It’s a pleasure to feature an interview by guest contributor Douglas Menagh with Erin Fein of Psychic Twin on Pastel Zine. It’s the first time I have featured a guest interview and this interview is a fascinating one with a very unique artist. Thank you very much to Douglas and Erin for this!
DM: You recently moved to Los Angeles. Has the change in aesthetics done something creatively?
Erin Fein: I think it’s definitely affecting the sound of the music. Like so many people, I went to ocean and I took the video. I put it in black and white, and as I was looking at it, I started imagining the waves as if they were digital waves, all the mathematics of waves, and the connection to moon. My mind was wandering, and I started thinking about a digital ocean, sounds and synthesizers bouncing back and forth like an ocean. I thought that I needed to bring the feeling you have if you were looking at a pixelated ocean in the middle of the night and it was glowing. I wanted some sort of soundscape that reminded me of that! I wanted to take it in that space.
I don’t know exactly what that means. I know that the songs are sounding fuller and a little washier, but also more modern in a way. I’m steering a little bit away from the 80s path I began on, and getting into what feels like a more modern interpretation of the same idea. Newer sounds, different sounds, and working not just with analog, but also in MIDI, and a slightly clearer, cleaner approach. This whole digital ocean feeling, different tools, and writing all the beats and things myself is changing the sound.
I could write another record that was similar to Strange Diary, and I think that I would actually like it because I love that era. Myself and so many people are inspired by that era. For those of us who were kids, I was a little kid in the 80s, those sorts of sounds defined my dreams as a child. When I was processing this really difficult thing, I fell back into that space maybe because it feels like everything’s going to be ok when I heard sounds like that. There’s something comforting about that, but now I want to push myself outside of that and see where I can go. I hope I’m doing that. I am definitely trying.
DM: Your new song “Geek” came out back in February. Congratulations on that! How’s the second album coming along?
Erin: That song is actually not on my second album. It is a cover song that I did for a couple different reasons. I really fell in love with [Lawrence Rothman], the artist who wrote that song, in terms of what Lawrence does musically speaking. Lawrence’s project goes by their name, which is Lawrence Rothman, and that song “Geek” was written by Lawrence.
I went to see a show in Los Angeles in the fall and was just blown away. I heard the song “Geek” and it spoke to me. It touched me for a lot of personal reasons. I also realized that Lawrence’s work was something I was very attracted to and thought that we could work together. That’s what led me to do the cover. That’s what “Geek” is.
DM: On your website, you wrote, “['Geek'] is a song about trying to help someone recognize their own self-worth in the midst of tremendous pain.” That sounds like it’s very personal and meaningful. Can you elaborate on that?
Erin: It’s tough to talk about these things of course, specifically speaking. I think that I relate to that song on a couple of different levels. I feel like I’ve had some experiences in my life where I feel misunderstood, and I feel like I have had some experiences in my life where I have felt bullied. Not just as a child, but as actually an adult as well. Maybe that’s because I was misunderstood, or maybe that’s because there’s things that have happened in my life where I’ve also hurt some people. I think that I have learned through some experiences, when some people are hurt, they’re not able to think clearly anymore. They’re reacting from a place of pain, and I think that when people are hurt sometimes, they really lash out. It’s not an uncommon reaction.
When I heard that song, I was going through some changes within a friendship, a working relationship, and within my romantic life. There were actually a couple things going on that were just really tough. It’s always so hard for me to give a short answer! I feel like in my personality is somebody who wants to make sure that everybody is feeling good and everybody is happy. It’s a nice quality, but it’s also an unrealistic quality. It’s something I’ve had to continue to work on. There are other people that have that type of personality, and I think that in moments when I’ve had to stand up for my own needs, I have inadvertently hurt people, and I’ve had to learn as an adult how to handle that. So, it’s not easy for me. I think we all struggle with that.
Nobody wants to disappoint or hurt anybody, but I think that sometimes you have to do that in life, unfortunately. Sometimes you have to maybe let somebody down because maybe what they want is something you don’t want, and that can apply to so many different types of things. Relationships in regards to love, friendships, work. I happened to be going through stuff like this and felt like the reaction to me standing up for myself was, on some levels, like being bullied. I think that when I heard the song “Geek,” it really spoke to me. In a way, I felt like I was going through some bullying myself, even remembering what it was like to have experienced some of that when I was a kid.
In terms of finding your own self-worth, to come out of a situation like that and be okay, what you really have to do is to connect with the fact that you’re still good and decent, even if you haven’t always done everything right. Or even if what you needed to do wasn’t right for someone else. That’s where that that song hit me. I feel like the words lead me to believe that someone is encouraging someone to come through what it feels like to be bullied, and what it feels like to be on the outside and treated like shit. They’re saying that they know what it’s to feel confused and lost, but you have to try and push out of it anyway. It’s a really simple message, but it’s something that I hit me in a time in my life and that I think a lot of people can relate to.
DM: Has that played a part in any other songs for your follow up to Strange Diary? Is something else driving your writing process this time around?
Erin: I would say that it’s still revealing itself in that I tend to try and write from a predetermined theme, even though I find that could be interesting. I try to let theme reveal itself because I like to write my lyrics about my life and what I’m going through, and what I perceive, and how I’m growing, or how I’m regressing. Any of those things.
One of the things that I pushed myself on is to not just write about love. I feel like the first album was about a major relationship falling apart. It was about a huge transition in that I went through a divorce. It’s not that I stopped writing about love. I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing about love as long as I’m writing about music, it just struck me that there’s so much more I am trying to process as a person, and I’d like to write about that.
I’ve tried to dive deeper into other things that I perceive. Self esteem. Mental health. Generally speaking, I have had some struggles with anxiety, panic attacks, I’ve had relationships post my marriage that have been beautiful and challenging in and what it feels like to enter that world as an adult. Friendships, envying, and processing those type of things. For me, music means a lot about dealing with the pain of life, but I also feel like there’s more to say about the world than just love. But maybe it’s all about love in the end! Who knows. I’m trying to be specific about what I’m writing about, and branch out from that place I was at in Strange Diary. I hope that I am able to complete that in that it is coherent and beautiful.
DM: How do you assemble the beats and dream like melodies? You engineer too as well.
Erin: I do, yeah. That’s another big thing for me. I’ve always do a lot of production and song writing, always, from the beginning, but I have always worked with other people. I was so intimidated by engineering on my own, I just didn’t know where to begin, I never went to school, I didn’t know who to ask. Some of it was financial. It’s taken me a lot of work to buy synthesizers that I use, a microphone, and learn how to play live, getting a laptop, and buying Ableton and Logic, and then use them. It just was intimidating to me. I don’t know why I didn’t dive harder and faster. I wish in a way I could go back and do that, but here I am now. I realize that something that was important for me was to be able to have the full control over my sound and my songs.
This last year, I was very inspired by and encouraged by my bandmate in a project I was playing, [Lorely Rodriguez]. She really has pushed me and gave me an open doorway in that world. Now I do it all myself. I may work with other people. Like I was saying earlier, I’m sending music over to Lawrence [Rothman], who wrote the song “Geek.’” We’re talking about maybe working together on production and mixing. I love collaborating with other people and will continue to do so, but there is something so freeing and powerful about being able to do everything yourself for me.
It’s a little tricky to talk about how a person does that, I guess there’s a lot of different ways and techniques. For me, I didn’t go to school I just watched people in studios year after year and slowly my brain formulated, “Oh that’s what EQ is, and that is how you construct a beat, and this is what quantizing is, and these are melodies I like.” It is something that has slowly formed together in my brain, because I have had no formal education for how to do these things. I still have a lot to learn, but it is pretty awesome. I feel like everything that has been stuck in my head is coming out and that is pretty exciting.
DM: What are other influences outside of music?
Erin: Interestingly enough, I went to a modern dance performance last night. It was this dance troupe where the director was this beautiful, Israeli woman whose approach to modern was unique, at least based on what I’ve seen. She talked a lot about not allowing the dancers movements to be completely predetermined. She allows for a mixture of predetermined choreography and improvisation.
I was watching the dancers and there was something really raw and almost strange in the way they were moving, and that was laced in with the beautiful motions and movements that a person would typically enjoy watching. Last night I came home from the performance and I was thinking about how with a lot of the music I’ve been writing lately, I’ve been imagining motion along with the song writing process. I’ve been imagining weird dance stuff happening in my head. There’s something about that space between the predetermined pop song and this strange territory you could go to outside of that. I’ve been trying to allow myself to go there, do weird things, see what happens, and live in that zone that’s outside of pop music that I enjoy a lot.
The dance itself was very inspiring to me. Maybe it helped me understand something that was going on in my head. I certainly find that watching other forms of art is really helpful when I’m writing. Taking in something that’s outside of the musical realm sometimes really has a heavy impact on me. I find I feel when I’m a little lost, if I go see a dance performance, or if I go and watch a film, or watch someone read poetry, it’s what I need to think about something in a new way. Dance in particular though is there. I don’t know if this is going to happen, but I think that my second album is going to be a mixture of really dance stuff and really weird stuff! It’s still finding its way.
DM: There’s definitely that dance aspect in your live show. It is very danceable and grooving Psychic Twin.
Erin: That’s important to me. The elements of dance, and a dance type of songs, are something I’ve touched on before, but want to fall heavier into that in terms of song structure and feel. So I’m working on that.
D: Is there anything else you’d like to throw out there?
Erin: I think that’s good. I’m working on releasing some new music this fall and hopefully a full length next year. I’m going to be on tour with Empress Of for the next month. That’s a kind of a neat thing I guess.
Douglas Menagh is a writer based in New York City. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. He writes for New Noise Magazine, and his work has appeared in Memoir Mixtapes, Meow Meow Pow Pow, HOOT Review, Lunch Ticket, and Annotation Nation.