She’s been compared to Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette and Tori Amos, but comparisons fall short when describing Erin Adkisson’s voice. Yes, vocals are instruments unto themselves. And, yes, hers are genuine and gripping, sensual and powerful… but Adkisson has the extraordinary ability of turning hers into a completely unique instrument, with beats and rhythms that wrap around all the other instruments in the band – like smoke from a cigarette curling around a bare lightbulb in a dark bar.
Bridgeliner interviewed Adkisson and we discussed her voice, being a femme in the music industry, her rare disease, where she goes out to nom in Portland, how she makes music, where you can hear her music and more.
My advice is to be a much more ruthless editor and much more careless artist. Erin Adkisson
Bridgeliner How does the band go about writing the songs? Tell us a little about the process.
Adkisson Songs happen in many different ways. We wrote Honey Badger on an airplane. The lyrics are based on an article from Maxim magazine. We began recording it the same week. If there was a recipe for making songs, they’d all taste the same. My advice is to be a much more ruthless editor and much more careless artist.
Bridgeliner What has being in Portland meant to your music?
Adkisson Community. I was lucky to grow up in the country close to Portland. There used to be so many open mics in town. The Green Room was my favorite spot to play and meet fellow musicians. The community was warm and accessible. I could afford the rent here.
I recorded songs on my first album at Mississippi Studios around 2005 for $100. A remarkable facilitator of the music community has been Will West. He hosted many events here, before moving back to North Carolina. He could bring the community together, in a selfless way that I haven’t seen since. We met our lead guitarist, Tanner Cundy, via Will.
Another admirable music facilitator and friend is artist and producer, Peter Rodocker. Kirk [Duncan] recorded his solo album in Peter’s studio, Yellow Room Recording, around 2007. Peter produced for us, and played guitar in the beginning. Through him, we got Matt Roley (bass), Jeff Simpson (keys and trumpet) and Josh Baruch (drums). Ben Kohan took over for Roley when he moved back to Nashville. The first group was formed in 2008. We called ourselves, The Localized Juice Embargo. Then at some point, between casino gigs and beach house recording sessions, we changed it to The Druthers.
Bridgeliner Other than the obvious, how has COVID affected your music?
Adkisson We all appreciate it more. I’m so proud of what we’ve made and continue to make. Life is short. Some of us lost loved ones. Music is our hope. Not being able to be together for so long, especially in grief… it’s been fucking hard. In that time I’ve been writing more, and producing my own music. Both help me feel less alone.
Bridgeliner How did you and Kirk meet?
Adkisson We met at an open-mic at Kay’s Bar in 2007. I had a weekly gig on Thursday’s at The Highland Stillhouse, in Oregon City. I was looking to share a three hour slot. That became our practice space. We played there every week for several years. The songs and band came together live, in their own time.
Bridgeliner Do you think bands and artists have a social responsibility to address current events? Climate change, the 1%ers, homelessness?
Adkisson An honest song is an act of social responsibility. Our songs are about love, loss, hope, regret, LSD trips and Popeye’s Chicken. Serious or silly, but honest. The last time we made an endorsement we played at a Bernie Sanders rally in 2016. But in general, what we stand for and give as individuals is not for street credit.
Adkisson It’s difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced a show. There is a recipe for this. Social trust and listening to one another. We rehearse before shows, though it’s not unusual to play raw songs live. Playing through mistakes (and we make plenty) demonstrates our trust in the moment. If I forget the words, I know the band has my back. If someone blows it, we forgive them and keep going. Because what we are doing is bigger than us. They’re not all winners, and we chose the tightest song from what was recorded that day. But all our music has a palpable energy that is earnest, alive and growing. “Chance favors the connected mind” -Steven Johnson
This video also shows that the band has songs not released to Spotify, or other music streaming services yet. Spotify has an average payout of $0.004 per stream. Not all our music is on there. We have some older, unheard music from Yellow Room Recording coming out this year. And we will continue to play our First Saturday Matinee show at Alberta Street Pub, every first Saturday of the month, from 3-5pm (pandemic permitting).
The lyrics are so often a clever play on words. Who can we thank for this?
Adkisson Bukowski, Apple to Apples, and all of us. You should hear the parodies in rehearsal: “I see what you did, you pooed on the lid,” instead of, “I see what you did, I’m onto you kid.” That one was Jeff’s.
Let’s bring it back home … Where’s your favorite place to eat in Portland and what do you order?
Adkisson Kay’s Bar. Nachos. Everything is good there.
Bridgeliner What’s something you just want people to know?
Adkisson I have been a singer/songwriter and collaborative vocalist for almost two decades, specializing in harmony and duets. I love the shit out of The Druthers. We have grown together. We help each other belong to ourselves. That will always be true.
I have also collaborated with several others, who’s friendship and music continues to bring out the best in me. As a femme in the music industry, I will not gloss over my experience on the whole. This is not an attack on men, but my pinspot on an age old disease in our culture. My thoughts may serve as a red flag to some, and that is just as well. The patriarchy puts limits on friendships and creativity with fellow musicians. My invisible muzzle became a habit in my 20’s. I thought if I observed enough, I would crack the code and be one of the guys. Instead, I was often drowned out in the mix, manipulated into singing like something else, my ideas went unheard, and my name was forgotten in liner notes. Female / non-binary voices are consistently weaponized, as are our ideas, lyrics, tone, style, jokes, bodies. Especially trans women and women of color. We are held down to a nonsensical higher standard. We are compared to one another at every turn, and still not played nearly equal to male artists on the radio. When things get uncomfortable for any reason, we are expected to acquiesce, forgive, be grateful, and be less. Be a shiny ornament. Swallow our power and sensuality for their comfort, and sing at half. I was never one of the guys. I am dangerous by social design.
I see my part in this as well. I all but stopped performing my own music, because of the unwanted thoughts and pressure that come with it. I embody big feelings on stage, but I am still learning how to do that in real life. Expressing feelings with the instrument of my voice is powerful. It’s fantastic to sing lyrics that are not my own. Although they may be written for me, I don’t have to explain them. I am also more than that.
Our bodies store trauma when we don’t know how to move through it. It is somatic. The only way to move past the emotional pain is to find an inverse positive experience, equally profound, releasing it. Music can be a trauma inversion.
I have a desmoid tumor in my back now. It’s 11 centimeters at the widest margin. By the time this interview comes out, I will have had my first procedure at OHSU to freeze the tumor. I want to use my back again, play my guitar again, carry my own gear, ride a bike, finish insulating my studio, and do so many things, without pain and fear of a tumor growing around my vital organs. I’m grateful to have access to healthcare. We all deserve it. Health care is a human right.
If you value the nuance and power of vocalists, respect us as fully realized musicians. Thank you to our friends and community who listen. I love you. I want to make music for you and with you. Thank you so much for this opportunity to share.