When Erin Rae finished recording her 2018 album Putting on Airs, she knew that what she did next was going to have to sound entirely different. The Nashville songwriter had grown up idolizing the singer-songwriters her parents played for her as a kid and thought of music primarily in terms of lyric and melody. “I had sort of burnt out on listening that way,” Rae says.
For her new album Lighten Up, she took the best techniques of the Putting on Airs sessions and sharpened her focus, zeroing in on what was going on in the room. Like “how the mics were set up,” she says, and “making it tangible and something I could get lost in.”
Working with producer Jonathan Wilson, Rae recorded Lighten Up, her third studio release, in Los Angeles with collaborators like Kevin Morby and Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy. With its swirling organ, ornate strings, and Seventies-inflected West Coast warmth, the album marks a subtle yet distinct shift. “I knew I wanted to explore some bigger cinematic pop sounds,” says Rae, citing the Walker Brothers and albums like Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete. “But I really had no clue what to expect when I flew out to meet Jonathan.”
For the album’s lead single “Modern Woman,” she reflected on what it means for women to be called “badass.”
“A friend of a friend was describing a lot of women in the Nashville music scene as ‘badass,’ saying like, ‘Oh this or that person speaks their mind and doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks,’” Rae remembers. “She then remarked, ‘No offense, but I wouldn’t describe you as ‘badass.’… I laughed it off in the moment, but she said that during a time where I was doing lots of deep soul searching, and something about it lit a little fire in me and made me want to celebrate my own gentler, introspective way of being a woman, of being a ‘badass,’ if you will.”
“Modern Woman” merges gentle pedal steel with a bouncy rhythm, and finds Rae discarding gender stereotypes with conviction. “Round up the old perceptions,” she sings, “lay them on down.” The video for the song features cameos by performers Brittany Howard, Kelsey Waldon, and Michaela Anne.
Rae says the goal of the song “was just to be celebratory of myself and others, to have a little fun. I was thinking of my friends and family, and the varying ways they express and identify as womxn.”
As its title suggests, Lighten Up is, in part, Rae’s effort at breaking out of her own cycle of self-seriousness. “So much of my life has been focused on myself, in large part due to insecurities and a lack of self-love,” she says. “Lighten Up is meant to be a little cheeky, but also completely sincere: ‘Lighten up, Erin…You ain’t the first and you ain’t the worst.’”
Lighten Up will be released February 4, 2022, via Thirty Tigers.