The latest talent to be certified by Prince, we meet his ‘Baltimore’ protest song accomplice, Eryn Allen Kane and learn what it’s like to work with a legend.
Imagine waking up one morning to the news that Prince has just happened to discover you on Soundcloud. The next step? You travel to Prince’s home, Paisley Park, and record a track to inspire a generation looking for help – obviously. Naturally all that’s left to do then is venture on stage with the Purple Rainmaker and perform your protest song at Baltimore Arena. Eryn Allen Kane has smashed through endless milestones in recent months and things are only set to get even more surreal for the girl from Detroit as she’s set to release her EP, Aviary.
Eryn’s giving little away about what we can expect from her next release but we’re hoping for a handful of tracks that mix up what we’ve already heard. She’s clearly beyond competent at writing and singing about the serious but her slice of soul featuring on Towkio’s “Heaven Only Knows” shines through amongst harmonies and Chance The Rapper’s signature relentless verse backed by hyper-percussion and shows Eryn could have a hold over R&B any time she likes. We talked to the new name on the radar about Prince, the backlash of the riots and her musical career so far.
What was it like to perform with Prince and for such an important event, at the Baltimore Arena as part of the continuing protests there?
We were sitting in his dressing room before the performance. I think that was the most nervous I’d ever been in my entire life. We had quite a long conversation and towards the end I decided to tell him a story about how in 2012, I scraped together what little money I had to buy a ticket to see him in concert at the United Center. I told him that I could barely see him that night and he responded: “Well I have a feeling things are going to be a little different tonight”. When I saw him 3 years ago from the rafters, I never imagined I’d be sharing the stage with him in 2015 at a rally for peace. The impetus for us collaborating and performing together made the experience all the more singular and important for me. It all felt very surreal. It still feels insane.
And recording your song, “Baltimore” about the protests with him. How do you even begin to create music with Prince? How do you begin realising what people need and want to hear politically and translating that into music?
I wrote a song called “Have Mercy”. I was upset with the world and angry at humanity, so I wrote about it. I felt that if the song could help me heal, it would do the same for others. I released it via YouTube, Prince heard it and a couple of days later I was in the studio working on “Baltimore”. It was already written, Prince just asked that I do whatever I wanted on it vocally and he ended up keeping everything I arranged.
In your NBC interview you said, “We’ve been avoiding the topic of race for so long in America,” from the UK seeing the headlines it feels as if things have to change drastically soon. What do you hope will happen in the near future?
I hope that we can start addressing the reality that this country has abused and dehumanised minorities since the beginning of its existence. This abuse is still very prevalent today. Racism is paralysing. Nothing good of value can be accomplished when ignorance reigns and routine traffic stops turn into murder scenes or unarmed black women and men are being shot dead in the streets by the same people elected to protect us. I can only hope that my generation can have more of these conversations, and be receptive and open-minded enough to learn from them and actually work to make a difference.
How do you think musicians can help?
I think the most important job as an artist is to evoke thought and to question everyone/everything. Question standards, taboos, politics and pop culture. Questions create conversations, conversations create awareness, awareness creates change. In that sense, musicians can and are definitely helping.
“Heaven Only Knows” has been an explosive hit, were you expecting such a reaction? How was it to work with three other people on one track?
No, I wasn’t expecting it to be explosive I guess. But that’s probably because I arranged and recorded it in an hour with only a rough cut of Towkio’s verse. Chance wasn’t even a factor at that point. I didn’t even know if it was going to be released. I just came to the studio and laid it down with Peter CottonTale and Towkio. I didn’t even know who Lido was until the song came out haha. But everyone who’s on it is great and I’m glad it came together the way it did.
From your collaborations, what’s been the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Be undeniably ‘you’. Authenticity is the key to an artist’s survival. I’m a soul singer. Soul singers may not be the most popular right now but my soulful voice is what makes my collaborations distinct. It’s me and it works. People know when you’re faking the funk. It’s always great to find an artist that is genuine.
When did you realise you wanted to become a musician? Is there a first memory of music you have that switched you onto it as a career?
When I was six years old. I always used to say “I want to be an actor, singer and ER doctor”. My ADHD is far too severe to be a doctor. But I didn’t actually decide to professionally pursue music and fully dedicate myself to it until about three years ago. I went to Australia to live with my dad for a summer and ended up writing and recording a bunch of songs acapella into Garage Band on my computer. I rediscovered my passion for singing and songwriting so I came back to Chicago, got to work and here I am. It’s been an exciting journey so far.
You’re about to release an EP, can you tell us the main inspirations behind it?
Everything. Haha I know that’s vague but I’d rather let the listeners find their own meaning in the songs. I find that when an artist talks about what inspired him/her before their songs are released, it changes my perspective. I don’t want to preface anything. I’d rather the listener have no prior assumptions. I think it’ll mean more to them personally if I don’t intrude on their interpretation of ‘Aviary’. After it’s released I’ll maybe touch on some of what inspired me.
You’ve already done so much already but what do you hope to achieve with your music career?
I hope I can make albums that people will listen to 50 years from now. Timeless music is music that changes the way we look at things. It makes people think, it makes them cry, it makes them dance, it makes them angry. It moves people. But over any of that it inspires people. I just want to make music with enough sustenance and nourishment to feed my generation and generations to come and hopefully inspire young singers to do the same.