Erin McCarley’s Blues
Erin McCarley is an emerging singer-songwriter with an authenticity and honesty that’s incredibly rare. Her debut album, Love, Save the Empty, is a smart piece of alternative pop, filled with autobiographical lyrics and rich melodies. And her star is on the rise. She recently wrapped the “Ten Out of Tenn” tour and a series of dates with fellow singer-songwriter Joshua Radin. Following the album’s release in October, she’ll be bringing her heartfelt songs to the masses as part of the Hotel Cafe tour.
McCarley’s journey as a songwriter began when she took a detour from the ‘80s pop she grew up listening to, and found herself drawn to more confessional artists like Patty Griffin, Jonatha Brooke, and Fiona Apple. She admired their ability to channel life experience into song, but wondered if she could do the same. “I think I struggled with the desire of wanting to do it, but the feelings of inadequacy, of not being able to do it, kept me from writing,” she says. “But when I moved away and really started developing my own self, and experiencing more, I was able to say something, and start writing.”
Moving to San Diego after college proved instrumental in her artistic growth. After hearing a few of her songs, a listener might be surprised to learn McCarley grew up in a happy home environment, with loving parents, and very little pain to speak of. She had such an ideal childhood that she experienced something of a wake-up call when she moved out on her own.” [My childhood] gave me an unrealistic view of everything,” she confesses. Seeing things anew in San Diego also became the foundation of much of her writing. A lot of her music is about bridging the gap between fantasy and reality, and the pain that comes with it.
Being such an autobiographical writer does have its drawbacks though, as McCarley occasionally has come to regret putting herself out there so openly. “It’s not the best feeling,” she admits. “The more I do it, and the deeper I go, I take everything personally and I’m pretty sensitive. I want people to feel what I felt, but in their own way.”
She tends to be a little uncomfortable when discussing such personal songs as “Hello/Goodbye,” or “Lovesick Mistake,” but believes they become more real as they grow and more people hear them. “I think what I wrote was a more sub-conscious thing and I didn’t realize the honesty that was happening, so it felt safe,” she explains. “And in the process of getting it heard, you kinda get wrapped up in the business part of it. Then you get back to the root.”
The ‘business part of it’ played an important role in getting her music out to a mainstream audience. Many first experienced her songs “Pony (It’s OK)” and “Pitter-Pat” on the CW’s One Tree Hill.
As an artist, she had to question whether she welcomed this kind of exposure. “I like it. I always ask for a scene description and make sure it makes sense,” she explains. “Because people are very visual, and when they see [the show] and hear that song, they’re gonna connect. I don’t think that’s a bad thing if you’re picky and true to what the song is.”
Instant connection is something McCarley felt in her musical partnership with producer/co-writer/keyboardist Jamie Kenney. The two spent many twelve-hour days over the course of two years putting together the songs that would make up Love, Save the Empty.
“He didn’t press his ideas, he wanted it to be truly me, so I felt comfortable to not have any inhibitions around him.” “Pony” was the first track to come out of those sessions; a song about moving forward and doing what you were meant to do, it became something of a mission statement for her as an artist. “At the time it was sort of a pep talk to myself, but also to a couple of girlfriends who were in jobs that were comfortable but not fulfilling in any way,” she shares. “I guess it was a theme song for me at the time.” Other standout songs from the album include “Blue Suitcase,” a pointed take on religious hypocrisy, and the title track, which tackles a parent-less world and a lack of role models.
Now on the cusp of stardom, how would Mc-Carley describe her music and who she is as an artist? “What you’ll sense is… sad, with a hopeful edge. I mean I’m not a depressing person to be around, but there’s definitely a dense fog of some sort.” For such an insightful artist, boasting a bold album filled with catchy hooks, meaningful lyrics, and a true sense of purpose, the real hope is that her success will one day match her talent.
Text by Rob Brock
Photos by Laura Crosta