In 2004, punk label Epitaph‘s sister label Anti quietly released A Girl Called Eddy to very little fanfare. Her small fan base had been built earlier in the decade, when she released Tears All Over Town, a five-song EP. Those devoted few who were awaiting her new record were in for a shock; her introduction, released three years earlier, could not have prepared listeners for her debut full-length. Her hushed, tasteful, refined piano-based jazz pop had been accentuated–nay, shellacked in–overwhelmingly grand orchestral arrangements, creating a big-band style orchestra pop heavily reminiscent of 1970s artists such as Karen Carpenter, Carly Simon, and Rita Coolidge.
“They certainly were an influence on me,” states A Girl Called Eddy’s mastermind, Erin Moran. “What I loved about their music was that their voices were hard, hearty, and husky, yet their songs were often very tender and emotionally powerful, with arrangements that were equally as strong. They created this tidal wave of emotional depth, and I loved every minute of it.”
Kudos and gushing reviews soon followed the album’s release. Nearly everything about the album received great praise: the arrangements, the singing, the lyrical content–even the album’s unique cover art, recalling a worn vinyl record. A Girl Called Eddy was welcomed as being something both familiar in sound and unique in nature; many wondered if this were some long-lost artifact from 1977. It was an album that created a fanbase who hungered for a follow-up.
As of this writing, no follow-up has emerged. “Wasn’t my plan,” Moran laughs. “Sorry about that!” She would emphatically point out that the delay stems not from any perfectionist tendency. “I’ve always been a busy person, and through my life, time has passed between projects, often without me noticing. Hopefully 2014 will be me getting it together!”
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The story of A Girl Called Eddy began in 2001, with the release of Tears All Over Town, released in September 2001 on tiny indie-pop label Le Grand Magistery. On the cover, the EP is credited to “A Girl Called Eddy and Her Orchestra.”
“That was my sense of humor at play,” says Moran. “Yet like many things in my life, my joking was really me subconsciously stating what I wanted. I knew that the record was tastefully and simply arranged, so I thought we’d have some fun with irony. Who knew that’s what I really wanted!”
Tears All Over Town suffered an unfortunate fate. “Tears All Over Town came out in September of 2001, and like everything else in the world, it was overshadowed by the September 11th attacks,” Moran recalls. “In fact, the record release party–which was also my first live performance as A Girl Called Eddy–was opening for Cousteau, and we could still smell the dust and the smoke from the towers.”
Though the record’s release may have been muted by world events, that didn’t deter from Moran’s work. “I started working on the LP almost immediately after the EP was released. I was working with the band Hem. They were already somewhat established, so they had their sound, and I had definite ideas for what I wanted the record to sound like, and it just didn’t gel. I liked their sound, but I wanted a bigger sound, something grander.
“I was trying to figure out how to get these songs I heard in my head to sound the way I wanted. In 2002, I got a message from an English fellow, Richard Hawley. He’d heard the EP, he liked my songs, and was eager to work with me. I’d never heard of him; he’d just started on his solo career. I got ahold of his records, and I really liked his arrangement and his style, so I felt we’d work well together. I flew over to Sheffield to meet him, and we instantly hit it off–it was a meeting of minds. Two days later, we had three songs recorded; the rest of the record just flowed out. He had a way of getting inside the songs themselves, of understanding them from different perspectives, and arranging them appropriately. It was kind of scary–he knew exactly what I was going for–often without me telling him!”
Moran pauses for a moment. “Even though the songs feel like they were heavily labored over, the truth is, it all came together rather quickly. It helped that Hawley and I had a good working relationship,” she notes. “I remember listening to the playback of the album, and I wasn’t so much impressed by the arrangements inasmuch as I was amazed that what I heard in my head was exactly what I was hearing. It’s a great feeling to have–to see what you’ve worked on and anguished over internally for years exists in a tangible form. I don’t think I could aptly convey my feelings, but I knew one thing, I was excited for the world to hear what we’d done.”
Initially, the plan to get the record out to the world was on course. “The record was going to come out on Setanta. Label owner Keith Cullen knew Hawley; Richard played him the demo, and he liked what he heard. Hawley was on Setanta, and the label had had a bit of success with The Divine Comedy, another band I really enjoyed and was very like-minded.”
Moran sighs about what happened next, her frustration palpable. “I signed, but then the label just fell apart. For all of 2003, I was searching for a label. It was a frustrating time” Salvation would come soon enough, though. “I played a show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and Anti was there, and it fell into place.”
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Anti was an interesting choice, albeit not an obvious one. “Absolutely,” agrees Moran, “Anti was a bit of a left-field choice. They were heavily associated with a punk-rock label, and though I wouldn’t call them a “vanity” label, at the time they weren’t the force they would become. That they were a tiny label that had Nick Cave, Merle Haggard, and Tom Waits was impressive. Even if the record totally flopped and they dropped me, I could at least say to people that I’d been labelmates with these greats,” laughs Moran.
“It turns out that some of my concerns about what a label would say never came to pass. As you know, the record is dark, but it’s also rather slow in places. ‘Up-tempo’ isn’t a word to describe almost all of the album,” jokes Moran. “I feared labels would say, ‘We don’t hear a hit. It’s all too depressing; go make something that won’t make people cut their wrists,'” Moran laughs heartily. “I remember saying that at the Anti office, and they laughed, and assured me that their whole reason for being is to be the label that doesn’t say such things. It was such a wonderful thing to hear, and it made me realize that there are labels that truly live by their ‘artist-friendly’ claims.”
Still, the journey from recording and release took nearly two years–two often trying years. “By the time it came out, I was ready to do something absolutely new,” Moran understandably points out, before pausing. “It was frustrating, but not as frustrating as the fifteen years it took me to getting around to releasing the EP!”
Moran’s boisterous laughter at this realization is infectious; it’s hard not to smile, even if the laughter is based in justifiable frustration and sleepless nights and anxieties. Thankfully, she relates that her frustrations are evenly tempered with a sense of humor that keeps her grounded. Furthermore, she says it’s not that uncommon to find things that kept her busy, and the delay from starting to make music and its release has its roots in her work ethic, and is met with a quiet patience.
“I’ve always kept myself insanely busy, so it’s not a question of perfection and wanting to do it right–it’s just that time slips by! I was actively writing songs, but I was also working two jobs in two different recording studios, and even though I wasn’t recording anything, I was quietly learning the ropes of how to work in a studio. I’ve always been a hard worker in that way. I’d take any job related to music–from record stores, music publishers, music production companies, even guitar factories–if it had to do with music, I was there. It was a great way to straddle two worlds. I could pay my bills and my rent, while still making music and learning my craft.
“So it was frustrating, but I took it in stride–even though it was hard not to grumble. In 2003, the album was in the can, and I was talking to labels, and they’d say, “Well, you know, if you sign to us, even though your record’s complete, it’ll be well over a year before it even comes out.” That was excruciating to hear, even though I understood what they meant. I just wanted the damn thing out!”
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When A Girl Called Eddy finally appeared, the critics were ecstatic. Noted magazines like MOJO, Entertainment Weekly, and Uncut lavished praise on the record. It even found itself on many best-of lists, including The Wall Street Journal and this writer’s old website, Mundane Sounds.
The album’s release and its critical reception soon brought a painful, unspoken truth to life. For all of its powerful, intense arrangements, the reality of taking the album on the road soon became painfully apparent. “Being an orchestra-based band with a pop record like that, when you play live, it’s all-or-none. After we finished the record, Richard turned to me, cooly put out his cigarette on the bottom of his shoe, and said, ‘well, good luck playing this fucker live!'” For the next fifteen seconds, Moran is laughing hysterically, and then pauses, silently. “But I knew…I knew he was right.”
“When I’d made the demos, I’d arranged them with strings–synth strings–so I had the ideas about what I wanted already worked in my head, and we did that. Then, when I started to look at my tour budgeting, it quickly became apparent that there was absolutely no way I could perform it how I wanted. It was a very heartbreaking realization. Looking back on it now, it’s so obvious that there would be no way to do it live in the way I wanted it. I wasn’t sophisticated enough to pull it off, or even to arrange it in a way that comes close to capturing that feel.
“I was crestfallen, but I had to bite the bullet and just get on with it. I performed in several different permutations. I’d go out as a duo, with my guitarist, and play as a duo, or I’d play as a trio. A time or two I’d have enough preparation to have a small string or horn section accompany me, but that was the exception. It was tough, but I put on a brave face. What else could I do?
“A song like ‘Heartache’ or ‘Did You See The Moon,’ I can do in a small arrangements, and they’re fine; they sound great if I’ve got a few people with me, or I am playing by myself. It’s songs like ‘People Used To Dream About The Future’ and ‘Golden’ that are more problematic; both of those songs, their power is in the orchestral oomph; I’m sure I could play them live, but yet they’d feel awkward, as the arrangements are very much a part of the finished piece. Even if I feel okay about it, I still wonder if the audience feels a bit let down, because sometimes people want to hear you perform it just like they hear it on the record.
“With the material I’ve written since, I’ve done my best to keep that in mind–to know what works best for the live setting. But it’s not easy, because you find that you’re censoring your creative self. Yet you have to remember that what’s coming out of you, it’s coming out in a specific way, and compromising too much can be very, very emotionally upsetting.”
One such compromise that Moran has intentionally avoided is the trap that many women face. “Oh, god, how cliche is the ‘jazz-singing girl alone at her piano’ arrangement,” she says. “I have never had an interest in being that girl. I could go to any jazz club in this big ol’ city and find plenty of ‘jazz girl alone at her piano’ types…as well as twenty more girls on a backup list at each club. If that’s your thing, that’s great–Norah Jones can do it, Nellie McKay can do it–and that’s great. Erin Moran won’t,” she laughs.
The question remains: when will the world be granted a new record? “Your guess is as good as mine, I have no idea!” She breaks into her ever-present boisterous laugh. “No, the answer is that I am hoping to have a new album out in 2014. I’ve just started talking to Anti recently. Actually it’s been more like, ‘Uhhh…remember me?'”
As for the bandied-about title that appeared a few years ago, You Get The Legs You’re Given, Moran laughs. “Oh, that was just something I heard, and I thought that’d be a great title, but I don’t know now if I would. People sort of expect it, but I don’t want it thought that it’s some sort of Chinese Democracy or Smile, an unloved, unreleased project, because it most certainly wasn’t that. Then again, that ‘lost album’ might be a great selling point and might make for good press,” she ponders, mischievously.
In the interim, she can be seen performing in Mitchell Kezin‘s forthcoming documentary, Jingle Bell Rocks! “That was a fun thing to be involved with,” Moran says. “It’s a great, fun little film about Christmas music, with all sorts of musicians and artists. Everyone from Wayne Coyne to Dr. Demento! It’s getting limited release this fall,” Moran says.
In the end, though, Moran comes across as content, even if there is ample reason for feeling otherwise. “On some level, I feel like A Girl Called Eddy is such a perfect record, if I never make another record, I’m satisfied, because I made a great artistic statement, I made the album that I wanted to make. It may not have knocked over the world, but it definitely made an impact on those who did hear it, as I regularly get notes from people who say they just heard the record, that it moved them, and that they want to know when I’m going to release a new one. So it exists out there on a ‘cult’ level; I didn’t plan for that–no artist does–but it makes me feel good to know that my little record means something to those who do hear it. That’s all that matters to me.”