It’s 1st June 2020.
The days are slowly creeping towards the Summer Solstice, as the final weeks of Ireland’s first lockdown was setting in at homes and businesses across Ireland. In Dublin, conversations were taking a more international approach. Seven days previously, 46-year-old Houston bouncer George Floyd had been murdered by a police officer near the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in central Minneapolis. His death, and its meaning to the wider Black community across the world, saw protest marches spark globally. In Dublin, thousands marched from O’Connell Street to the US Embassy, chants of “no justice no peace” echoing among the throngs.
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Marching at the head of the crowd was Dublin pop singer/songwriter Erica Cody. Born and raised in Dublin to an Irish mother and a Black American father from South Carolina; Erica had first hand experience of not only the effects of casual racism in her birthplace, but also the stories she heard from family members' living in the United States. Determined to make a difference, she – alongside fellow Irish artist jYellowL – became the figureheads of a new generation of Black Irish creatives, proud of their heritage and unafraid of standing above the parapet. In the weeks that followed the protests, Erica detailed her own experiences of racism, the off-hand remarks, the weird looks and the inappropriate requests to touch her naturally curly hair. By the time the first leaves began to fall to nature’s floor; it was clear such exposure and the constant need to re-tread past trauma had had an effect on her. Something needed to change.
“There was a lot of change and people were actually listening to not only what I’d faced but what a lot of people of colour in Ireland had faced throughout their lives that before had always fallen on deaf ears,” Cody explained of the time, as we chat ahead of the release of her brand new project inspired by the period, ‘Love & Light’. “I definitely had my fair share of emotional and mental health issues last year, and to be honest I never thought I’d reach a stage where I’d be able to write because I was going through new feelings of anxiety and depression for the first time in my life”.
It reached such a stage that, by Cody’s own admission, she feared she may never be able to write music again. “It was a lot to take on emotionally, and I had no support network because of COVID'' she admits, adding that in the end it took stepping back from the spotlight to truly quantify the effect the attention had had upon her. “I wanted to come out of COVID knowing how to cope with the new version of me, and to be able to take care of myself,” she notes. “It reached the point where it was either going to make me or break me, and I’m normally one who is able to get myself out of a rut so I really needed to find a way to break out of those emotions or I feared that was going to be me forever”.
With time, however, return Cody’s passion for music, and it’s the unwavering honesty and willingness to open up that made her such a good spokesperson, that now runs throughout her new project. The five-track EP was written and recorded during a retreat to Co. Wexford in the autumn of 2020 with producer Alex O’Keefe. “It was really important to get out of Dublin,” Erica explains of the decision to move to Wexford, “it was a sense of freedom. I hadn’t really left the house for obvious reasons, so to be able to just get up and go was amazing”. “Being able to get into a car, go to a safe space and pour my heart and soul into something with a really good friend was so important” she adds, “it really helped me get out of a dark place”.
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In her own words, the project is “a love letter to those we are closest to but are finding difficult to love the most”. “It’s about loving yourself,” she adds, “trusting the journey of healing, boundaries and also knowing it’s possible to love from a distance while protecting your peace. It’s seeing light at the end of what can be our darkest moments. We grow through what you go through, and vulnerability accompanies growth”.
Sonically, the project combines elements of traditional, murky R&B with luscious modern iteration of the genre. Cody’s vocals and lyrical aptitude coat the album in a sheen of lush harmonies, accompanied by a delicate blend of instrumentation. It;s the sound of an artist finding their way in the world, somewhere to feel safe and vulnerable within the confines of 24/7 visibility.
Cody was raised on early R&B as a child, her basketball coach father playing the likes of Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and Boyz II Men as he worked. Her mother, meanwhile, was into more contemporary artists of the time, such as Shada, Lil Kim, TLC, and Aaliyah. “I’m so heavily influenced by that music from a really impressionable age” she recalls of her childhood, “I was the first one in my family who wanted to be a musician”.
It wasn’t only music that she took from her parents, but also a passion for sport. Growing up, she would balance basketball training and gymnastics with dance lessons and singing. “I tried to make the two of them work for as long as I could” she explained, “but in the end the decision was made for me”. Just as she was beginning to look towards the US for sports scholarships, she slipped in a basketball cup game and tore her ACL and Medial ligament. The basketball dream was over; and with an 18-month recovery time, Cody threw herself into music. “It was a blessing in disguise,” Cody smiles of the time, “I’d still be trying to do it all if I never got injured, and I wouldn’t be where I am with music if I didn’t”.
“I also got a brand new knee out of it,” she laughs.
With a string of singles to her name, as well as her 2019 debut EP ‘Lioness’, Erica’s status has grown as one of Ireland’s leading new artists. Determined to make up for lost time, ‘Love & Light’ is a statement of intention, an artist finding their feet once more. “When I wrote this, I thought I was going to feel like this for the rest of my life” she explains, as the conversation draws to an end, “but it’s not like that. The motto of the EP is ‘Go Through What You Go Through’ and I really believe that. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel”.
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'Love & Light' EP is out now.
Words: Cailean Coffey
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