Retro: Quick Q and A with Erin McKeown

Every so often I dip into my archives and find something cool to share with all of you! The interview below was published in 2012. Fast forward in the life of Erin McKeown and we see how much she has produced since that time and how diverse and wonderful her creative output has been! All told, she now has 11 albums to her name as well as numerous appearances at Newport Folk Festival, Glastonbury, and even Bonaroo. As her bio states, Erin has a total disregard for musical boundaries. She is a musical wizard who stirs the pot and discovers new ways to make interesting and provocative music.

It came as no surprise to discover that Erin produced her first musical, Miss You Like Hell in 2018. She collaborated with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, and the play opened Off-Broadway at The Public Theater in 2018. Needless to say, kudos were forthcoming. It was nominated for 5 Drama Desk Awards, including Best Lyrics, Best Music and Best Orchestrations, and The Wall Street Journal named it Best Musical of 2018. The play will be produced again at various locations in 2022. Watch for it!

Erin’s latest recording project, Kiss Off Kiss is an innovative punkish nod to dating life. The money raised from this “pay what you can” digital album will be given via a series of micro-grants to artists who have contributed to their communities through their service. Kudos to Erin for paying it forward and keeping the arts alive.

Here’s the video of “The Escape,” — a song about love during COVID.

To find out more information about Erin McKeown, visit her website.

And now the 2012 interview.

Erin McKeown is one talented woman. She’s got terrific guitar chops, a dynamic voice, killer songs, fun stage presence . . . and she’s got musical spunk. By that I mean that she’s not afraid to experiment with her music. She’s a little bit jazz, a little bit folk, a little bit American songbook, and a lot of soul. Her live show is always stellar. [The last time Erin played at the me&thee, she invited the opening act, Brad Yoder up on stage. He accompanied her on sax and it totally made for a most memorable evening. [A favorite memory of that show is that the actual show opener, Iain Campbell Smith — aka Fred Smith — got caught up in traffic that night. He didn’t make it to the venue until intermission. Brad happened to be in town from Pittsburgh so I asked him to fill in with Fred which he graciously agreed to do. Then he pitched in and accompanied Erin on a few numbers and capped off the evening by playing with Fred. Brad Yoder was the glue that pieced the whole show together: appetizer, main course, and dessert!]

In reading up about your background, I see that you started college at Brown with the intention of becoming an ornithologist but drifted over to ethnomusicology. What happened within you to make such a dramatic switch?

Science was hard! No, really, it was! It just took so much time, and when push came to shove i wanted to play music in clubs more than I wanted to be in a lab.

Are you a birder? If so, what’s the most exotic bird you’ve seen in the wild?

Alas, my birding days are more or less over. However, I live right on a small river, and the other day, I looked out my window and saw a great blue heron. It was magnificent.

Ethnomusicology is a fascinating subject matter. Do you think that any of the perhaps more obscure musical forms you discovered during your college years have influenced or inspired any of your music?

For sure. I didnt grow up with much exposure to anything besides basic pop music (Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper), so studying ethnomusicology exposed me to early jazz, vaudeville, and musical theater. But my peers at university also exposed me to rock and funk and hip-hop, which were equally influential.

One of your early breakthroughs into the consciousness of music fans was your participation as one of the members of Voices on the Verge. Do you have any fond memories of that time in your career?

It certainly was nice at the time to have company on the road. We laughed a lot.

So tell us about your newest project. I know that you had a pretty successful pledge campaign this summer. What’s the latest news on the new CD and can you describe it a bit for us?

We had an incredibly successful campaign! Because of the support I got, I’ll be filming my first music video at the end of September. I’m deep in art preparations for the vinyl and CD packages. I’m planning a really great release tour with my band for early next year.The record itself is 10 original songs that focus on the urgency of citizenry. electric political gospel. It features my longtime band plus some exciting special guest singers.

Your bio states that you’ve worked with the Beantown Swing Orchestra. I find this fascinating because as I listen to some of your music, I can picture you standing in front of a huge orchestra and crooning with the best of them. Would you like to do some kind of “not your typical” kind of Erin project and rock out with a big swing orchestra? I bet your fans would love it.

I love singing with the Beantown Swing Orchestra. It’s a completely different skill set than being a singer-songwriter. the best i can describe it is that it’s like being strapped to the front of a runaway 18 wheeler. You just have to hang on tight! I’d love to do an album with them sometime.