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The Unexpected Erin Passmore



Erin Passmore was already a rock star as a member of the wonderful Rah Rah. Then she stepped out from behind the drums, and produced a solo album that was widely viewed as one of the top indie releases of 2012. This week on the X we spend an hour In Studio with Erin Passmore.



Erin Passmore playing with Rah Rah


(from CBC Music)

Erin Passmore has a voice that will drop kick your heart. She is perhaps best known for her work in the Regina indie-rock band Rah Rah, where she's a multi-instrumentalist, contributing drums, keys, bass and her crowd-rousing vocals. Erin's voice is not brash, booming, or overdone. It's honest, warm and real. It's one of those gifts you're born with. And you can't help but take notice when she takes the mic.



She's a twist on the modern prairie girl. Erin's only vocal training came from singing in her school's concert choirs (for extra credit) and belting out Aretha Franklin songs in the shower. Friends and family had no idea she even had her vocal chops, until they heard her on early Rah Rah recordings and at some early local live shows.

Erin joined Regina rock band Sylvie, started by her brother Joel. It was Joel who stepped in to teach his younger sister some guitar tricks, as she was growing tired of practicing blues scales. His early bands Sylvie and Despistado served as inspiration for Erin to start Rah Rah with Marshall (Burns). From those early days to now, it's been the constant motion of recording and international touring that has swept Erin away to support Rah Rah's two critically beloved albums, Going Steady (2008) and Breaking Hearts (2010). The newest Rah Rah record has just finished production and will be released in late 2012.

Erin has contributed her unmistakable vocals to fellow musician friends' projects, most notably, "A Cold Night Close To The End" from 2011 JUNO winners Said The Whale's Islands Disappear album and the 2012 upcoming solo project of Jon Samuel, who is part of JUNO winning group Wintersleep.

All the while, Erin's had songs of her own simmering away on the back burner. They are personal, poetic and reflective, wry songs that tackle personal relationships and wrestle with the confines of living in a small town. This lead to the release of the Downtown EP on Hidden Pony Records on February 28, 2012.It was named one of the top album releases of 2012 by the Globe and Mail.

Downtown began with a  collection of demos, beautiful in their own right for their sparseness and jolts of Erin's personality between takes, took her to Montreal in the summer of 2011 and into the studio under the production of Matt Lederman (Patrick Watson, The Besnard Lakes). The songs began to bloom. Friends Lowell Campbell (Wintersleep), Mara Pellerin (Gramercy Riffs) joined in alongside a chain of local Montreal-based talent in Tim D'eon (Wintersleep), Dagan Harding, Mishka Stein (Patrick Watson), Andy King, Jason Sharp, Pat Sayers (Young Galaxy) and Vid Cousins (Amon Tobin) to take the demos from charming ideas to an inspired, complete album she's called (the) Downtown EP.

A week of pre-production mapped out where each song would go. Erin played electric and acoustic guitars, synth, piano, glockenspiel, moog and of course, handled all the lead vocals. An array of percussion, drums bass, trumpet, flugelhorn and bass sax infuse the songs with depth to anchor Erin's incredibly rich voice. It was an undertaking Erin admits she found daunting. "It was difficult for me to realize I could step outside of Rah Rah, and do my own thing, but having the opportunity to go to Montreal and record with Matthew Lederman forced me to fucking grow a pair! When it came down to making the record, Rah Rah were 100% supportive which made it so much easier."

The eight finished tracks reveal a lyrically inspired and worldly 24-year old Passmore. While personal relationships serve as an undeniable overtone, words spill out from her lips at times, in an obscure stream of consciousness, while on other songs they are painfully direct. There is also a nautical undercurrent to the record where recurring references to the sea, floods, water and even the song title, Rock the Boat a lovely modern doo wop flavoured track explores the irony of how Erin, raised and constantly returned to landlocked Regina, ultimately veers toward a strong connection to kinetic forces: her life as a touring musician.

The title-track Downtown explores the theme a little more intensely. Told in three different story lines all relating how small towns can be mutually inclusive and excluding, it tackles feeling self-conscious, but growing up, finding confidence and finding romance. "Ultimately," muses Erin, "I find I get a lot of my material from the disconnect that happens when (I) get home from experiencing some epic parts of the world. In the sense of comparing one place with another, Regina is a great place to live but it's also great to get out of for a while."

The closing track Captain (another nautical nod) is a lone guitar and vocal track reminiscent of the tone of the original demos. Erin's gorgeous voice ranges from a whisper, to rich sustained lines, giving "Let It Die"-era Feist a run for her money. "It's about feeling so much love for someone that you believe they could save you, and you could save them too."