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Erin Rae Breaks Down Her New Album Lighten Up Track by Track: Exclusive Stream

The Nashville singer-songwriter shares insights into her dreamy new album, which you can hear one day early here

erin rae track by track
Credit: Bree Fish
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    For our Track by Track feature, artists open up about the stories behind each song on their latest album. Today, Erin Rae takes us track by track through her new album, Lighten Up.


    After releasing her debut effort, Putting on Airs, in 2018, Erin Rae was living as the troubadours do. She spent the years between that release and the start of the pandemic on the road and, like any other artist, found that life come to a screeching halt.

    On Friday, February 4th, she’ll return with her new album, Lighten Up, an appropriate title both for our times and for the album. This latest collection is an amalgam of dreamy, psychedelic country, indie-rock, and believably vintage folk. Thematically, too, the album is a bit like an old kaleidoscope — social commentary and musings on gender equality morph into more personal stories of self-acceptance, recovering from heartbreak, and optimism for an unknown future.

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    “I love connecting my inner world with the outer experience in my songwriting,” Rae tells Consequence. “I think it helps me feel a real sense of belonging in this world.”

    Rae has broken down the album in our latest Track by Track interview. You can also stream the LP one day early, and get an exclusive first look at the video for “Can’t See Stars” featuring Kevin Morby, below.


    “Candy + Curry”

    This song is a journal entry, essentially. It’s a meditation on the early days in the pandemic, where here in Tennessee, it felt more or less like a global snow day. It was no doubt inspired by the music of Andre Ethier and Nashville’s own Good Buddy — very subtly driving along, but still grooving.

    This one was one of the most exciting songs to bring to life at Jonathan’s place with his endless weird keyboards and the insane siren guitar pedal he played on it. To me, it’s one of the most exciting sonic explorations in the songs on this record, which is why we wanted it to be track one. Kind of a surprise, maybe!

    “Can’t See Stars” feat. Kevin Morby

    I love connecting my inner world with the outer experience in my songwriting. I think it helps me feel a real sense of belonging in this world to draw those parallels, and in “Can’t See Stars,” the parallel most specifically is to being completely overwhelmed with constant distraction with social media, news, television and the sky being polluted with light from all our human stuff. Both make it hard to follow the north star; the symbolic one inside, and the literal star.

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    It’s hard to pull away from all the excitement, but I found such a relief in being out in the country a little ways visiting some family, and having some time to return to myself and my thoughts, as well as seeing the night sky so much clearer.

    “True Love’s Face”

    Sometimes it’s best to just say things exactly like you mean them, and I think this song sort of spilled out of me when I was feeling particularly hopeful about my love life — ha, ha. It’s earnest, like any true search for connection is on some level, and it’s really fun to play. Recording this song was when I felt like we started to loosen up and have fun, and it became one of my absolute favorites.

    “Gonna Be Strange”

    “Gonna Be Strange” is about that fear that comes with trying to follow your inner compass. I’ve heard it said that with every decision comes a little grief for the path that wasn’t chosen. This song is speaking to that step into the unknown, towards the discovery of what feels right to me, and the heartache that comes with that.

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    Energetically, this whole record is about this step in my life, being uncomfortable, but feeling like life is so much more expansive and wanting to explore it with an open heart.

    “California Belongs To You”

    I got the idea for this song while I was visiting some dear friends in San Clemente in 2019. It’s essentially about that period of time after a breakup that seems like it will never end, and everything is a reminder of something the person loves, or shared with you, or what they might think of whatever it is. Especially when it feels like there’s unfinished business, or you’re not proud of the way it ended. I imagine driving down the highway in a Chrysler LeBaron to this one.

    “Cosmic Sigh”

    “Cosmic Sigh,” for me, is about the crucial point in a healing process, where you’ve become aware of something you want to let go of and its very clear what no longer works or contributes to living the life you want — but the way forward is unknown and therefore scary.

    This is like where we get euphoric recall, or maybe try drinking again in certain circumstances, just to make sure we really have to give up the thing we’re afraid to give up. “Cosmic Sigh” is speaking to that resolve within to forge ahead, nerves and all, to the unknown.

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    “Modern Woman”

    “Modern Woman” from the start is meant to be a little cheeky, coming from me, a white femme-presenting woman, but it just sort of spilled out one day in the kitchen during the pandemic. It began with the intention of owning and celebrate my own quieter strength, a strength that isn’t so in your face, and validating that it exists nonetheless. Once I started singing it and coming up with verses I began to picture friends of mine and the ways they play with and relate to femininity and the term “woman”, whether it’s just as a facet of their whole self, or as something that feels too limiting to describe them.

    I picture the word, in this song at least, as being a large umbrella that everyone who wants to can stand beside or beneath, as opposed to a normative exclusive box.

    “Drift Away”

    This song started to arise in one of those fleeting moments of peace that happen seemingly out of nowhere. I was walking my dog, Billie, around our loop in Madison, Tennessee one morning and, for whatever reason, I felt totally calm and grateful to be in that moment. The sun was peeking through the trees, and Billie’s ears were bouncing up and down with her steps. It was in that moment I could remind myself that all is truly well, and give myself a little compassion for my anxieties.

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    “Enemy”

    This song is about how your own insecurities and fears can make it feel like friends are against you, when it’s often a trick of the mind. Most of the time, if I cross someone or hurt someone I care about, it’s the result of me trying to get what I want out of life and not intending to hurt someone else, but it ends up happening. This is the story of someone realizing that in the eleventh hour, and wanting to correct things.

    “Mind-Heart”

    Mind-Heart was written as a reflection on a question that can arise in relationships, “Is this healthy love? Or is this an escape from myself?”. It’s kind of swimming in that confusion which feels cyclical and nearly impossible to detach from. Meg Duffy came in to contribute guitars on this song, and their addition really completed the sound for me.

    “Lighten Up And Try”

    Andrew Combs and I have been friends and touring partners for many years now, and have only gotten together two or three times to co-write. It’s not something I do very often because it’s so hard for me to tap into that flow with another person in the room.

    Andrew came over one day last January to write, and he helped me finish this song. I had started it around the same time I wrote “Cosmic Sigh,” and it was those two, and “Drift Away” that helped me realize what this record might be about. I love that we placed it right after “Mind-Heart,” because I wanted it to be the balm to follow an incredibly long season of almost relentless introspection. It’s a nudge out the energetic door, like, “Go on, don’t take yourself so seriously! Go live!” It feels so good to sing.

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    “Undone”

    When I wrote this song, I imagined it being the opener of the story for this next record, but where it ended up living is pretty cool to me, too. I’m finding in the journey of living (or more honestly I’m constantly being reminded) that growing and healing is a lot of one step forward, two steps back, or some variation on that saying. It’s a reminder to soften up, and release old ideas and rigid definitions I once lived by, and allow a new experience to occur. And when I go back, and grasp for the old familiar ways, not to be too harsh. It makes sense that it takes a long time to unlearn; to come undone.

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