It’s all nostalgia, right? References to mixtapes, endearing line drawings of cassettes, socks and t-shirts with cassette tapes on them, Walkman fanaticism, fondness for J-cards and the words “Maxell,” “TDK,” and “Memorex.” It reminds us of songs and people without clear distinction between them. Memories of the memories we were having that the songs evoked. It reminds us of special presents from special someones. The past.
No. Mixtape-making is alive and well! At least for Erin it is. I learned about Erin Margaret Day through social media and was anxious to find out more about her and her project.
Erin invested in a proper cassette deck a few years ago so that she could listen to a release by the DC-based bass and drum duo Blacks Myths. Soon after, she embarked on a mixtape making project. Part memoir, part music-sharing, part season worship. She makes mixtapes for friends with a stereo cassette player, then shares the result on her blog ComeAwayWithEMD.com. An analog process with both an analog and digital product. Why?
Erin: I had been making these seasonal playlists on Spotify and would share them with a friend or two or post them on my blog, but there was also a lot of pressure mounting to stop giving money to Spotify around the same time. My first mixtape was a double cassette set, each tape 120 mins, so four hours long total, and I made it the Pandemic Summer. It was kind of a tribute to protest music and a bit of an essay about how Black the vast majority of that music has been in America…I made a bunch of mixtapes for my friend’s kid in the fall and then started the seasonal mixtape series winter 2021.
Something about mixtapes has always felt very magical to me–capturing time and space and a person’s emotional state, train of thought, etc. Since I began this series, the tapes have very much felt like they are a way I not only process my life but manifest my future. So, I guess I chose them because I love them and I think they are magical, but I have continued making them because the process has proven itself to be magical and because it functions as a great way to process my life, share it with other people, and practice this talent I have for weaving sonic tapestries that communicate stories, truths, and connections.
A process that is just as important as its recipient. Erin has created a ritual. Maybe making mixtapes, even one-off tributes to burgeoning crushes, were always rituals.
Sarah: How do you select the theme for each tape?
Erin: Each tape is sort of different. When tapes are for people I am very close to or have known a long time, they involve a lot more themes that connect with who I know that person to be or aspects of our relationship, things I know they would like, things that remind me of them. When
I know people less, or I make a tape before figuring out who I will give it to, my own headspace factors more in what I create, I think…but the tapes are always kind of intended to document that season of my life, so there are often many meanings happening at a time. For example, my fall mixtape was for an old friend I have known for like half of my life who had just gotten married and released one of the best albums of last year and is really coming into their power as an adult, but I had also just started dating someone I had very serious feelings about who also has a long history in the DIY music scene, so it’s a narrative that captures that period in both their life and mine well, with a lot of songs that evoke moving from youth to adulthood, looking back while moving forward, and coming into power and wisdom, learning how to love in healthy ways. That friend is like a genius of crafting meaning and telling stories, so I also set out to prove to them in my track selections and mixtape craft that I am the greatest student of their own poetic philosophy, through the themes I chose and connected them into a wildly complex themescape!
Said mixtape is one for which Erin is most proud. She made it for someone who is very close, an old friend with whom she had not been in communication for a long time. She wrote:
I think that made the messaging really powerful…I wrote a long post explaining the story and trajectory of the fall mixtape here: basically the tracks and themes are so interwoven that it feels kind of impossible to isolate ones that do it very well, which to me is why the tape is so remarkable and powerful. It’s constantly unfolding and revealing new connections and recurring themes.
Every piece of art is a message given and received. I doubt it ever gets caught exactly as the throw was intended. All the artist’s meaning comes from places deep within. The artist probably doesn’t even know which tunnels to dig to find the real source of inspiration. Events and people and seasons are the tips of icebergs of the psyche, and all that meaning- that messy humanity- is interpreted by a recipient with their own multiverse of perspectives.
Enter Sevan. Sevan received Erin’s fall 2021 mixtape.
Sevan: So to be honest it took me 2 weeks to listen to it all. I wanted to be able to sit down and listen the whole way through, and being a Mama to a very willful 2 year old doesn’t afford me much time for things like that these days. But, I found the time. And I’ve gotta say, I LOVE that it opened with a song that I wrote (one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written, even). It opened me up to it in a familiar way, but in a way where I could sit back and appreciate it as an outsider. Because Erin made it for me, I can’t help but connect it to her and our friendship and the music and scenes we’ve shared and woven in and out of. In ways I maybe can’t articulate or explain specifically, it feels like an homage to the last decade and a half of my life. An intuitive honoring of the changes I’ve gone through, the ways I’ve grown, the past I’ve grown from, the spiritual qualities of my being and the devotional, mystical aspects that my life is grounded in.
…it feels like a mixtape carefully curated to express aspects of who I am, which is profound and totally amazing that Erin was able to do so with such attention and tenderness. Cos it feels accurate! So much happened for me during the Fall, and this mix encapsulates that while also inviting a reflection on the past 15 years. It’s love, it’s change, it’s death, it’s cycles and seasons, it’s mystery, it’s the stars, it’s the dirt and earth, it’s conflict and resolution, it’s the separation before union.
Important mixtape question. Which songs do you love?
Sevan: Well for one, I can’t believe I’d never listened to Th’ Faith Healers before!!! Wow, what was I missing? “Everything, All At Once, Forever” just as a title is like a deep, existential quality I often feel overwhelmed by.
I had never heard Devin Shaffer’s “Drive Into Wood” and that’s become a song I listen to on repeat now. Oh, and Nyagweno by Dr. Pete Larson and his Cytotoxic Nyatiti Band, sooooooooo effin’ good. And the Kings of Harmony Quartette’s “Fountain of Blood” has been a fave of mine since I was 7 years old and obsessed with blues, gospel, and religious hymns. Lots of good songs, but I mostly adore that she included Eartha Kitt speaking about Compromise. Because she’s asked if she’s willing to compromise in a relationship, and she’s like (mostly paraphrasing here), “What? What is that? Why? For what? What is compromise?” The interviewer asks, “well if a man comes into your life you wouldn’t want to compromise?” And she LAUGHS SO LOUD and says, “Stupid. For what?!? For what!? A relationship has to be earned, not to compromise for. Nothing in the world is more beautiful than falling in love. But falling in love for the right reasons. When you fall in love, what is there to compromise?” And the reporter asks if she just falls in love with herself. And she says “Yes. I fall in love with myself, and I want someone to share me with me” And I just love that.
What Erin couldn’t have foreseen, is that three months after getting married, my partner and I decided to live separately. So as of the first of January I moved out. We decided we both needed space to process the extremely fast pace of our relationship (I moved in at 2 weeks, got pregnant at 3 months, then the pandemic hit with no support from family, dealing with poverty, etc. it was tough). We also needed space to heal, to get back in touch with ourselves, and to create room so we could start to ground ourselves in ourselves, and then from there reach out to explore the other with love, kindness, acceptance. It feels very, very relevant to Eartha’s words. That love shouldn’t be about compromise, but about loving ourselves and inviting the other into this love that then expands and becomes even bigger than it was before.
Our lives and music entwine. Thank goodness. So do we. Thank goodness.
Sevan: I think a lot of what Erin intended really resonates with my experience of the tape. But also, in ways I can’t imagine how she would know, the songs act as sort of oracles for either things that have happened to me, or things that were to happen that only now I can reflect on (meaning things that happened between now and when she gave me the tape). It feels like a most exquisite portrait of me, and I feel totally valued and seen by it. I know it’s also meant to be for everyone else, but because I was an inspiration I can’t help but feel that way about it.
Sevan Mercy Arabajian is a mixed, queer Mama in Milwaukee who works as a Threshold Doula, supporting people through the full-spectrum of experiences, from birth and death, and every transition and transformation in between. They also offer spiritual services, sound baths, and energywork. They’re mama to a sassy, hilarious, willfull 2 year old, a creative, contemplative 12 year old, and a 7 year old ball python named Priestess.