Local songwriter Erin Austin discusses love of music
After more than 3 1/2 years of writing and recording, editing and mixing, Tulsa band OK SWEETHEART introduced its debut album, “Home,” on April 5.
Driven by lead singer Erin Austin’s distinct voice, OK SWEETHEART mixes sunny, ’60s pop with jazzy, Bille Holiday-esque tunes to create a majorly charming combination.
The Daily sat down with Austin to talk about her songwriting inspirations, the difficulties in recording an album and her love of making music.
The Daily: How long did you take to write?
Austin: I started in December 2007. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and I had a little, tiny recording studio — Rob and I did, just a little set up. And I would go in the morning like it was my job, from about 9 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m. I’d spend about four or five hours basically writing every day. During that time is when I wrote almost all the songs on the record. We recorded one song just to see what people would think about it— and that’s the one we won the 2008 John Lennon Songwriting Contest for. So we were like, well if we can win a songwriting competition, let’s keep going and do more songs. So we took the rest of the songs we wanted for the record and continued recording.
The Daily: So how many songs did you end up with?
Austin: I wrote a lot. I think what its says on our bio is like 60-plus songs. We just had to pick which ones we thought went together or which ones we thought were the best ones. The first half of the record is definitely more upbeat and radio-friendly, and then the second half is, I think, where I’m going, writing-wise. A little more simple, not quite as poppy. Probably a little more folk Americana style for the next record.
The Daily: How do you get the inspiration to write?
Austin: Oh my gosh. It’s not really so much inspiration. It’s like … well, I’ve been writing songs since I was a little kid, walking around the house in makeup and dancing around. When I was nine I wrote down my first real song and I brought it to my dad … this is so embarrassing … and it was about a boy I had a crush on. And my dad was like, really, really conservative. I grew up in the church and all that. And he said, “Well why don’t we make this about Jesus?” So that was like my first bout of censorship where I had to change everything about a boy to Jesus.
The Daily: Did you always know you wanted to do this?
Austin: I went to school for a little bit, and it was all classical. I studied opera, and I graduated with a music degree and I was like, “What do I do with this?” I didn’t really fit in the classical music world very well. I didn’t really know what to do. And then I was like, “Well, I’ve always written songs and I have a degree in music, so why don’t I try to make that work together.” My music theory actually pertained to songwriting. It was one of those things where I just realized what I wanted to do was to be a songwriter. And I knew I had to make it more of a sensible rather than an emotional thing. So I went every day into the studio, and whether I wrote five songs that day or nothing at all, and I just sat and listened to the Beatles for hours … I just literally wrote every day. You just kind of write as much as you can and piece it all together.
The Daily: How did you and Rob [Gungor] decide to form OK SWEETHEART?
Austin: Originally when we started recording it, it was a solo record for me. Rob and others were so involved I didn’t feel right saying it was just an Erin Austin record. If it was just me it would just be like me and a guitar or me and a piano, and it wouldn’t sound the same. They made so much of the vibe happen. They’re like the cool factor, and I’m the dork.
The Daily: Are you writing all new songs for the album?
Austin: Yeah, I think we are. I’m so disorganized though. I literally have like tons of legal pads and notebooks and random pieces of paper and napkins and stuff. If I think of something and I don’t have anything to write on, I have this voice memo app on my phone, and I literally have tons and tons and tons of little song ideas that I haven’t even touched. We have almost all the songs, I think, picked for the next record. But I have the material for like five records if I had the time to record it all. And I wasn’t saying that in like a weird, cocky way. I just don’t even know what to do with all these songs! So we’re going to record another full-length as soon as possible.
The Daily: You’ve played South by Southwest and Norman Music Festival. What do you like about playing festivals?
Austin: I like building tours around festivals. I freaking love festivals. Your best friends go, and you’re just hanging out with your friends and playing music, and it’s really fun. The difference is that you see a bunch of music people at the festivals. On regular tours you get to see all your regular friends. They can’t come see you all the time so you go see them when you play in their towns, and you get to stay with them. I like them both, but they are different.