The Heat of Home and How To Heal: With Nashville’s Erin Rae

On Erin Rae’s breakthrough album Putting On Airs, she is, in her own words, “talking about our emotional lives, codependency, addiction–how those coping mechanisms that started as a defense to keep us safe turned into behaviors that hinder our growth and ability to connect to others in a healthy way.” Musically, the album subtly blends Country elements with those of Indie rock and folk, and the tone of Erin’s guitar work skilfully parallels the warm evenings, sunsets, and June-bugs of her lyrics.

Photo credit: Edward Symes for FRONTRUNNER

Since Putting On Airs came out almost exactly a year ago, it’s safe to say that Erin Rae has had a big year. In addition to almost constant touring in the UK, the US, and Canada (which will continue through the rest of 2019), she released a music video in April for her song “Bad Mind.” She shares a deeply personal account of coming to terms with a difficult event from her childhood, where an Alabama Supreme Court ruled her aunt to be an “unfit” mother solely because she was gay. Erin was kind enough to share more with us about her experiences growing up, her current relationship to her home city of Nashville, and more reflections on how her past continues to shape her present.

Your album Putting On Airs follows your search for self-understanding, and you look in a lot of different places on that journey. For instance, “Bad Mind” is about the way your aunt’s experience losing custody of your cousin affected you. Could you describe how that episode affected you then and now?

I guess I’m kind of still in the midst of working to understand that. But being an already anxious kid, highly perceptive and sensitive, my anxiety really latched onto witnessing the trauma of the people in my family, and hearing about it at a very young age… too young to really understand. I feel like it kind of embedded in my brain, and when I starting having crushes in middle school and later, I had just an extreme fear of being gay. I didn’t even want to admit any thoughts or feelings to myself cause I didn’t want it to be true. So I guess now I’m just trying to undo all of these coping mechanisms I set up to avoid feelings.

When you think about how your view of yourself has been shaped throughout your life, who comes to mind as important mentors?

I feel really fortunate to have had so many “angels” in my life–people who encouraged my growth and potential. I had a teacher who was with me first through fifth grade, just a kind and loving person. Miss Brenda Bruhn. Then my voice teacher Phoebe Binkley–she taught me a lot about singing but was also just an incredible mentor for me.

Nashville has a reputation of being a socially progressive city compared to the rest of Tennessee. Were you aware of this tension growing up?

Yes, because that was why my parents moved us from Jackson (TN) to Nashville in 2001–so we would have more available to us in all areas of life, and find more like-minded people. It’s still very much the Bible Belt, and that is palpable. Even now. But there are so many options and opportunities here for work, spirituality, healing, etc.

Some of my favorite moments on Putting On Airs are when I can feel how much you love where you’re from. What are some of your favorite things about Nashville, or Tennessee, or the South?

I really, really love the summers down here. I love the extreme heat, hazy sunsets, firework stands, etc. There is a real beauty to me in the way people live here. Even what a lot of the world or country or richer people might perceive as, like, tacky or whatever, I think it’s beautiful. I think I love the heat because it takes me out of my mind. You can’t help but be aware of your body and life when it’s that damn hot. It’s like a blanket.

Photo credit: Edward Symes for FRONTRUNNER

To really learn more about your home, it’s sometimes helpful to leave and come back. What have you learned about Nashville from touring around the US and the world?

Well, Nashville is a “big small” town. There are so many things available to us, so many kinds of people, food, parks, free music events. And it’s all pretty easy to get to. I can see why everyone has moved here. It’s crazy all the talent that’s here as well. Just a special and inspiring place.

In your song “Love Like Before” you describe seeking comfort in all kinds of different things, and then you have this beautiful image of coming home and finding a special kind of love there. When you’re out touring, how do you stay connected to home?

The point of “Love Like Before” is that the yearning I experience, a longing for love or an experience to make me feel at ease and satisfied, does not actually exist outside of me. So I guess just like when I’m home, what I most need is a strong connection to myself and a higher power, others who I really know, and who really know me.

What’s your routine when you get back to Nashville post-tour? Are there specific places you go or food that you seek out?

I go to Dose Coffee, and make the rounds at my favorite antique stores–what I like to call “taking my medicine.” [laughs] Mas Tacos & Cafe Roze are favorites as well.

What else does this year hold for you? What other themes have you found yourself wrestling with recently that might turn into future songs?

I’ll be touring all summer, which I’m excited about, with Dylan LeBlanc, and a few shows with Father John Misty & Jason Isbell–and hopefully recording new music! And as far as themes go, I think I should probably wait to talk about them ‘til it comes together more. But I will say there’s a big focus on friendship.

Photo credit: Edward Symes for FRONTRUNNER

Erin Rae plays at Rough Trade NYC on June 19 as part of her current US tour with Dylan LeBlanc. You can get tickets here

Follow her on Instagram and Twitter .

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