For Juneau-based singer and songwriter Erin Heist, the idea for a solo album was sparked by a resolution.
“In 2020 I made the goal that I was going to write one song a month, and it didn’t matter if it was good or bad, I just had to write one song and move on.” Heist said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, she didn’t let it derail her.
“So I started a writing group with a bunch of women I had met through the roots music scene throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. And a couple of those ladies, you know, we basically just started giving each other prompts and I managed unbelievably to keep writing music all through the pandemic…I think we all dealt with the pandemic in different ways. And I feel really fortunate that for me it meant that I actually created something,” she said.
Heist has long been a fixture on the Alaska folk music scene. But this is her first time striking out as a solo artist. In March 2020, as Alaskans entered what was to be a long period of hunkering down coupled with an especially wet summer in Southeast Alaska, she felt even more committed to stick with her goal.
“[‘Another Rainy Day’] is 100% inspired by last summer’s ungodly, never ending rain,” she said, laughing. “I wrote it in 20 minutes, just looking out the window and being a little angry and sad.”
While some Juneau musicians successfully moved to a virtual platform, much of the scene was snuffed out overnight.
“It was like a light switch got turned off in March 2020,” Heist said.
But despite the loneliness of a year spent unable to play in-person gigs or jam with other artists, this spring Heist was ready to share her new songs with the reopening world.
“Since I had never recorded anything in my life, I thought of somebody that I really loved and trusted and admired, which is my cousin Patrick Troll. And so I just called him up and asked him if he could maybe come help me figure out how to do this,” she said.
Over the course of four days, they worked together to record the tracks here in Juneau, with some help on vocals and instruments from Erin’s husband, Andrew Heist of the Great Alaskan Bluegrass Band.
Her EP project had funding from an Individual Artists Grant from the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, but Heist emphasizes the strong need for support from fans to keep the local music scene vibrant.
“It all just comes down to taking a moment to recognize when you’re listening to something that really touches you and actually taking the time to try and reach out and share it with another person,” Heist said. “That’s why musicians record music.”
Heist also worked with another fellow Southeast musician and photographer, Annie Bartholomew, to take some bright colorful photos for the album that made a dynamic visual contrast to the soft, slow songs. Now that they can work together safely in-person, new collaborative projects are in the works, including music videos funded by a grant from the Alaska State Council for the Arts.
The single “Another Rainy Day” and the complete five-song EP are out now. Heist hopes to release a full-length album in 2022.
Editor’s note: Annie Bartholomew is a former KTOO reporter.