Unlock Yr Heart: An Interview with Psychic Twin
Erin Fein handled a brutal divorce in a way few of us could imagine: by digging into herself to create a powerful, evocative album.
Break-ups. The cold realisation that it's over. The numb feeling as the days and years that were mapped out in front of you fall away like a frayed and rotten rope bridge tumbling into a ravine. Introspection, recrimination, desolation. Feelings that are all too recognisable to many of us. A point in our lives when we reached the bottom of the well and could only look down.
The aftermath of a broken relationship is where things get really difficult. Aside from the inevitable pain and soul searching comes the physical displacement. Mutually cherished items have to be divided and packed up. Family members become embroiled in blame and denunciations. Mutual friends suddenly have to choose sides. Finally, the point comes where one party has to seek a fresh start and begin the process of rebuilding their lives.
This is the situation that Erin Fein (a.k.a. Psychic Twin) found herself in. The relationship that she thought was built to last began to crumble around her. All the safety nets were removed and she found herself at a crossroads. She took the brave decision to reach inside herself at her lowest ebb and forge something positive out of the pain of her divorce. Not only that, she took the decision to break herself completely from the familiarity of her home city of Illinois. She left all her friends and family behind to start again in a new city with no life raft to cling onto.
The result of this upheaval and self-analysis is her startlingly vulnerable debut album Strange Days. As she says: "the album is a lot about the journey and the struggle I went through." Recorded over the course of 4 years, It's a candid document of her divorce and her subsequent move from Illinois to Brooklyn. PopMatters chatted with her about how she wrestled with the decision to be so open on record and why it was so fundamentally important to be totally honest, days after her record release party at the National Sawdust where she played the album in full.
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How was the record release show?
It was truly a wonderful night. I don't know if you've seen the National Sawdust but it's amazing. It's like someone would imagine the future from the perspective of someone who grew up in the 1950s
How easy was it to play the whole album live?
I wouldn't say it was easy. The first track ("Heart's Divided") and the last track ("The Deepest Part") were quite challenging. It was an expression of what I had achieved and I think it worked. Afterall, you only get one first record release party.
What does Psychic Twin look like at the moment?
I have a drummer. Her name is Rosanna. She joined quite late into the making of the record. I did mix the record and do some production with Jake from Unknown Mortal Orchestra but it's my vision detailing with what I've been through over the last few years.
This album was recorded over four years and from side of the country to other. How was that?
It was a different experience getting the record together. The actual recording of the record happened all over the place. I did part of it in my old basement in Illinois. Some in my friend's house in Indiana. I did one of the last songs with Rosana in a cabin in Pennsylvania. It was an incredibly complex and tough experience getting the songs finished and out there.
How ready are you to talk about your divorce and your personal life?
I took a lot of time thinking about it. I didn't want my feelings and my experience commercialised. Of course you can do that and there's nothing wrong with that in my opinion but that's not its purpose. it's not what I want to rely on to get people to hear my record.
I spent a lot of time considering whether I really wanted it to become a part of the marketing because the nature of the album could be lost. However, if it helps people go through a difficult time, I recognise that it serves a bigger function. I began to recognise that as I was trying to survive the experience (of divorce), I found that being able to listen to other people's experiences was a help in finding a way to survive. I did go through that and the record is about the struggle and that strange journey and it felt like the right thing to do to be honest about that. I feel ready to talk about it as long as it's not too deep though.
Were there any particular albums or styles of music that helped you through this time?
I don't know why but I've always been drawn to sorrowful music. Maybe it's the type of person I am but I didn't find myself changing that while I was going through this. I guess I have always been attracted to the darker side of music. Not that I don't love more upbeat music, I just am drawn to something that is a bit more emotional.
In terms of my music there are a number of different things that has influenced my style of music. Classical music was a major melodic influence since I was very young. I love Tears for Fears' The Hurting, Giorgio Moroder, even soundtrack stuff like The Neverending Story, Twin Peaks, John Carpenter. I'm just crazy for the synths and the mood of it. Oh and Kate Bush. I love Kate Bush.
Was it easy to juxtapose the more upbeat, melodious side of your music with the often emotional lyrics?
I like dance music. I like when there is a driving, pulsing feeling. However this album doesn't feel happy to me but I get really different feedback. What I hear is really beautiful melodies and perhaps that translates into something lighter for some people. I suppose I never really try and write anything too dark. I think it's hard to do that without sounding too cheesy. Take "Lose Myself" for example. Some people see it as a really upbeat song whereas I see it as much more sorrowful. That's the beauty of music. People will take what they want from it.
What's it like to see people smiling, dancing and even kissing listening to such a personal set of songs?
It is odd to see people having such a good time about such a painful experience. However, now I'm just glad to see people dancing and having such a great time. You really have to allow for people to take it in in the way that they want to and if my music can do that, then that is great.
You put a lot into this album and the result is a very tight, concise body of work. Is there anything left over?
Oh yeah. I'm actually going to release a B-sides album. Well, some of the B-sides. I wanted a nice and concise journey but there is a lot more than that. Maybe it's good to have some songs stored away for some future time when people will be interested.
Who is your go to quality controller?
It was my husband so that was something we shared and it was hard when I couldn't do that anymore. Now, I have some other musicians but you don't want too many different opinions. I try to make decisions not completely on my own but mostly on my own because this is from my perspective and I don't want to water it down too much. There is a very clear, personal message so I try and keep it to a small group.
How have you fitted into the scene in Brooklyn?
Brooklyn is a interesting because there are little pockets of fashions and scenes. People are very busy with their own thing so it can be hard to break into that. It certainly was at first. I have a small group of people that I have a connection with now. People I've played shows with. Now I have a tapestry of human beings that I can share things with.
So the album is out and you have reached the end of such a long journey, what do you do next?
It's a conundrum because I just want to pursue music and see how far I can take it. I know I want a family but I don't know if I can make that work with the type of lifestyle I've chosen. On the other hand, it's important to keep doing that which makes me happy. It is stressful and I do think about it a lot. I guess in terms of wanting to try and have a family, some people think that you shouldn't be dreaming like this, you should be settling down. But my ability to connect with people shouldn't be dependent on my age or where I find myself in life. I feel my experience means I have something genuine to offer.