The latest single, “The Fire,” from Brooklyn-based indie pop outfit Chatterbox opens with a fourth-wall break. Lead singer Erika Nolan croons “let’s rock and roll!” in a velvety-smooth voice as the rest of the band giggles in the background. It’s a lighthearted opening to an otherwise heavy heartbreak ballad that Nolan wrote about a situationship she found herself caught in early on in the pandemic. It’s a scathing open letter to the person who lead her on, an audible burn in her throat as she delivers lyrics with conviction about how she could have started a fire for this person and they still would have complained that it “wasn’t bright enough.”
It’s a hot evening in late July when I meet up with Erika Nolan at Double, a bar just off the Halsey L. We get matching Aperol spritz’s and I order a chili dog with pickled jalapeños that tastes like the nectar of the gods. We discuss her childhood love of Amy Winehouse, writing about heartbreak, and how a brand new arrangement can alter a song entirely.
Hi Erika, welcome to A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents! Would you tell me a little about yourself?
My name is Erika. I’m the lead singer of a four-piece indie rock band called Chatterbox based in Brooklyn, and I also book shows in the area on the side.
How and when did you start making music?
I’ve been making music since I was a very small child! My dad was a musician who gigged in bars since I was born, so I started singing with him when I was around seven-years-old. I started writing my own stuff when I was around 10, but didn’t start performing in bands until college. I met the band when I was 19, and we’ve been collaborating ever since!
How did you and the rest of the band come into each others’ orbit?
For the most part we went to school together and have had a few lineup changes since then. Madi, the guitarist, and I have been in the band together since the beginning. Funny story, our drummer, Manny, actually came to jam with us because he thought that our band would suck, he didn’t believe we were really serious about the whole music thing [laughs]. But we totally vibed and then it became a weekly thing, where we’d meet up and practice.
Purely as a listener, what types of emotions do your favorite songs normally convey?
I think I pay the most attention to the lyrics. I know that’s rare, cause most people would probably say they’re more into the musicality. When I first started writing I really gravitated to Bob Dylan because he was a storyteller, and his songs don’t adhere to the typical pop formula where it’s verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus all the time.
I’ve also been really inspired by Amy Winehouse and the way she took the darkest periods of her life and made the most beautiful music out of it.
How does that type of inspiration affect your own writing?
The band writes as a group, so normally it’ll start with a guitar line and a drum pattern. Then I’ll see how it makes me feel, and with a song like The Fire, I’m upset about something and I want to talk about it, but I also want to tell a story of exactly what happened start-to-finish.
That’s a good segue into talking about the single. How did “The Fire” come about?
I wrote it at my parents’ house during the pandemic while I was fooling around on the piano. At the time I was talking to this guy I was interested in who was really not giving me the time of day. I thought it was really fucking annoying, so I sat down and fooled around on the piano to see what would come out of it. At the time the melody and the chords I’d written were completely different. I played it for the band and they didn’t really vibe with it.
Later during that practice, Madi and Manny were fooling around, so I put those same lyrics over what they were playing, and they were like “Oh my god, how did you come up with that so quickly?” And I was like, “You don’t remember? That’s the song that you guys hated!” But I guess it ended up where it needed to go!
Do you still believe that artistic freedom and community is possible in New York in this day and age?
For sure! I feel like it’s easier said than done sometimes, and the issue that I run into sometimes is feeling confident in myself, because a lot of the people who live here always have that intimidatingly cool factor about them. I think specifically in Bushwick, everyone has a craft they’re really passionate about, but it’s sometimes very hard to forge a connection with people who share the same interests as you. But it’s nice to find a balance between selling your ideas to other artists and also forging genuine, lasting connections without feeling the pressure to over-promote yourself, because it’s not like we’re living in LA or anything.
What does the rest of the year have in store for Chatterbox?
We’ve been recording an EP at a studio in the Rockaways, playing more shows, and vibing out doing whatever we can!
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