Anyone can speak, but to truly have a voice is to affect another’s being by using just your words. This is an art form that Erin Barra has perfected. Barra has mastered this particularly skillful technique by facilitating self-expression through the use of her words, and inspiring young women to do and be more; through her actions. Erin writes music that encourages young girls to be as hands-on as humanly possible. She believes in the idea that women should be an active part of every step of the creative process as musicians. Which makes perfect sense, seeing as she wears so many different hats as a singer, song writer, producer, instrumentalist, teacher, and mentor. Her music is purposeful and captivating. And with the anticipation of her new record Undefined, Erin definitely has our undivided attention. With heartfelt ballads like “Always Almost,” a song that speaks openly and honestly about the disappointment one feels when a relationship just doesn’t make it; and “Still Alive” where Erin sings to us about second chances and coming together to build a stronger unified front, as well as “Visions I see,” a track that inspires the pursuit of dreams. Once it drops, Erin’s new record Undefined is destined to make an even bigger splash than Illusions did. Always a visionary, Barra is finding new and inventive ways to get her music to as many listeners as possible. Her latest video performance is a cover of Daft Punk’s “Up all night”wherein she puts a soulful, electronic spin on the track, beckoning listeners in with its eclectic set of influences, jazz among them . I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Erin, where we discussed her past, her present and her future. Here’s a how it all went down. After reading this I am certain that all you Audiofemme readers will whole heartedly agree with me on two things: 1). Erin Barra is an amazingly wonderful artist who is uniquely talented, and 2). I desperately need to brush up on my Phil Collins Knowledge. :)
AF: How would you describe yourself as an artist, and how would you describe your music?
EB: Well, I guess I would not necessarily describe myself solely as an artist, I’m like a combination of writer, producer, creative, technical person, so I guess some of the things that define my music are kind of like a rounded depth, you know I’m like harmonically complex, lyrically I kind of take it to more of literary place, and the arrangements are typically pretty complex and involved as well, not only in the elements but in the way that I recorded them as well. And I guess in terms of the sound, I don’t like to limit myself to any specific type of genre and that has been kind of a blessing and a curse; but one blog called my music “electronic progressive soul”, and I think that that’s probably the closest that anyone’s gotten including myself (laughs).
AF: I find that very interesting because the first thought that came to my mind when I listened to your music was: “It’s very soulful.” That’s the first thought that I had, so I think they’re dead on.
EB: Yeah it’s always had this undercurrent of R&B, or some sort of urban element, but it’s definitely not R&B.
AF: What inspired the title for your album Illusions, and what’s your favorite song on the album?
EB: So that record released two years ago, and I spent three years making it, so a lot of the content and the titles and ideas are just directly related to my first five years in New York, which was like a very tumultuous time for me as a young artist; kind of realizing that I wasn’t as important as I had figured I was before I got to New York (laughs). And I kind of went through a process of becoming less naïve, and you know, realized that pretty much everything I thought about life was not the way that it was, so you know, the title to the album; it just came really naturally because it was just very obvious that I was being disillusioned to some degree and things weren’t really anything that I thought they were.
AF: Would you like to tell me anything about your new project before I even get a listen?
EB: (Laughs) Sure. It’s called Undefined, and it’s a lot more mature sounding; it’s simpler. Harmonically, lyrically, melodically, it’s more straight ahead; which is kind of where my life is at right now. And also I went even further into the electronica side of things so it still has this really like organic, analog, alive sound to it, but I did a bunch of midi programming and digital work on top of the organic sound scape, so it’s kind of like a mix. You know, and I released a mixtape as well, after Illusions where it’s just electronic remixes of other songs I had done, so it’s like a combination of those two albums really, it’s like the organic side of things and then a really heavy emphasis on the technical electronic side as well.
AF: I was looking on the website and I read a little about BeatsbyGirlz, but could you tell me a little more about it? Like what the purpose is, and what you would like to see come out of it.
EB: Sure. The purpose is to encourage and empower young women to explore and use technology, not only as a way to express themselves, but as a potential career path. There’s a huge lack of role support and role models that exist for other women to look up to say: “oh you know, this is a possibility for me. I could be a producer, or I could be an engineer.” You know if there were ten other Santigold’s that we could reference. I imagine that that’s where we’re headed. We want to encourage women to get their hands on the technology, learn how to troubleshoot, and get more females on that side of the industry because we are so hugely unrepresented that I really do feel like being one of the few females in this field, it’s my responsibility to pay it forward and encourage other women to take the path as well.
AF: It’s so interesting that you say that, because the next question that I was going to ask was who are some of your favorite musicians and idols? Or just women that you look up to and maybe draw inspiration from.
EB: Somebody that I really identify with a lot is Annie Lennox. As a writer she’s very hands on with like the production and arrangement of her albums. It’s organic, it’s electronic, and it’s deep. And she’s like unapologetically very female, and doesn’t really care how she’s perceived, and I enjoy that. I’m a big fan of Santigold and Tokimonsta. That’s more of like the current artist. Let’s see…who else? Janelle Monae. Her album and just like the fearlessness and creative license that she takes, I find to be very refreshing.
AF: In what ways do you feel that you’ve grown as a songwriter? And has your process when writing songs changed over the years?
EB: Like I said before, I think that my maturity as a human being is reflected in the song writing. It’s much simpler, you know I think I’ve taken a “less is more” approach; whereas before I had sort of a “more is more” (laughs) way of doing things. And my life use to be very complicated and turbulent and I think that that’s the place I was writing from. Before I just had so much to say, and trying to fit all of that into a song can be really difficult. But now as I age, I’ve become a much simpler human being just in general. And I’m far less confused and complicated so it’s been the same with my writing. You know, less chords, less lyrics, less complex rhythms; just kind of focusing on what it is that I want to express, and getting to the root of it. Getting in and getting out (laughs). And I think it’s the best way to write honestly. And I do a lot of melody first stuff now, whereas before I was definitely a lyric first type of a writer.
AF: What is a typical day like for you? And what is a typical day OFF like for you?
EB: Hmm…what IS a day off? (Laughs) Um right now 2014 is insanely busy. I guess I wake up. I do all my email response stuff in the morning. I go to yoga, like I’m very committed to like Nyasa practice. It helps because in order to be creatively grounded your mind needs to be at peace; in order to be on command creatively. Then I go to the studio. This week I had five co-writes, five days in a row. So I was either with an artist in the studio, helping them write songs, or was doing it via Google hangouts for some people that aren’t in New York that I’m working with. And that takes about three hours. And then I spend another three developing different arrangements, doing a lot of file sharing (laughs) and mixing. Then on Tuesdays and Thursdays I’m at the Girls club teaching the girls. And then I also work for Ableton so I travel for them occasionally and I’d be in the Northeast part of America doing retail training, workshops, demos, all sorts of stuff on the technical side. Between what’s going on with the Girls club (Beats by Girlz), Ableton, and me freelancing, I currently have not a single free moment. But I actually prefer that. It’s so much better than being stagnant and kind of not having a lot going on. I’d rather be like towards the overwhelmed side of the spectrum, rather than having huge amounts of free time. My income is directly related to how much work I have, so the more the better in my mind. I can sleep when I’m dead.
AF: Well that’s a great outlook to have (laughs), and what about a typical day off? I know you haven’t had one in a while, but what are some of the things that you like to do when you do have some time off?
EB: Um I like to cook. I’m definitely kind of hands on with the food that I put past my lips. I’m a big vegetable person. I really believe in getting enough fiber (laughs). I just like to shop seasonally. It’s like, New York has such amazing Farmer’s markets so I’ll just buy whatever is in season and then go home and get creative with whatever I have on hand. And I do a lot of Yoga. So I really don’t even do a lot anymore. It’s like, I make music, I practice Yoga, I cook food, and I hang out with my boyfriend (laughs).
AF: Are there any upcoming shows that you would like our AudioFemme listeners to know about?
EB: We are kind of taking a backseat on performing right now. A lot of what I do onstage is really technical, it’s like multiple laptops, multiple synthesizers, and midi controllers. And it’s really difficult to translate that onstage unless you have a controlled situation. And most venues and lineups don’t provide that sort of control. So we’re actually switching gears and putting more emphasis onto video content performance wise, so that we can reach a greater audience, and be in people’s homes. So there’s a video that we just made of a live remix performance of a Daft Punk song.
AF: And lastly, I wanted to play a little game with you. It’s something that I came up with, called: How well do you know you? Where I will recite a line from one of your songs and see if you can guess which song it’s from.
EB: Oh God (laughs) okay.
AF: The first line is: It ain’t black and white, cause I see in several shades of grey.
EB: Um……….that’s from “I’m out.”
AF: Yes! One point for Erin!!
EB: Cool (Laughs)
AF: Next line is: Send me a someone with which my seed to sow.
EB: That’s from “Good Man.”
AF: Yes! Next line is: So why does it always seem to be, me looking at you, you looking at me?
EB: Oh that’s actually a genesis song. It’s a cover, I didn’t write that. Phil Collins did (Laughs).
AF: Oops! Sorry about that! It was a great cover though (Laughs). The last one is: Disguise them in the NY Times, and I’ll snub them out on the sidewalk.
EB: That’s “Skyline”
AF: Wow good job (laughs) you got all of them. Thank you so much for doing this interview with AudioFemme you were great, and I really enjoyed your music.
EB: Aw thank you. And I hope you enjoy the new music as well!
Check out her cover of “Get Lucky” here, and keep your eyes out for her forthcoming EP, Undefined, due 2/11.
While you’re at it, check out Erin’s indiegogo campaign, Beats by Girlz, and show this righteous lady some love.