Erica Wexler has had a life full of challenge, success and frustration.
The daughter of an Oscar nominee, Erica has been a part of the arts nearly all her life. After a short lived career as dance artist Lluna, Erica had to give up music due to suffering with crippling disease ME.
Now though, she’s poured all of that into her debut album Sunlit Night, a real labour of love. Before the album launches in October, we talked to her about her time with artist Roy Lichtenstein, her troubles with ME and what it was like working as a geisha girl.
So, can you tell us about the latest single Wildflower?
Well, it’s a very lush song with a grand and detailed arrangement which is not done very much anymore because major labels won’t pay for the budgets. We have real strings and a lot of instrumentation. It’s a song about wanting something you shouldn’t have that’s bad for but looks great. It’s really about a bad boy disguised as a wild flower. Y’know, the poetic ones.
It must be exciting right now with your debut album about to come out soon?
Since I did everything on my own steam initially, I had these Roy Lichtenstein drawings and I decided to sell them so I could make my fantasy album which I never got to make because I got ME when I got signed to Warner Brothers before. The drawing’s enabled me to make the record I really wanted, grand and lush with real players mixed beautifully.
I’m excited, but it’s been a lot of hard work, I produced it, did every edit, booked every musician and all 16 studios, so it’s a good feeling of all your hard going to the next stage, where you really don’t know what can happen! It’s more a sense of relief after putting together the whole team to get this thing done. I’m like the Little Train That Could!
Sounds tough. How did you keep yourself going?
Demonic possession? (laughs) I’ve just had such a deep need to do this, and I don’t even know why. There were a lot of setbacks and problems and delays. I was overwhelmed by all the different roles, but somewhere you say ‘I just have to make this’, and you don’t really know why, it’s like a curse. It’s strange kind of thing, like a calling.
Because the odds are that any artistic endeavour will bomb, it’s like winning the lottery, but I just had to do it. That’s what really kept me going. These songs are important to me and I felt I needed to show them off. They’re not your typical pop songs, they have sort of a life perspective and try and look at the big picture.
You’ve always been very theatrical, with your flamboyant performances in when you were performing as Lluna getting you a strong gay following. Even your songs are theatrical, so is that a side of art that’s really influenced you heavily?
Well, because my dad was in theatre and film I grew up with that sort of stuff. I was taken to the theatre to see Sleeping Beauty at the age of four and my dad was always playing show tunes and it definitely went in. I see things in a more theatrical , more dramatic way probably because of the influence of my father writing film and theatre, so I see it as little stories. Like three act plays. Then the music has to represent the story and other than Rufus Wainwright who’s not really doing that right now, there’s not many people doing that. Queen did grand music that build and has a big climatic moment.
I like things that have a bit of drama and I think that’s why back in the days when I was Lluna in New York I was very theatrical and glamorous. And gay audiences are great, they’re the best. They’re so open, they don’t look to the side to see if their friend likes it or wonder if it’s cool on the radio. If you have something, they’re there. That’s it. And they’re so demonstratively welcoming and supportive. So I hope when I get out there again I can reconnect with that part of the market because they’re so open and joyful and a real pleasure to play to.
You’ve suffered with ME for some time, what sort of impact has that had on your life?
Well, any chronic illness is devastating. People get MS, they get auto-immune problems, it changes your life completely because you kind of become an invalid. Well, I was almost an invalid for a while. It takes away all your sense of confidence, your autonomy to do things in the world, the ability to make a living, to do anything really. It’s pretty devastating.
Then you have to decide how you’re going to deal with it, other than maybe blowing your brains out. Believe me, for people who have chronic illnesses that strips them of everything they knew of themselves, it’s not an uncommon thought. So you have to reconfigure how you relate to the world and I luckily had a partner in Andy Partridge who was very patient with it. That was lucky. Then I was lucky that I had enough things I could sell and be able to borrow money so that I could try various treatments when I could get the energy together.
That dragged out for 12 years and it changes your perspective on things. It makes you more grateful for things. When people are healthy, they don’t realise how lucky they are, health is everything. You really take it for granted, a working body. It always really annoys me when people ick on their bodies because their thighs are too big or something like that. You don’t know how lucky you are to have this beautiful body there for you every day to deal with whatever.
So, it’s quite a challenge, but it made me grateful for more and gave me a deeper perspective on how life doesn’t always go the way we planned. I the west we take so much for granted. We’re supposedly to have money and health and fame and then suddenly fate steps in and you lose it all and it’s very shocking.
A lot of people will know you for being with the famous artist Roy Lichtenstein. What was it like being his muse?
Well, he was my boyfriend for two and half years and he gave me some money for the medical treatments, which was really nice of him. At the time, I really didn’t think of being a muse per se because I was so wrapped up in my own career and he was really supportive of it.
It was just a part of dating him, but I didn’t see it as such a big deal at the time because my dad was such an interesting and accomplished. It was exciting and very fun, but at times he was a bit of an annoying boyfriend.
A lot of people admire him and that’s because he was a great artist. I’m very proud that I inspired his nudes. I’m proud of the fact that when he didn’t know what to paint next (he did things in series) I said “why don’t you do nudes, because that’s what great artists do at you stage of the journey. Like Renoir and Degas did.” He did, and then they all started looking like me.
One of them was me, and I’m proud of that. It’s interesting; those nudes have a different look about them. If you look at his other girlies, they always look stressed out or angry or even crying. But these have an almost dreamy, reflective look, almost meditative.
Over the years you’ve had a lot of weird odd-jobs, what was the strangest?
Well, the ‘moan overs’ were different but I don’t know about strange. People in the arts, whether it’s writing or dancing or singing, they usually have to have ten trillion odd-jobs to survive. So I had a couple of girlfriends and we always used to share tips. Y’know like “I’m working at the juice bar of this health club and you can meet guys there” or in this case “I’m doing these ‘moan overs’ for Playboy, call them up and give them your name.” So that was a bit quirky, you’d just there, look at some soft-core and do a couple of moans. It wasn’t Shakespeare, let’s put it that way, there were a lot of ‘ahhs’ and ‘oohs’ but it paid well.
The Japanese karaoke bars were interesting, because you really got to see a lot of Japanese culture. They had these bars, I can’t remember what they were called exactly, but you were a hostess and there was a momma-son. All the big companies like Honda and Sony, they had a lot of guys who would leave home for years and were very lonely and worked endless hours.
So, basically their companies would buy a table at these bars and they’d all drink and two nicely dressed girls would sit and the table and we’d chat with them about how homesick they were and they’d go up and sing ‘Memories.’ We’d dance with them and every now and again they’d be a drunken fresh one who tried to touch a little too much and you’d have to smack ‘em. That was an interesting time because the Japanese were very repressed and shy. Unless they got really drunk.
So I think those were the two interesting ones, as a lot of the others were just temping in offices and stuff like that.
And finally, what can people expect from the album when that comes out?
I hope the record gives them pleasure and comforts them and they can see their own lives in the sings and it’s something they want to listen too over and over again. I took great care in recording the sound of the record and I mixed to tape so it would sound more rich and full, I’m not a big fan of digitally mixed records. They sound very harsh.
I hope the record envelopes them and makes them feel good and they can see someone talking about mature subjects. It’s a record for grownups, or people who want to hear something other than a singer go on about how hot they are.
Erica Wexler’s debut album Sunlit Night is out October 15th and the single Wildflowers is out now. For more info visit EricaWexler.com
FemaleFirst Cameron Smith