Erica Falls Blazes a New Path with Launch of Solo Career (Interview)
Erica Falls is stepping out. After more than two decades paying her dues on the New Orleans music scene and perfecting her own homegrown brand of Neo-Soul backing up stars like Dr. John, Sting, Jennifer Hudson, Joe Sample, No Doubt and more, she’s taking the leap into a promising solo career. Her accomplishments also include two albums, 2011’s Me Myself and I and 2017’s superb Homegrown, a collection of heartfelt original and cover tunes that was five years in the making. A tireless performer, she’s played all over her hometown, including at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Essence Festival.
Music fans might know her best as the guest singer for New Orleans’ guardians of funk, Galactic, a band she has toured and recorded with for nearly five years. Back in March, she informed the band, whom she calls her “brothers,” that she’d be leaving to blaze her own path. With their blessings, Falls made the move official in September and hit the ground running with breakout performances in September in Colorado at The Dillon Amphitheater and at Cervantes Ballroom, and in October with memorable shows at Tipitina’s Elementals concert and at Suwannee Hulaween.
ERICA Falls LIVE NOW!! Hulaween 2019
Posted by Erica Falls on Sunday, October 27, 2019
Growing up the youngest of eight children in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, Falls was born into a family who passed along their love of classic soul singers like Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone and Sarah Vaughan, artists who inform her music today. By the time she reached high school, Falls pursued vocal training in earnest under the tutelage of several talented music teachers. Post-graduation saw Falls sing in vocal groups ELS and New Beginnings.
It wasn’t long before others started to take notice, and she was landing back up vocal gigs with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry including with a man who would become one of her mentors, New Orleans’ brilliant producer/songwriter/pianist Allen Toussaint. She even caught the attention of producer/director Lee Daniels who cast her as a singer in his critically acclaimed 2013 film The Butler.
She’s covered a lot of ground since, even managing to incorporate a passion for cooking into her career path by launching HEN.E SWEETS, a venture that sells cupcake-sized bread pudding treats. Working from her father’s recipe, the sweets are sold at Vino Volo, a New Orleans wine bar, and at shops in Louis Armstrong International Airport. Read more about Fall’s amazing career in the MFN profile “Erica Falls Rising: The New Queen of New Orleans Neo-Soul.”
I recently got to catch up with Falls after her incendiary performance at Hulaween in October and chat about the new chapter in life.
MFN: Thank you so much for sitting down to talk with me, Erica. Congratulations on this leap. I know this is something you’ve been dreaming about for a long time. At what point did you say to yourself, “Alright, I’m going to do this”?
EF: You know, it’s like, a little light switch goes off, and it’s almost saying to you, “Don’t get comfortable. You’re getting comfortable.” When I feel that way, I know I have to push myself, and I just knew it. So, after JazzFest this year with Galactic, I knew then. I was like, “Okay. It’s time.” And I sent out the email and cried like a baby.
It was so funny. Everybody responded and was so supportive. And Ben (Ellman) was like “No! You can’t leave!” But, they all understand. Ben teases all the time and says, “You know what? This is not over. We’re just in an open relationship.” (Laughs)
MFN: So who makes up your core band now?
EF: My core band is Nick Mercadel (drums), Jason Hodge (keys), Max Moran on bass, and June Yamagishi and Chris Adkins on guitars.
MFN: When you did make this leap out on your own, your core musicians, were these guys you’d played with before?
EF: Oh, yeah. They’ve been with me for years. Even before I started singing with Galactic, they were with me. They’re in the trenches with me. They’re on the journey, and I really appreciate them.
MFN: You are part of a generation that is carrying on a legacy of New Orleans legends and soul singers, like Irma Thomas. Do you feel that weight at all?
EF: I don’t really say it’s a weight. It’s like an assignment, because I know I have to do well because they did well. They set the standard. So, I have to meet that. Meet it or supersede it. And the fact that they trust me enough, people like Zig Boo (Zigaboo Modeliste), and Leo (Leo Nocentelli), and George (Porter, Jr.) and Irma, and Allen (Toussaint), all these folks really believed in me. And they pushed me, “You can do this. You got this.” So it’s an assignment more than a weight, because I know I have to do that. It’s a little scary at times.
Erica Falls live NOW! Antone’s Austin with DUMPSTAPHUNK
Posted by Erica Falls on Friday, November 29, 2019
MFN: Of that amazing list of mentors, and I know there are many more, is there one piece of advice that stuck out that is helping you along this journey now?
EF: Chali2na said to me just last night. I was a little nervous about the show and he said, “Lemme tell you something someone told me. When you’re good, even when you’re at your worst, it’s still good.” It resonated with me, and I thought, “You’re right.”
MFN: So it’s been two years since your album Homegrown came out. You’re writing some new material, correct?
EF: Writing and recording just this past week and working on two new tracks that are actually recorded. I’m also in the process of writing two more tunes. I have Garrett Shider from P-Funk sending me some stuff, Chris Dowd from Fishbone is sending me some stuff, so I’ve got some really cool people in my corner sending me material. And it’s some fire music! It’s exciting to explore those avenues and write and with other people and come together and collaborate on other music. I’m excited about that.
MFN: When can we expect the new material?
EF: We’re looking at sometime early next year, somewhere maybe like February. What I’m going to do is release them as singles. I’m not going to do a complete project. I’m going to release singles and then do a live recording of all the singles and that’ll be the complete project.
MFN: Now that you’re in business for yourself and depending on nobody but you, how’s that going so far?
EF: So, it’s funny how God allows things to align. And there comes Michael Quinlan, my manger, and he comes with all these beautiful people. There’s just this great, great team of people around me along with my family and all those who have always been in my corner. And so, I have that support team, and his mind is brilliant. So, we sit down, and we talk, and we strategize, “This is what we’re gonna do, and this is the next step, and this is what needs to take place.” It’s great to have that help because it can be overwhelming when you try to do everything yourself — logistics, book rehearsals, rehearse your own stuff, studio sessions, booking flights and all that stuff, and you’d be crazy. So, the fact that I have him in my corner and all that has come to a perfect circle. That’s how I am able to survive.
MFN: You mentioned a few folks you’re collaborating with who are your producers on the new material?
EF: Nick Mercadel and Mike Bass (Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue) and myself. We’re going to co-produce. Even though I’m working with other writers on stuff, who are actually going to produce maybe a song together, the whole overall project is going to be produced by myself, Nick Mercadel and Mike Bass.
MFN: Is there anybody else you’re looking to collaborate on this new album with or are you just waiting for it to all come in?
EF: It’s kinda just coming to me, and as it comes, I’m accepting it. So yeah, I haven’t really sought out anyone. It’s funny that I’ve been in places and people have heard me sing and are like, “Hey, I got a song I want to send you.” So I was like, you know. I’m not going to force it. It seems to be happening this way and I’m going to just let it.
MFN: So, overall, were you scared taking this leap?
EF: Hell, yeah! But when I’m most scared that’s when I know I have to do it.
MFN: Do you take being scared as fuel for the fire for what you’re doing now?
EF: Yeah. Because, trust me, this transition has brought on some challenges. I remember a guy, a friend of mine. He was in the military, and he told me a story. He was in Iraq, and he was with his partner, the guy who was with him, and he said, “Ya know. If something happens out here, what are ya gonna do? Lay down and die, or are you going to get up and fight? And he said, “I’m going to get up and fight.” So that’s the way I’ve been looking at this. When the challenges come, okay, this a new one. Face it. Get past it. Move on. Oh, there’s another one? Face it. Get past it and move on. And that’s how I’ve been dealing with it.
MFN: Watching you play, you put your heart and soul into it whether it’s 10 people or 10,000.
EF: Yeah. I have to do the same show. Because for me, like I always say, it’s my sanctuary. It’s a place where I get to release. So whether it’s two people out there, I’m going to do the same thing because I’m actually upchucking (laughs). You know, getting some stuff out, getting off my chest. My sanctuary is a place for me to just lay it all down. And so, everybody gets the chance to enjoy or experience it but it’s really kinda selfish. It’s really more personal for me which is why I give the same thing.
MFN: The reception for you and your solo band has had to have been great.
EF: It’s been amazing. We did a show, Elementals. It was me and Chali2na and (Lyrics Born and Alfred Banks). Chali2na and Larry (Sieberth) they came, and they were blown away. They were blown away! It’s nice for my peers to actually see what I do because they’ve always seen me with Galactic, and they know that. So it’s a new thing to see me with my own band and do original music and stuff they haven’t heard me do before. And they were like, “Good job. You’re doing well. I’m proud of you.” You don’t seek the approval, but it’s nice to hear when you’re working hard and someone who does what you do appreciates it.
MFN: So, what’s next?
EF: November, December I lay low because I’ll be recording. That’s my time to get everything together. That way by early next year, we’ll get the mastering done, the pictures, all that stuff. That’s what’s happening, and Mike is working on putting some tours together for next year.
MFN: I can’t tell you how happy I am for you. Those of us who know and love you can’t wait to see you out there. Thank you so much for speaking with me tonight.
You can catch Falls on New Year’s Eve at The House of Blues in New Orleans where she’ll be opening for Foundation of Funk featuring Zigaboo Modeliste, George Porter, Jr, Eric Krasno and John Medeski. For more information about Erica Falls and upcoming performance dates, click on the links below.