“I’m going far, I’m going wide, I’m going back to the sunny side”, so sings Erin Durant on Rising Sun, the opening track of her recently released album, Islands. In the context of the rolling guitar lines and steady distant drum, it feels like a final boarding call at an airport, the whistle of a steam train, the sound of embarking on a truly special journey. It’s a feeling that Erin seems to come back to throughout Islands, whether hitting the road on Highway Blue, settling in pastures new on Another Town, or even briefly pausing for breath on Take A Load Off: this is a record yes, and it’s also an adventure.
The follow up to Erin’s acclaimed debut album, Blueberry Mountain, Islands is a record that feels like both a natural progression and a giant leap forward. While Blueberry Mountain was recorded to tape in her New York apartment, with all the lo-fi fuzz and minimal arrangements you’d expect from that set-up, Islands exists at the opposite extreme. Produced in collaboration with TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone, it is a bold and expansive record, without ever getting claustrophobic. There’s a lightness of touch that allows Erin’s vocals and piano playing to take centre stage, while also giving them the thrust and accompaniment required to bring them sharply into focus.
Islands eight tracks were largely written at the piano, and it remains a key element to their appeal, although they’re now joined by a cornucopia of other sounds; the delightfully complex percussion on Good Ol Night, the choral vocals on Islands and the surprisingly wonderful use of woodwind that pops up throughout the record. Perhaps the biggest departure comes at the album’s close, as Another Town morphs from a gentle march of piano chords into delightfully unrushed twiddles of electric guitar, creating a beautifully atmospheric climax to this most spacious of albums.
In life we all make journeys, we travel from place to place constantly, sometimes with a goal in mind, and sometimes without, Islands is a record that seems to encourage the listener to embrace that experience. To revel in the sun on your skin, the wind in your hair, and the path beneath your feet. Islands is a record that doesn’t need a destination, a full stop at the end of the adventure, it just revels in the quiet contemplation of striving to get anywhere. Put your headphones on, and let Erin Durant take you somewhere, this is one journey you’ll want to make time and time again.
Today, Erin answers our questions, discussing aspirations, the process of making Islands and why there’s no substitute for a real piano
FTR: Your new album, Islands just came out, what can you tell us about recording it?
We recorded at Seaside Lounge in Brooklyn. We laughed that we were making a record called Islands in the winter in a basement studio in Brooklyn named Seaside Lounge. It sort of reflected the spirit of how I was thinking about the word islands.
FTR: We read you worked with Kyp Malone, what did he bring to the record?
A lot. I loved his ideas about instrumentation, especially the horn and woodwind parts. He brought in most of the people involved in the record so with everybody I worked with, from Charles Burst the engineer to Gabe Galvin who mixed it, I felt in good hands. He also played on some of the songs. On Another Town, he made a guitar loop that’s one of my favorite sounds on the record.
FTR: What did you do differently compared to Blueberry Mountain?
I recorded Blueberry Mountain in my apartment as a solo record. I’d roll my piano into the middle of the living room and set up the mics when I was ready to record and then break it down afterwards. With Islands, I was in a different place and excited to collaborate in a studio with people and wanted to open things up and push the stories and music, the songs are longer with different sections, rhythmic changes, and instrumental parts.
FTR: What track on the record are you most proud of?
Good Ol Night, I think. I wrote this song without instrumentation in mind so I was a little nervous at first when we went for it with the percussion and the mariachi section. But now I can’t imagine the song without them, and glad I got out of my own way.
FTR: You grew up in New Orleans before moving to New York, which city do you think has a bigger influence on your sound?
Both I would say. New Orleans music is a part of me and who knows the alchemy of how that happens, so much of it was through osmosis. With New York, I know that it’s given me community and experiences that have had a major impact on these last two records.
FTR: What are your aspirations for this record? Do you see music as a viable career?
Well, I guess my aspirations are to keep making music as much as possible and living my life. With this record, I wanted it to feel a little like sand and wood and water, possibilities in the desert and at the ocean. There are so many records that I love and inspire me. I was trying to take the base of my inspiration and make the music that I could make and hope I got it right.
What’s viable, I don’t know, but I’m excited about things.
FTR: Who are your influences? What were you listening to when you wrote Islands?
Nina Simone and Van Morrison are two of my favorites.
Alma Gluck, Terry Allen, Paul Simon.
FTR: We read you normally have to bring your own piano? Do you sometimes wish you played a smaller/lighter instrument?
I mean, I love playing the piano and wish more places had one. Pianos are different and a more percussive instrument. I’ve tried playing a keyboard and it doesn’t have the touch and dynamics that I’m looking for. I play some guitar and dulcimer too, and get excited to try new instruments for what they can bring out in the songwriting process.
FTR: What’s next for Erin Durant?
More music and touring I hope.
Islands is out now via Keeled Scales. Click HERE for more information on Erin Durant.