The economic down-turn has forced many musicians to get as creative with their marketing as with their music. One artist that is especially inspirational in this regard is Massachusetts-based Erin McKeown. The singer/songwriter/ace guitarist hosted a series of Pay-Per-View streaming online concerts called “Cabin Fever” from her home and raised the funds to finance her wonderful new album, Hundreds of Lions.
The clever “Cabin Fever” concept paid off as great advance publicity for the album. Not only hasLions reached #1 on Amazon.com but the Internet series also helped Erin score a deal with Righteous Babe Records, as well. On December 3rd she will be featured on NPR’s “Song of the Day.”
All four episodes of “Cabin Fever” were shot last summer from Erin’s home — in her living room, on her front porch, in a river and in her front yard. Special guests include Sonya Kitchell, Kris Delmhorst and Garrison Starr among many others.
Playing an average of 200 dates a year, Erin is no stranger to life on the road. She’s been building her fan base that way for a decade. But she can now count Mike Mills of REM fame, who she met at a recent Future of Music summit in DC, among her growing legion of devoted fans. With a full schedule of shows through the end of the year and plans to tour Europe through January, Erin is currently traversing the country with fellow Internet fund-raiser, Jill Sobule on their co-headlined “Clash of the Legends” tour. I caught up with Erin in the midst of a 25-hour drive from Minneapolis to Seattle.
“Cabin Fever” is such a great idea! How did that manifest?
I self-financed Lions, so I was carrying a lot of debt around. I knew I could ask my fans for support but I didn’t want to do that without offering them something unique. So I sold them tickets to a live Internet variety show —“Wayne’s World” meets “The Judy Garland show.”
Were you able to raise enough for the album through “Cabin Fever” to cover it?
The album was not completely paid for but the notice generated by the series did help me find a label (Righteous Babe) and that put me in a less precarious financial position.
Why did you decide to put this out on Righteous Babe rather than on your own? What do they bring to the table?
Righteous Babe brings not only their reputation but their staff, which is incredible. What a group of smart, experienced and dedicated folks!
You’ve been touring with Jill on the “Clash of the Legends” tour. Jill also funded for her latest album through fans. How did this pairing come about?
Our managers knew each other. I’d certainly heard of Jill and was in awe of her funding success, but I didn’t know her. We’ve discovered we have a tremendous amount in common and I genuinely like her. She’s a fantastic musician and I never know what she’s gonna do next. (I hear ya, Erin!)
Your bio mentions you were a session player. Who are some other artists you’ve worked with and what did you play on those albums?
I played piano, guitar and sang for Kris Delmhorst; songwriting and vocals for Sonya Kitchell and played bass with Among the Oak and Ash. I also have a side project with drummer Allison Miller called Emma. I play guitar, piano and sing in that.
The songs on Hundreds of Lions are so whimsical. How do those translate live since they have such lush instrumentation?
They are translating very well live! They are intimate songs at the core, and I wrote them with the idea that they needed to work small as well as large.
You have mentioned that the music industry has changed so much since you first began your career. Can you talk about the challenges of that and what specifically has changed?
The industry has changed but my daily life has barely changed. I’ve always done a lot of things myself and played a lot of shows. Now I spend more time talking to fans and I make more of the decisions that affect me. Both of those are good things.
How has an ethnomusicology degree from Brown helped your career?
Before I graduated I had two albums out and was already touring. My degree was a convenient way to get credit for what I was already doing.
What is the biggest challenge in touring now?
Staying positive and physically healthy. Luckily I’ve been at it awhile and know what I need.
When did you write the songs for this album?
Between 2005 and early 2008.
How long did it take to record?
About six months. We did four two-week sessions over that period of time.
Your bio mentions your activism around energy policy. Tell me about that.
That is referring to a lobby day I participated in with Ani and the Indigo Girls around a climate bill in the summer of 2005. My current work includes partnering with non-profits in New Orleans to continue the rebuilding effort and maintain awareness of the important work that needs to be done there. I’ve also recently jumped into the campaigns for net neutrality and to increase low power FM radio access for communities. You can get more info at sweethomeneworleans.com and futureofmusic.org.
This interview with Erin is from OurStage.com and ran in November, 2009.