artists that have inspired her along the way. Given that heritage and connection to London; Erin K talks about how it felt to play venues like Union Chapel. She hints at what the following months hold and gives me an insight into the anatomy of her music.
Hi, Erin. How are you? How has your week been?
It’s been busy! I’ve just landed in London with a one-way ticket here: after three years spent in N.Y.C. it’s exciting to be home again (finally) and so beautiful in London this time of year. I’ve missed it.
For those new to your music, can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m a musician with an art school background who has fallen into the ‘Anti-Folk’ genre of music. My songs are often simple in melody and straightforward, lyrically. I’ve been known to pick some pretty unusual subjects to write about in the past and I have an odd appreciation for hybrid animals.
You were born in London but have been to Italy – now based in the U.S. Are you quite a nomadic artist or is there something about America that was hard to resist?
I was born in the U.S., actually in Denver, Colorado – my family relocated to London when I was young and I think, over time, London has become more of a home for me than the States.
That said; I really enjoyed the time I spend in the U.S. and will always have a connection there – both from family and upbringing.
Italy is a surprise and welcomed relationship that’s unfolded in the past four years including five tours there; a camp-related charitable project I’ve become involved with and, most recently, I was granted citizenship!
Are you touring and recording in the country at the moment?
This week, we will start a tour in Italy with an all-girl group formed last winter in Milan. I’m hoping to put together a band here in London pretty quickly so I can start playing here again. I’ve been recording with a producer who mixed my last album in Kent and we are about half way through a second album.
It seems like you are a world away from the tentative performer of old – having headlined Union Chapel and Bush Hall. Has increased touring grown your confidence or was it a particular person/moment that caused that transformation?
I’ve always been a pretty fearful performer and, at times, it seemed like something I would never move past. It can be very frustrating to be on stage and not give it your best because of nerves.
That said, I suppose it’s the same fear that can define a performance and deliver a sense of honesty. I still have a lot of hesitation each time I go on stage but I’ve learned to be a little more in the moment and not in my head – especially after the last tour, facing audiences of four-thousand! There’s no time for freezing on those stages!
I have seen reviews that have seen you compared with Pam Ayres (a great poet but, in this case, a bit more foul-mouthed) and Suzanne Vega. Does it make you laugh hearing these words or is it quite an apt comparison?
Well, to be honest, it’s probably pretty accurate! But, I’d say more so with my earlier material than recent songs. My songs may have been a little more ‘out-there’ and confrontational in the beginning but they all came from real experiences – often emotional and visceral. We have different ways of interpreting experience and maybe I’m not so foul-mouthed today – but I try to retain the same honesty with my approach. I don’t mind the comparisons; I’m flattered!
PHOTO CREDIT: Shervin Lainez
In those terms, who are the artists that have compelled and driven you as a musician?
It’s hard to say. I feel like listening to the lyrics of bands such as The Moldy Peaches and The Velvet Underground gave me a freedom with songwriting. I spent many years in Texas as a child and I do think there is a bit of a Country influence in much of what I write. I remember really loving Kate Nash and Laura Marling when I first started writing so they were probably influences as well.
No Control is your latest video. What was it like filming that in a rather barren part of Iceland? What was the reason for filming it there?
It was unbelievable to visit Iceland and to make a video there. I truly believe that the best way to see a place is to take on a creative project there and this is exactly what we did.
I’ve never seen such a transient landscape and one so untouched by people.
It would be sunny in one moment; hailing the next. The highlight for me was the black Jökulsárlón beach with giant icebergs washed upon it. There is nothing that can prepare you for such a surreal scene. It’s was magical!
It was directed by Stefano Poletti. What was it like working with him?
Stefano is passionate and a true artist to work with. He never lost motivation; even during some very trying periods (because of weather). I would love to work with him again.
What, would you say, is the inspiration behind the song? What compelled you to put pen to paper?
I probably shouldn’t say this but I wrote the song while on a mission to buy avocados in a supermarket in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I remember stopping in the aisles to record the melody quietly on my phone. I do this a lot when I get an idea and in the case of No Control, the song was written in just an hour. Other songs take years! With regards to the subject; I’m sure it was a response to a relationship but I can’t tell you much more.
The song is the third single from your Little Torch album. What has the reaction been like to your music so far and has it been quite humbling getting such a lot of positive reviews?
It’s been great to get such positive feedback. I guess I’ve been pretty lucky in that sense.
I’m excited to see how people review the material in its entirety after its release this week.
PHOTO CREDIT: Derek James Mille
Have you any new music in mind? Can we expect to see anything new this year?
You definitely can! I’ve just started my second album and have been recording out in Kent with Kris Harris (who mixed my last album). It’s been really exciting to work with him – and a very comfortable environment as well. I can’t wait to show some of it and I hope to have the first single out this Fall.
Listening to your music and I hear attitude and rebellion with wonderful rich music – brass sections and funky beats unified and blissful. Do you feel too many modern artists are a bit tepid and restrained when it comes to their lyrics and music?
I think songwriters are driven, differently, when it comes to writing and recording. I’m really happy with the brass and string sections in a song like No Control; but also very content with other songs that exist without.
Sometimes, lyrics take prescience for me in how a song should be presented, and other times, it’s more to do with melody and atmosphere.
I feel this is true for any musician and one style or focus shouldn’t be placed above another.
If you had to select the three albums that have meant the most; which would they be and why?
Jolie Holland – Escondida: I find this album so beautiful, natural and simple. I love the style of her singing and never tire of listening to this.
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico: This is definitely one of my favourite albums for many, many years. I love each song for a different reason. Nico’s vocal is so honest and beautiful and the instrumentation – such as the viola on Venus in Furs – is incredibly moving. Lou Reed’s lyrics are magic.
Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness: This isn’t one of my top albums (yet) but definitely something I’ve found loving in recent years. I love this girl. Her voice here is and hypnotising and so powerful.
Is there any advice you’d give to artists coming through at the moment?
To appreciate all you have and not focus on what you are without. The creative process will change and evolve and it’s important to stay malleable to this.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can select a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Shuggie Otis – Strawberry Letter 23
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PHOTO CREDIT: Derek James Miller