You’ve probably heard her soulful voice on Chance The Rapper and The Social Experiment’s Surf album and Chicago newcomer Towkio’s “Heaven Only Knows,” but there’s more to Eryn Allen Kane than background vocals and guest features.
After releasing her single “Have Mercy,” the Detroit native received an unexpected phone call from the legendary Prince to contribute to his Freddie Gray protest song “Baltimore.” Since then, the young singer has been living a dream. From spending time and sharing laughs with Prince, to appearing in Spike Lee’s controversial forthcoming film Chi-Raq, Eryn’s the new singer here to capture hearts and minds.
On the release day of her debut EP Aviary: Act I, we caught up with Eryn to discuss her rise in the music industry, working with Prince, starring in Chi-Raq, and being soul music’s new lovechild.
Check out our exclusive interview with Eryn below.
GlobalGrind: Take me back to the beginning. When did you discover that music was your first love?
Eryn Allen Kane: This sounds really cliché, but I’ve been singing since I was 6 and was in the church choir back in Detroit. I went to Detroit school of the arts and I was a vocal major there. I was like “I gotta go there, because Aaliyah went there and I gotta follow in her footsteps.” Then I went to school in Chicago, and I didn’t major in anything vocal. I had a bad development deal in Detroit. I breached my contract and couldn’t make any of my own music. So, I majored in acting at Columbia College.
Many people became familiar with you for your collaborations with Chance The Rapper, but many people may not know you sang background vocals for Prince. The question of the day is, how does an aspiring singer meet a legend like Prince?
I came out with this song called “Hollow,” and he somehow saw it. He tweeted it out and someone from his camp contacted my team. We were supposed to work together back in 2013, but we kind of lost each other. Well, he didn’t lose me, but I guess he was still keeping an eye on me. As soon as I released “have mercy,” he hit me up and asked if I would come to Minnesota to record the Baltimore protest song. When I got to the studio I asked him like “wait, how did you know that my song came out?” Apparently, he kept an eye on me since he first heard “Hollow.”
How surreal is it to be in the studio with such an elusive artist like Prince?
At first it was really scary, and then it became a thing where he [Prince] felt like an uncle. I told my manager like, “I can’t do this. It’s too soon. It’s way too soon. What if I choke? What if I mess up?” and then we got in the studio and omnipotent Prince comes over the loud speakers like “Hello, Eryn. How are you? Have you eaten yet?” And I was like “yeah.” And he was like, “I need some of your soul on this track.” He released the track and we’ve stayed friends. We also recorded more music together.
Any great Prince studio stories?
Prince is really funny. Most people probably think he’s super serious, but he says jokes about himself and he sends me memes via email. It’s something I never expected. In the studio though, he was never there in the room while you’re singing. He’ll be on the intercom.
Wow. So Prince is like the Wizard of Oz?
Well, you get to meet him and talk to him. He’ll come hang out with you after your record, but I think it’s a respect thing for other artists. He would come over the intercom and make a comment about a vocal arrangement or something and I’d be like “oh, you are here listening.” He’s such a great musician and it’s such a pleasure working with him.
You’re from Detroit, how did you get into the music scene in Chicago? You’re friends with Chance The Rapper and Sasha Go Hard.
I knew Chance before Sasha Go Hard or any other Chicago artists. It was because I was a Red Bull girl and my college dorms were across the street from his high school. I was a college freshman and I think he might’ve been a junior or senior in high school, and I looked young so he would always tell me about his music. I never really knew how good he was, but one day I put out some music and he heard about it. He was like, “you didn’t tell me that you sing.” We started doing music together and then it snowballed. Once you start doing music with one person in Chicago, the word kind of gets around. I knew Vic [Mensa] from around the way too. It’s a small community of artists.
Who or what influences your music?
My mom didn’t let us listen to radio music. We listened to Chaka Khan and a ton of gospel. My dad was super into Prince and Stevie Wonder, like the old classic music. There’s so many – I feel bad for shouting out some people and not others, but I’m from Detroit, so a lot of Motown singers. Aretha Franklin too, because my mom used to play her gospel album before we’d go to church every Sunday.
If you weren’t so involved in the arts, what else would you be doing?
Probably social work. I’m really into kids and helping people. I used to say I wanted to be an ER doctor, because my aunt is one, but it was little gruesome, so I ended up changing my mind.
You’re also in Spike Lee’s controversial Chi-Raq film.
Yeah, I’m a principal character. I sing in the film and one of my songs is on the soundtrack. Spike Lee heard about me because of my songs. I was originally supposed to do music for the film, but he found out that I acted too. So he was like “maybe I’ll write you in.” He wrote me in and I ended up being on set like everyday. I’m so grateful for the experience.
Have you seen the film in its final edit?
No, I haven’t. I’m a little afraid. I hate looking at myself on camera. I think it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. It’s super controversial right now. It’s intense.
As a person involved with the film, how do you feel about the controversy surrounding the film’s title as well as the satirical Greek comedy approach to such a serious issue?
I’ve never judged an entire movie based off a 90-second trailer, but I can understand the disdain by the term “Chi-Raq,” but to be fair the term was coined by Chicago rappers and it’s still used by Chicago rappers. I understand why they’re not feeling it. Spike Lee’s known for being controversial. He makes movies about topics that make people uncomfortable. I understand it. Having read the script, this movie isn’t about Spike Lee making fun of anyone’s plight. There’s way more meaning to the film then the first trailer. It’s all about perception, but it’s also about art.
How proud are your parents?
My dad is always talking to me. He’s so obsessed. He knows all the words to my music. He’s super into me. My mom, she’s like really confused about music. She doesn’t really get it, but she’s super supportive of everything I do. My dad is good with Facebook and other social media, my mom not so much. She works for the government, so she’s always like “send me your music, but tell me how to click on it.”
On the beauty side, you have phenomenal hair. For the natural hair girls out there, what products do you use?
It’s a whole process. First, I do a co-wash. I do a Pantene Co-Wash because it doesn’t totally strip your hair and then I use a leave-in conditioner by this company called Macadamia Natural Oil – the nourishing leave-in conditioner. It smells so good. I also use this vegan product called Camille Rose natural curl maker. It has marshmallow and agave extracts. Then I use a Jamaican castor oil to get my scalp, and then of course, coconut oil for my ends at night. I’m explaining this like I’m super good at maintaining my hair, but you should see it right now [laughs]. I also cornrow my hair sometimes for like two days to get the perfect coil pattern.
In 2016, Eryn Allen Kane will be doing….
Umm, there’s a lot. I’ll have Act II coming out in January. That’s going to be never-before-heard songs. A lot of things are tentative right now, but hopefully you’ll be hearing a lot more of my music.
PHOTO CREDIT: Bryan Lamb