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Erin Rae on Lighten Up and living expansively

Erin Rae stands in a wooded area wearing a blue denim jacket.
Monica Murray
Missing Piece PR
Erin Rae standing outside in the woods.

The Nashville-based musician performs at The Camel on Sept. 18.

Nashville indie-folk musician Erin Rae is opening her mind. That’s a major theme of her latest studio album, Lighten Up, which pairs a Laurel Canyon sound with lyrical themes of expansion and connection.

Now, on the heels of a live album called Lighten Up and Try, Rae is getting ready to perform at The Camel. I caught up with her to learn more about these two records, the influence of Bobbie Gentry and Scott Walker, and her favorite pre-show rituals.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Annie Parnell: You're performing at The Camel here in Richmond on Sept. 18. What can listeners expect to hear?

Erin Rae: So excited. My good friend Brian Cates is coming to open the shows. He put out an incredible record this year called Anywhere You Are, and he's been a Nashville local favorite for like, I want to say like 15 years, but I've probably known about him for eight. So he's incredible — get there early.

We're bringing in the full band, which I've gotten to do in fits and starts. I'll usually have a four-piece band if I get to open some bigger shows. We'll have keys, and we’re covering a lot of Lighten Up, but also songs from Putting On Airs and Soon Enough. So yeah, I'm excited to fully get to realize the music in the live form.

Lighten Up is a little different thematically from Putting on Airs. Can you tell me about that shift?
The throughline is processing and understanding different internal patterns, and the experience of being alive and trying to understand it. Putting On Airs was more about a deep dive within, [but] Lighten Up to me is more about getting outside of self and into connection with other people.

Both go hand in hand, and there's a time and a place for each. It's all about just taking this step forward into the unknown, like a new chapter.

Putting On Airs has this very classic Americana feel, but Lighten Up brings in a little bit more of a psychedelic, Laurel Canyon influence. Is that expansion in outlook connected to the expanded sound?
I think so. I went out to California to work with Jonathan Wilson and his crew on this record at the very beginning of 2021. I'd met him a couple of times, but even the decision to go make this record out there with people I wasn't as familiar with and hadn't collaborated with before tied into the theme of living more expansively and exploring things. It felt very much that way.

I mean, even just geographically, being out there, the sky is bigger. It was just such a beautiful change of pace, especially during the time coming out of the pandemic. We recorded over a 10-day period, and then I was driving my little rental car back to the airport and had a happy cry. I was like, “Great, I made the right decision!”

You mentioned inspiration from the land around you. What are some of the things that inspired you most during the creative process?

Musically, I feel like Jonathan and I had tossed around a lot of ideas — we sent songs back and forth. We were listening to a lot of different stuff at that time. But I just listened to the Sam Burton record I Can Go With You. I found some old recordings of Bobbie Gentry; there's an obscure song called “Courtyard,” which is very slow, her vocal is very up close. But there's still these strings.

I was listening to a lot of recordings that had big string arrangements. And Jonathan I bonded over our shared love of Scott Walker — you know, this cinematic sound with crooner vocals.

In writing the songs, I was thinking about an expansive energy, especially the song “Cosmic Sigh”: this openness, imagining performing it and how the room would feel. Opening up to possibilities, I guess you could say.

There are a lot of lyrical references to meditation and mindfulness practices across the album. Do you have a particular personal relationship with those practices?

Every so often, I will do a meditation. I always feel so much better when I'm doing that. But both my parents are into meditation — my mom's Buddhist, and my dad practiced transcendental meditation growing up. So yeah, that resource has always been there.

The live album you just released, ‘Lighten Up and Try, is live recordings of the songs from Lighten Up. What made you want to share those versions?

I had a little cassette recorder, and I had my mom record [a show.] I was like, “Just press record when I'm walking out onstage, please.” And I was in my house a couple of months ago and found that cassette.

Seeing an old photo or listening to an old recording, you can kind of remember some of the feelings you had at the time. I like how it sounds, and I can hear the experience I was having, so I just wanted to share that. I felt proud to be there with my band, and they sounded great.

It was kind of this homecoming, the first hometown show with the band since the pandemic. And to me there's a little bit of a different style of singing on the live recording. I just kind of wanted to show people it's not necessarily the same every night — to kind of give a preview.

Speaking of live shows, a lot of the album is about reconnecting and opening up, which I'm sure is especially important if you're about to go on stage and perform. Do you have any pre-show rituals?

I think this was inherited from our friend Skyway Man, who's going to be opening some of the shows. We all put our hands together, we say “physical contact, spiritual unity.” It's silly, but also, it's a way to gather together, gather the energy up. Just kind of setting an intention really quick.

Questlove, in his book The Creative Quest, mentioned doing a mini meditation when he's onstage or kind of needing to get back into the moment. And yeah, just grounding, feeling my feet on the ground, and a little gratitude for being there at all.

Erin Rae performs at The Camel on Monday, Sept. 18. Her albums Lighten Up and Lighten Up and Try are available now.

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