erika spring's 'scars' is the haunting, hopeful pop record we need now
After closing the curtain on Au Revoir Simone, Erika made her breathtaking solo EP during a time of personal and political upheaval.
Photography Nastassia Brückin
In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Erika Spring is indie-music royalty. As a member of the synth-pop trio Au Revoir Simone, she is part of an illustrious group of musicians that represent Brooklyn indie’s first wave — that group also includes Chairlift, TV on the Radio, LCD Soundsystem, and Grizzly Bear. Beginning with 2005’s Verses of Comfort, Assurance & Salvation, Au Revoir Simone became a central figure in what was once described by New York magazine as “Brooklyn’s sonic boom.”
That “sonic boom” may have exploded long ago, but many of the artists that defined the era have continued to play a central role in the ever-shifting landscape of American pop music. Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek has spent time working with Charli XCX, Solange, and Blood Orange, and members of LCD Soundsystem have spread themselves across numerous musical projects. Erika Spring is also at the beginning of a new musical journey — one that involves a new collaborative partner and a fresh perspective on life. Throughout 2016 she campaigned for Bernie Sanders, then five days after Donald Trump was elected president she gave birth to her son. It was a period of extreme highs and lows that Erika channeled into her latest work, an EP titled Scars which you can hear for the first time today on i-D.
The EP begins with “Close to Here,” a gorgeous rain-drenched piano ballad that’s both haunting and serene. It may not be immediately obvious, but Erika reveals the chorus is actually rain. “We meddled around with some chorus vocals, but we ended up liking the [sound of] a rain storm that had come through while we were in the studio,” she says. It’s just one example of the many tiny details that makes Scars an understated earworm.
Scars was recorded in Long Island City at what Erika describes as a “super fabulous studio” run by her musical collaborator, Homer Steinweiss (whose own resume includes working with Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse, and St Vincent). “There’s a big roof, so we would go up on the roof a lot and look out over the city. That experience feels like part of the songs, too”, says Erika. But everything gained from the environment was equally matched by Erika and Homer’s creative instincts. It is the first time Erika has worked with a live drummer, after 12 years using a drum machine to set the tempo with Au Revoir Simone, and she says “working with someone who peers at music through the lens of playing drums” gave her the opportunity to observe all the nuance and space that goes into the music. “They say with so many art forms that the wiser you get the more you know where to put the space,” she muses. Homer knew exactly where that space belonged.
There was also a lot of disruption during the making of Scars, mostly, but not exclusively, because Erika became a mom. “I used to be a total night owl and do creative work for eight-hour blocks,” she says, adding, “I loved working in those huge chunks and really immersing myself. But now I’m getting to see the beauty in doing a little bit at a time and watching your own progress.”
When you listen to Scars, the relationship between mother and child doesn’t immediately jump out, but behind-the-scenes it had a monumental impact on Erika’s process and psyche. She says “one of the things I was thinking about when writing this EP was how the transition into having a child was, for me, something that I’d been thinking about for a long time. Even before getting pregnant, it was hovering in my psyche in some way, and I feel like these songs are a part of that journey. ‘Scars’ [the title track] is really funny in a way, because I was both trying to get pregnant and I was volunteering for the Bernie Sanders campaign, so needless to say, there was a lot of ups and downs on that journey. When I hear the song now, and when I sing it, it feels related to that hope, and to the understanding that we don’t always know how things are going to go in our lives.”
Shortly after she began working on Scars, Erika was also disrupted by one of her biggest fans — filmmaker David Lynch — who called and asked if Au Revoir Simone could perform two songs during season three of Twin Peaks. She explains that Lynch became a fan in 2007, after they were paired together for a reading and musical performance at Barnes & Noble in New York’s Union Square. Au Revoir Simone played a soundscape while David read from his book, Catching the Big Fish. Afterwards, she says, “he continued on the rest of his book tour and at each stop he was talking about how much he loved this band called Au Revoir Simone. To have the seal of approval from him was really meaningful to us.”
When David called about appearing on Twin Peaks, Erika says Au Revoir Simone was already “kind of on a break,” having finished their final album, Move in Spectrums, in 2013. But the opportunity to appear in one of the year’s most anticipated TV comebacks was too good to turn down. Specifically, David asked that Au Revoir Simone play a song called “Lark” which Erika describes as an album track that didn’t get much attention when it was released on 2007’s The Birds of Music. She wrote the song when she was 25 (she’s now 38), and says, “It was pretty touching that that song meant something to him.”
The appearance on Twin Peaks closed the curtain on Au Revoir Simone just as Erika Spring was beginning her own solo adventure. Speaking modestly about her expectations for this latest chapter, she says, “the 12 years of hard work that we did, maybe that will give me a greater chance of people hearing it, [but] I’m not trying to get the attention of the entire fanbase of Au Revoir Simone.” But you should pay attention, because David Lynch certainly is.