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On her new album, singer-songwriter Erin McCarley is declaring her independence. The record, Yu Yī, is her first LP in five years and marks her first release since leaving her label, Republic Records. The move has allowed McCarley to enjoy her freedom—and also to confront the challenges that come with going solo.
“I asked to get off the label. It was probably ‘breaking up with a boyfriend before he broke up with me,’” she says. “But I wanted those things. And, at the end, it’s more a representation of who I am.”
McCarley, who was a member of local indie collective Ten Out of Tenn and whose first two albums earned her numerous song placements in TV shows and films, had full creative control to choose her collaborators—and zero pressure from anyone wearing a suit. The long-awaited project was recorded in home studios around Nashville, with local artists, like Ruslan Odnoralov, Aaron Krause, and Jeremy Lutito, among others. It took her time to get the sound just right, as she co-produced about half the songs herself.
“All the people that I work with, they call me ‘eagle ears,’” she says, laughing. “They’re just like, ‘How do you hear that?’” McCarley would often sing to approximate sounds, like “a horn, but more pointed,” which her collaborators could then chop up and manipulate.
Yu Yī, which takes its title from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, an online collection of made-up phrases to describe different emotions, means “the desire to feel intensely again.” The album finds McCarley exploring darker soundscapes, complete with lush synths and crisp beats.
Despite the sonic shift, McCarley’s lyrical candor is as present as ever. Songs, like “I Can Be Somebody” and “Out of the Fog,” focus on her struggle with depression and anxiety, the former written as a kind of love-note-to-self.
“I think a lot of my songs do start out as pep talks to myself, and, then, it kind of shines outward,” she says.
The album’s themes are both personal and universal, and McCarley wrote a number of songs inspired by the current sociopolitical climate. On “DieDieDie,” McCarley is emboldened as she sings the refrain, “I’m not gonna lay down and die,” a sentiment she hopes will foster dialogue.
“That song came out of being pissed and freaked out a little bit, but, at the same time, I think that this has been an empowering and important conversation that people haven’t had in a long time, and that was kind of my hope,” she says. “I’m glad that we’re having these conversations now, even though they’re hard.”
Although McCarley acknowledges the drawbacks of releasing music independently, she is excited by her newfound autonomy and has sought out collaborators who share her enthusiasm.
“I love being in the studio and being able to just do it on my own time, do it with whoever, and everyone that I worked with was really excited,” she says. “I feel like that’s what I’ve tried to do on all facets of this record, with the styling, the pictures, the video, working with people that are all like, ‘We’re in this together ... and I have no idea how we’re all gonna make it, but we’re gonna do it because we love it, and it is crazy, and we want to do something fun and different.’”