Nashville’s Erin Rae McKaskle is a pulls-no-punches songwriter. Drawing from a deep well of personal experiences, Erin’s honesty as a performer—tackling issues like mental illness, heartache, and family head-on—has solidified her reputation as a young songwriting force.
As she settles in to record the follow-up to her critically-acclaimed 2015 album Soon Enough, Erin opens up about her creative process, the importance of collaboration and making the trek to Appleton to record at The Refuge.
For someone who is firmly entrenched in the Nashville music scene, it’s interesting that you decided to pack up your gear (and dog, Billie), round up your bandmates, and head up to Appleton to make a record. What is it about The Refuge that appeals to you as an artist?
I think the space just lends itself to creating unique experiences. I was in Appleton last August for Mile of Music and had the chance to stay at The Refuge and do some singing in the chapel with (Philadelphia-based band) The Dove and The Wolf. I kept dreaming about doing some of the vocals and sounds of the new record in that space. It’s a peaceful place, and the energy that Cory Chisel and Adriel Denae encourage is really special. I just love the idea of being camped out for a week in a secluded (former) monastery in Wisconsin, far away from all of Nashville’s distractions. Plus I get to visit some of my favorite spots, like Basil Café and Mark’s East Side. Hopefully, we’ll still like each other at the end of the week!
Your last album, Soon Enough, garnered considerable praise from critics. From a stylistic standpoint, the common theme in those reviews is that your sound is a throwback to the 1970s singer-songwriter style, specifically the Laurel Canyon scene. Are you comfortable staying within that range sonically, or should we expect something different from you on this album?
The new album will definitely have some new sounds for me. Working with Dom (Billett) and Jerry (Bernhardt) to build out these songs ahead of time has allowed me to stretch out and explore some new places sonically; being good friends with the guys helped create a level of comfort that allowed me to play around a bit and find sounds that don’t fit within the traditional singer-songwriter treatment that you hear on the Soon Enough album. It’s still going to be a pretty chill album, but the overall feel will be distinct from my previous work. I think the way we are going about recording lends itself to stretching the limits of my comfort zone.
Collaboration seems to be a big part of your identity as an artist, whether you’re singing background vocals on a friend’s album or performing at Nashville collective shows like She’s A Rebel. How does the process of collaborating with your peers energize your personal creative process?
For me, collaboration is the fuel that keeps the personal creative process going. It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to observe and learn from my friends and musical peers. Collaboration also exposes you to the massive amounts of raw talent in Nashville (and beyond), which is highly motivating. Participating in Nashville shows like She’s A Rebel or the Linda Ronstadt tribute show is important to me because it helps me build stronger relationships within my community. You feel like you’re part of this beautiful thing that’s growing and moving and making a difference in a lot of ways. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and befriend so many amazing people I wouldn’t have necessarily had the chance to otherwise. At “Sing Me Back Home,” a show produced by my friends at Wildwood Revival, Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch were special guests and I got to meet Gillian. She’s a HERO of mine. The loving energy this type of interaction creates really fuels my personal creative process.
So you wrap the recording session this week and head back to Nashville. As you look ahead to the release, what are you looking to accomplish with the record?
Above all else, I’d love to reach more people with this record, and continue to tour more and see new places. This record is important to me for several personal reasons and I hope that the songs reach the people that need them. Figuring out how to get the music to the most people; of course, it means we get to travel more and play more shows, but ultimately it’s more important that it helps people process the things they need to process. So, whatever I need to do to get it to them! It’s not the most exciting answer, but it’s a practical one.
Erin Rae & The Meanwhiles will be performing in Appleton at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 15, at the Rhythm & Brews concert series. The FREE weekly concert series is hosted by Stone Arch at Riverview Gardens, located at 1101 S. Oneida Street, Appleton, WI 54915. For more information on the Rhythm & Brews series, please visit mileproductions.com.
Text: Patrick Sullivan
Photos: Laura Partain