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“Telling It As I’m Experiencing with It”: A Conversation with Singer-Songwriter Erin Rae

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“Telling It As I’m Experiencing with It”: A Conversation with Singer-Songwriter Erin Rae

Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Telling It As I’m Experiencing with It”: A Conversation with Singer-Songwriter Erin Rae

Rae will perform at this weekend’s Secret Stages in Birmingham.

Erin Rae is one of the most recent additions to the roster at Florence, Alabama-based Single Lock Records. Her first album with the label, Putting on Airs, was released just two months ago, but she’s already earned critical acclaim. NPR, for instance, declared the record would “bewitch and enlighten the nation.”

Before her first trip to Birmingham in several years, Rae spoke with Jefferson County Journal about how she teamed up with John Paul White’s label and about her home of Nashville, which has become the home of a lot of people in the last seven years.

Jefferson County Journal: Your previous record, 2015’s Soon Enough, was released under the moniker “Erin Rae and the Meanwhiles.” For this new album, did you keep any of that band and just drop “the Meanwhiles” from your name?

Erin Rae: No, I had been playing with [new band members] Dom Billett and Jerry Bernhardt right after Soon Enough came out. People in the [old] band had begun to take more permanent gigs. Dom and Jerry and I have toured together for the last couple of years. I got to know their music tastes and I just decided that I wanted to make a record with them.

Jefferson County Journal: Unlike most of the people that surround you every day, you’ve watched this tremendous growth that’s happened in Nashville over the past decade from the inside. How do you feel about the way the city has grown and how do you fit in your hometown?

Rae: It’s been a wild transformation over the past seven years. It’s been super fast. The influx of people has led to a lot of great opportunities. I haven’t had to travel very far to get connected to people that are also connected to L.A. or New York or other big music cities.

It’s still a rich community. It’s harder to find cheap rent in town, so we’re all moving out to the edges. But, yeah, there’s still a lot of good stuff going on.

Jefferson County Journal: Having grown up there, did you ever find yourself feeling territorial as outsiders started moving in?

Rae: Yeah, definitely. Not necessarily toward people, but when they started tearing down all the old buildings — which they still kind of are doing — it was definitely really sad and bizarre as to why they would rip up the things that give Nashville some history — the things that make you feel like Nashville has been there a while — and now it’s not really like that in most parts of town. I’m much more territorial over the landmarks than the people. I’m glad for more people to be there. [That] doesn’t really bother me.

Jefferson County Journal: What landmarks do you miss the most?

Rae: There were a bunch of old houses on Demonbreun that got torn down. There are tons of high-rises now. The skyline looks a lot different, which is fine. I miss the quietness. But as the city is growing and changing, so are we, hopefully. I feel at peace. It may be time for me to seek other places sometime soon; I don’t feel too attached currently.

Jefferson County Journal: How did you connect with John Paul White and his team and decide to release this one on Single Lock Records?

We had the record done last fall, and I went down [to Florence] on a tour with The Kernal. We played a show at 116 [E. Mobile St.]. Joe passed on the record to everyone — they were all there that night — and they were interested in putting it out. So here we are. [Laughs]

I think it’s perfect for what I’m trying to do, which is making music. I like being tied to tradition. They’re a great group of people with a lot of integrity. I’m honored to get to be a part of it.

Jefferson County Journal: The record was already finished when you signed with Single Lock, but did John Paul offer you any advice along the way?

Rae: Yeah, I really enjoyed being around him. He’s such a kind person. He’s very sincere in the way he speaks to people. I enjoy witnessing his character and the way that he interacts with folks and the people that he keeps close. I’m looking forward to getting to know more about all of them creatively.

Jefferson County Journal: So you have already begun discussions about a second record with them?

Rae: Barely. I’ve got some songs I’m working on, but not anything where it’s conceptually like, “Yeah, I want to come on down and record at the Single Lock studio.” We’re just focused on this current record right now.

Jefferson County Journal: Over the past couple of years, Single Lock has developed an amazing roster of talented women, and you seem to have developed a bit of a bond with your peers like Nicole Atkins and Lera Lynn. What has that relationship been like for you?

Rae: Oh, it’s awesome. I think the first time I really got to witness that stacked roster was at South by Southwest this past year at Single Lock’s event: Lera, Nicole, and Mia Dyson all performed back-to-back. Everyone is such incredible singers and writers; it’s a mutual admiration, and we’re all really happy to be on the label together. It’s cool.

Jefferson County Journal: This record can be a little dark at times, but there’s always hopefulness within that. How do you balance that in your songwriting?

Rae: The writing is cathartic for me; more than anything, it’s telling it as I’m experiencing it. Those are just the experiences that I’ve had, and I try to end up hopeful. I certainly feel that way. I try to be honest in what I’m writing about.

Erin Rae performs at this weekend’s Secret Stages Music Discovery Festival on Friday, August 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Outdoor Stage at Avondale Brewing Company. For more information, visit secretstages.net.

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Blake Ells

Blake works in public relations by day, and he’s a music journalist by night. His work has been published at AL.com, Birmingham Post-Herald, Birmingham News, Weld: Birmingham's Newspaper and Birmingham Magazine, among many others. Blake continues to serve The Literacy Council of Central Alabama, where he has previously served as chair. He is a proud alumnus of Auburn University and was raised in Rogersville, Alabama, but he currently resides in Birmingham. Follow him @blakeells.

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