Smile Politely

Psychic Twin: “It’s who I am”

There are a lot of voices that have grown from this town. A small handful are in my permanent ear. They are the beginning of, and constant thread through, my mental music catalog. These Champaign-Urbana voices are a part of what I consider “good local music.” When I measure other independent solo artists and music groups, here or not, there is yardstick that I use. Kayla Brown was the first mark on my yardstick, and Erin Fein was the second. 

I heard Erin Fein sing for the first time, with Absinthe Blind, when I was 19 years old. She and her brother, Adam, were the co-lead vocalists of the version of Absinthe Blind that I saw (the group had a couple of manifestations over the years, and Erin joined after the group was already formed). I fell in love. The vocals were haunting but precise. This brother and sister combination blended so beautifully, that I assumed they had been singing together their whole lives. 

Like several other female vocalists I admire, Erin is small in stature. She just opens up her tiny throat and…out it all comes. I got a chance to talk to her, ten years after my first glimpse, about her newest musical endeavor. 

Smile Politely: How did you get started? What drew you to play/sing?

Erin Fein: I’ve been writing songs since I was a little girl. I’ve always felt drawn to music. If I don’t listen to music in the morning I get depressed; and if I don’t write songs for a while, I feel a kind of emptiness. I realized recently that the songs I write are a soundtrack to my life. So they’re really a backdrop for all of the things I feel and experience. And without the music, my life feels completely strange. So, I have to write to live. 

SP: I know exactly what you mean. I map my life in theatre productions. 

So you draw inspiration from your life to write music? Or is it the other way around -does the music shape your life? 

Fein: I draw inspiration mostly from the things I feel about love. Not just romantic love, but love nonetheless. There’s a lot of nostalgia in my music…at least for me. My music reaches a place that exists inside of me like an old memory from childhood, and I can only access it through writing melodies and songs. I channel a lot of my feelings of depression into my music as well. It helps me to figure out how I’m feeling about things and, many times, how to cope. The intellectual side for me -and the less emotional side, I suppose- is the arrangement of the songs and how they fit together.

SP: It sounds like you struggle with mental illness. Do you? I’m always looking for people who use different kinds of therapy and coping techniques…

Fein: A few years ago, I started having panic attacks and it took me quite some time to understand how they worked and why it was happening. I am someone that feels everything very deeply, which is probably why I am so drawn to being a musician. 

Coping with these issues is personal, because I feel like depression and anxiety work very differently case by case, person by person. For me, being busy and active in my life is a great help. Writing music is very therapeutic. If at all possible, I feel it is important to find what you love and pursue it to the best of your ability. This is what I am trying to do.

SP: Keeping busy can be a great way to combat depression. I personally find it hard to keep going sometimes because, when it hits hard, all I want to do is hide in bed until it’s over. Not very practical when really bad stints can lasts months… 

Tell me about your current band. I’m familiar with your past bands -Absinthe Blind, Orphans, Headlights -but how did Psychic Twin start?

Fein: Psychic Twin is a project that I had sort of always dreamed of starting, but was afraid/didn’t know how to. It took me growing as a musician, as well as in my own confidence, before I was ready to do it. A few years ago, Headlights was sort of coming to its natural end, and, although I was very conflicted for a lot of reasons, I felt deeply compelled to start my own project. 

I had always been a back up singer or a co-vocalist and had spent all these years pursuing a musical life, and had never just done my own project that really reflected my musical tastes completely. So, Brett Sanderson (former Headlights drummer/producer) and I started Psychic Twin. After several years of writing and recording, I felt I needed to come to New York City and just dive in head first into being a musician out here, surrounded by this exceptional music and art scene. I feel so alive and connected musically and artistically out here, it’s really, really special. Ultimately, Brett and Jonny weren’t able to move here, so we went our separate ways. We had a great time together and we miss playing together, but it was just too hard with the distance. 

So, currently, I have a rotating cast of players and I’m really thrilled to work on putting a permanent band together again. Until then though, I am lucky enough to be playing with spectacular musicians and it’s opening up my music in a really special way. I recently went from using a lot of keyboard backing tracks via Abelton Live, to going almost completely analog. I am now using a looping pedal to loop my vocals live, which sounds so [ethereal] and cool, and the risk element to doing it myself is really exciting. I hope to just make music for many more years…

I love it; it’s who I am.

SP: How is the music scene different in New York? I imagine it’s a world of difference!

Fein: The music scene is different [in] quite a few ways. Namely, it’s larger…there are just a lot more people willing to live a certain lifestyle in order to pursue music. I think New York also attracts a type of hyper creative, driven person. So there [is] just a large quantity of very talented and interesting people who come to live and create here. On any given night, there are so many incredible bands playing, and in my neighborhood (Greenpoint) alone, so many of the bands you read about on blogs and whom are quite successful, are living and working. It’s very inspiring. There is such a rich history of eccentric artists, musicians, and actors here; and it’s so exciting to feel connected to that somehow. I also feel much more comfortable with my lifestyle as a musician here, because it’s just all together more common to live in an alternative way. 

Personally, I was really suffering from living in a place where I constantly felt pressure to live a “normal” life. I feel normal for the first time in my life since I moved to NYC. The environment is so very different as well. It’s fast paced and energetic. Energy is just vibrating all around you. I will always love the Midwest; it’s my home and it’s beautiful in its own ways, but, for now, living in New York City is a total dream that I feel proud to have had the balls to try. I miss and love Champaign-Urbana, and I do find myself day dreaming about all of the places I used to go and all of the people I love whom I miss. I think the music scene is fantastic in CU. Champaign-Urbana is the community that shaped me and I am proud to have been raised there.

SP: After a while, you just get tired of being asked if you’re “doing anything” with your degree. 

I’m glad to hear you discovered NY for yourself! It sounds incredible.

Fein: Thanks, Katie. I enjoyed this interview.

SP: Thank you –and have a great show!

You can catch Psychic Twin as part of the Pygmalion Music Festival. Erin and her fellow musicians will be at The Highdive Outdoor Annex this Saturday.

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