By Nicholas Jason Lopez
“Ecdysis” is defined as “the process of shedding skin,” which made perfect sense for the name of Erin Frisby’s new solo album that explores identity and change.
Funded by a grant from the PG County Arts and Humanities Council, the eight-track release contains a persistent theme, with each forward song inspired by its previous one, tracing back to the recognizable song “You Are My Sunshine.”
The project also has a second album, ‘Second Skin,’ the premise of which guest artists were loosely instructed to cover or create a new piece based off something in ‘Ecdysis.’ Contributors include Teething Veils, Chris Darby and Rahne Alexander of Baltimore’s Santa Librada.
Compared to the likes of Neko Case, Phoebe Bridgers and Brandi Carlile, Frisby currently plays with post punk quintet The OSYX, whose members collectively founded This Could Go Boom, a nonprofit grassroots organization that supports gender expansive roles in modern music.
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with her about ‘Ecdysis’ and more.
Music Bugle – What was it like putting together your project ‘Ecdysis’?
Erin Frisby – I don’t want to imbue the project with too much of a mystical quality, but this project unfolded with an omen-like quality to a certain extent. I wrote a proposal and received a grant for the project, which has a visual, as well as a musical component. I knew that I wanted to explore the concept of ecdysis, the shedding of skin, but I had no idea how much that exploration would mean for me over the year. Ecdysis is different from metamorphosis. You retain your former shape, it’s just that you’ve become too big for your current form and have to shed into a skin that will fit your new growth. I started the album with a bit of “You Are My Sunshine.” I picked it because it’s one of my earliest memories. I wanted to plant a seed for the rest of the album with a song that’s got such a long history within my own history that I can’t really unravel it from myself. All of the subsequent songs, as well as the imagery stems from that point and changes shape, grows, but holds on to some of what it was before. During the process of writing and recording these songs, I began to realize that I was uncovering things about my own identity that had always been there, but had gone unaddressed. It was as if I was leaving clues and messages for myself in my own lyrics, maybe from a self that knew more… By the time I had written all of the songs, I knew that I was a lesbian and that I had fallen in love. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to look back and that my life had changed, shifted and grown in a permanent way.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Erin Frisby – This is such a great time to listen to music because there is plenty of time to be pulled in the direction of a musical whim or desire and we’re all going through so many emotional changes throughout the day, even throughout an hour. I’ve definitely reached out to a few old favorites for comfort, like ‘Dummy’ by Portishead and all of Elliott Smith’s catalog. I’ve been really loving Weyes Blood and Phoebe Bridgers and there’s this great punk trio I’ve been into called Meet Me At the Altar. I was lucky to see Adia Victoria play on a boat last summer and was glad to hear new music this year. I love the Washington, D.C. area because there is amazing music here, like Teething Veils, chamber folk pop with a new album this year, Ardamus, a really fantastic rapper from D.C. who just put out a new record, Too Free when I’m feeling dancey and Lightmare when I need some soul punk that doesn’t shy away from what’s going on in the world.
Music Bugle – Which of your songs was the hardest to write or compose?
Erin Frisby – Well, a lot of these songs were my way of processing coming to terms with being gay and falling in love and also the pain of knowing that I was moving away from a long marriage with a musical collaborator. I was practicing and singing these songs well before I had come out or had the difficult conversations outside of my head, so there was a lot of hiding in the corner mumbling through the lyrics. “Waiting For My Love To Wake” maybe. I wrote the first verse years ago in a parking lot early morning while I was on tour. I always held on to it because I liked it, but I didn’t know where it belonged. As I worked on these songs, that particular lyric came forward. Its was like, “Hey, remember me, this is where I fit. You get to know the rest of the story now.”
Music Bugle – What has been your biggest struggle lately?
Erin Frisby – This is a tough one because there is so much pain and struggle to go around this year. I know people who have lost loved ones and I know that the world has become smaller, closer and more dangerously focused in so many ways for so many people. On a personal level, I think that learning, feeling, trying on new ways to be and to express myself in the world during a time of isolation and in a time of ferocious hate and threats to civil liberties, all while adjusting to being an avid live performance artist who isn’t performing live, navigating a new relationship and grieving the losses that came with becoming who I am today leaves me reeling some days and other days, leads me to deeper peace and knowledge about myself and about my time and space in the world. I do really miss live music. I can’t wait to play a rock show with my band, The OSYX.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you feel the need to escape?
Erin Frisby – I either dive into work, visual art or music, whether that be writing or practicing guitar, or I take myself outside. I’ve gotten to explore a lot of Maryland waterways and mountains this year. I love camping. I love hiking with my girlfriend and my dog. My other retreat is cooking. I like process, so the layers of making a great dish really appeal to me. I grew up in New Orleans and I like to use flavors from my childhood, along with whatever really fresh ingredients are in my garden or at my local market.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Erin Frisby – There’s a sense of suspension that sometimes feels like creative inertia when I think about the great shows The OSYX had lined up this Spring and the Fall tour we were planning. Sometimes, it feels better though, like, space to step back and reassess everything. I’ve been fortunate to be able to teach music remotely, but like many artists, I lost a lot of my income, a lot of my social life and a lot of the work that went into sustaining a musical life. I worry about some of my favorite venues. There is already so much privilege around being able to tour, to take time off for making music, to live a life dedicated completely to art and music. I worry about what voices we might miss out on because of this setback.
Music Bugle – Away from music, what’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
Erin Frisby – I’m not sure that I’m a very surprising person. I don’t hide my emotions well on my face. I get really excited about things and tell people. I don’t like to ruin the anticipation around a gift though. Hmmm. It might be surprising to some that I was a ballerina and a total horse girl. I did some modeling and I loved girly clothes. I’m a cancer survivor. I was born in Arkansas and some of my first performances were singing harmonies to traditional folk songs with my mom. I love living outdoors and the more I’m out on the road, the less and less I enjoy venturing into buildings for anything.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Erin Frisby – I’ve looked to Octavia Butler quite a bit for her wisdom concerning the types of motivations and human tendencies that have led us to where we are socially at this moment. Her words concerning writing, creating are just as prescient. “Writers use everything. We can’t help it. Whatever touches us touches our writing.” I also love the simplicity and wisdom in this quote from Dolly Parton, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”
Music Bugle – What’s something you wish happened more in today’s music industry?
Erin Frisby – I wish for parity in all aspects of the industry. We’ve already lost so many potential voices and stories to a history that celebrates white, male composers and innovators. The industry is still skewed when it comes to representation. The Annenberg Inclusivity report revealed that only three percent of producers and engineers identify as women. Credited songwriters are overwhelmingly male and when you start to look at intersecting identities of race, age, body shape and size, gender expression, queerness, there’s a lot that’s missing from the cultural snapshot presented by our music industry. I co-founded a nonprofit organization, This Could Go Boom in Washington, D.C. that has a focus on providing support, resources and community for women, non-binary and gender expansive people in all aspects of music. We’ve offered several workshops, like Safer Scenes for venue staff, improvisational music and Recording 101, presented more than 100 artists in paid performance, released one album and are working on releasing another and have given presentations at The Hirshhorn Museum and at The Kennedy Center. We also take donations.
Music Bugle – What has surprised you the most about your music career?
Erin Frisby – Ironically, the one constant is always the surprise – change. You just never know what it’s going to be – a pandemic, a reckoning with the self, a new way to approach creativity, new eyes to see the world through. I definitely didn’t know five years ago while I was touring a lot that I’d be living with and making music with my girlfriend, or that I would find a musical home in D.C.. All I know is, I can’t wait to see what’s next.
*Photo credit – Erik Martinez Resly*