The Traverse City singer-songwriter released her latest album, Tiny Beautiful Things, this spring after months of solitude and lock-down writing. Here she sheds light on her inspiration, favorite local gigs and the guilty-pleasure Spotify playlist she loves to take running.

You can buy Erlewine’s newest album at—we recommend it on vinyl!

Cara McDonald: Tiny Beautiful Things was born during the Covid-19 pandemic. How did that shape the songs you wrote?

May Erlewine: When things shut down, I decided not to stop working. I did stop touring, but I decided to keep creating as much as I could. I was writing these songs and thinking about what I was able to do: Make a record.

I had a couple songs but had also been writing a lot in January after the shutdown; I was playing music and doing livestreams every Monday. I started looking at this collection of songs and realized they were focusing on love and human connection in all its iterations, and I thought, it makes sense I’m writing these songs when we’re all so far apart.

These songs are about love that can be found in our happy places, but also in our grief, in our children, when our heart is broken. Love is present.

May Erlewine

Photo by May Erlewine

CM: Where did the album name come from?

ME: I wrote the title track, “Tiny Beautiful Things,” after a book [of the same name, by Cheryl Strayed] that changed my life at a really difficult time… Her book is also a collection of humanness, a collection of letters between her and these anonymous people going through all these things and it allowed them to feel less alone. What a beautiful thing to focus on when we’re all feeling so alone.

CM: This album is a departure from your past work—it’s more reflective, melancholy, soothing.

ME: I tried to treat each song and honor it as its own thing and not worry too much about what genre it might fit into. I wanted there to be an ease of listening to the music. I wanted continuity, so I tried in my way of singing to make it gentle; but it was also just where I was at, needing a lot of tenderness and calming energy. I was creating this music to help me also.

CM: What was it like creating without colleagues in a studio, an audience? Was Covid a creative space for you?

ME: For me, when things are not going well, creativity keeps me afloat. I leaned into writing and producing because I didn’t know what else to lean into.

At first it was this “Oh, maybe this will be a little vacation and we’ll finally make that sourdough bread,” but that wore off quickly. I had a lot of grief and anxiety. I have a child, and the experience of the lack of community was very difficult. Having your kid losing their connection with other children, school, family… that felt really serious to me and was sort of in my face every day. My daughter was home with me and we were figuring it out, but I couldn’t be everything for her and that deficit was very present all the time.

CM: So you are back on the road?

ME: Yes! Cautiously. At some point, I don’t know what else to do. We’re all just living with this longer and longer, so I am touring and supporting the album.

May Erlewine

Photo by May Erlewine

CM: Is there a song on the album that you especially love?

ME: I did lean into a little more pop production… there are bunch I’m excited about, but “Worlds Apart” has this fun rock sensibility to it, and it’s dedicated to grief and loss. I lost one of my best friends a few years ago, and he loved “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd so it’s a bit inspired by that. It’s less traditional than some things I do.

CM: Do you have a favorite place to play in Northern Mi?

ME: I love to play at Blissfest. Their second stage tent is like a big old church revival. For most years I play at that tent on Saturday, and something about that day and tent is one of my favorite shows I play all year.

CM: How about as a listener, where do you like to hang out for live music?

ME: I really love seeing shows at the Dennos; the sound is really good.

CM: What about at home, what’s in your ear?

ME: I love vinyl so much and have a really nice record player. But in reality, I listen to far more music running on my wireless headphones on my phone. When I run I have this whole Spotify playlist of shameless pop music, and another list of music that’s moving and inspiring to me.

Listen to the playlist that inspires May or the one she listens to when running!

Photo(s) by May Erlewine