Erin Rae: “I wanted to challenge the idea that being outspoken and loud are valuable traits”

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It’s been almost four years since the release of Erin Rae’s critically acclaimed debut ‘Putting On Airs’. The Nashville artist’s beautifully tender, country-tinged tracks explored relationships, sexuality and the things that are so often left unsaid. After hitting the road with Jenny Lewis, Father John Misty and more, Rae is back with a new record – ‘Lighten Up’ – a tender and beautiful body of work that goes further to explore themes of love and identity through her unique amalgam of indie, folk and country music.

Erin Rae shot by Bree Marie Fish

Congratulations on writing such a beautiful album. What sort of headspace were you in, going into writing this record?
Thank you! It’s hard to say really, because a couple of songs were written at a time, and sometimes there would be these large gaps between writing spurts and things would change. I knew I wanted to expand a bit sonically, and really, it was just important to me to be writing again. I had been touring pretty consistently until the end of 2019, and so I think more than anything my intention was to just focus and flesh out some feelings and ideas that had been percolating. When I wrote ‘Cosmic Sigh’, ‘Lighten Up’, and ‘California Belongs To You’, I felt the record start to present itself to me. I knew those would be central themes, and even did a little goofy drawing of the record cover. The older I get, the more important it is for me to, like, set aside the time to write. To be more disciplined about it. 

You mentioned the songs came to you quite quickly – have you found the last two years to be a creative period?
I mean, yes, really 2019 & 2020. But I don’t think they would have been if that hadn’t been a focus, if that makes sense. Like I was sitting down a couple hours a day to try and tap into my creativity, let it come to the surface without judgement. It was a very intentional process for me, even though I don’t feel like I can control when I write a song, haha. I also feel like I had a lot to process after 2018/2019 being so busy. So it did help to have everything come to a stand-still after the initial shock of it started to digest. 

Why was the topic and discussion around gender norms important to you?
Well, it started as just me wanting to celebrate and own my own quieter strength as a woman. I don’t feel like I am someone who is super outspoken or loud at all, and I wanted to just, like, challenge this idea that those traits are more valuable. So it began with me and my own experience, and as I was writing, I started to see visions of my friends and folks I admire who are just truly themselves in a variety of beautiful ways. I wanted to highlight them and my perception of their experiences. 

You worked with [Father John Misty collaborator] Jonathan Wilson on this record – why did that collaboration work? 
I think it worked ’cause we both wanted it to! And, because he has such an extensive history and bank of music knowledge. We nerd out over a lot of the same music, especially Scott Walker, and, like, the snare sound Jonathan gets on his records, that kind of minutia. I feel like he really got where I am coming from as a songwriter, and many of the influences I wanted to channel in this record. He brought in his collaborators Drew Erickson and Jake Blanton, who had worked on records by Weyes Blood (Drew) & Bedouine (Jake), and of course, that was a great move. It was really fun because they’ve known each other a while and by day two we were cracking jokes and settling in and having fun. I also think, because of his experience, he could see and realise expansion for the songs that went beyond what I could see alone. That’s such an exciting part of collaborating. 

How have you seen the country music scene evolve in recent years?
I don’t know that I can speak to it as a whole, I kind of consider myself a country-adjacent musician. I actually consider myself more of a southern singer/songwriter than country artist. Though I do love the Cosmic Country term. I think what has been really cool to see is the visible progress made in inclusivity, which is, I know, the culmination of years of collective pushing towards this time. The Queer Country scene and space, and projects like The Black Opry getting more appreciation, Allison Russell curating her chill-bump inducing revue of Black women artists as the finale for 2021’s Newport Folk Fest, Adia Victoria’s Call & Response podcast, All of these efforts pushing the door open so slowly there is more inclusivity. And, yet, there are still racist systems in place that need to be dismantled. I do think what is cool about country music in this time is that there are so many subcategories, so many paths for people to find their fans and connect with their audiences. The mainstream route is still a large one, but it ain’t the only way to find success. 

You have a song called ‘Candy & Curry’. Is that a winning combination?
The curry turned out well in the Instapot; the candy… I didn’t use enough corn starch. 

What do you want this record to say about you as an artist?
I don’t really have some big statement I want to make. The songs each have their little messages. I am just grateful and excited to be able to share some of the things I am learning from other wise folks in my life, and share the experience of self-acceptance. I don’t really want to make a statement about myself as much as I want to give others permission to be themselves. I think that’s the goal. 

Lighten Up’ by Erin Rae is out now, via Thirty Tigers.

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