Nathan Carson

One of Erin Jane Laroue’s favorite things to do is watch people play music. It always has been. It’s a love that might’ve started back when she was a kid in Massachusetts and her parents regularly took her to see what we now think of as classic rock bands. Or maybe it started one night in 1996, when Laroue discovered the existence of avant-garde icon Diamanda Galás via a poster on a telephone pole in Providence, Rhode Island. Hours later, she was at the show, having her mind properly blown.

Or perhaps Laroue cemented her love of live music over the past 18 years in Portland, where she’s well-connected within the music scene and has had a chance to see just about any killer band you can think of at least once, if not several times. The point is: Laroue has been going to concerts for a long time, and for about 30 years, those experiences were tied together by her feelings of admiration and awe for folks who could step onstage and perform for a crowd.

“I’ve been composing and making music since I was a teenager,” says Laroue, “and I always saw music and wanted to perform, but I could never imagine ever doing it in front of people. I was so intimidated. Some of it was fear and some of it was insecurity, but mostly it was just about being a very private person and very protective of my music because it’s really, really personal.”

That started to change about six years ago. Around that time, Laroue’s father decided to stop battling leukemia and start living the rest of his life, and on a snorkeling trip in the Caribbean, he encouraged his daughter one final time to start sharing her music with people. A couple of months later, at age 64, he passed away, leaving Laroue to grapple with the impermanence of life as she inched toward 40 herself.

“I was like, ‘God, I’ve waited all this time. It’s now or never,’” she says. “A lot of things happened in my life during that time.”

One of those was the relocation of her older sister, Melynda Marie Amann, from the East Coast to Portland. The two women started an experimental chamber-pop band called Jamais Jamais, and Amann helped Laroue move past her performance anxiety.

“She’s much more comfortable with a public display than I am,” Laroue says. “She was super supportive and encouraging to me.”

On her 40th birthday, Jamais Jamais played its first show, and so did Laroue. Since then, she’s played in other bands, and about four years ago, she started playing solo. Eventually, she realized she was missing one particular piece of the musician’s puzzle: an album that documents some of the songs she’s been writing over the past two decades.

Enter Dave Fulton, local producer and keyboard/synth master in the krautrock band Møtrik. Over a seven-month period, Fulton guided Laroue through the recording process at the Pinebox, a studio in the old La Luna venue space. Fulton took Laroue’s work and “made it magical,” she says, by helping her select the right sounds, making suggestions about arrangements, and encouraging her to keep the imperfections that give great records their character.

The result is Chalant, Laroue’s debut collection of keyboard-driven tracks that lives in the shadows near the intersection of folk, new age, gothic pop, and modern classical. Laroue played every instrument on the album. The opening track, “Alone,” uses an Edgar Allan Poe poem as its lyrics, while two other songs are gorgeous piano instrumentals. Laroue started writing one of the songs (“Uno”) in 1995; others were composed within the past couple of years.

Each song on Chalant unfolds slowly, providing ample space for Laroue’s haunting melodies and emotionally raw lyrics to bloom. Recurring themes include light and darkness, life and death, fear, redemption, and the uncertainty that always lies ahead.

For Laroue, the songs are not dark or depressed, but rather intensely heartfelt. The feedback she’s received, however, has often been that her music is heavy—but not in the traditional sense.

“People come up to me afterward and say, ‘I had to leave the room because it was just too much,’” she says. “And musicians message me and they’re, like, ‘Hey, we have this show. Will you play?’ and it’ll be black metal or neo-folk or new age or whatever. All these different people who play all these different styles ask me to play and I just say yes. I just kept saying yes.”

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Laroue appreciates the appreciation, of course. And she’s quick to credit her support system—and those who have given plentiful opportunities to play live in Portland—for her progression over the last five years. But even if you stripped all that away, she says she’d still be happy now that she can hold Chalant in her hands.

“Ultimately, I made this record for me. I made a record that I would want to hear. If I found my record in a record bin and listened to it, I’d go, ‘Oh, this is awesome,’” Laroue says. “Sometimes I feel a little weird about that, but that’s because I made the record I wanted to make, and these songs are like my children.”