Erin McKeown’s music reveals the best part of her persona
Most musicians tend to draw sharp distinctions between their music and their personal lives, refusing to allow their onstage personas to be seen as their sole image.
Not Erin McKeown, who performs Friday at Moondog’s in Blawnox.
“I think people who feel like they know me through my music are right,” she says. “I think my music is the most honest and best part of me. If you feel like you can know me through it, or feel like you’re closer to me through it, then that’s exactly what it’s for.”
Using her music as a guide, one might describe McKeown as dynamic, eclectic and bright. Her sound is a mix of pop, folk, standards and rock. “Grand,” McKeown’s latest album, lyrically references Judy Garland and Arthur Miller.
And to think she’s only 25.
“It’s something I like to do, surprise people,” McKeown says. “Especially in the studio, to try to do whatever seems to be the right thing for the song, whatever feels right in the moment. Sometimes the results even surprise me.”
Part of the delight of “Grand” comes from listening to McKeown’s range – she’s just as adept at the rollicking pop of “Cinematic” as she is singing “Cosmopolitan,” which combines spoken-word verses out of the Lou Reed songbook with soaring choruses. What ties all the music together is McKeown’s emphasis on rhythm.
“There are three parts of music: there’s rhythm, there’s harmony and there’s melody,” she says. “As a musician, you should spend time learning about each of those things, and I think rhythm comes easiest to me.”
McKeown began her career while an undergraduate student at Brown University. She slowly built a fan base, releasing two albums before “Grand,” which has drawn almost universal praise, came out earlier this year.
Which comes as no surprise, surprisingly, to McKeown.
“Whatever I’ve done in my life, I’ve always imagined myself doing it well,” she says. “And I always want to do it well. You never know if you’ll reach success or not, or whatever it is you call success. But I always feel like I have to try, and I think the only reason you would be surprised by these things was if you didn’t try for them. I’ve said this about four times in the last couple of days about totally different things, but you’re not going to hit a home run if you don’t swing.
“That’s not to say I’m not grateful,” she adds. “These things don’t happen to everyone.”
Especially since most popular music seems to be a byproduct of formula rather inspiration. McKeown says she expressly avoids listening to music while she’s writing, preferring to find inspiration in film, theater and especially literature.
“At this point, I know too much about the music industry to enjoy it,” she says. “Obviously, there are some artists who blow me away and make me forget that I know anything at all, but books are just books to me.”
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Moondog’s, Blawnox
Info: (412) 323-1919