There is something indefinable in Erin Bode’s music that just makes you feel good.
“I don’t know how deeply I should ever think about these things,” she told me in a recent phone call from her home in St. Louis, “but my goal in life is to never be depressed for very long. You’re always going to have a reason to be sad, but I just don’t want to feel that way most of the time. Even when I’m talking about something sad, I want there to be some hope in it. I think you can discuss something tragic in a song, but musically there needs to be some kind of joy.”
Her first two albums are filled with that spirit. Her debut, Don’t Take Your Time, came out two years ago emphasizing her interpretive ability on a wide range of songs from jazz standards to Lennon/McCartney, Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder. This year’s followup, Over and Over, stressed original material by Bode (pronounced “Boh-Dee”) and her pianist Adam Maness. Thursday night, she and her band perform at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.
Though she records for the MaxJazz label, her music is closer in spirit to that of a singer/songwriter than a classic jazz chanteuse.
“When Adam and I started working together,” she said, “we didn’t really know what was gonna come out of us. We just both wanted to write songs. It’s really interesting to see what comes out when you start writing. It’s obviously a product of what you enjoy listening to or what has had the biggest impact on you, but at the same time there’s no telling where your creative mind is until it happens, until it’s a song.
“I don’t think I’m a born songwriter, but I’m giving it my best shot. I kinda have to be at the mercy of whatever happens under inspiration. A lot of people try to get us to tell them what our music is, but I really don’t know. So I try to avoid describing it too much; it’s better by itself.”
Suffolk Center Executive Director Michael Bollinger shares an alma mater with Bode—Webster University in St. Louis. But she actually spent most of her formative years in Minnesota.
“I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis called Wayzata,” she said, “which is near Minnetonka. When I was fifteen, my family moved to St. Louis and I finished high school there. Then I decided to go back to the University of Minnesota for college, but the school was a little too big. I had some friends who went to Webster and I decided to go there, and I’ve been here ever since.”
Her father is a Lutheran pastor, and there was music all around:
“I remember the day that my dad came home from church and asked if I wanted to be in the choir. I was five, and I joined the cherub choir. It was one of the biggest thrills of my life up to that point because I loved singing before then and I was actually getting a chance in an organized group.
“I’ve been hooked on music ever since I was a little kid and because I was hearing it not only at home but at church, it was just something that I had to do. Everyone in my family was musical; I think when you’re around it that much, it becomes a part of you. I was always a music geek at school. I was the only one who was excited when we took field trips to Orchestra Hall!”
Hers is a gentle singing style, more nuance than bombast. I wondered who her influences were.
“We actually listened to a lot of classical music,” she said, “but as far as songs that I was singing around the house, it would be some of the pop music that we were listening to. We listened to a lot of Paul Simon and James Taylor, so they were among the earliest people that I wanted to be like.
“In college, my aunt sent me a CD of Eva Cassidy. I had never heard of her and I was kind of skeptical. But I fell in love with her immediately, and I bought everything that I could of hers. I was just completely drawn in by the sincerity in her voice, and I was so amazed by how much technical ability she had and how tastefully she used it. That is something that is severely lacking in a lot of people that have prodigious voices—they tend to oversing. I tried to learn as much as I could from her singing, about how she phrased things and how she expressed herself with her voice. It seemed so real.
“I know there’s a lot of music out there that’s about acrobatics, but as far as what I want to buy or go see in concert, I want that connection, that sincerity.”
Erin Bode is making that connection with a lot of listeners herself.
“It feels good,” she said. “It seems like wherever we go, people do enjoy our music, and it provides the opportunity to play more. We’re working a lot, and I get lots of CD orders on the website from all over the country and Europe. To me, success is just being able to do what you love to do and supporting yourself. So I’m happy.”
copyright © 2006 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved.