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An interview with Erin Fein

September 21, 2009

Champaign-Urbana has long been known for the musical artists that hail from within its boundaries. Acts that claim C-U as their hometown include REO Speedwagon, American Football, Braid and countless others.

However, the quality of music didn’t stop when those bands ceased playing together. Now local foursome Headlights seem poised to take over as the reigning rock band from Champaign.

Keyboard player and singer Erin Fein took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with Chris Davies about their new album, upcoming tour and growing popularity.

Erin Fein plays with Headlights last Wednesday as a part of Pygmalion Music Festival. (Photo courtesy of Alex Reside)

Erin Fein plays with Headlights last Wednesday as a part of Pygmalion Music Festival. (Photo courtesy of Alex Reside)

CD: Your band went through some lineup changes between “Some Racing, Some Stopping” and this album, Wildlife, correct?

EF: Yeah, we went from being a three piece to being a five piece, and halfway through recording Wildlife we went back to being a four piece. So it’s kind of a strange adventure.

CD: How did that affect the recording process?

EF: Well, basically like I was saying, halfway through our second guitarist decided to move on. At that point we had done a lot of recording and felt like things had gotten a little bit lost as we made our way through that whole process. So we wanted to kind of step back and examine what we had done and sort of just make sure the record was a reflection of the band as it was going to be, since it was going to be a four piece again. So, that’s difficult to have something like that happen in the middle of recording, but I think that helps us reset the clock and gain some perspective and then be able to finish it the way we wanted to.

CD: Okay, what can fans expect from this album?

EF: I think it is darker. The subject matter is a little darker, it’s a pretty personal record for us. But it’s about fifty-fifty as far as the energy goes, there are probably five or six pretty fast, more typical energetic type of Headlights stuff that we really love to do. But we kind of dove in to some darker, slower music as well. However, all of our records have always had variety in that regard. So, I don’t know. I think they’ll like it.

CD: What makes Wildlife different than your first two albums?

EF: I’m not sure if I would be the right one to tell you that. [Laughs] Because I’m in the band, so it’s hard to have perspective on your own music. But each record is different, you know? You’re in a different place every time you record as far as your head. You’re in a different place in your life and that affects what you do. You’re usually, at least for us, we’re always getting inspired by different things: different musicians, books, movies you know, just things that you experience in life. Every recording session, inevitably, winds up being different and we really try to allow for that because we like to not put out the same record every time.

CD: Is the current four piece lineup how you project Headlights in the future?

EF: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I think that if we find a treasure box we’ll add several more members. But right now, [laughs], four is the most manageable. We really like how it feels and it’s probably the best place for our band to be.

CD: Your show Wednesday was a great time, who had the idea to put balloons out and invite everyone on stage?

EF: [Laughs] Bringing everyone on stage was kind of a heat of the moment thing that turned out to be mayhem and was awesome and fun. It kind of felt that we ended almost as if we were at a house party, which is really fun. The balloons, though, I have to say that I have to take credit. That was me. I love balloons, so I thought what the hell, let’s do it.

CD: Well good choice. Have you ever had that many people on stage with you before?

EF: No, not even close to that! It was just incredible. I’m only 5’2″, I couldn’t even hardly see anyone else in the band.  We were just kind of blindly going through all the songs but it was so fun to have all those people dancing. It was insane.

CD: Would you say that was the best part of your show?

EF: Oh, I think that was probably the most energetic part of the show. I think probably the music was more together before there were fifty people on stage. [Laughs] But you know, perhaps sometimes you have to let go of perfection or really good execution when there’s a really good dance party.

CD: The one thing that I really enjoy about your live shows, and this was really evident with so many people on stage, is that you guys really seem to have a good time while you’re playing. What’s going through your mind while you’re up on stage?

EF: I think for us, we just really enjoy performing live. That being said, I think if you allow yourself to be comfortable on stage you just kind of get taken away with how you’re feeling. I think we all just wind up getting really involved in the music when we’re up there and dancing around, jumping around and smiling. I think a lot of what we do is fun, so it’s easy for us to just let go and enjoy the show.

CD: How long will you be touring in support Wildlife?

EF: We’ll be touring for, I think, five weeks.

CD: With a long tour like that is there anything that gets you down about it, or is it something that you really look forward to?

EF: It’s a little bit of both, I mean we love touring and as I said I think we’re definitely a band who really, really, truly enjoys playing live. So getting to do it every night is a real pleasure and I love that the most about tour. And we enjoy the traveling and we get to see friends and other bands that we would not get to see otherwise, that’s a strange sort of nationwide community that is really cool to be a part of.

But touring is hard, there’s a lot waiting, it can be cold or hot, or loading your gear you pull your back before your set, or maybe you just want some privacy and you can’t have it. It can be hard, you know, but that’s kind of like anything you do. There’s a good side and a bad side and we’ve learned how to deal with the bad stuff. So we’re pretty all right.

CD: When you do tour do you ever get sick of playing your own music?

EF: I think when you play night after night if it’s not a good audience, you really rely on the audience to bring out the energy. It can be hard if it’s an awkward show, if the audience is uncomfortable. But if the audience is there and they’re into it I think you can play the same song for forty years and still love it every time.

CD: I noticed you didn’t play “TV,” one of your older songs, is that because maybe you’ve played it a lot or did it just not fit in the set list?

EF: You know we had a really long set and a lot of new music. For whatever reason we decided not to play it that night but it’s definitely not off the list forever. It just didn’t happen to come out at that show.

CD: This was a little strange experience for me, I was at Woodfield Mall [in Schaumburg] and I heard your song, “Cherry Tulips,” playing while I was shopping.

EF: No way! [Laughs] Was it in a store?

CD: Yeah, actually I was with my girlfriend in Victoria’s Secret.

EF: Really? That’s hysterical! [Laughs]  That’s awesome.

CD: Yeah, how does that make you feel to know you’re getting exposure in such a huge marketplace?

EF: It’s great, it’s exciting to find out that more people than just your family and friends are listening to what you do. [Laughs]

CD: What do expect the future to have for Headlights? Obviously, this upcoming tour, but is there anything ahead that you guys have talked about?

EF: Well, we’re hoping to go on tour in Japan this year. That would be probably the thing that we’re looking forward to and hoping for the most at the moment.

CD: Why Japan?

EF: I think that it is this totally new frontier. I mean we’ve toured in Europe a few times, which has been an incredible adventure, and I think going somewhere like Japan where you’re really culturally out of your element would be a really unique experience that we would all really like to have.

Tristan [Wraight, guitarist and singer for Headlights], actually used to tour with Maserati, they got to do a Japanese tour and he was able to go with them. This was four years ago or so, and just seeing the pictures and hearing the stories, I don’t know, I’ve just always wanted to have that myself. So I’m crossing my fingers.

CD: That sounds really cool. How many times have you played Pygmalion festival?

EF: Is this the fourth year of the festival?

CD: It’s the fifth.

EF: I think we’ve played every year.

CD: What do you like most about playing these shows?

EF: Well, Pygmalion is just a really exciting gathering of great musicians and it’s so cool to have it in our town. I’m from here, so to have so many great bands be a part of this festival in little Champaign-Urbana it’s pretty special for people who love indie-rock music.

And we get good shows here, but this is on par with some festivals in bigger cities. It’s pretty impressive how it has grown every year. I feel, and I think I speak for all of Headlights, that we feel really lucky to be a part of it and that it’s representing our little town well.

CD: That’s all that I had prepared, is there anything I missed out on?

EF: I don’t think so, I think you got some pretty good questions.

CD: All right, well good luck with everything, the tour and going to Japan. Thanks for taking time to sit down with me.

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