Erin McKeown is busy. The singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, open Internet activist and writer has built a career on bridging her presence across genres and projects. As an activist she's working to connect legislative policy, music and the social connectivities of the Internet. McKeown serves on the board of the Future of Music Coalition and has spoken out against anti-piracy bills like SOPA. She served as a fellow with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, where she helped organize policy and music around the public's use of the internet.
In her musical focus alone, she's able to effortlessly balance blues, folk and rock with a serene and intelligent voice. Over 12 years of performing have made her a prolific guitarist and songwriter, with a grace that extends into all facets of her life. McKeown will play the Irving Theater on Saturday, February 9. But before that, she kindly exchanged some emails with us.
NUVO: Manifestra is your seventh studio album; what did you find challenging about composing this one?
Erin McKeown: In many ways, Manifestra was my least challenging record to write since it represents a melding of my political and musical lives - - lives I tried to keep separate for a long time.
NUVO: With so many records under your belt, would you say the songwriting process has gotten any easier?
McKeown: I definitely have a writing process and it usually starts with a rhythm; either a loop I've made or something I have heard somewhere and grabbed for inspiration. I keep a wall of phrases in my studio. Once I have a rhythmic idea I look to that wall and see if anythings fits or matches up in an interesting way.
NUVO: About two weeks ago, your first-ever music video "Proof" was released. What does this signify to you as a grass roots artist?
McKeown: Since the "Proof" video was part of my crowd-funding project, it certainly signifies that I was the recipient of many generous contributions by my fans. I'd never been given the budget to make a video by any label I'd worked with. I guess they never saw the potential in it, but my fans aren't in it for profit. Just art.
NUVO: In the behind the behind the scenes take via Paste Magazine, I learned you actually had to learn the whole song backwards. What's its like learning to sing a whole song backwards?
McKeown: It was a fascinating experience. I had to do it one piece at a time and stay patient. It took about two months of working on it every day.
NUVO: It seems like your recent fellowship that paired activism with the Internet is almost perfectly tailored to your strengths. How have your studies at Harvard permeated into Manifestra?
McKeown: I would say it is more the opposite. The lessons I have learned, as an independant musician on the road for many many years, made me a unique contributor to a community like Harvard.
NUVO: How instrumental has the Internet been in your evolution as a musician?
McKeown: My career growth is inextricable from the growth of the Internet. Nowadays, it is my storefront, my best advertisement, my distributor and my most important creative tool.
NUVO: How does a large Internet fan base translate into a live, breathing audience? Do you generally lose or gain fans in the transition from screen to seat?
McKeown: I have generally seen that a large Internet audience doesn't translate into a large live audience. The practices and people are quite different. One of the few ways I have seen people move from one to the other is with crowd funding. So far, that has been the most successful way of converting internet users to live bodies and vice versa.
Jordan Martich contributed to the reporting of this article.
Erin Mckeown, Jenn Grant: Irving Theatre, 5505 E. Washington St. | Saturday, Feb. 9, 8 p.m., $12 advance, $15 at door, all-ages
[Music] DJs + Dancing
[Music] Punk + Metal, Rock
[Music] DJs + Dancing
[A+E] Classical Music, Jazz + Blues + R&B