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*** 10 June 2018 – today is the 15th birthday of my album Grand. and it’s not just any birthday, today the rights to the album revert back to me and my label, TVP Records. welcome home, Grand

if you’re not familiar with the record, you can check it out on spotify, iTunes, bandcamp, or here on my site. 

As part of the celebration, i’m re-upping what wrote on Grand’s 10th birthday. i think it still applies! ***


Ten years ago this week, my second album Grand was released. I remember at the time being highly disappointed with the June 10 release date, worried that it would consign my record to a mere drip of an entry splash. More than anything, I feared that among the Big Summer Releases by Big Names, Grand would be lost and all that I had put into the record would go to waste.

Grand was an incredibly difficult record to make. My first record Distillation had done better than anyone expected. Now I had to follow up a well-received debut record 21 years in the making with one made merely from the previous 2 years.

the board we made grand on, with judy watching over
click to enlarge

Based on the success of Distillation, I had recently signed a three record deal, and I didn’t know yet that once you make something successful, the music business would prefer you make the same thing again. An early version of the album was rejected by the label, forcing me to write and record two more songs on short notice. The pressure from the record company broke my close relationship with Grand’s producer for five years (we’re cool now, thank god). A final cherry on top: when I flew to LA for the album shoot, I landed to find that the stylist had gotten my measurements wrong and had shopped for someone 5′ tall but a size 8. Nothing wrong with those proportions, but they just aren’t mine.

So when the label proposed June 10, I felt like it was another sign that the record was doomed.

post Jools taping

Though it has taken me years to see this, in the end, everything about Grand has turned out just fine. In fact, better than fine. Grand has sold more than any other record I’ve made and by a long shot. That summer of 2003, I played Glastonbury, Newport, and Bonnaroo. That fall I did late nite TV in Ireland and got to be on Jools Holland with Elbow and a young Amy Winehouse. These turned out to be once in a lifetime experiences, and hindsight has made me incredibly grateful for them. And for lots of folks, Grand is the record of mine they heard first. Maybe there are other things I’ve done since that they like, but nothing holds a candle to that first sense of discovery.

So I guess the lesson of Grand is that time takes time. And that you can worry and struggle all you want, but it doesn’t sink into the DNA of the sound. No one but me and those closest to me at the time knew how hard that record was to make. Ten years later, I get to enjoy it like everyone else.

And it also turns out that June 10 has an even more important connection to Grand then just being its birthday. June 10 is also the birthday of the album’s patron saint and thematic guide, the lovely Miss Judy Garland. Believe it or not, I didn’t notice this until years later.

In the summer of 2001, I was staying with a friend in West Hollywood. One afternoon on the way back to her house, I passed a bookstore. No place special to be, I wandered in and found myself thumbing through Gerald Clarke’s then-new biography of Garland, “Get Happy”.

a page from my journal in late 2002

To say that book changed my life would be an understatement. I knew nothing about Garland beyond an ambivalence toward “The Wizard of Oz”. But reading that book, I became fascinated with Judy, and thus began a two year obsession that culminated when Grand finally came out, on what would have been Garland’s 81st birthday.

In between, I listened to every Garland album I could find. I watched every Garland movie available in the days before Netflix and the iTunes store. A friend even tipped me off to the home recordings Judy made in preparation for a never completed memoir.

Though songs like “Cinematic”, “Cosmopolitians”, “How To Be A Lady”, “James”, “Starlit”, “Vera”, and “Lucky Day” make explicit references to Garland, her spirit hovers over every note of the entire album. “A Better Wife” is about a brilliant artist and friend of mine that died making her transition, way before her time. “The Taste of You” and “An Innocent Fiction”, inspired by the Arthur Miller short story “The Performance”, owe everything to my understanding of vaudeville as Judy knew it. The most popular songs on the record, “Slung-lo” and “Born to Hum”, came from tanglings with my record company. Not that they were evil studio bosses working me to the bone, but I certainly could relate to Garland’s frustration within the rigid machinery of MGM in the 30’s and 40’s.

second or third draft of the lyrics to “cosmopolitans”
click to enlarge

Somehow, when I realized that Grand and Garland had the same birthday, I exhaled a little. Grand is perfect the way it is and came out at exactly the right time. The struggle to make it seemed less epic; the sense of disappointment I carried around the record dissipated; the thought that somehow I hadn’t made enough of a record just left me. Not that I don’t worry about other more recent records I have made. Of course I do. But I am glad to know that eventually, given enough time, I can simply love that little record about the lovely Miss Garland. And wish them both a very happy birthday.

I usually disable the comments on my website, but for this post, I’m allowing them. Please share your Grand stories below!!

Thanks to the WayBackMachine, you can also read my original introduction to the record, tracklistings, and watch the website intro   from June 10, 2003.

4 Responses

  1. Michael Riggenbach says:

    Was first introduced to your music by my sister Ellen. We were heading out of Madison, Wisconsin on our way to rock climb at Devils Lake. She pulled out Grand and played Born to Hum. Love at first listen. Thanks for being the soundtrack to so many great memories. Happy Birthday Grand!

  2. Marina says:

    I was working merch in exchange for my discount ticket to Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in summer 2006. I picked up a copy of “Grand” even though I didn’t know Erin’s music and she wasn’t playing the festival. While “We Will Become Like Birds” would soon become my spirit album, I instantly adored “Grand” – and I still do. Thanks for the music, Erin!!

  3. Russ says:

    I heard “Slung Lo” one morning on my way to work (WXPN) and order the CD later that day. A copy of it stays in my car, on my phone, and on my work Spotiy play list. I’m happy that you sent those tunes out into the world. Thanks Erin

    Oh yeah. I thought that you might be Rod’s daughter before I saw your name in print on the CD.

  4. Nick says:

    The second time I saw you live was when you toured Europe in…fall of 2013, I think? It was at Cafe La Java, your first-ever show in France, I think you told us at the time. I’m pretty sure I was the only American there, although a couple of Irish women were sitting very close to me. You played a mixture of Distillation and Grand songs, and you told us how delighted you were to finally play La Petite Mort to a French audience. I looked directly at you and sang along with every word. After the show, I came up to you to say hi, but I had to wait until the two Irish women had finished praising your performance. As they left, the last thing one of them said to you was, now this gentleman (gesturing to me) is quite a fan. Or something like that. I said hi, and you said something like, it’s pretty weird to be playing in France for the first time and see an American sitting front row who knows all my songs! We chatted briefly. I mentioned to you that I’d seen you at Falcon Ridge and that I would try to make it again that summer. You gave me a playful punch on the shoulder and told me that I’d have to make it! Sadly, I didn’t, though I’ve seen both you and Falcon Ridge plenty more times over the years. Anyhow, the Grand album always reminds me of that night in Paris. Thanks for all that you do.

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