Interview with Canadian Erin McCallum -- hear, feel and experience a soulful and energy-rich artist

"The beautiful thing about the Blues is that the (traditionally) simple structures leave room for an artists’ soul to shine through. People can feel that."

Erin McCallum: DNA Of A Blueswoman

Starting at the young age of 23, Erin McCallum started performing in the Blues scene of Canada - a place she always knew was the place for her. Writing, arranging and performing her original music from thought to finish, Erin's songwriting and band leading is a task she takes on eagerly. Her alto-tenor voice sets her aside from others, and the band provides a platform for her to shine.

Over the past decade, Erin has received many acclimates, ranging from songwriting awards, to Maple Blues Awards (Female Vocalist of the Year, Artist/Group of the Year, 2011), and represented Canadian Blues at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN. Erin has written four all-original albums, all of them receiving radio airplay in every hemisphere of the World. The band is known for its live shows, as they engage the audience every time. Erin is actively touring, and has plans to continue to write and perform for a long time to come! Erin McCallum frontlines a four-piece band, comprising drums, bass, guitars and that unmistakable big voice - a captivating alto-tenor.   For over a decade, Erin and the band have been on tour relentlessly, performing for millions of fans - and turning heads in the music industry along the way.  With four all-original albums to her credit, songs from Erin McCallum can be heard worldwide, and have topped commercial radio charts.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Photos © by Nick Harding, Robb Jolin and Jim Waddington

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues and what does the Blues mean to you?

Tough questions. The Blues has taught me many lessons over the years, as it has created a lot of experiences, performing on the road and meeting many people. I think that it is through meeting so many people and hearing their experiences via the music I create has taught me that people really are a lot alike. You don’t have to look too far to see that no matter who we are and where we are from, we all have life stories and experiences that we can all relate to. What does the Blues mean to me? Almost everything. It is who I am AND what I do, so it’s obviously a major part of my life. I love it because it is the one genre of music that is souly based around a feeling, so strings attached.

How do you describe the Erin McCallum sound and songbook? What characterizes your music philosophy?

The Erin McCallum songbook is a collection of my own personal thoughts and experiences that I think other people might share and be able to relate to. I pride myself on writing lyrics and melodies that have substance, because I don’t think you can fool a Blues fan. They know what is authentic, genuine, and soulful, and listeners also know what is just a 12 bar pattern thrown against a wall. The songs I write are also thoughtful when it comes to structure. I like to pay homage to the tradition of Blues, and at the same time, add a contemporary flare that might be new to a listener. And, I think that reflects in the overall sound of the Erin McCallum band. I would characterize it as “traditional Blues with a contemporary flare”.

"I find that women in Blues (in my experience) all tend to be strong people.  I’m not sure that there is a connection to them being in a genre saturated with men, or if that’s just the DNA of a Blueswoman… The status of women in Blues; Alive and well!" (Photo ©  by Nick Harding)

Why do you think Blues continues to generate such a devoted following?

As I mentioned previously, I think it is because the music is easy to relate to. The beautiful thing about the Blues is that the (traditionally) simple structures leave room for an artists’ soul to shine through.  People can feel that. People want someone to sing about something that relates to them – it makes it applicable to real life – and the Blues does exactly that.

Which meetings have been the most important to you?  What is the best advice ever given to you?

I’ve been very fortunate to have met many inspirational people through my musical journeys, so it’s really difficult to choose. I will say that two answers come to mind. Firstly, it has been extremely important that I have been able to meet fellow musicians that share my passion for the Blues, and have been willing to try and help me share my vision by standing by what I do, trusting my musical and creative decisions, and for aligning with me and sharing my career path. Secondly, I have met countless fans that tell me I have inspired them or that my song was saying what they wanted to say. That is super important because it tells me that what I am doing is right in some capacity, and I value that tremendously. I have been given lots of good advice over the years, and one of the best pieces ever given to me was from my college professor; “Always be honest. Mean what you say, and say what you mean.” It has guided me through a lot of decisions in the music industry on all aspects of the business.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, festivals and recording times that you would like to share with us?                    Photo ©  by Jim Waddington

I can remember years ago, I was performing at an International festival – thousands of people lined the streets taking in the bands that were performing, and out of the corner of my eye, I can see a severely disabled person watching the band from his wheelchair. This kid could barely move, but he took all of the energy he had to bop his head to the music – MY music. It really put things into perspective for me. The power of music is so strong, and to know that I had enough of an influence to inspire someone who probably had to muster up all of his strength to visibly share the experience with me, really touched me. I had a great feeling watching that, and it will stick with me for a very long time.

What do I miss nowadays from Blues of the past?  What are your hopes for the future of?

I’m not sure I’m missing anything, because I didn’t live it. I suspect that the music was more of a player in cultural growth, and that might have been inspiring. I also know that there was a time when Blues was the contemporary music of its time, and I think that would have been pretty neat to experience. My hopes for the future of the Blues? I have high hopes that the Blues will continue to inspire people, and that it will continue to be a music that touches people in their souls. I would like to see a “next” generation of Blues musicians and listeners discover Blues of today and yesterday, and continue the path that has been paved, as well as blaze new trails for the future.  And, I strongly believe that this will happen.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would it be?

Another tough question! Although I think everything happens for a reason, I suppose in a fantasy world, I would like all musicians who are heard by the public to be good stewards of their power and understand that the influence they have on listeners can be great.  Although the good outweighs the bad, I do hear some senseless, racist, or violent messages in musical content sometimes, and I like to think that, as people, we don’t really NEED it. There is a responsibility to all musicians to understand that music is powerful, and what they put out there has an influence in some capacity – if someone is listening to it, someone is hearing it! Understanding that reality can be ugly, I just don’t personally see the need for a negative influence, and there is a distinct difference. 

"The Blues has taught me many lessons over the years, as it has created a lot of experiences, performing on the road and meeting many people." 

Make an account of the case of Blues is Canada. Which is the most interesting period in the local Blues scene?

Blues in Canada is alive and well. 2003, as many know, was dubbed “The Year of the Blues”, and it was in the forefront for a couple years following. That being said, it certainly didn’t disappear. The Blues circuit has stayed steady, and there are many Blues and Blues-friendly festivals situated across the Country. Summers are always the most fruitful, and there is a Blues festival to take in every single weekend all summer long. I see no signs of that slowing down in the near future. That being said, I think the Blues scene is steadily maintained at the moment. 

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from the United States to Canada?

To be literal, the Minnesota State highway (HWY 61) runs straight up to Thunder Bay, Ontario. I think most Blues enthusiasts know about the Blues coming to Canada as the Blues scene moved to the northern States, or about how the music also traveled with slaves via the Underground Railroad. The history of the Blues tells the story we can all find in a dictionary, so, currently, the legacy continues with a lot of festivals that are situated right on the border that host acts from each country. It’s a great way to share talent. I also know that many U.S. acts perform in Canada at festivals, and vice versa. I think it’s more about creating a legacy today, than it is accounting the legacy of historical travels.  

What has made you laugh recently and what touched you (emotionally) from the local music circuits?

As far as laughing goes, there’s always something going on when you’re on the road that makes me laugh. The band and I have a great time doing what we love, and there’s never a dull moment. The general antics on the road are most definitely my latest laugh! As far as being touched emotionally, it happens every night I perform. Whether it’s looking out into the audience and seeing someone sing along to something I wrote that has come to fruition from being a random thought in my head to the person who comes up after a show and says “Hey, you guys are tight!”, it is all touching to me.

What does a female artist in a “Man’s World” mean? What is the status of women in Blues?

I find that women in Blues (in my experience) all tend to be strong people. I’m not sure that there is a connection to them being in a genre saturated with men, or if that’s just the DNA of a Blueswoman… The status of women in Blues; Alive and well! We are certainly the minority, numbers-wise, but certainly not when it comes to talent. The bar gets raised with every generation of female Blues artists, and I do think that there is a different expectation of woman compared to men in this genre. There aren’t many female Blues “shouters”, and the guitar playing is much more of a rarity…it puts an awful lot of pressure on the female Blues artists to deliver fabulous vocals and performances. That being said, there are plenty of skilled female players – the field is just much more narrowed in comparison to men. 

Let’s take a trip in a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day?

If I could take the trip back in time, I might want to head to Sun Studio in Memphis, TN in the times when many of the Greats made the recordings that we have all heard and been influenced by in following generations. I have been to Sun Studio, sang there, recorded there, and felt the vibe that the building carries. It’s almost surreal – even a little overwhelming - to stand where so much history was made. Everyone from Howlin’ Wolf to Elvis Presley made such monumental and timeless recordings in that place. Although I’ve been there and done many of the same things they did, it would be so much more amazing to have been part of it – or even witness to it – as it was happening. When I walked in there a number of years ago, the place had energy that I could definitely feel…those people MADE that energy!!

Erin McCallum - official website

Photo © by Jim Waddington

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