Blues laid foundation for misfit Erin Coburn
Young musician bringing energy to Baker Street show
She might only be 21 years old, but Erin Coburn is a veteran of the music industry.
Starting out in blues, the southern Ohio native released her first album, Chaos Before Conformity, at just 14. Since then, she’s released Queen of Nothing and Out From Under, with each progressing toward a more rock sound.
She remains rooted in the blues, but when she returns to Baker Street Centre on Dec. 3, you can expect a different kind of show.
“When we do live shows, I love to jump around, jump off the drums … I get on the floor, I go into the audience, I just love that energy of rock,” she said in an interview with Whatzup. “I’ve been writing more songs like that, like Fall Out Boy or Cage the Elephant. Definitely going another direction, but it will always have that underlying tones of the blues.”
Whole new world
Before she even knew the word blues, Coburn was drawn to the guitar, taking a liking to one her father received as an anniversary gift before she was even born.
“I picked it up when I was little, and thought, ‘Oh, this is awesome!’ ” she said. “So they got me my own acoustic guitar when I was around 6 or 7, but I was the worst student. I did not want to practice anything people gave to me, because it was boring and all I wanted to do was write my own stuff and play around with it myself and explore the instrument.”
Going through instructors, Coburn’s parents found one that worked when they came upon John Redell. Through his teaching, Coburn’s love for the instrument, and the blues, took off.
“He blew my mind, because he started playing the blues,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I had heard my parents play it on the radio, but hearing it right in front me and hearing this guitar guru just make up guitar solos right on the spot, out of his mind, I was like, ‘How do you do that? Teach me how to do that.’ ”
He did teach her, but he also showed her the meaning of the blues, taking her to jam sessions. And if the players in the club were surprised to a see a pre-teen waltz in, she was just as taken aback.
“I was mortified when I first got there, because the bass player at one open jam, he was this older guy, just super intense: The image you think of when you think of grumpy bass player, that was him,” she said. “But they were all super nice, but I was little 12-year-old or 11-year-old.“
Hitting the studio
Over time, Coburn became more comfortable at the open mics and even began incorporating their stories into her lyrics.
While she said, “There was too much drama in middle school and high school,” she also points out that songs like “Charred Heart” on her debut came about by time in the jam sessions.
“I always heard them talking about their life problems, so I think I drew from that as well, and hearing, ‘Oh, this is what adults go through.’ ” she said. “It made an impact.”
Writing all her own lyrics and instrumentation, Coburn did not have a goal to record an album, but her parents voiced their support. With songs written while she was 12 and 13, Coburn recorded Chaos Before Conformity at a small studio in Indiana, and it was released in 2015.
A couple years later, Coburn was back at it, but ratcheted up the production value, heading to Clarksdale, Mississippi, to record at Gary Vincent’s studio.
“That experience, I was a little more intimidated, because it was so far away and they had worked with Morgan Freeman, doing voice overs” Coburn said. “But it was really cool to get out of my comfort zone. That album challenged me to get different sounds using techniques, because Gary records a lot of older blues things. I used some amps down there that are super vintage. I used Les Paul’s guitars that he owned, because he and Gary were good friends. It was real cool to use gear that had a lot of mojo in it.”
Queen of Nothing was released in 2017, the same year Coburn was nominated in the Best Blues category at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards. In 2018, she was nominated as Young Adult Artist of the Year at the 2018 Josie Awards.
Coburn continued to grow musically with 2019’s Out From Under, which she recorded at Lava Room Recording in the Cleveland suburb of Independence, Ohio. Saying that was the first “modern studio” she had worked in, Coburn returned there during the pandemic, studying audio engineering and seeking a certification in ProTools.
With knowledge gained, Coburn now has her own studio where she is putting out her most ambitious music, beginning with 2020’s “The MisFIT,” which caused her some anxiety.
“I was so nervous, because I was like, ‘Everyone that liked my first three albums are probably going to hate this.’ ” she said. “I just need to remember that artists are always evolving.”
To remember that, Coburn looked to Samantha Fish. She also began as a young artist and began transitioning from traditional blues to a more rock sound.
“I know she was probably nervous to release her new album, because it even has some rap artists featured on it, which is so cool, but a lot of her fans were traditional,” Coburn said of Fish. “I think she was afraid she’d get some push back on that, and I was the same way. After she released her album, and people were like, ‘I love her for her and her artistry,’ I thought that was super inspiring.”
Feeling more freedom, Coburn released the rocking “Flip” in 2021 and “Sleeve” in June, which might make its way onto an album she hopes to release in 2023.
“I really love the energy of rock music and how broad it is, too,” she said. “My first and second albums, and even the third, are much more bluesy and traditional, but I love the energy.”
And that energy led to a change in her on-stage persona, coincidentally shortly after her last stop in Fort Wayne in 2018.
After opening for The Marcus King Band at what was then known as C2G, Coburn was playing at Kalamazoo State Theatre when she had her own wardrobe mishap.
“My heel got caught on my dress, and I went down during a guitar solo,” she said. “You could hear the whole audience gasp, but I fell on beat, so that was good. After that, I was like, ‘I can’t jump, I can’t run around in all this stuff I’m wearing.’ ”
Now rocking what she describes as Star Wars “stormtrooper boots,” Coburn is free to go wild, which often includes jumping and falling to her knees for those classic blues guitar solos.
Coburn points to highlights such as opening for The Marcus King Band and Blackberry Smoke, performing with Grammy-winning artists Joseph Wooten and Dana Robbins, and playing a plethora of festivals. But she knows she hasn’t reached the mountaintop.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into it,” she said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, I’m going to put out this single and I’m going to blow up.’ It is a lot of work, but that’s the whole job description. It’s a journey.
“It’s just cool to see the climb,” she added.
That climb has included smaller clubs, which Coburn says she doesn’t mind because it’s part of the process and she enjoys interacting with fans.
“Those are sometimes my favorite,” she said. “I’m kind of weird, because I love to stare directly at people in the audience. I just love to create that connection, and with smaller venues, I can do that.
“Whether you’re playing to a crowd of two people or 2,000, just put on a good show, because I’d be happy that one person made it, honestly.”