PREMIERE: The Sweet Water Warblers Elevate the Divine Feminine on Debut LP

Photo Credit: Scott Simontacchi

When the walls come down / There’s no hammer and nail / Can fix the dream that holds this child,” sing The Sweet Water Warblers on “Something More,” the track that inspired the title of their debut album The Dream That Holds the Child.  

“In our political climate, we’re so focused on putting walls up and boundaries that we’re hiding behind or trying to keep someone out,” explains Lindsay Lou, who writes and sings the Michigan folk trio’s music, along with May Erlewine and Rachael Davis. The lyric, and the rest of the album, are about “being open and sitting with the vision that you have, the dream that you have,” she explains, “and it’s more than just a hammer and nail — it’s a prolonged re-owning of the narrative.”

The gospel-inspired, harmony-driven, soothing ten song collection deals in particular with elevating women. “Right With Me” provides a counter to the message women frequently receive that something’s wrong with them. In “Righteous Road,” the three women sing about continuing their mothers’ legacy by fighting for gender equality and improving the world for the next generation of women and men. “It’s just this journey of womanhood and not feeling less but finding one’s power within it,” says Lou.

The group itself was founded on this principle of women supporting one another. Lou, Erlewine, and Davis met at Michigan’s Hoxeyville Music Festival in 2014, where they were all playing individually until a promoter requested that they perform as a trio. Their voices blended so well together, they decided to form a band, releasing their first LP With You in 2017. “A big part of connecting with the feminine is also connecting with other women,” says Lou. “There’s this feeling that there’s only room enough for one token woman in a band, and women are uplifting women now.”

Their music aims to elevate not just women but “the divine feminine within all of us,” says Erlewine. The first single off the album, “Turn to Stone,” for instance, is a celebration of compassion, with lyrics like “May we hear each other singing/And may we never turn to stone.”

To Lou, the first step to reclaiming the divine feminine is “recognizing the imbalances, which comes with a certain degree of grief and anger and frustration,” she explains. The next step is “moving from that into a place where you appreciate all of the strength of the feminine, being connected to our body and our sexuality in a way that’s not attached to shame, and feeling connected to the mother — the mother that grows us in our bellies and also this great mother Earth that connects us all.”

Another important aspect of gender equality is having language and symbols that represent the divine feminine, says Lou. “There’s just a different consciousness from balancing out the symbology,” she says. That’s one thing The Sweet Water Warblers aim to provide with their music, says Davis. “Although there is a struggle continuing, we’re grateful that we get to address it the way that we do.”

Follow The Sweet Water Warblers on Facebook for ongoing updates.

VIDEO PREMIERE: May Erlewine “Get It Back”

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Photo By John Hanson

May Erlewine believes that music means community, and she’s spent her career in service to her Michigan roots. Raised by hippies in Grand Rapids, Erlewine grew up surrounded by music, encouraged to explore her own creativity from every angle. Her new record Mother Lion has the maturity of a woman grounded in her roots, looking forward to the future.

“Get It Back,” Erlewine’s newest track, is a slow boil of a song. My mind couldn’t help but see it played against a dramatic movie scene, in which a character reaches a pivotal crossroads. It speaks of temporary moments, faded memories, photos hidden at the bottom of a musty drawer.

We sat down with May Erlewine to talk about her musical influences and the responsibility of being an artist.

AF: You grew up in Big Rapids, Michigan. Can you tell us a little bit about your family and how music played into your childhood?

ME: My parents both came from artistic families. We lived in Ann Arbor before I was born. They practiced Tibetan Buddhism and were vegetarians. My Dad’s mom was a visual artist and my Dad played in bands. Music and the arts were a big part of everything in my family, so they were very encouraging and supportive of any sort of creativity that I wanted to explore. I was home educated for a while in my childhood, so that was another cool thing, a great way to be able to explore the arts a little bit more than maybe a lot of people get to in public school. Music was always on and around; my Dad was a music appreciator and always showing us different kinds of music. He started The All Music Guide, so when that started there were musicians coming and going to write. So I had a pretty rich and active childhood, as far as lots of people being around. But also my family was definitely a really oddball family in a small town.

AF: Who were some of your earliest music influences in terms of styling and what kind of music you gravitated toward?

ME: My Dad listened to a lot of the soul singers like Irma Thomas, Billie Holiday, Fenton Woods, Sam Cooke, and James Brown. That stuff was on and a ton of blues. But then my mom was in love with the songwriters and the folk tradition; she listened to Bob Dylan, Joni, Pete Seeger and stuff. So those two camps were pretty strong, and sort of were the touchstones for a lot of my first inspiration, melodies, singing, and songwriting for sure.

AF: Your new album Mother Lion was partially funded through Kickstarter. What was that process like?

ME: We’ve used Kickstarter before, but I’ve never asked for as much as I did for this one. I’m lucky – the community in Michigan is very supportive, but since I was going for more, I really wanted to put a lot of intention into the video and into what we were asking for. We had a visual team for this whole project; we really kinda went all out on making the video and our communication and explaining what the album was. I just felt grateful that people got behind it one hundred percent, a lot more than I ever anticipated. It was a really beautiful showing of the community, and then also those people sharing it with others. It had a really broad reach and got a lot of support, with over 600 backers in the end. It was a really moving experience.

I’ve worked in the community here and kinda use my music as a service-oriented job, try to be involved in the community, work with kids, work for environmental access organizations, and also social justice issues. So it was kind of a nice way to see that the music I’ve been making is meaningful, that the community there is ready to support not just my art, but that its independent artists are valued.

AF: “You’ve got to live it, every minute that you have / Cause you won’t get it back.” I love that line from your new single. Can you give us a peek behind the writing process of this song?

ME: This is one of those songs that just came. Sometimes you have to toil over them and sometimes they just show up in one piece. I wrote this song on the piano. The chorus came first and it’s sort of interesting because it’s such a kind of quiet, subtle chorus, and then the song started unfolding. It was at a time in my life that was challenging on a lot of levels, and there was a lot going on in the world around us and a lot of pain. I was struggling with trying to figure out how to continue forward, so the song is about the preciousness of what we have. Even when we’re experiencing loss or grief we still have to show up in the moments that we have. As we get older, I guess you start to look back at time, and you realize it just keeps moving on without you, whether you’re happy or sad. Time keeps moving. So the song is about acknowledging that and trying to grapple with still allowing the preciousness of each moment, even when we’re experiencing pain or loss. It’s a song about loss and grief, and then also embracing what we do have and trying to remain grateful for it.

AF: You have a daughter, Iris. Has your writing process changed at all since becoming a parent?

ME: Having a child really shows you what is important and allows me to live from a richer, more selfless place. Also knowing I am my daughter’s example of what it looks like to be a woman in the world makes me want to do the best that I can.

AF: You are a member of the Earthwork Music Collective, “a group of independent artists who share resources and talents to raise both community and self-awareness, along with facilitating and encouraging original music in the state of Michigan.” How did you first get involved with the collective?

ME: Earthwork Music was founded by my ex-husband, Seth Bernard. We worked together on building the collective over the past thirteen years or more. It’s sort of an umbrella for collaboration and mutual support, while focusing on investing and serving our communities as well.

AF: You spoke earlier about how music and community are so closely intertwined for you as an artist. Do you feel like musicians have a kind of responsibility to act as a mirror, helping to reflect the problems of their time?

ME: I believe that all artists do this, consciously and subconsciously. We digest what’s going on around us and then present it back to the world. For me, I also honor the old-school tradition of the singer-songwriter. I want to be intentional about using my voice for things that need awareness.

AF: Alright, now for a couple speed questions. Favorite album you’re listening to right now!

ME: I really love Jason Isbell’s Southeastern and also I’ve been loving Bobby Charles (self titled) and Joshua Davis has a new record called The Way Back Homeand of course dipping back into Petty, given the news.

AF: Favorite venue to perform in.

ME: That’s a bit of a dangerous one to answer for me. I love intimate listening rooms of 400 or less. I also love playing house concerts. There’s something special about no amplification, just making music in the room. I’ve done a few house concert tours, they are magical.

AF: Mother Lion ends with “Grateful,” a piano ballad that echoes the feeling of standing in a church sanctuary. You sing,“I will be strong / And stronger still / Torn from my hopes / worn from my will / When I speak my truth / You’ll hear me say / I am grateful / at the end of the day.” What message do you hope people get from this album?

ME: The album was written to help people feel. With all of the struggle, emotionally, environmentally, politically, socially, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and out of touch with our feelings. This album is holding space for those feelings, both the sorrow and the joy. Trying to help people to get back in touch with their hearts and the slower, quieter voice within. Also, Tyler Duncan, my producer, was a huge part in creating a safe and nurturing place for these vulnerable sentiments to be expressed.

Keep an ear out for May Erlewine’s 10th studio release Mother Lion, due out November 1, 2017.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

PLAYING DETROIT: Folkie May Erlewine Charms with “Never One Thing”

Okay, so she’s not from Detroit proper, but we couldn’t help but feel moved by small-town folk songstress May Erlewine’s video for “Never One Thing,” the first single from her forthcoming record Mother Lion. Erlewine comes from a deeply musical family – her father Michael founded AllMusic – that hails from Big Rapids, and she’s released over a dozen records, both solo and with her husband Seth Bernard, since 2003. Now, she’s signaled her return with a quietly empowering anthem for the ever changing, forever incomparable woman, tinged with a honey soaked sweetness only Erlewine can deliver.

“I’m a streetfighter/I’m a prayer for peace/I’m a Holy-roller/I’m a honeybee” croons Erlewine, praising the many roles that women take on, reminding us that it is never just one thing that defines us. The video follows her delicate reign, perched on various thrones wearing a selection of various floral crowns – perhaps a subtle conjuring of Frida Kahlo. But Erlewine shatters the separation of royalty and commoner with graceful tenacity. A poetically restrained roar, “Never One Thing” is more of a mantra than just a simple folk song.

Feel the power of May Erlewine’s latest below:

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