Folk-rocker and multi-instrumentalist Erin McKeown and friends Carrie Rodriguez and Mary Gauthier are wrapping up their “Acoustic Cafe Tour” and she’ll be at the Cactus Cafe this Tuesday (Feb. 22). She graciously took some time over the weekend on the drive from New Orleans to Jackson, Miss. to speak with us about the tour, her music and what’s been in her playlist.
Q: You’re on this tour with Mary Gauthier and Carrie Rodriguez – who will be at the show in Austin?
A: Most of the tour was Mary and Carrie. But Mary and her friend, Tania Elizabeth, had some other dates so they couldn’t do the last part of the tour with us. When we come to Austin, it’ll just be Carrie and I.
Q: What kind of show should people expect?
A: Carrie came up with this idea last year and it’s a format that I think works brilliantly. Each artist plays a small solo set and we feed into each other, we’ll often collaborate on the first or last song of our set.
And then we take a break and the whole second set is song-swapping. But, we’re more than just half playing along with each other – we’ve worked out parts and arrangements and we are each others band in the second set.
Austin will be the last night of the tour. This is an annual thing that Carrie is doing and her aim is to do it this time of year in a different part of the country each time.
Q: Your last album, Hundreds of Lions, came out in 2009, do you have another project you’re working on?
A: Yeah, it’s starting to be a little bit of time. There’s a time when you say the album is “new,” then it’s “my latest album” and then you cross the border into “it’s been awhile.”
I’m just crossing that border. I’m writing right now and doing a lot of thinking about what I want to do next. I’m doing a lot of listening, going to a lot of concerts and finding what’s resonating for me right now.
That’s how I start a project. I need to find something that feels really exciting for me and then I have the energy and the desire to follow through with something so large of endeavor as an album.
Q: What kinds of music have you been listening to recently?
A: Three years ago I came upon this compilation called Goodbye, Babylon. It’s a collection of gospel from the twenties and thirties over the course of six CDs. And this many years later I’m still discovering things and working through that collection. It’s also led me to other gospel artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Reverend Charlie Jackson… that kind of thing.
For concerts, I mostly go see my friends. I got to go see my friend Amos Lee when he came through town a couple of weeks ago, I got to see Tegan and Sara recently. I’d have to look at my pile of ticket stubs, I do go to a lot of concerts.
Q: What was the first concert you ever went to?
A: I think it was the Moody Blues at this amusement park. I grew up in Virginia and it was like a Six Flags kind of place. The first one I got to pick, it wasn’t too long after that, and I really wanted to see the New Kids on the Block.
Q: How did you decide to pursue music as a career?
A: I always played music. I started playing piano when I was about three and guitar when I was 12. It was just present in my life. I started writing short stories and poems when I was also very young. It made natural sense as a teenager for me to start writing my own songs.
I never thought it would be a career but when i got to college I found that what I really wanted to do was make music. I found ways to keep doing and that’s really how I do what I’m doing now.
Q: What is your life like when you’re not on tour?
A: It’s pretty busy, I have a really active life in my community and I like to play sports and exercise, go see movies and music.
I try to spend a little bit of time each day doing something creative and sometimes that’s not music. Sometimes it’s a different kind of writing, I like to build websites and sometimes that feels just as creative to me as writing a song.
Q: What are some things that you always bring on the road that are not related to playing a show?
A: I always bring a pair of running shoes or a yoga mat – whichever I can fit. And I always bring my Dr. Bronner’s All-In-One Soap. That’s pretty much all I need.
Q: Any celebrity crushes that you’re willing to reveal?
A: Gosh, I like Coach Taylor’s wife on Friday Night Lights, Connie Britton, she’s great.
Q: Anybody that you’d like to collaborate with but haven’t had the chance?
A: I’m sure there are, I can never really think of who but i’m open to doing innovative things and who also care about a life that’s bigger than music. Whether it’s social justice work or their own commitment or spirituality.
Photo: Nancy Palmieri