From the GFM Archives (’15): GFM Spotlight Interview: Eryn Allen Kane Talks New EP, Prince and Chi-RaqSunday, April 23rd, 2017
Full disclosure: we stumbled upon the young queen Eryn Allen Kane, but a good discovery is a good discovery… even if it is by surprise. Turns out Ms. Kane wasn’t hiding under a rock, but rocking out… in plain sight. When we spoke with her she’d just dropped her new EP, Aviary: Act 1. The Spike Lee Joint Chi-Raq, in which she has a part, was set to open in theaters and his royal badness Prince had already taken her on as his protege’. Wow! Read below and enjoy.
GFM: For many of the Grown Folks this is an introduction to you. Tell us how your musical journey as an artist began.
EAK: I started going to a church called Conant Gardens on the East side of Detroit with my family. That’s where I joined the choir and developed a little bit of a voice for myself. I was always kind of shy though, so I never took any solos. I just loved being a part of the choir and learning my part and where I sit in the choir.
I went to a performing arts school in Detroit called Detroit School of the Arts. I was a vocal major there. I was also a part of Mosaic Youth Theatre. They do this whole tour thing with kids from a bunch of different magnet schools around Detroit.
Then I went to college at Columbia, and because I had a terrible development deal in Detroit that kind of went bad I breached contract. I wasn’t able to do any music. [So] I majored in acting in college. I went to Columbia for theatre performance. I think it was my junior year [when] I went to go live with my dad in Australia. I wasn’t really doing any music at the time. When I went out there I had a lot of peace of mind and was able to sit down and find my voice again and write a bunch of songs. I came back and showed them to manager and it all started there. We started recording stuff and my first song, “Hollow” was released in 2013 and Prince was checking that out. Somehow he got his hands on it. I released a song two years later and he heard that. Then I was on “Baltimore” and now I’m here [laughs]. That’s an abbreviated version but that’s what happened… yeah.
GFM: Since you mentioned that, can we talk about how Prince came calling and what your experience was? Could you believe it? You had a collaboration so soon in your career with the legend.
EAK: No, I actually freaked out a little bit. In 2013 when I first released that song it was an acappella song and I kinda thought that it really wasn’t gonna do much. I just wanted to put it out because it meant something to me. I was like, ‘Yeah, acappella songs… who has acappella songs?’ Then, I saw all these people commenting on my YouTube [channel saying], ‘The Purple One sent me here.’ I was like, ‘Who are they talking about? They’re not talking about Prince.’ I looked it up and it was definitely Prince. [Prince had previously tweeted about the song] I had just gotten out of the shower and I screamed for five minutes straight into my towel. I couldn’t believe that it was happening and that he had noticed me even. A couple years earlier, I was in the nose bleed seats at one of his concerts at the United Center in Chicago, so I never imagined him actually paying me any attention. We were supposed to link back then and we just couldn’t because of certain circumstances.
But, flash forward. I guess he just kept his eye on me even when I wasn’t releasing anything. Two years later when I came out with “Have Mercy” he noticed that. A couple days after I released that song he invited me to come out and do “Baltimore” with him. I got to the studio and I was just like , ‘Robbie [her manager] I can’t do this. This is gonna be the end of me. What if mess up?’ But, I ended up doing pretty well so that was good [laughs].
GFM: Going back a bit to what you said about being a theatre major and studying acting– you also are in Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq. How did that come about and how was the experience?
EAK: That’s kind of a crazy story too. Right after I performed on stage with Prince in Baltimore at the arena I walked off stage and my manager said, ‘Check your email.’ I checked my email and it was Spike’s assistant saying, ‘Spike really wants to speak with Eryn. He’s heard her song. He wants to speak with her about this thing he’s doing.’ I was like, ‘What! This is too much! Let me go home and take a seat for a second. I don’t know what’s happening [laughs].’ Turns out he wanted me to music for the film initially and I met with him in Chicago [during] pre production. He talked to me about doing music for the film and how he liked “Have Mercy”. He wanted to put something like that in film. I told him, ‘Sure,’ but then he found out that I acted so then he was like, ‘Wait. Why I don’t I just write you into the script?’ I said, ‘Sounds good to me [laughs].’ He ended up writing me into the script and I ended up being not a main character, but a principal character. It was a great experience. He is the best. He’s one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. It was an awesome, awesome time. It was only a couple of months. It was a really short production time, but it was cool. I enjoyed it. It was different. I’d never been in a movie before.
GFM: Let’s talk about your new EP– Aviary: Act 1. I read in the personal note that you wrote to your followers on Instagram that the songs about losing love to depression, about being forgotten because of you are, family loss, suicide, being a woman, being judged as woman, never giving up despite any of these things and about loving yourself. Can you talk about that and talk about the project?
EAK: The songs that I make… I word them in a way that the listener can interpret them. Whatever story they have of their own they can relate to it. It’s kind of funny, because a lot of people have stamped these songs as love songs… as me writing songs to lovers. But really, “Have Mercy” was written after I saw a news report about this terrible thing happening to a little kid on the South Side [of Chicago] and I went to the basement and wrote that song. It was about the world being a very cruel place. People still thought that was a love song. “Slipping” is about a friend of mine who struggled with depression and knowing that you can’t really do anything to help them but you still love them. It’s a love song of sorts I guess, but it’s not something I wrote with the intention of, ‘This is my boyfriend and I’m writing a song about an ex.’ It wasn’t like that.
The EP… all these songs I wrote in different times of my life. “Piano Song” has something to do with me losing a loved one who tried really, really hard in his life to just be the best person that he could be and he still was taken from us. It’s interesting to see how everyone else interprets the songs. I don’t ever want to impose my back story on these songs, just because I like for people to write to me. I’ve gotten emails from people about how it affected them in this way and it made them think of their mother, or it made them thing of a situation with caring for people. I’d rather just leave my story for me, and have them create their own stories to my songs. It’s all over the map. I made these songs for partly my healing, but also to encourage people and things like that. I’m really bad at talking about my music [laughs], but that’s the gist of it. They’re all songs that I feel like everyone can take part in. We can all kind of share a similar story through at least one or two or three of my songs.
GFM: You called Act 1 an appetizer. Is Act 2 a completely different flavor? Or, is it more of the same, just bigger?
EAK: It’s bigger and it’s still soul music. With this last project I noticed there were a lot of slower songs. There’s still slow songs on this next one, but it’s a little bit more of a variety. There are more songs. It’s a little bit more meaty I guess than the first EP. Not that the first isn’t meaty. The second is still showcasing my vocal abilities and [ability] to arrange and the whole choral thing. There’s a few big, big songs on there that I’m really excited to share with people.
GFM: You’ve already worked with “The Purple One” and been in a movie with a huge director, but what’s the biggest thing you could dream up for your career?
EAK: I know this sounds really cliché, but I’d like to make some sort of impact and some sort of difference in this world even beyond my music. I feel like music gives you that platform and once you have that platform you have the ability to change things. I’m really excited to be able to change certain things. Whether it’s about the music industry or whether it’s about me taking on certain activist roles. I think that it’s our responsibility as artists to lead the way in some of these areas. That’s what I’m most excited about. Other than that, just making timeless music– music people that can learn from and really be a part of an experience with my music. I’m excited for that part of it and being a role model and such.
GFM: What’s your definition of Grown Folks Music?
EAK: It’s something that I’ve heard my mom and father say a million times [laughs]. Grown folks music is legendary. Grown folks music doesn’t get old, and it’s not just something that grown folks listen or that grown folks are just a part of solely. It’s music that I grew up on. It’s music that really speaks to you. It’s not temporary at all. It’s speaks to you. It’s not talking about twerkin’ or anything that is very temporary or trendy. It’s something that you can grow old listening to. You can listen to it fifty years ago. You can listen to it fifty years from now.
Aviary: Act 1– EP is out NOW. Get it at iTunes.
Listen to: “Have Mercy”