Erin Manning “Back and Forth” (Influenza)
Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: Influenza, Music, Nashville.
It’s rare that music can appropriately be labeled as deceptive, but such an explanation might hold true for Back and Forth, the new EP from Nashville’s Erin Manning. Though physically unimposing, the petite vocalist maintains a commanding presence with a voice that is peppered with far more passion and explosiveness than her appearance or singer/songwriter label might lead on. Throughout the six song set the pace and tempo of the songs are indicative of a dense rock album at times, but that comparison really comes down to Manning’s ability to project something far weightier than her appearance might suggest. Not that there’s anything particularly worthless about coffee shop crooners, but with the EP Manning and her band convey a unique balance of musicality and passion which keeps any such comparisons at a distance. Though not particularly indicative of such gritty overtones, the album’s title track does offer an unusual balance between sweet and sharp, accompanying this vocal shift with the EP’s greatest musical outlier: two and a half minutes of tango pop. The explanation is far more bizarre than the actual track is, itself, but where it might not showcase the album’s primary sound it does reveal a distinct shift in the songwriter’s creative process. In this installment in the Influenza series, Manning explores the history behind the track and the relationships which led to its creation, also noting how it went a long ways in shifting the direction that she would take in writing the songs which followed. Erin Manning will be unleashing the new EP with a release show tomorrow (Saturday, April 23) at The Basement in Nashville.
I think the story behind the initial inspiration I had to write this song is sort of entertaining, and definitely provides a look into a very specific point in my life. When I graduated from college I had a job as a caregiver for an elderly blind woman, so for several days a week I would take her to her aqua therapy class and assist her with the exercises. She was quite short so her head barely reached over the water, and because she couldn’t see she also didn’t have very good balance. More often than not the exercises required me to hold both of her hands while facing her and we would walk across the pool, hand in hand as if we were ballroom dancing. This never ceased to entertain the both of us, and on one day in particular, the words “back and forth” came to mind as we were doing this very tango-esque movement. I guess it was just the thought of this tiny, red-haired old lady, striding around the pool with a 22 year old girl who was about two feet taller than her that finally started to take a toll on my thoughts, causing my words to unintentionally reflect my actions. The more I tossed these words around in my head, a melody started to form, and combined with the lyrics; I thought it only fitting to combine them with a Bolero feel.
I’d like to say that the song pretty much wrote itself from there, but I actually had a lot of trouble coming up with the rest of the lyrics. I had promised myself that the next song I wrote could not be a love/breakup song, and furthermore, I needed to start writing lyrics that were more “relatable,” regardless of their subject matter. The timing in this situation was poor however, because the person I had been dating had just done something that was so infuriating that it ended up causing one of those big moments in life where I found myself thinking, “How have I not learned my lesson by now,” or, “How did I not see this coming,” or, “How could I possibly allow myself to put up with someone like this?!” (Those questions would actually end up being the topic of the song — that feeling of wanting to kick yourself when you realize you didn’t learn a lesson the first time around… or the tenth time around.)
So in my time of feeling especially pissed off I was additionally burdened with the inner struggle of not wanting to write another breakup song, while the largest thing lurking at the forefront of my mind was the idiot psycho in my life. I ended up settling for a bit of a compromise, which was to tell the tale of what happened, but to try my hardest at recounting it in a general way so that people would be able to relate to what I was talking about (although I secretly hoped that maybe the screaming in the chorus would be distracting enough to make listeners not even pay attention to the words). I’m not too sure if I succeeded or did this to the best of my ability, but it was my first attempt at really working on my songwriting, so in that sense the experience still sticks with me. I’m also proud to say that the four songs I wrote after “Back and Forth” on my new EP are not love songs, or even about people in particular. Since the completion of the album, I’ve continued to stray farther from my breakup song tendency, which makes me excited about my future work, and has helped me grow more in my songwriting skills overall. I can’t complain about that.