It’s a Wednesday afternoon when I get on the phone with upcoming singer/songwriter Erin Kirby and her mom. The two of them are cheery and excited to chat with me from their home in Georgia while having a complete understanding when I’m apologetic for the last-minute rescheduling. A few weeks prior, Erin released her third single, “Ours Tonight,” a pop-R&B infused track that builds like it was meant to be in a coming-of-age movie right when the character has a life-changing realization about their situation.
Before that, Erin released her single “Steal Your Heart” earlier this year which shows a different side of her: one that shows attitude and demand through harmony and slight crooning. When you throw in her debut single, “Boomerang” which dropped last year, you immediately get the notion that she’s not only aware how as an artist, she can carry all these things, but that sincerity and relatability is her goal over everything.
“Obviously songs like ‘Rise Up’ by Andra Day because that’s kind of my inspirational side and having something you can relate to when you want to feel energized and ready to go and start your day. And then songs like ‘Rather Go Blind’ by Etta James that has real emotion…” Erin starts when I ask her about what songs made her realize the power of music to offer that kind of relatability. Hearing those two songs be her immediate go-to’s immediately makes sense. She notes that both of those songs hold musical elements she’s inspired by such as “Rise Up” being pop-soul and “Rather Go Blind” having a soulfulness that’s unafraid to show emotion and meaningful lyricism.
[Ours Tonight] feels like something I can relate to and listen to.
With “Ours Tonight” then, which she describes as an anthem song, there was a requirement for it to speak to anyone who would listen in a way that doesn’t just sound good but feels good as well. “The first time I heard it, I was kinda like, ‘Oh, it’s a great song!’ But I didn’t really connect with it at first,” she admits. The song was offered to her a few years ago when she was 12. “As I’ve played it out more and listened to it more, I kinda got to the point where I’m like, ‘This song really makes sense and I can relate to it and I love it.’ I love the feel to it, I love the vibe, and I love the lyrics. So it’s just something I’ve grown into and it’s definitely different now listening to it and being like, ‘This is so good.’ It feels like something I can relate to and listen to.”
“Some of the lyrics talk about love and talk about us but at the same time, I think about when I’m with friends, you can listen to the chorus part: it’s ours tonight. Because sometimes you just have those moments when you’re with your friends or you’re just with someone and everything else dulls down around you because you’re just having fun at the moment and you’re not worrying about anything else that happened in that day,” Erin explains. Aside from what it is about the song that spoke to her, she shares that in order to make the song hers, she added the ad-libs and runs at the end, “going bigger” as she says.
There’s a music video in the works for the song as well. Although Erin keeps the story of the music video under wraps, when I ask about it she does talk about the experience behind the scenes. “Shooting it was a lot of fun. I had a great time. It was hot,” she laughs while also stressing almost as an aside, “Georgia’s really hot.” But as seems to be her character, she’d rather show gratitude than complain which finds her immediately assuring me that despite the heat, things turned out fine because they had a great time. “We had a lot of joking around, sarcastic jokes, and just tons of fun. [Just] good food and hot weather,” she sums it up.
This leads to me asking her about the influence of Georgia and its atmosphere on her creatively. “Well, each part of Georgia has a different genre. But, definitely downtown Atlanta is where I spend a lot of my time doing music. It had influenced the soulful side to me and I’ve fallen in love with that pop-soul mix ever since,” Erin says. “It has influenced me to include aspects of maybe going bigger here or doing something that’s really relatable here. It’s something that’s definitely influenced me when it comes to making songs and making music.”
When it comes to making music, the two things that Erin finds herself going back to for key reminders is persistence and patience. Close to the start of our convo, I ask her what’s the biggest thing she’s learned about songwriting having her start in pageants and taking vocal and guitar lessons to pursuing songwriting. She gives it thought before sharing the importance of keeping at it. “Like even if it’s something and you write it down and it’s bad, you just have to do it. Just get the bad out to create something good and maybe in that one bad song you wrote, there are a few good lines you can use in a different song,” she explains.
Just get the bad out to create something good and maybe in that one bad song you wrote, there are a few good lines you can use in a different song.
“It has been a long process and has taken a lot of patience. But at the same time, it has been super fun and I have been able to be a part of every song that’s gonna be on the EP. Even the songs like ‘Ours Tonight’ where I didn’t write it, but I did get to add the ad-libs in or come up with special melodies that I could throw in there,” she talks about her upcoming debut EP. “But all the rest of the songs I wrote and being able to put music out that I have written and having people tell me that they can relate to the words I’m writing down and singing feels really good.”
Expanding a little on the significance of patience (and her amusement for her ability to possess it), she says almost like she’s surprised but also joking, “My patience level is better than I ever thought it was. It takes a lot of patience.” That said, regardless when she began officially working on the EP, it seems that this was always a long time coming for her. “I’ve always loved music growing up. I’ve always had that on my list like, ‘Oh, I wanna be a singer when I grow up.’ It’s never changed. But just knowing how much I love music, I can’t even put it into words. And I might do it more and more every day, something that I’ve learned about myself is that I’m really dedicated to it and it’s definitely my passion and I cannot live life without music.”
That love and passion and drive is what seems to keep her going even if others have found it unlikely.
When I ask her about her most autobiographical lyric, she’s stumped at first. “A lot of my songs are about love,” she laughs before thinking some more. “I have a lot of songs that I probably won’t put out that I wrote,” she then offers before the call gets quiet again. “This is a tough question, I’ve written a lot lately so I’m trying to think. It’s tough, I mean, I have songs where I kinda talk about my story that I did when I first started but I probably won’t end up putting those songs out because they were like the second song I wrote or my fifth song.” I assure her at one point that this question usually stumps artists when I ask them it and offer that we can return back to it if she wants.
Here’s when Erin decides on the second song she ever made. The song, ‘Little Wild Fire’ wasn’t written by her, but the songwriters listened to her explain her experience as a young singer being told by adults that she was too young to pursue music and instead to wait until later in life if she was going to do it.
The lyric goes as followed in the bridge, “Don’t ever let them tell you you’re too young / Just show them what you can become.” Erin declares after stating the lyric, “I feel like that definitely goes into my story.”
I ask her if it’s gotten better the longer she’s been making music in the capacity that she does to which she responds that it depends on where she goes and who it is. “Each person is different. Some people look at me and are like, ‘Oh, she’s too young.’ Or ‘Maybe one day she’ll do it.’ I’ll even get like the jealous thing because older people will say to me like, ‘I wish I would have started when I was younger.’” Returning back to the gratitude over complaints characteristic, she clarifies, “But, a lot of the times, people are just supportive. And in the music industry, I’ve been blessed to meet really nice people who have supported me in everything I do.”
[Teenagers] don’t want anything bad to happen. We just wanna make it better.
Along with putting her heart into her music, Erin also aims to put her heart into her community. A supporter of charities such as Relay for Life, Youth Empowerment, Children’s Miracle Network, Jamaica Project, and Girl Talk among others, she’s also an ambassador for Red Beret Society and has participated in anti-bullying initiatives.
Discussing it, she notes that she gives back and engages in activism because she wants to, not because it feels like something she’s supposed to do. “I don’t have a lot of free days because I’m always involved in music and that’s okay. But if I do have a free day, it’s definitely my choice to be like, ‘Mom, I want to go to the animal shelter and volunteer here.’ ‘I want to go to this place and donate this.’ I do not feel like giving back is a responsibility. It’s something that’s fun to me and it’s a way that I can give back to God for all He’s given to me.”
“I think it’s very important to have community service and giving back in your life,” she says when I ask her about if she remembers always feeling that way about giving. For Erin, giving back is a way for her to show her thankfulness for the support and opportunities she’s received but it’s also her ability to do good in the world and contribute to making it better.
I chime in sharing my experiences working with young activists who hold a similar drive and eager to put good out in the world and make a difference as well as wanting to know her thoughts about if this feels almost universal through youth. “I do feel like our generation wants to help our collective community and there’s a lot of things going around like saving turtles,” she responds. Her mom laughs and as an aside repeats her answer to which Erin doubles down and defends herself with sheer confidence, “And I love turtles and I think that’s a way of saying, like, ‘We wanna help,’” she exclaims. “So I do think our communities, our generation wants to help out.”
I agree with her noting how the idea that young folks are apathetic or uncaring is false, it’s just that the way young folks care might not be in the way that maybe those complaining want them to react or feel. “We do [care], sometimes we’re quiet about it,” she says. “But I do think that teenagers wanna help and they wanna help each other because there’s so much going on in this world and we lose so many people and we just wanna help. We don’t want anything bad to happen. We just wanna make it better.”
It’s here then while she’s crafting her mini-playlist, that the three of us end up talking music, youth work, and activism for a bit. For starters, Erin is a big Sam Smith fan. Big enough that her mom notes that she cries when their songs come out. “And I don’t cry about anything,” Erin responds. Her mom fondly recalls Erin has always been a fan of Sam Smith and that for awhile she was on an Adele kick and before then, James Brown.
Erin shares that “Supermarket Flowers” by Ed Sheeran is an important song that she would like added because it holds sentiment to her best friend that passed away almost two years ago. And then she adds “Rise Up” by Andra Day. I note to her that she has a pretty UK taste in music to which both of them laugh like I’ve cracked the code.
“My five favorite singers are all male and they’re all from Europe,” she exclaims. “I should live there. What am I doing?” She asks hypothetically. Her mom explains that when she was younger and people heard her music, they assumed she was from the UK because of her sound. We talk a little bit about the music scene in the UK and the music scene in Chicago and I point out their similarities. (I might add that Erin nearly comes to life at the mention of The 1975 for example.)
Her mom brings up Erin’s song “Steal Your Heart” and how it carries similar elements and sound to those scenes saying about her daughter, “She’s very humble, so it’s hard for her to talk about herself.”
And maybe that’s true, but it’s significant to note that despite her mom’s objections, Erin jumps at the chance to give her some love in this write-up when I offer it for the closeout. “I have the best mom ever, honestly. My mom actually is a cancer survivor so that does play a big role in our house and community service and giving back,” Erin interjects even as her mom shows where Erin may have learned her ability to be humble by saying it’s not a big deal. Still, to Erin it is and she’s more than happy to give the appreciation and share the space.
Erin Kirby’s Mini-Playlist for Readers [Listen Here]:
How Do You Sleep? – Sam Smith
Supermarket Flowers – Ed Sheeran
Rise Up – Andra Day
Ours Tonight is available wherever you buy or stream music.
(photo cred: Brandon Gentry)