We eased into our seats at the Boiler Room, a bastion of pizza in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood with a killer deal for a slice and a beer. As I settled into the booth with local singer Eryn Allen Kane, the waitress laid the orders out on the table like a challenge: two tall Pabst Blue Ribbons, oversized pieces of pizza and shots of Jameson. As the Blue Line rumbled above us in the distance I cozied up to the corner table to try to figure out how best to describe to the world a 24-year-old R&B artist with a public discography that is almost nonexistent.
“Hold on, I’ve gotta let my hair down,” Kane says, at once undoing a tie that lets loose a wild frock of brown curly hair, threatening to engulf her completely. Tossing it back haphazardly behind her ears, she takes a sip of her tall boy and looks across the table, “what do you want to know?”
To be sure, I’ve known Kane for just over a year now. It took me the better part of that time to discover that she was a singer, first popping up in a jaw-dropping video rendition of BJ The Chicago Kid’s song, “Her Pain”. Re-arranging it into her own personal piece, Kane displayed the innate soul that seems to bubble right at the top of her being, ready at a moment’s notice. The video was shot by Davy Greenberg at her former apartment, a block from where we now sit and served as a sampler platter of what the young artist had to offer.
“It’s funny because I‘ve been singing since I was six years old and my first song just came out last summer,” said Kane, picking artichoke hearts from her slice. “I remember the day before we put it out I was telling Davy ‘let’s just not do it’. I felt like there was information about my mother and my father in there and about things I didn’t think people should know. Eventually, I just realized that’s what’s so beautiful about it. I knew that, but writing about things that make me cry, or mad or happy is a very vulnerable experience.”
Vulnerable is a word rarely associated with the Detroit native. Often found around town in a Bulls jersey and sneakers, a smile not far behind, her effervescent nature has made acclimating to a competitive scene like Chicago all the easier. Having arrived in Chicago in 2008 to attend Columbia College, Kane eventually met Robbie Mueller of Fox and the Mule Studios. Soon, she was cutting records, writing and recording in the same space that Chance The Rapper’s now-iconic 10 Day project was crafted. Biding her time while waiting out a bad deal signed while in high school, Kane began to make a name for herself writing for others and singing back up.
If the past couple decades have been slow moving for Kane’s music career, though, the past few months have been nothing short of a whirlwind. On the heels of the release of “Her Pain”, Kane flipped the script, literally. Teaming up with local director and MTV Woodies “Video of the Year” winner Austin Vesely, the pair shot and produced a short film titled “Sex Tape Day”, a parody of a couple attempting to shoot their first intimate film. The project made it to the front page of ‘Funny or Die’ and won the duo over 50,000 views. On high from the experience, Kane arrived home a week later to find out she the owner of her building had sold and she was being kicked out. It’s a symptom of the artist condition: drastic highs bookended by desperate lows. No one knows this better than Kane, who watched as her single mother raised her through tough times.
“Sometimes I feel like crying or ripping my hair out but I just, you know, roll with the punches,” said Kane. “My Mom just put up with so much shit. We ate the same red beans and rice for like a week! We did it though, and all of that was just steps preparing me, toughening my skin.”
Kane would need that thick skin about a month later when she linked up with Austin Vesely again to make a video for her acapella-arranged track, “Hollow”. The soul-infused vocal rendering became an artistic affair in a hurry. Vesely, responsible for a slew of resounding visuals to come out of Chicago recently such as Vic Mensa’s “DiditB4” and Chance The Rapper’s “Everybody’s Something”, created a white-washed, strikingly beautiful video that garnered a larger audience than they had anticipated.
Soon, an ominous tweet started circulating the Internet: “Hollow Wollow”.
None other than the soul god himself, Prince, had tweeted the video, stamping his mark of approval on the work of the little known singer with no project.
“I kept seeing my Twitter blow up and when I looked people kept tweeting my video and tagging @3rdeyegirl. Sure enough, it was Prince,” said Kane, gripping her PBR tightly, the excitement bubbling to the surface. “I about flipped out. I was in a towel, just gotten out of the shower and I think I screamed for five straight minutes.”
The video, for all intents and purposes put Kane on the map. Finding it’s way across the country on sites and blogs from coast to coast and beyond, Kane’s first official debut in the new music arena that is the blog spectrum was a resounding success.
Then, two weeks later, it was gone.
The cliché of ‘art being meant to inherently inspire other art’ apparently doesn’t apply to everyone and the video was requested to be taken down after certain parties were upset it featured abstract aesthetics similar to renowned artist Alexa Meade.
“We thought there was no was the video could be taken down because it’s not the same thing. They kept writing and sure enough it was removed due to copyright infringement, which I thought was weird because there’s videos all over the Youtube of people singing other’s songs. The difference is that Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, or Beyonce aren’t taking the time to flag the videos,” said Kane.
Another peak, another valley. Undeterred, Kane went right back to work arranging, re-arranging and nitpicking her unfinished project incessantly in the basement of Sima and Liam Cunningham on the boulevard in the Logan Square neighborhood. It’s in that basement and those like it around the neighborhood that has shaped much of Kane’s debut project, Aviary, due out this year.
Set amongst a collection of artists that include established stars like Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa and The Social Experiment, as well as ascending stars like Marrow, NoNameGypsy and The O’My’s, it’s a fair question to wonder why Kane deserves recognition before her project.
The reason is simple. Kane is an amalgam of all the aspects of the Detroit she grew up in and the Chicago she now occupies. Her sound plays on her Detroit ties, rooted in the soul and blues aesthetics of the Motown era and a hark to the sounds that made her adopted hometown famous. It’s both a reflection of the past and a linear trajectory that moves the music forward organically. Listening to Kane sing, the notes come off effortless, almost natural as if writing themselves. Jazz aesthetics, often injected into pop music in an effort to sound unique don’t come off as forced as she scats over a piano run or hums rhythmically over a melody. In a sense, Kane is a summary of the music happening on the northwest side of the city. There’s NoNameGypsy’s sense of understanding, The O’My’s flash for the unexpected, Marrow’s forward-thinking progression and the worldliness of Sima Cunningham all blended with the eclectic experiences of Kane herself.
Last month, Kane saw another jump in notoriety as her collaboration with Saba, “Burnout” premiered on Vice’s Thump.
“I still have hard times, by no means have I made it. All this shit, it’s totally worth it. I have a lot to prove and I think with this body of work I’m about to come out with I don’t think it’s going to disappoint the few people that are familiar with me,” said Kane, pausing to finish off the shot of Jameson. “The most frustrating thing has been not being able to put my music out, so I can’t wait to just put it out there-take it or leave it. That’s it, that’s all I have to say (laughs).”