Over two albums, Erin Rae has recorded the kind of dreamy, folk-inflected music that they just don’t make anymore. In particular, her 2018 album Putting On Airs — put out by our friends and neighbors at Single Lock Records — dives into her Tennessee upbringing, and redefines what a Southern singer can sound like in the 21st Century.
We caught up with her recently after she performed at Songs of Love and the Lack Thereof, the live-streamed Valentine’s Day concert recorded at Shoals Theatre here in Florence, and talked about what inspires her, what it means to be a musician from the South, and of course, her favorite guitar. “My favorite guitar right now is this brown Silvertone acoustic with a white pick guard,” she says. “I need to have it worked on again, but my little sister and her friend got it at a yard sale when we were kids. It needs a lot of love, but it’s sound inspires me the most right now.”
Speaking of her childhood, she has given a lot of thought to what it means to represent the South, given she grew up in Tennessee and records for an Alabama-based label. “The answer could go many different ways,” she says. “For me, currently, the word that comes to mind is respect. There is rich, deep, beauty that exists throughout the South, in tandem with the very fraught and racist history of America’s origin. Deep anger, sadness, pain, alongside hydrangeas. The socioeconomic divide is vast and the experience of living in the South is not just one thing. I say the word respect, because I feel fortunate to exist how I do, being born into a family where my parents were able to work and take care of us, AND do some emotional work on themselves like therapy, which prevented some painful things from being passed down, and I was raised to believe I could do the same for myself. That emotional health and living authentically is important and valued.
“Most people are just trying to survive,” she adds, “to feel okay and get along in this world, with increasingly limited resources, as the divide increases, not to mention within the pandemic. Everyone deserves respect and dignity, as a basic human right. Being from the South to me is seeing these vastly different walks of life co-exist and how that calls for a level of respect for and from one another. Kind of like the common retort to an insult, ‘you don’t know what I’ve been through!.’ Like just imagining every human saying that as a reason for their choices or how one might be perceiving them.”
That point of view shapes her work as well. “Being a musician from the South feels like being part of a quilt,” she says. “Like one little triangle or square sewn in representing one walk of life, together with other perspectives. Alone I could never tell you the Southern experience. It takes all the perspectives and expressions to fully get the picture.”
While her perspective is Southern, she takes inspiration from all over. “Well, I’m out in the desert with some friends and for a long time have felt inspired by like ‘50s motels, pools, landscapes,” she says. “Whatever that energy is really is exciting to me. Pastels, but more recently a little element of glam. A sparkly crystal or diamond combined with a pastel or muted color palette. I got a ‘50s sequined tank top last year that is black with multicolored tiny beaded flowers, and it’s just really gets me goin’. Kind of a combo of Grey Gardens and Terrence Malick.
As for Erin’s perspective, she puts it into her art. “Pretty consistently my song ideas come from emotional experiences and how they parallel with other non-emotional aspects of life; nature being a primary one,” she says, when asked where her song ideas come from. “I think they come from giving a narrative to a specific feeling so that others can relate, or not. Personified feelings!”
It takes some time, but the end result is always worth it. “So far my process has been to slowly write songs over the course of a couple years and then bring them to collaborate with other musicians and make a record,” she says. “I make voice memos of them, sometimes record layered ideas on a tape machine, but yeah, I usually live with them for a while before sharing. Until I can start to visualize an aesthetic to help communicate the feeling tone of the songs in record form. When I can imagine an album cover I start to get really excited, and imagine the tone of the project. Then share demos and think about who I want to invite into the process and we record them!” We can’t wait to hear what she comes up with next.
And now, for our five lightning round questions.
1. What are you reading or listening to at the moment? This Jungian Life - the podcast, Alabaster DePlume & Johanna Sammuels, and I just read “Orange is Not The Only Fruit,” which I ordered from Violet Valley Bookstore in Water Valley, MS.
2. What is a principle you try to live by? Not taking things personally— emphasis on the word “try,” haha.
3.What is one hidden talent you possess, and one hidden weakness you overcome? I don’t know how hidden it is but I can do a pretty convincing mouth trumpet. And daily I guess the weakness I’m always workin’ with learning self-love, as cliche as it sounds. I create lots of chaos when I don’t love myself.
4. How do you keep your inspiration / imagination fueled? I think this last year one of my favorite things has been getting a Criterion Collection subscription. My friend Kami and I have just picked random films and watched and the weirdest stuff can end up being so inspiring. I also feel lucky to know a few visual artists now, and I really love talking about simple stuff like colors that inspire.
5. Do you have a daily practice or ritual? I've been trying recently to sit quietly / attempt to meditate for at least a few minutes each day. And invite in that self-acceptance, allow feelings to arise that aren't super comfortable. The real ritual for me though is drinking way too much coffee.