Photos and interview by Jeffrey Martin
I met up with Erika Lundahl in the house where she lives in South Seattle. The house is large and has the feeling of being well lived in. It’s cozy and funny. It has strange nooks and crannies, and an odd attic space. We set at her large dining room table and talked about life in the pandemic, inspiration for her songs, and songwriting.
I met Erika back in 2017 when a mutual friend of ours hooked us up for a show because I needed a last-minute fill-in for a show at Conor Byrne.
Below is the result of a recorded conversation between Erika and I. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
It’s been a time of cultivating patience with myself. Being okay with whatever comes out, or doesn’t come out, depending on the moment. And also in some ways, it’s just been bewildering.
How has it been being a creative during a global pandemic?
You know, I think the last year and a half has just revealed so many of the vulnerabilities of our world and so many of the ways that our psyches are sensitive to what it means to be in community and to belong. We’re grounded by each other. We’ve had to cultivate so many more self-soothing techniques and art has always been one of mine.
What I’ve found is that my songwriting and also my voice—as a voice—has dramatically shifted. I got quieter, I think my songwriting got quieter too. I’ve been exploring some new places in my voice that I haven’t let myself go to…softer tones. The songwriting reflects that in the ways it is a seeking of patience, of self-compassion, of grace.
And, the ways we’ve reached for each other in music have had to change, whether it’s the digital shows or however else we’ve innovated. I’ve always been a person that has a pretty fast turnaround time on writing a song and then sharing it with people. What I would find is I’d write a song and someone would pop into my head and I’d be like, “Oh, I really want to share this with THIS person.”
So a lot of my sharing was on an individual level, one-to-one. I’d shoot the demo over to a dear friend and be like “Hey, I just wrote this song. I just wanted to share it with you, thinking about you.” And so the songwriting became quieter, but also more, uh, intimately relational in the way that I was like writing songs for specific friends or writing songs that I knew I wanted to share with different people in my life for different reasons.
Were they writing back?
Yeah, I have friends that I do exchanges with, in organic ways for the most part. One of the most regular exchange artists I have is with a friend of mine, Kevin. His project is Modern Dancer—dreamy, moody synth-pop vibes—and he’s just coming onto the scene here in Seattle. His new single “Lonely Boy” is just beautiful. Anyway. I send music back and forth with him and it’s almost like a dialogue of
“I wrote this.”
“Oh, I see where you’re coming from. We should talk about this more.”
Little musical letters.
It’s been a lifeline and a heart connection of, “I see you and you see me… and we’re making this art and making it through these times together.”
How did the pandemic change your trajectory? Were you working on things in a certain way? And did things shift or have things sort of gone the same way?Yeah, I mean, I had this album that was all but done before the pandemic. “Daughter, You’re a Storyteller” came out last October, which feels distant now because it was a year ago—that’s WILD to think about. And I would have loved to have, you know, released that with a big party and all these things that you do when you release a full-band record that took two years to create and just had a ton of energy and love and community that went into building it and represented an enormous period of transformation in my life. I had to find a way to release it that felt authentic during these times. And the way that I did that was to kind of steer the energy towards releasing it as a multimedia exploration that I was able to do with my community. So I started Patreon. And I taught myself video editing to be able to interact with the music and with my community in this other dimension. All digitally.
For a while, we were all watching the pandemic unfold and thinking “is it getting better? Is it getting worse?” I was sitting on this thing–this music I’d written all pre-pandemic—thinking, “well, we’ll just wait until the right moment.” And then at some point, I just realized there’s no right moment, there’s just this moment. And this art needs to come into the world. It needs to be a release in the most visceral sense of release. I need to release this from myself so I can move forward. So that’s what I did. I’m just now sending actual physical CDs to the printer, like this week, because there was no need for them before!
Was there an overarching theme for “Daughter, You’re a Storyteller”? What does that phrase mean to you?
I’ve been very interested in the question “what is agency?” What does it mean to use your voice, to move your body and build your power, AND also to walk softly and with humility through this massively complex world? What does it mean to tell authentic stories of my own? The daughter part is derived from thinking about a long view of time. There’s connectivity back to my grandparents and great-grandparents in the album. One of the songs—”Songbird”—actually has audio from my great grandmother from some stories she shared with me. Many of the songs, looking back on them now, I realize are me reaching for some sort of agency and understanding across time and space. I’m just one little human moving through this wild history and trauma and bravery and love and just you know, humanity. As we all are.
What was the genesis of you realizing that you wanted to perform on stage or write songs? Was there a specific moment?I blame Ani DiFranco for everything. That’s a joke. Well, not really! I got exposed to her music when I was maybe 13 or 14. I never knew that someone could sing what they were thinking like that—and just do it with such blunt, atomic energy. It inspired me to want to do it, and when my dad gave me my first guitar when I was 14, I just took off running.
I would, quite literally, learn Ani songs and then write my own lyrics over them. That’s why ALL my early songwriting just sounds like a bad knock-off of Ani DiFranco.
There’s always been something so recognizable, so familiar, in Ani’s songwriting for me. That raw energy that was like “just go for it” was just jaw-dropping. And when you listen to her records, she messes up all the friggin’ time and keeps so many of those little human moments intact in the final recordings. In her live recordings, she’s constantly forgetting her songs. And it’s just like, “wait wait, let me go back” like, “you’re with me on this journey, however messy and wild.” I’ve always admired the guts that it takes to just let all the loose threads show on stage and to really let the audience in on your inner monologue. And, as I’ve gone into my own songwriting or performing process, it’s always liberating to think on her and go “oh, this is terrifying for anyone.”
So, if there was a genesis, it was that. And then, listening to artists like Paul Simon or Dar Williams or Queen (an early favorite of mine), and just realizing if they could do it, why shouldn’t I try it?
What’s the story behind your latest single Fighter Pilot?
My great-grandfather was a fighter pilot during World War Two. My great grandmother always says “he didn’t wanna kill anyone—he just wanted to fly.” And so there are some lines in the song that are about that. Really, the song is about taking emotional risks—risks that could end up really hurting yourself or others, but risks you take regardless. I think it’s an essential part of growing up—following that instinct pushing you to explore and know more of yourself.
So it’s a little bit of a song of uncovering, but then also of resilience for the moment when the other shoe drops. When you go too far, or when you try something that ends up being really painful and not right for you, but you didn’t know it till you knew it. And after that, learning from those experiences and learning to trust yourself and soothe yourself and be gentle with yourself. Cultivating self-trust and patience for those long, lonely uncomfortable moments of reckoning is part of the work I’m in right now. So that song is one of really sitting down and trying to find some peace amidst some deep discomfort. I’ve never written all that much about intimate relations, and now I’m writing a lot about them.
Are you working on any more Pink Shadows or anything in that synth soundscape?I have started collaborating on a synthpop project with a wonderful artist in town named Noble Monyei of the band Dearly Departed, he and I are working up some dancey tunes.
How far along in that process are you?
We have a whole bunch of demos and we’re trying to figure out which ones we love, but we’ve had such a fun process of innovation. Basically, we just get together with a whole stack of my lyrics and, like, a whole stack of his beats, and then we just play around, and usually, after a couple of hours of experimentation, we have like two or three sketches that we’re excited about. Then he bounces them over to me and I listen and then you know we start figuring out which of those like 10 ish songs we want to make and invest more time into so you know, I love opportunities just to lean into the vocals and vocal loops and just really hone being a performer. That project is still in its beginning stages and but we’re both really excited for where it could lead. I think coming out of the pandemic, and we’re not out of the pandemic yet, I’m feeling this real need to create some very weird dancey music that lets people be in their bodies.
What is the inspiration behind your song “No Bullet Cure”? I’m obsessed with that song
Thank you. The title of the album comes from this song. “Daughter, you’re storyteller daughter, claim your power” is how the line goes.” Like those are the words and it’s exploring the tension between there not being easy solutions to many problems. And for letting go of the narrative that you have to fix everything and just moving through the intensity of checking you’re both wrestling your ego as you’re trying to see the world for what it is and not for what you want it to be or for what you want your place to be in it. That song shifts its meaning for me a lot. I don’t think I quite knew exactly what I was writing about when I wrote it. A lot of my lyrics come out that way. There’s enough to chew on that it’ll probably continue to evolve. There’s a line in it about holding the anchor in the sail, like this kind of feeling of being torn apart when you’re trying to hold the world together. The song is about claiming your agency and power in the world, but also releasing yourself from these narratives that you have to do it all. The humbling and freeing experience of being like “you can’t just keep putting your fingers in the dam, and think that you can hold it all together. You can’t fall apart, but maybe it’s okay to fall apart.
It’s an angsty song. You know, “I’ve been a graceful dancer in ballet’s of gratitude, but not today. Not today.” Like, yeah, I want to be in a place of like, just gratitude—but sometimes you’re just not. It’s a squirmy song.
What’s the origin of the phrase, “I am in the right place. I am in the right time. I am with the right you, babe, you got this.” I’ve heard you sing that at shows before, and it appears on the opening track to “Daughter, You’re a Storyteller”Truthfully, that phrase came from a long walk with my good friend Kevin, AKA Modern Dancer. It also comes from St. Vincent Millay, who’s one of my favorite poets. Kevin and I were having a wild conversation. That phrase is an incantation. It’s a little bit of prayer. Whenever you’re in a space to do something, maybe it’s organizing work, maybe it’s community building, maybe it’s a show, whoever is in that space, is the right set of people to do that work. It’s making the most of the present state that you’re in. It’s a meditation on being deeply present. I was in a state of deep friendship when Kevin and I kind of came up with this little song that we sing together. There’s a tradition called song catching, and it was almost like that. I’m a part of a group called the People’s Echo, and we catch songs that are for our movements for social justice, or for opening up our heart space. And the idea is that these songs that we catch are not for us, or they’re not by us, they kind of move through us. And you’re kind of just channeling through from your experience and the intention that you hold a song that is really meant for a collective. And so that phrase “I am in the right place..” is like a mini song or section of a poem that I will often do before shows. It’s also at the beginning of the album. Those four lines I feel are more like a co-op song. They’re there. They’re meant for everyone.
What do you want people to know about? upcoming releases? Things that are coming out in the next couple of months that you want to share?
I’m putting together A Round at The Fremont Abbey on November 23rd. It’s a big deal. I’ve never done it before. It kind of freaked me out. I’m sure it’ll be fine. I want to theme it around this idea of building bridges to utopia. How do we build bridges between the world we have and the world we want? What are the tools we need to do that? And so I want the artists and poet and the musicians to have themes that kind of center on that idea. And I can want to tie in removal for Snake River dams as a piece of the puzzle with that event.
I have been working on an album that is titled, Messy Blessed Infinity that is unfinished and does not have a release date yet. But that is the name of the album. I’ll probably release more singles off that. I’ve been doing a ton of self-recording during the pandemic. I have a huge number of demos or filled out self-recorded things and I think I’ve now settled on wanting to actually take those into a studio as opposed to just releasing all this self-recorded stuff. It’s all kind of there, so, I need to do it sooner rather than later because otherwise, I move on.
So I think the next step is just sharing out all the pandemic songs.
Yeah, and re-engaging with more music community and starting to plan some music travel potentially. Been getting my hand back into booking very recently.