Erin Barra Brings Soul to the Digital Audio Revolution

by Kari Belsheim

Last Friday, I met singer/songwriter/maestro Erin Barra before she played the Paperbox Theatre in Brooklyn. I get really excited about strong, female musicians. But as pumped as I was to meet her, I didn’t expect to have her songs running through my head for the entire rest of the weekend. She tells me during our interview that she’s constantly hearing “you don’t look the way you sound.” With her shock of red hair and sharp, green eyes, perhaps she doesn’t fit the image associated with her big, R&B voice. But as she says, “You can’t please everyone.”

I arrive at the Paperbox and meet Erin in the back room. She is wrapped in a cozy sweater, sipping on warm water to soothe her sore throat. She is very easy to talk to, and surprisingly low-key as we discuss her music. Her work is difficult to define along the lines of a single genre, which pays tribute to its unique direction. Her vocal style reminds me of Nelly Furtado, and yet her instrumentation is almost jam-bandy—decidedly funky.

At the age of four, Erin was enrolled in a musical preschool. She says after that she “never really stopped” making music. In college, she struggled to find singers with whom she could collaborate. But after meeting John Oates, she took his advice and started singing them herself. Then, about two years ago, she began incorporating digital tools into her music. “Being a woman in digital audio is rare, but I’d rather be underestimated.” For her, it’s a way to keep learning and growing through her music.

When Erin steps onstage, her classical training is evident. Left hand on bass, right on keys. R&B vocals on full blast. Although we sat and talked before the set, it is obvious that she’s most comfortable onstage. Erin has no pre-show ritual. She simply walks onto the stage, reminding herself that she is meant for this. She gives shout-outs to her bandmates and the familiar faces in the audience. She laughs easily with her guitarist, Kyle. Before long, you feel as though she is just letting the music flow through her, and it flows through the audience, as well. Her songs are largely autobiographical, and she says, “I’d like people to take the songs, and use them to go through life with.” It’s the sharing of life that’s most important to Erin, who asserts “that’s what music is supposed to be about, right?”

Erin writes all the time, and finds inspiration everywhere. It’s still scary for her, and her favorite part of the process is when it’s finished. But despite that fear, she’s managed to pump out two full albums. Soul Revolutions is her first—my favorite track is the sexy, “Lucid Dreams.”  Her second album, Illusions, ups the ante with funky tracks like “Magician” and “Satisfied.” Last week, she released a mixtape, Comma, which you can find here. (I will personally be dancing to it all week!) Among other things, it features a fan-submitted remix of “Good Man.” You can check out more of her music and touring dates on her site.


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