Singer-songwriter Eva Tolkin never imagined she would have a career as a musician. She was working in fashion when she met Solange Knowles and auditioned as a last-minute whim for work as a back-up singer, only to exceed expectations and ultimately get the gig. And after Solange’s True tour cycle wrapped, Tolkin went on to book tours with Blood Orange, Robyn, Lykke Li, and Charli XCX. The unlikeliness of it all inspired her to keep going, booking more tours and beginning to write her own songs.
“I feel like I didn’t even realize I was writing music. I was writing poetry, and coming up with little melodies, but it was when I got into the music industry that I fully realized what was possible,” she explains. “I think up until that point it never even occurred to me to follow through with any of these songs I had written. And so in a lot of ways, my music is very influenced by the artists I worked with, just by proximity and being inspired by them.”
By 2017 she was releasing her own singles, followed by her debut EP Truthfully in 2019. Though the pandemic halted touring, it gave Tolkin a chance to truly find her voice as a songwriter – an unexpected result of pandemic isolation. “I was used to touring constantly and never really gave myself the time to focus and dive into my own music and what I want to write about,” she says. “‘Weak as Water’ was the first song I wrote when touring was canceled last year, so it was more personal and thoughtful than some of my previous releases.”
“Weak as Water” appears on her brand new solo EP City and Sky, out last week. In many ways, it’s the culmination of years of refining her musical talents and finding the confidence to write and record her own music. The seven-song EP travels between sparse, melancholy acoustic tracks carried by Tolkin’s vocal prowess and more upbeat pop-inspired songs. The shifts in mood weren’t necessarily intentional – the pop-based songs were largely written pre-pandemic, while shutdown gave her the mental space to grow creatively and explore more personal themes. She says that it should be easy for listeners to identify the pre- and post-pandemic songs. Compare, for instance, the quiet introspection of “Weak as Water” with “Is It Love,” an upbeat track that sparkles with early-aughts radio pop vibes, all the way down to the clapping effects tucked into the beat.
Tolkin had never played an instrument until this year. The cancelation of tours offered her the opportunity to sit down and learn the guitar, which ultimately contributed to this shift in sound. With that comes the uncertainty of endless potential; she didn’t expect any of this to play out the way that it has, so who’s to say what comes next? “It’s really just evolving all the time and I don’t even know, I feel like the next thing I do, next year or whatever, could be a different vibe,” she says. “I’m really just exploring right now. I kind of feel like I’m starting from scratch.”
This creative freedom is not without flaw, though, as Tolkin deals with the same type of existential dread many have faced with the loss of routine. “I have days when I feel like I’m forcing myself to do it. There’s just been so much time over the last year, because I have been completely out of work,” she admits. “There are some days that are very creative and fulfilling [but] I still have days where I feel like a total waste case, that I’m not doing anything.”
In the end, it’s all an exercise in patience, and Tolkin is a poster child for trusting the process, in that her commitment to listening to her heart has worked out in so many ways and taken her life to so many unexpected places. None of the artists she works with had announced shows as of the last time we spoke, but even after they do, she plans to “continue learning,” she says. “There’s so much more now that I’ve opened this whole new can of worms.”
The success Eva Tolkin won with a last-minute Solange audition years ago was formative in that way, a lesson she still carries with her to this day: “Saying yes to opportunities, going for things even if you feel like there’s no shot, that’s something that’s carried through and opened so many doors,” she says. “That one decision to go through with the audition has really changed my life forever.”
Let us all carry this wisdom into our new, uncertain present moment. Listen to your heart, follow the hunch – you never know where it may take you.
Follow Eva Tolkin on Instagram for ongoing updates.