May Erlewine : prolific and passionate songwriter

May Erlewine is a musician from Big Rapids, Michigan. She sings and plays the guitar, piano, violin, and other instruments. She is also a songwriter, with over 15 albums of original work published since the beginning of her career, in the early 2000s. Her songs have been covered by other artists, on the local and national music scenes in the United States. May Erlewine is part of the Earthwork Music collective, an independent label that promotes original music from regional artists. Earthwork was founded by May’s husband, Samuel Seth Bernard, who is a musician and singer-songwriter himself. May performs solo acts, duos with Seth Bernard, and in various bands across the Midwest. (“May Erlewine.” Wikipedia. Retrieved 7/2/2018.)

Some people might call May Erlewine “Michigan’s Songbird”, but her songs have traveled far beyond her home state. One of the most prolific and passionate songwriters of her generation, May’s music has touched the hearts of people all over the world. Her words have held solace for weary hearts, offered a light in the darkness and held a lot of space for the pain and joy of being alive in these times. When she starts to sing, there’s no way around it. Welcome to the moment, everyone.

Raised in a family rich with art and music, May began writing songs and playing them for the people at a very young age. Her journeys have taken her all over the world, from street corners to renowned stages, May has performed for all walks of life. In her travels Erlewine came to know the land and the pulse of the people. Her songs show a very real connection and concern with everyday folk.

May pulls from a wide variety of sounds and influences to create her unique musical landscape. You’ll hear traditional folk roots, old time country swing, soul and rock and roll but mostly she’s inspired by the hearts of the people and the one in her chest. This music is about feeling and it’s about telling life’s stories. (“May Erlewine.” Earthwork Music. Retrieved 7/2/2018.)

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The Traverse City-based singer-songwriter has long been inspired by the hearts of the people as much as the one beating in her own chest. But the 14 songs on her latest offering, “Mother Lion,” released in November, is different somehow. It’s deeper. It’s richer. It’s raw.

When asked about that depth, Erlewine deflects, crediting the work of Tyler Duncan, who produced the album, while also acknowledging that this particular project felt both triumphant and emotionally charged.

“Tyler and I had a lot of conversations about what we wanted to do in creating an album together,” Erlewine says during a recent phone interview. “We arrived at sort of the essence of what I do as a songwriter and a performer and that’s really just focusing on vulnerability and matters of the heart. The thesis was along the lines of embracing what is difficult and making room for more challenging emotions; feeling them and having some vulnerability expressing them. This record was very much about being in that space. It’s definitely reflecting on my own life experience, but also this global sense of grieving with the difficult things going on around the world and the country as well.” (Jeremy D. Bonfiglio. “May Erlewine focuses on matters of the heart.” The Herald-Palladium. 1/11/2018.)

That May Erlewine feels the world more deeply than most people is a defining part of her personality that’s obvious after just a few hours of conversation or listening to one of her albums. Admittedly, May’s emotional realm can be confusing if you’re not made of similar stuff: When she talks of being joyful at the start of each morning, it easily could sound insincere or cheesy if you can’t relate. Regardless, it somehow comes across as genuine. The emotional intelligence is even more poignant when she talks about life’s tragedies, particularly the far-off ones, like the random acts of mass violence that have been plaguing the nation. She seems impacted by them in ways that defy the cynicism and numbness of the era, wherein such things hit many of us as repetitive, abstract headlines more than as actual human disasters.

She cites such events—and the current political climate— when talking about the foundations of her latest album, Mother Lion, a quiet, folk-pop collection that’s fueled by a complicated melancholy. But the songs also ring out as highly autobiographical. Grief has become a defining theme of Erlewine’s life over the past few years—a time in which she endured the unexpected death of more than one friend (including losing her best friend to an accidental overdose) and the end of her marriage. She prefers not to talk in detail about her divorce from Seth Bernard, a musical collaborator with whom many fans still identify her, though she understands people’s wanting to know what happened. From the outside, they appeared to have an enviable, sweet, simple kind of love—a relationship that seemed to take the logical storybook step when they had a daughter in 2014. Reality for the two was more complicated.

“I had my own grief from my marriage, which was not what I thought it would be,” she says. “And there’s such a stigma around not carrying on with a marriage. But sometimes it’s the healthiest choice. It’s not a dark choice, it’s a light choice. And I think it can become a trap if you don’t allow for that to be an option. Seth and I both tried to carry our way through it with a lot of respect and love—and intention toward breaking down those stigmas as much as we’re able. You don’t have to hate each other. It doesn’t have to be horrible, even if it’s incredibly painful.” (Lou Blouine. “May Erlewine, Queen of Michigan’s Folk Scene.” MyNorth. 2/27/2018.)

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