Jersey girl Erin Moran finds her inner blue-eyed soul siren and picks up the torch Dusty Springfield left behind
A girl called Eddy wasn't always called Eddy. Jersey kids knew her as a music-obsessed girl named Erin Moran (no, she didn't have the hots for Chachi).
Later, the likes of David Bowie and Lauryn Hill addressed her with, "Uh, excuse me, miss?" That's because she spent years behind a desk as a receptionist at a New York recording studio, working up the nerve to make her name as a rock star.
"I met all my heroes after working in the studio for so long," she says over the phone from England, where she's lived for the past two years. "It got me very wise to the business end of things. I saw all the shit, warts and all, and the ridiculous amounts of money that can be spent on recording. It was a fuckin' great motivator, sitting there observing people who were living the life I wanted to live."
If she wanted to, Moran could dish dirt on a bonanza of rock 'n' roll indiscretions that'd put Behind The Music to shame. Stuff like the puerile hiphop brats who filled the vocal booth with hookers, or the 80s R&B diva, now fallen from grace, who once demanded only three-ply toilet tissue to wipe her ass.
But like her music, A Girl Called Eddy is nothing if not a class act.
These days, Moran's breaking hearts as the most devastating blue-eyed soul diva since Dusty Springfield died. The songs on last year's self-titled full-length debut for Anti flash back to another era when bouffant-haired bombshells wore raccoon eyeliner and sobbed in their highballs over drifters who'd done them wrong. A Girl Called Eddy (the album and the artist) is all about a kind of sophisticated, nostalgic soul.
Moran's a woman who's lived – through a grim divorce, death, self-doubt – and that worldliness comes through in the tentative torchiness of her voice. She's got that paradoxical fragile-little-girl-with-a-spine-of-steel thing going on, the broken-but-unbowed quality that lands her so many comparisons to Springfield and Karen Carpenter, and sets her apart from most contemporary pop singers.
Capturing the particular retro feel of her album without veering into pastiche, Moran says, was a real bitch.
"At one point, I thought I'd have to be the female Oasis or the next Elastica. I tried all these different sounds on, with tons of talented musicians, but… zip," she laughs.
She recorded a demo version of slow-burner Heartache with phenomenally talented NYC soft-pop crew Hem, whose Eveningland disc was one of last year's best, but she just got bummed.
"It was lovely, don't get me wrong," Moran sighs in her cross-pollinated accent, part New Joisey, part Irish brogue and part influenced by the French guy she lived with for eight years.
"But it was too much like Hem, very front-porch countryish."
Even though Moran had already lined up a record deal based on the strength of her Tears All Over Town EP, which came out on wee U.S. indie Le Grand Magistery (the original home of Canada's own Stars, old pals of Moran's), she almost called it quits.
Then a rep at Setanta, then her label in the UK, passed on an album by a Richard Hawley, a former member of the Longpigs and Pulp, who styles himself a latter-day Roy Orbison crooning over cinematic arrangements of shimmering Rickenbackers and pedal steel.
A Girl Called Eddy knew she'd found her man.
"I flew over to England on a Saturday to meet Hawley and his right-hand man, Colin (Elliot). The first thing they did was take me to a pub, where they grabbed 15 huge cans of Foster's lager for the train back to Sheffield.
"There I am, this girl from Jersey, with two fuckin' northern alcoholics smokin' on the train and tellin' me how they're gonna take care of me. I just thought 'What have I gotten myself into?'
"But when Hawley first played that bit of a solo on Tears All Over Town, a song I'd struggled with for a very long time, I started cryin' like a baby. Oh my god, it was perfect."
Along with the creative challenges, Moran's had to negotiate the industry as a female artist who's too old to be packaged as a prefab pop tart (she's well out of her 20s) and lacks the mainstream exposure to wow the Starbucks set as the next Norah Jones.
She's caught in the same limbo as the pre-Magnolia (and, some would argue, post-Magnolia) Aimee Mann.
"The label guy actually admitted to me that he knew my record could sell a couple hundred thousand copies if we appealed to the same niche as Norah Jones, but they don't have that money. I don't necessarily want to sell a gazillion records, but when you know what you're doing isn't so massively left-of-centre that people won't get it, it's a big bummer."
And because her main squeeze is an industry hack, Moran gets an insider's look at the mercurial and totally fucked-up nature of the music biz.
"Take Keane," she begins. "A year and a half ago, they were getting 10 people to their gigs. For two years they tried to get a deal. And then the right people said the right words to their friends, and when they played again two weeks later, 11 labels were there.
"Now, I think Keane write good pop songs, and I have nothing against them personally, but I watched the machine that takes over, and what I've seen happen from point A to the point where we are now would completely blow your mind."
Still, Moran is ecstatic that after so long A Girl Called Eddy might finally become a household name – not on a Norah Jones level, of course, but in households with music fans who are actually informed.
"I think the MOJO-reading, amazon. com-buying High Fidelity guys who buy imports have a lot of power that the labels are hugely ignoring," she says.
And as she prepares for the follow-up to her well-received debut, the matter-of-fact singer/songwriter is trying to avoid being written off as a one-trick pony.
"I don't want to get painted into this retro chick box. In my mind, on one song I'm Chrissie Hynde and on the next I'm Karen Carpenter and on the next I'm, like, Liam Gallagher, but I'm very wary of how people have reviewed this record. It makes me think I should do something else."
That doesn't mean A Girl Called Eddy wasn't thrilled to receive the ultimate seal of approval from the man who basically made Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien into A Girl Called Dusty.
"Rufus Wainwright is singing vocals on Burt Bacharach's new album, and somehow a copy of my record got passed on through Rufus. So Burt e-mails my manager and says, 'Really liked the Eddy CD. She's very good. Send her my compliments.'
"Thumbs-up from Burt Bacharach? I can die happy now."
By Sarah Liss href="http://www.nowtoronto.com/issues/2005-03-03/cover_story.php" target="_blank">nowtoronto.com