Evolution is the the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form; it’s a process that can be slow and painful, but one that is absolutely necessary in order to grow into whom we are meant to be. Such is the story of Erin McLaughlin.
McLaughlin, the creative power behind California-based folk rock outfit Ruby Force, grew up singing in church and developed a love for community aspect of the worship experience. “I started writing little songs by myself as a way of expressing something that felt good to do when I was with a group pf people,” she recalls. “I was sheltered, and I grew up listening to a lot of Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and Steven Curtis Chapman. The contemporary Christian realm was very heavily influenced by Nashville and Nashville players, so maybe that’s where the vibe came from,” she explains of her dusty, alt-country-tinged sound. “Later, I fell in love with Alison Krauss and Nickel Creek. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a white girl or because I’m Celtic, but it just went straight through and cut me. In high school, I was all about 90s R&B; it’s weird, the hybrid that is born when you’re sheltered and you’re allowed to listen to the radio a little bit.”
Ten years ago, McLaughlin was working for a church, singing at multiple services every week, and was attending Bible college when tragedy struck. “My little brother, who was 16 at the time, passed away, and it changed my whole trajectory. I decided to back away, not from my beliefs, but from this institution who was giving me these pat answers for something that could not be explained or fixed,” she explains. “I got more serious about writing, it helped me mourn. I needed to step outside of those confines, and find God in other places—in bars or venues, or having church by sharing beers with non-believers on a porch at night. It changed my life,” she recalls.
After stalls and starts in the record-making process, McLaughlin’s friend and Delta Spirit drummer, Brandon Young, introduced her to musician and producer Elijah Thomson at a backyard bonfire. “We had the same church roots, and loved the same music, and I knew he would be a great fit,” recalls McLaughlin.”He asked me what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be; I said ‘I want to play at festivals, I want to play to people standing up, and someday I want to play in swanky-ass theaters where people are sitting down. I want to dance and I want to shake a tambourine, I want to be Neko Case and Stevie Nicks, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. I want to do all of it.’” Thomson encouraged to add more rock n’ roll to her country-tinged sound, nudged her in a direction that was less likely to result in pigeon-holing, and her sound evolved. Thomson also brought multi-instrumentalist/writer/producer Richard Swift into the process, who, as McLaughlin puts it, “brought awesome weirdness” to the album’s tracks. She also got some help from friend and Nickel Creek’s own Sean Watkins, whom she had become friends with over a chance meeting years before. “When it came time to make a full-length, I couldn’t imagine doing it without Magic Fingers Watkins shredding on guitar,” she laughs. “The universe has a way of bringing people to me—and I don’t want to jinx it—but it’s definitely been true for the last few years, and especially for this record.”
The pain endured, triumphs rejoiced, and battles lost and won have since culminated in ten endearing tracks on an appropriately-named debut, set for release on June 23rd. “I have evolved as a human being. I made so many mistakes, and I learned a lot. It came time to name the thing,” she declares. “Evolutionary War just made sense.”