How did you get interested in music? I guess I was always into music because my mom's family was very musical. She grew up in North Carolina, and her father was a preacher. They had a gospel a cappella group. The whole family ... would tour around and play these shows. They were still doing that for fun when I was kid.
I would always sing with the family at ... church events and family get-togethers.
When did you start taking lessons? When I was about 8 years old, I started taking piano lessons, and I started taking voice lessons when I was 13. I taught myself some guitar when I was around 14 or 15, and I started singing some folk songs. I was always in chorus ... from
elementary school on up (through York Country Day School). I was involved in musicals and some community singing groups. I sang with the York Symphony Chorus when I was in high school along with my mom, so that was pretty fun.
In addition to your family, were there other artists who inspired you? When I was really little, I loved Patsy Cline and Elvis and The Stetler Brothers. I loved Peter, Paul and Mary. When I was 13 or 14, I started getting into my parents' record collection, and they had a lot of Bob Dylan albums. I got really into (Dylan) and Joan Baez and all the '60s folk singers.
Did you pursue music in college? I sort of took a break for a little bit. I still played guitar and sang on my own, but I didn't take any music lessons ... which was a big change for me. I just focused on academics. Then, I started to miss it. I started singing with the chorus (at Reed College in Portland, Ore.) I started taking classical piano lessons and some voice lessons and some different things like classical Indian singing and music theory. It was then that I really started listing to jazz because I studied abroad in Saint Petersburg, Russia ... during my junior year. The CDs there are really cheap. I just stared buying all of these different CDs. I really liked jazz, and so I was listening to all these vocalists (including) Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington and Carmen McRae. When I got back to Reed, I started working on jazz. Once I graduated and moved to Chicago (for an internship at the Museum of Contemporary Art), I started taking more lessons and getting more serious about it.
Does Chicago have a good jazz scene? There is a huge jazz scene in Chicago. It was a really great place to start out because here, as opposed to some other places like New York (City), people can still make a living playing music. There are definitely paying gigs around. In New York, it's a great place to be, and I'd like to be go there eventually, but people pretty much have to be touring if they're living there. There are so many talented musicians. I think it would have be harder to start out there.
You're celebrating the release of your CD "This Way, This Time." Can you talk about making the album? It was about 2008 when I started playing gigs and actually getting paid. We started working on (the album) over a year ago. I started thinking of doing an album with the whole band. I had been working with this guitarist, Mike Allemana. We had a great musical connection. We played a lot of duo gigs, and I was thinking it would be really cool to do an album that was just a duo. (Allemana) did a lot of the
arrangements on the album. We wrote one of the songs together, and I wrote one of the songs. It's kind of a big mix. We have original material, and we have a few standards. We also have some arrangements of some other tunes. There's a Nick Drake songs ... and there's also a song by St. Vincent. Then, we have an Irish folk song that we arranged together and a Beach Boys song.
What else is on your agenda this summer? I'm more in a writing mode right now. I'd like to do a whole album of original music. I have a show coming up in July. My whole band is going to play, and we're going to do an entire set of original music. I'm also in this band called the Pseudo Sisters. I write the music and the arrangements for that. It's me and three of my friends who are also singers. I'm working on some stuff for us. I'm also getting ready to move to Boston ... because I'm going to be going to school there in fall. I'm actually getting a master's degree in jazz vocal performance at the New England Conservatory.
- ERIN McCRACKEN,