“I’d like to tell you what I’ve come to believe,
That life is a mystery with tricks up its sleeve.”
-“Six Feet Underground,” The Wild
In February of 2006, Lee Erickson was dying. Erickson was an artist living in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, married to Bethany, a biologist with a love of music. As Erickson’s condition worsened, Bethany’s sister Jenny, also a musician, came to join them in LaCrosse. In that darkest hour, the family came together to love and support each other. Erickson, an expansive artistic force, looked to the future even as his own end came. “Jenny,” he told her, “you gotta do your music.”
Lee Erickson died later that spring. Bethany and Jenny’s profound grief took many forms; a trip to India, a relocation together to Brooklyn, and music. Bethany’s accumulated songs became a lifeline and teased out and shaped by the sisters, they began playing out at open mics in Brooklyn, their floating, folk and blues harmonies winning them fans. They played out as The Ericksons, but skirted the true meaning of the name – the grief was too close. “It worked in Brooklyn,” Jenny laughs, “because there aren’t many Scandinavians.”
The community of musicians in Brooklyn supported The Ericksons and in 2008, they released their first record, Middle of the Night, a raw, acoustic set of songs. Home called to the sisters, though, and they returned to the Midwest and in 2010, released Don’t Be Scared, Don’t Be Alarmed, a record more fully fleshed out by producer Beau Sorenson (who recently produced Field Report’s debut). Their first records, with their picked guitars and string, their animal, natural harmonies and deep melancholy hinting at greater loss.
That great loss, and the move to acceptance and love is key to the lush new release from The Ericksons, The Wild. For The Wild, the connections made and strengthened through music led to just the right recording situation. The Ericksons returned to Sorensen to produce, who in turn, led to the pedal steel of Ben Lester, whose warm, haunting instrumentation couples perfectly with the intertwining voices of the sisters. Recording at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios in Fall Creek, Wisconsin meant that they were back to home, to where love and grief first sparked this journey.
The result is the fullest, richest record yet from The Ericksons, an honest reckoning with that grief and love, rooted in American sounds. Wearing influences like A.A. Bondy, Emmylou Harris and The Pines on their sleeves, The Wild completely envelops the listener in the life that Bethany and Jenny have made in song. From the torch song with a gasping punch of “Find Yourself a Lover” to the open, beating heart of “Six Feet Underground” and the everyday blues of “Dirty Dishes,” there is a universal beauty here that transcends lived pain.
“We couldn’t keep going without real people,” Bethany confides, “that’s what sustains us.” The music that The Ericksons makes keeps light alive through this mysterious, tricky life. It’s the music that you gotta do.