A Girl Called Eddy
Not a Kid Anymore:
A Girl Called Eddy is a Woman Called Erin. And She’s Finally Back.
For the mastering process for the songs on Been Around, her second album as A Girl Called Eddy, Erin Moran took the recordings to London for Frank Arkwright to hone to perfection at Abbey Road Studios, the facility where, of course, The Beatles tracked most of their material. Which is a bit comical, since The Beatles formed, wrote hundreds songs, released 13 albums, caused a huge worldwide stir, changed popular music forever and broke up in less time than it took Moran to get around to crafting the follow-up to her self-titled debut album, released in 2004 by respected indie label Anti- Records.
Produced by former Pulp guitarist Richard Hawley, that album – a masterpiece of hushed, melancholy, sophisticated piano-based pop – appeared rather quietly at the time, attracting a bit of positive press and allowing Moran opening slots for fellow singer-songwriters such as Rufus Wainwright and Keren Ann. More significantly, it won over a circle of devotees which, small though it may be, includes the likes of Eric Carmen, Jane Birkin, Robert Smith, Ron Sexsmith, Tracey Thorn, Don Henley and the king of sophisticated pop music, Burt Bacharach himself. Most fans, though, seem to have discovered the album in the years since, whether turned on to it by a friend (as happened in my case) or alighting upon it via YouTube or Spotify or such. Thus, A Girl Called Eddy developed a reputation as one of the great lost albums of recent times – “lost” because people are still discovering it that never knew about her before, and they’re astounded by how lovely and timeless it is. Add to that the lack of recording activity since, and it created a sort of mystique that I suppose in a certain sense worked to Moran’s advantage. Everyone that finds the music in turn wants to know whatever happened to its creator.
So when she phones me up on a recent afternoon (apologizing for being a half-hour late, because she “was up ’til about 5:30 in the morning with insomnia and just freaking out over various things”), I get the most obvious question out of the way first: what took so damn long? (Not for the call, wiseass. For the new album.)
“Uhh… well, um… life got in the way,” she chuckles. “Lots of personal stuff, health, uh, divorce, moving countries. So, you know… all of a sudden, one year becomes 16, so there you go.” She says she’s been doing various odd jobs over that time to keep a roof over her head, from waitressing to “mucking out donkey cages at a zoo in London,” where she moved in the early ’00s. She also went back to college and got a Politics, Philosophy and History degree at the University of London in Birkbeck, keeping her busy. Without going into too much detail, she elaborates on her health matters somewhat: “I’ve still got some health struggles – auto-immune stuff – and stuff with my ears and eyes… I got tinnitus as I was [mastering] the album at Abbey Road… so that was sort of the last thing in a series of 14 months of really crap symptoms this last year. So, I’m still struggling with that.”
That’s terribly unfortunate, and I absolutely hate to hear it. It’s still hard for me to believe there aren’t other factors involved in Moran’s public retreat, be it writer’s block (“Some songs come literally in a flash, and then others… I think I labored over [first album opener] ‘Tears All Over Town’ for five years,” she says), discouragement, self-doubt or any number of hurdles. But knowing nothing about Moran’s personality, I don’t aim to speculate. Better to simply revel in the splendor and radiance of Been Around (out now on Spain’s Elefant Records) and be thankful it exists at all. From the celestial, uplifting mood and seasoned wisdom of the opening title track to the minimal yet stunning nocturnal stroll of “Pale Blue Moon,” sung by Moran in tandem with album co-producer Daniel Tashian, these dozen gems make an even more compelling case for crowning A Girl Called Eddy as a pop wunderkind than the one her great lost debut convincingly presented. It’s more accomplished, fuller, more varied. It’s as exquisite as it is (in places, at least) surprisingly sunny. (Copious use of brass can have that effect!) And Moran’s voice just melts in your ear, tender and disarming, lonesome yet wise, often swathed with a chorale of backing vocalists including Jenny Douglas (Toto, P!nk, Mick Jagger, Elton John), Maureen Murphy (Zac Brown Band) and The Watson Twins.
“I worked my butt off arranging all the [background vocals], because I wanted it to feel really energizing, with other voices helping me convey the feeling that I was trying to convey. And only those kind of voices could do that. I couldn’t do it myself,” Moran elaborates. “There’s two things I wanted – I wanted lots of great background vocals, and lots of great horns on the record.”
Trombones and saxophones and French horns punch a lively pizazz into numerous tracks, perhaps most prominently on “Jody,” less a eulogy than a fond, personal celebration of a passed friend that would fit right in on Steely Dan’s Greatest Hits. Appropriately, the song features jazz trumpeter Michael Leonhart, who’s been with Steely Dan since 1996.
It may be intentional irony that the most upbeat song on the album, and in fact the most upbeat A Girl Called Eddy song to date, is a handclapper titled “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart.” But man, is it tremendous, and speaking of clear homages it totally captures the feel of a classic Pretenders single.
“Well it’s funny you should say that, because [co-writer Tashian] is a Pretenders obsessive, and I’ve just worshipped Chrissie Hynde all my life. We literally sat down on the couch in his studio and said, ‘Why don’t we just have fun with one track, and just do an homage to Chrissie type track?’ So, it literally is a total rip and stealing and homage to her. I just wanted to feel like Chrissie for two minutes and 57 seconds, so that’s my attempt at doing that. It’s not to be not taken seriously, but it’s such a Pretenders riff, and that’s the fun of it.
“As much as I was proud of the first record, I sort of felt like [it] was a bit like ‘sad, shy girl in the rain.’ And this record, I wanted to say, no, I’m not just that! And to be more expansive, dig into the stuff that really moves me, as a writer, from when I was a kid, and what I still feel now,” she continues. “Brian Wilson talks about a ceiling tone – I wanted the ceiling tone to be just warmer and bigger, and served with a bit more humanity and less dark corners. More sunshine, a little bit more Kodachrome ’70s [feel]. I wanted to blow my own mind, in a way.”
Tashian, the multi-instrumentalist producer behind Kacey Musgraves’ Album of the Year Grammy-winner Golden Hour, came to Moran’s attention via a pub owner in England, where she was living at the time, who recommended she check out Daniel’s band The Silver Seas. “I was blown away. I just thought that it was the best sort of adult pop writing I’d heard maybe since Rufus [Wainwright],” she says. “We eventually got together…down in Nashville. And [I] co-wrote a couple songs with him… So that was a really fun, new thing, and lightened the load a little bit for me. He is like a Todd Rundgren character, in that he plays every instrument, he writes great songs, he’s a great producer.” He also knows all the hotshot Nashville players, and brought folks like Jim Hoke (sax, flute, harmonica, percussion, horn arrangements), Viktor Krauss (upright bass) and Steve Herrman (trumpet) into the sessions.
And then there’s “Charity Shop Window,” a luscious billow of wistful pop magic co-written with Paul Williams, who of course played a major role in crafting many of those ’70s pop hits by artists like The Carpenters that made such an impact on Moran.
“Oh yeah, absolutely!” she gushes. “I sent him a couple things, just music pieces, and he liked ‘Charity Shop Window’s music the best. And he gave me three or four great lines [of lyrics]. And that was kind of it – he came over to my apartment for 45 minutes. ‘If it doesn’t come within an hour, it’s not gonna come,’ he said. And it was very surreal – I’m sitting at the piano, he’s behind me, talking and singing, and I said, ‘Oh my God – if the childhood me could see the grown-up me!’
“I sent him a copy of it recently,” she continues. “I don’t know what he thinks. He can be elusive and plus he’s the head of ASCAP, so he’s always running around. But hopefully he likes it! It’s funny, I remember meeting Gilbert O’Sullivan, and that just being another sort of life-coming-full-circle thing. ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ was probably the one song, as a kid, that just changed my life.”
Born in Hoboken, Moran later moved with her family to Neptune City, just south of Asbury Park on the Jersey shore. As a Catholic schoolkid, pop music was her life, and she’d spend hours poring over her 45s. Music was always playing in the house, whether from records or the radio. Her dad was a trumpet player, her mother sang, “and I just knew I wanted to sing,” she recalls. “They’d have cocktail parties and I’d be tucked back in bed, and I’d hear Bacharach, and Herb Alpert, and all the great stuff you wanna hear at a cocktail party.” For her first concert, she dragged her dad to see Barry Manilow at the Garden State Arts Center, with Leo Sayer opening. “And it was amazing!” she laughs.
“And my brother, who’s five years older, I sort of had his collection to draw from,” she says. “[He had] his Beatles collection, and he had a lot of Chicago, you know, a lot of classic ’70s mellow stuff. America, and Kenny Rankin, stuff like that which I just sort of fell in love with. Obviously The Beatles were the sort of foundation of all of that, [and] Beach Boys. So I sort of could delve into both those worlds, and then my own little world, through listening to radio… like Blondie, and I loved Gilbert O’Sullivan when I’d hear it, and ABBA, and Earth, Wind & Fire, Elvis Costello. I mean, you could turn on the radio at any point and hear all of those people next to each other. Obviously the harder rock stations in the local area like WNEW wouldn’t play softer stuff, but AM stations would. So it was great. It was a good time to be a kid… And later on, maybe in my teens, the concept of writing songs started floating around in my head.”
Her first recorded material was an experimental trip-hop project called Leomoon with her friend Stephen Harris, a former bassist for The Cult who was in a group called The Four Horsemen when she met him in the mid ’90s. Despite the nature of the music, there are a couple tracks on their album that aren’t that far removed from what Moran would come to be known for.
After some time touring and recording with English singer-songwriter Francis Dunnery, Moran struck out on her own with the 2001 EP Tears All Over Town, her debut as A Girl Called Eddy – a moniker chosen to avoid confusion with the now-deceased actress who played Joanie Cunningham on Happy Days.
“For years I’d been ribbed about that name, and… Francis always just called me Eddy for whatever God only knows reason. And I was a huge fan of an album of Dusty [Springfield’s] called A Girl Called Dusty. So when the EP came time to be put out, I thought, ‘I don’t wanna call myself Erin Moran, so let me combine these two things…’ And then you do it, and it sticks, and you can’t really change it. It has been a long time since I’ve been a girl,” she laughs, “so as the years go on, it gets more and more funny to myself.”
Through a somewhat convoluted chain of events, she was put in touch with Hawley, who ended up producing and playing many of the instruments on that wonderful first album of hers. (A guitarist from those sessions, Hawley cohort Shez Sheridan, also plays on a pair of Been Around’s cuts that were recorded in London.) And that brings us back ’round to her extended break and rather unexpected comeback – which was actually preceded by a late 2018 album by The Last Detail, a collaboration between Moran and French musician/composer Mehdi Zannad that exudes a similar classic pop flavor. “That’s another person who I’ve been friends with for a long time, just sort of mutually liking each other’s stuff,” she explains. “We’re gonna do another [album]. It’ll be coming out this summer.”
While Moran did do a bit of touring for A Girl Called Eddy, she was always frustrated at her inability, financially, to recreate the lush production for live shows. Certainly, with its horns and string sections and background vocalists, Been Around presents its own problems in that regard. “Unfortunately, I don’t do that sort of [solo piano] ‘troubadour’ kind of stuff, which would really help!” she notes. Still, she’s optimistic that some live shows will ensue. At the very least, perhaps a handful of special shows in New York City (where she’s living again) and Nashville (where Been Around was primarily recorded).
“I would love to have a career out of [music],” she stresses. “That would be fabulous! That means people have to buy your music, and not stream it and steal it. I know my fans are really wonderful, and will buy it, but the general state of music now is that people don’t. They think that subscribing to Spotify is paying for it. It’s not. So, I can’t sustain a living right now. I sure would like to. And it seems the only two avenues are just going out and being on the road 300 nights out of the year, or getting lucky with a co-write on some album that does well.
“I’m not a kid, I’m not an 80-year-old legend, I’ve disappeared for 15 years… I’m in a really weird spot. So, we’ll see. I’m hopeful.”
Photo by Julian Simmons.