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Erin Rae’s Artful Americana Is Informed By Her Family

A lot of musicians’ parents are their talented kids’ biggest fans, but that connection is somewhat different for the family of Americana singer-songwriter Erin Rae, born Erin Rae McKaskle.

Most press for Rae’s recent album Putting on Airs lauds her talent for writing confessional story-songs. For instance, “Bad Mind” candidly shares how the Tennessee native came to grips with her own sexuality. It’s the sort of progressive-minded storytelling that shatters outdated notions about Southern roots music.

“I came by it honestly, having a mother who’s a psychologist, and by growing up going to therapy and being raised to be emotionally aware,” Rae says. “It feels natural to me to talk about my emotions. I have a hard time writing a song without a strong emotional connection to it.”

Rae grew up around great music, too, thanks largely to her dad, Mike McKaskle. “My dad and my mom played music together, mostly for fun,” she says. “From a really young age, my dad covered songs like ‘Sitting on Top of the World’ and ‘Miss the Mississippi and You’ by Jimmie Rodgers. It was just an extensive catalog of really great songs by great artists. His versions of those songs influenced my writing a ton, and my dad was also a songwriter. He’s only let me hear a handful, but I’m sure there’s more somewhere. My mom is a writer and poet, so I got it on both sides.”

For her high-school graduation gift, Dad purchased an acoustic guitar. That allowed Rae to craft her own classic covers and the sort of root-bound originals her family—and her growing fanbase—adores. Although her family moved to Nashville when she was in sixth grade, Rae wasn’t raised on Faith Hill and Martina McBride. Instead, she grew up hearing her dad’s favorite songwriters, including such regional treasures as Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson and Kate Campbell.

Fortunately, she never turned her back on those early influences—not even as her folk-leaning material with The Meanwhiles gave way to the less genre-specific sounds on Putting on Airs.

“Because I got started writing songs pretty late, there wasn’t a time when I was rebellious about it,” she says. “Now, I’m experiencing more freedom in not just writing soft, ‘songwriter’ songs. I got to do some louder, [more] dynamic and nontraditional structures… on the new record. I’m excited to walk more into that territory.”

Rae’s roots and her raising crossed paths late last year when she played a show with her dad at the Family Wash in Nashville.

“He and I sat down and recorded 14 songs at my friend’s studio,” she says. “We did a short run of CDs for that show in December, so they’re out there. They’re not online or anything. My goal is to, at some point, release that as a record, and maybe do another recording with him.”

Despite playing music for years, the father-daughter session became the first studio recordings for the elder McKaskle. “He and my mom started a recording project in the ’90s, but I don’t think it got finished,” Rae adds. “My dad couldn’t get used to hearing himself back in the microphone.”

Fantastic new album and high-profile tour dates with longtime friend Margo Price aside, Rae never stops enjoying a special family bond that doesn’t always happen for young artists. “One of the big joys in my life is my connection to them through music,” she says.