As Eryn Allen Kane tells it, she got her start in the most cliché way: in the church.
Kane was raised on Detroit’s east side attending Detroit School of the Arts—the same as the late Aaliyah, which was a huge driving factor in her enrollment there. After a sticky development deal gone wrong she spent her college years focusing on acting. Shortly after college she found herself longing to sing again. A summer in Australia led to her unleashing creativity in a minimalist fashion, recording songs comprised purely of vocals for horn sounds and lyrics with her beating on tables and baskets for percussion. She returned to Chicago with a compilation of songs and a spark that indicated she was ready to launch her career.
At what point did you decide music would be your focus?
I was a little confused and went to Australia just to clear my mind. That’s when I got in touch with myself and realized I wasn’t living up to my fullest potential and wasn’t doing what I love. At first it was therapeutic for me. It ended up being something where I was like I need to do this for myself for my own happiness. I went back and I got to work.
How did the “Baltimore” collaboration with Prince come about?
A couple years back I released an acapella song called “Hollow.” We shot the video and put it out. It was my first song ever to be really put into the universe. Prince got a hold of it. He tweeted out the video and said “Wallow Hollow” or something like that. His people contacted my manager saying they wanted to meet up. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Two years later I released “Have Mercy.” I guess he kept his eye on me because a couple of days later he hit us up and was like ‘That song you released is great. Do you want to be on this song I have?’
He flew us to Minnesota. We got in the studio and he gave me the freedom to do whatever I pleased. He said, ‘I need your soul on this track.’ The day after it was released he asked if I wanted to come perform with him for the peace rally [in Baltimore]. I was just blown away. It was just all a little bit too much for me. It’s been an amazing ride. I’m so thankful for him coming into my life and believing in my music. He’s sort of a mentor right now.
What kind of advice has Prince given you?
He really wants to see young talented artists thrive. He wants to see real musicians get shine. He tells me to stay true to myself even though my music isn’t the type of music that’s being played on the radio all the time it’s important for people to hear it. He’s like, it’s up to you to be authentic and stay true to who you are at all costs because that is going to give you a long career.
He encourages you to be authentic.
Yeah, authentic and not let people have you like, ‘Oh you're supposed to make this kind of club song or this kind of ... We're supposed to add this to or these cents and this and that.’ He's like, ‘Your generation is going to be the generation that needs to change some of the bad things that are happening with artists in the music business right now so it's up to you to be authentic and to stay true to who you are at all costs because that is what's going to give you a long career.’ That's exactly what he is an example of, staying true to who you are no matter what. It's a really good example to look at and to follow after.
The first song I heard of yours was “Have Mercy.” You created all of the instruments and the background yourself.
Yeah, that's all me. That's how I create music. I do the entire thing just like that. Then for my EP I did all my songs like that and then gave it to my friends who are instrumentalists and said, ‘Okay can we translate these vocals into the percussion, the horn sections and the guitar, and this and that?’ They just mimicked the vocals that I was doing on their instruments. That's how we made the EP. “Have Mercy” is the only all vocal song on there. The rest is live band, but it was made like "Have Mercy."
Who else has influenced your sound?
Gospel. My mother's a really big Chaka Khan fan and Aretha Franklin fan. Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Etta James, Nina Simone, all the greats. I was really into gospel singers for a minute.
Who are some current artists that you relate to or maybe get influenced by?
I'm really into the Alabama Shakes right now. They’ve just released an album that I've been listening to front to back since it came out. The lead singer is a very powerful singer. She's got a really strong presence and soul presence. She's someone who I'd say… she's just amazing. That's an amazing band too. I love the whole live instrument aspect of that. Yeah, they're one. Leon Bridges is really great. I'm into his stuff right now. Jack White, I've always been a fan of his—rock n roll guy from Detroit where I'm from. They're all amazing artists that I really respect.
Finish this sentence, “My music is…”
Eryn Allen Kane’s forthcoming EP, Aviary, is expected to be released this year.