Listening to Erin Fein (known more so by her musical moniker, Psychic Twin) would never trigger any suspicion that she’s struggled deeply as a musician, even if her songs curate the quintessential museum of the visually stimulating healings and dealings of a broken heart. In fact, such listening would, in fact, formulate the polar opposite—that although she has wrestled with countless hardships, she has flawlessly exquisite and statuesque model that all musicians should aspire to following. Listening can certainly be deceiving, but only in vein of assumption. Context is necessary before fully acknowledging that, though. Fein’s recollection of partaking in music stretches to days where she was barely able to remember.
“Starting in music really, for me, was from early childhood,” she states. “I just seemed to have a little bit of a knack for [it]. That’s an interesting thing. When you become an adult and you realize, ‘Why am I good at this, or why did I even start doing this?’ It just was something that seemed natural, so I guess it’s in my DNA a little bit, too—to have a connection to music. I started playing by ear on my parent’s piano. I started writing songs when I was really little. Little kid songs, but still I was inventing melodies and writing [them]. For as long as I can remember, I was writing songs. I fell in love with it really, really early.”
Despite such interconnectedness, Fein found another calling that whisked her away and into a salchow instead: figure skating.
“I stepped away from [music] and became really obsessed with that,” she admits. “Now that I have hindsight, one of the things I loved about skating was the classical music. I was always really into it—I liked playing it; I liked listening to it. I was into a lot of different types of music, but just the musical and expression parts really, really appealed to me.”
Unfortunately, Fein experienced a major setback that made her reevaluate her ambitions.
“I had an injury and was not able to continue, so I moved back to Champaign (Illinois) where I was living [before], and my brothers had a band. They were just doing the awesome, rock and roll thing, and I basically forced them to let me in. That’s really where I began to learn how to be in a band—I learned that [it] was something that was possible, but I was pretty timid. I had a lot of learning to do. I didn’t have traditional training. I did take some music lessons, but a lot of it was self-taught and just gathered along the way. I think it was really a long learning process of just how to play my instrument and how to sing and how to use a microphone. It was all just done over the years.”
Fein continued to pursue music, but it was in a more secondhand fashion, where she played the roles of co-songwriter and/or just served as a member. Eventually, though, she realized that it was time to journey down a slightly different path.
“Interestingly enough, it wasn’t planned, but I was always in bands with all men, which was a fine experience,” she recalls. “Sometimes it’s a little frustrating just being the odd one out and certain things that come along with being the only woman. I just had this very deep, deep desire to do my own project that was completely, or at least almost completely, controlled and written by me. I had all these melodies always swirling around my brain. I was afraid for a long time that I wouldn’t really be able to do it, or it wouldn’t be good enough—I wouldn’t be proud of it…that I needed the people around me to be on stage and to get all kinds of things done.”
As if there was a sign of fate, Fein’s former band came to a close, and she saw it as a ‘now or never’ opportunity.
“I just realized I had to do this,” she says. “I had to find out. I had already really been thinking about what the band [would] be, what I [would] want to do. I was always thinking through the lens of what the guys [would] think was cool. I hadn’t found my own style; I hadn’t found my own voice. I just really searched for inspiration stemming from my childhood from classical music, from the things that I fell in love with on my own when I was a bit of a blank canvas, and began to pull pieces together and realize, ‘Okay, I’m going to do something like this. I’m going to do something for me that reminded me of my early heroes, like Annie Lennox, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Björk, Cyndi Lauper, the Cocteau Twins, Janet Jackson even. Just cool and dark. Not pop, but not standard. I knew I wanted it to be a little bit dark and a little bit dance-y. I grew up in the ’80s, so I wanted some influence from that era just because that was what I originally fell in love with. That’s really where Psychic Twin came from—just wanting to create a very intimate project that was dedicated to things that I alone loved and could be an expression of my deep feelings.”
The result of such realization is now essentially a genre of its own. Surely, elements of the aforementioned artists are noticeable, but ultimately, Fein has established something where she reigns as queen and others can now be classified under. In some ways, Psychic Twin is like a museum, but in song form—a collection of sacred artifacts that’s psychedelically present and posed in the past, a sort of breed that will remain fruitful and relevant no matter what trends may attempt to surface and collide with them like converging currents in plate tectonics. Even with such prominence, though, the development has taken an immense amount of precision and time. Initially, Psychic Twin was Fein and one of her former band members.
“He was very integral at the beginning of the project, but we wound up just really not wanting to pursue it in the same way,” she elaborates. “There were a lot of things about it that were working quite well. I just really wanted to go to New York. There were a variety of extenuating circumstances, and we wound up going our separate ways. When I [moved], I knew that I wanted to find someone who understood the project and was a drummer. I really needed someone to engineer and record me while I was doing my weirdo [antics]. It was a really specific thing that I was looking for, but I was also looking for somebody who was comfortable with letting me run the show and just get weird and try this and this. I didn’t really want a traditional, democratic songwriting team or band. It’s really because I wanted it to be super personal. I really just wanted to try it another way.”
She divulges, “It’s not an easy thing to find. A lot of times you find people who aren’t necessarily happy unless they’re equally writing with you. You just have to find somebody who is comfortable with that, and that took some time. I didn’t have a lot of money, and I was funding it myself. If you have a trust fund or something and you can just be like, ‘Hey, I’ll pay you a bunch of money to drum and record for me and it’ll be great,’ well, that would probably be a lot easier. I, like most people, was not in that situation, so I had to find a magical human who believed in the project, but wanted to do those roles.”
While Fein assembled the skeleton for Psychic Twin in Champaign, it truly did not develop its tissues, muscles and full-bodiedness until she moved to New York, which also proved very challenging.
“It was hard for reasons that probably most people find when they move from a college town to New York, or really frankly from anywhere to New York,” she explains. “I went alone, which I don’t know if I would do again. I did go through a divorce, which was very difficult and incredibly sad and hard. I was on the heels of that experience when I decided to go to New York, so I was emotionally in a very low place, but I also felt determined and inspired to go and start over there. Emotionally, I was not in a good place, though, if I’m being honest.”
As if feeling lonely wasn’t enough, Fein observed that the city emanated such seclusion, as well.
“One of the things I discovered when I arrived is that it’s a lonely city,” she confirms. “It doesn’t have to be, but it can be incredibly isolating. People are slow to warm up out there. They do warm up and they can be incredible and they’ll kill someone for you once they do, but it’s a different connection than I feel like Midwestern people are little more open to begin with.”
Despite the bumpy transition, Fein prevailed and ruminated on why she moved in the first place.
“I just had to start over,” she asserts. “I had a home, and then I moved to New York and had a room, a bedroom. That was weird. I think I was losing my mind a little bit, honestly. I was just going through a lot of transitions. It was quite difficult, but I kept plugging away and had music just pounding away at my heart, and it was helping me to be able to stay focused. I just went ballistic on it when I got out there. I got this crazy bartending job at a restaurant called the Spotted Pig, which is a fairly well-known place, so I was really grateful. It was pretty intense. The hours were really crazy, but it helped me to make some connections, and I was making enough money there that I could get Psychic Twin…into place.”
During that puzzle-piecing, however, another tragedy struck.
“My roommate and a good friend who was living with me at the time passed away, and it was very sad,” she says. “It was at such a time a couple of years after I had been in New York and was hiring all these people to play with me. It was helping the band all along. I’d play with a lot of good musicians, but I didn’t feel like I had found the right thing, yet. It just didn’t quite go right. I was continuing to search and my friend who passed away was really helping me, but he had his own project, and it was never going to be a permanent thing with him.”
Unexpectedly, such misfortune brought her a miracle.
“At a dinner to celebrate his life, I met Rosana Caban (Psychic Twin’s drummer),” she reminisces. “It was just the strangest, random meeting. It was a little bit emotional. We just got to talking, and she asked me what I did. I told her about Psychic Twin, and she was like, ‘Oh, do you happen to need a drummer?’ I was like, ‘Are you a drummer?’ She was like, ‘Yeah, I am.’ She went to school with my friend and is a total badass. We just talked even more. She was like, ‘Oh, yeah. I’m also an engineer. I record at a little bedroom studio.’ I was like, ‘Really? That’s awesome.’ We exchanged information. A couple weeks later, she hit me up to check in. I had all these shows going on. She wound up coming to one of them to see if she wanted to be in it and was pretty stoked. One thing led to another, and we just hit it off. You never know how things are going to go, but I’m so grateful that I met her. She’s the backbone of our project now.”
With the lineup finally complete, Fein started to feel more wholesome and polished, as well.
“I would never have been able to get this far without her at this point,” she claims. “She’s just incredible. She’s been a best friend. She’s like a sister, but even better because we chose each other. It almost makes me emotional when I talk about it, because I never have played music with somebody that I felt so respected and supported by. When I’m up on stage with her, I feel safe and like I can be myself. I’m really happy just making it happen. I feel like she’s just behind me, and it’s awesome.”
Fein released her debut album—Strange Diary—as Psychic Twin on September 9, but some of the songs featured had been released on a 7” several years earlier. Nonetheless, they’ve taken on an entirely new lifeform and still relate to all that Fein was going through.
“They have the same meaning now as they did then,” she states. “I started writing the songs so long ago. There are nine songs on the record, but I wrote probably 30 or more. I realized as it was all happening that it was a way for me to cope with the divorce and a lot of loneliness and anxiety that I was feeling, and it was just a slow process of getting my head around what had happened in my life. Even though there were years of time between some of the first songs and some of the final ones, the subject matter was the same the whole time; it was just developing and growing, and then I decided that I wanted the recordings to be different than I had started out with. I did a lot of stuff in basements and pretty lo-fi, which I love, but I felt like I wanted to push into a different space. Some of it was just, ‘How did I want to actually present the music, and who did I want to work with, and who did I want to mix the record, and how could I push the boundaries a little bit and push myself?’ In the end, the feeling behind the subject follows along the same lines, but what I had at the beginning and how it sounds is very different. Those songs that appeared early on, I re-recorded them. They’re just a rebirth of the project.”
When determining the exact sound, Fein was excruciatingly thoughtful in her decisions.
“I hate to use the word because it’s a little cliché, but I wanted [the music] to feel dreamy,” she says. “I wanted it to help me to calm down because I was dealing with a tremendous amount of anxiety and having panic attacks. I didn’t understand that I was doing that initially, but I knew I wanted smooth and calm [elements], and somewhere along the way, I realized that it was helping me. That became something I really thought about a lot, particularly toward the end. I knew I wanted it to be really heavily melody-driven. I wanted it to feel a little challenging and dark. I wanted it to be accessible, but not in the traditional pop sense. I wanted to feel like the music was complex—a little bit more than maybe the average type of pop music that you hear—but yet held onto the pop-y goodness that I loved. I hoped that my repetitive melodies and stuff got into your ear. I very badly wanted it to be and feel cohesive and very much like when people listened, they would think [I] had a fully-conceived thing from front to back and these songs would sound different from each other just enough, but also one singular vision. I kept thinking, ‘Everything has to exist under an umbrella. If it doesn’t aesthetically and sonically belong under that umbrella, I have to throw it out.’”
In terms of songwriting, Fein utilizes a very distinct method that’s as entrancing as the music itself, and it’s resulted in a diverse assemblage of keyboards and synthesizers.
“I started collecting these weird, old synths,” she explains. “Now, I have a stupid amount of them, and they’re all over my room and under my bed—it looks ridiculous. The biggest thing I realized—which was awesome for me—was that I used to write songs in a more traditional way: I’d sit down at a piano or keyboard and try to write a whole song. I would write the verse, then the chorus. I would start with maybe a bass line or some chords, and then I’d write the melody, and the lyrics would come. I would try to write the whole thing and maybe edit it and do this whole traditional thing.”
Tradition, however, is not always meant to be followed, which Fein soon came to terms with.
“I started to get frustrated,” she confesses. “I felt like because I was alone a lot of the time that I wanted to have more things going. I wished that I could clone myself so that I could be playing the beat, or playing the bass line, and then playing the keyboard part, because I found myself pushing it further and getting way more inspired and just doing weirder, cooler, more interesting things. It dawned on me that I needed to record and write at the same time, because I felt like I needed to be able to lay down a bass line and then put chords over it, and then jam for a little while. I’d loop a section and play it back, and then did all kinds of weird things—I d put on my weird lights. Back when I was in Illinois, I’d just go into a zone. I had a vocal effects station. I’d just get weird with it and experiment. Sometimes I’d just babble and not necessarily have any words, but let the melody come out, and I’d really try to sing from whatever I was feeling and just crack that really wide open. I felt like I was writing way more interesting stuff when I was recording and being able to almost stream-of-consciously let the melodies and the lyrics stream out, but not just with the one keyboard and my voice—getting to layer everything up and have a beat. Sometimes I find great inspiration from just a drum beat and not just the chord from a synth or the chord from a piano. Once I figured that out, I felt like the whole project and the songwriting exploded. I continue to do that to this day.”
With finding herself creatively came the true power of choice and what it means to make a commitment.
“I believe if you want to become good at something, at least in the way that you feel about yourself, that you should choose a path,” she says. “If you can, you should really stay on it…unless, of course, you decide it’s not making you happy, but stay on your path and work tirelessly. I think if you want to become excellent, you have to work harder than everybody else. I think you have to be very single-minded and willing to be honest and make something genuine. I think that’s very hard and scary because it’s very vulnerable, but I believe that learning how to be vulnerable and being able to handle rejection is essential to becoming an adult and also a successful artist.”
If and when that rejection occurs, the inevitable pain from it can ultimately be subsided because of the writhing passion that exists, that continues to wake you up at all hours and then drives you through the days and ideally, a lifetime. Fein couldn’t always come to terms with the ramifications of choosing her path, but the puissance within her heart and soul spearheaded all the potentially deadly symptoms aside.
“Ultimately, it was gnawing away—the desire to really try—like a woodpecker on a tree,” she explains. “Just hammering away. ‘Try this. You have to try this. You have to try this.’ I couldn’t shake it. I was struggling, too. I’m not as young as many musicians who are like, ‘I’m going to do this.’ I’m 34 years old. I am a woman. I’m proud of it, but it’s not what I intended as far as starting my own project. I thought I would be younger or be in that time where all the adults are saying, ‘You have time.’ No, everyone’s like, ‘Really? You still want to do this? Are you sure?’ I think if you feel that inside of you, forget the timeline; forget how old you are, and just throw yourself into it, because one way or the next what you will discover is something really important—it is that you either want to keep doing it and you absolutely made the right choice, or you will discover that it isn’t what you want, but you thankfully found that out and have closure. What I discovered is that now I’m finally having a little peace inside because I went for it. The end result matters to me, but it doesn’t matter as much as the peace that I get from knowing that I put both feet in. I said, ‘Fuck it. I don’t care how old I am; I don’t care what I have to do to do this thing. I’m going to go. It seems that people tend to regret what they didn’t do. There’s just no way to have perspective until you give it a try. It’s that vulnerability thing. It’s hard to be vulnerable. God, it’s so fucking hard.”
And with that comes internal and external expectations and demands, which don’t necessarily propel the creative spirit. Stagnancy is as real as humanity is and inevitably will occur, but it doesn’t have to be a detriment or closing point. Fein has reached a Zen-like mentality regarding that, which has since allowed her to reflect and strategize for her future work.
“I’ve learned over the years that it’s okay, and I think I’ve just mellowed out and realized there are things you can do to inspire,” she says. “One is to allow for that and to not be too stressed about it. Another is that I have the attitude that creativity is this bizarre and fluid thing—sometimes it moves into you, comes out of you, and other times it goes away to someone else. I really try to accept that. I’ve felt incredibly inspired for the last few years. Music just felt like it was streaming out of my fingertips, but I accept that that will not always be that way. At times when I was writing and wanted to connect more, I just needed to get into other people’s art that I love: going to museums, reading, poetry, nature. All of the incredible things about the world, they can just open up something in your mind and in your heart, and it’ll resurface later. I think that’s a great thing to do.”
In addition, Fein simply embraces the circle of life, even if it sometimes feels like it has to be molded into a certain archetype. The supposed need to satiate the masses is not necessarily necessary, nor is a guaranteed success rate.
“I think just trying to have an attitude of ‘You’re a human being’ is essential,” she says. “I don’t love what’s happened to the sound of music and the part where it’s churned out like it’s coming out of a factory—like, factory pop. That’s my biggest problem with a lot of the Top 40 type of music. I have respect for it and know that very intelligent people are involved, but I don’t love it when I see music just coming out. You can just tell that it’s not written from the heart; it was written by a group of people who sat down and said, ‘We’re going to write this great song that appeals to this demographic.’ I know that people have different relationships with music, so I would never want anyone to feel badly about what they like. If people get something out of music, that’s incredible, but for me, I have a little bit of a bone to pick with that approach. In that way, as far as inspiration and creativity goes, I want to only write if I feel inspired, and if I get to a point where it’s just not there, I’m going to do something else. That’s my attitude. I don’t want it to ever be forced.”
Such a tactic represents the absolute embodiment of Fein—a golden soul with more heart embedded within and exerted exteriorly than at least half of the population and the ability to surmount surrounding fears and insecurities in pursuit of passion. Now, she can accomplish absolutely anything. In many ways, she’s already incredibly prosperous, but her yearning spans beyond that and includes more than just herself.
“Just to be able to have your music reach lots of people [is successful],” she says. “There’s something about when you’re a writer or musician or some creative being and you’re doing it for yourself—that’s a really beautify element to
it. Then, there is the other side which is when you let other people hear it. For people to have a reaction to it—sometimes it’s fucking terrifying, and sometimes it really fucking hurts because they don’t like it or they just don’t react to it the way you’re hoping. That’s really, really hard, but you still want to share it; you want to connect. I feel like I want to connect with people. I want to know what they think. I want to share the emotional element of it. It means so much to me—I would love to be able to connect the music with other people so that maybe it would mean something to them, too. That would feel successful to find out that something you made that is so personal means something to someone else.”
Fein is already leaving that impression and legacy, and it will only continue to expand as she does. Strange Diary is available now on Polyvinyl Records, and you can buy it here. Don’t miss Psychic Twin on tour this fall with STRFKR. For more information, click here.
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