Despite her reputation as a young blues breaker, Cincinnati, Ohio native Erin Coburn isn't putting all her eggs in one basket, instead incorporating elements of grunge and indie into her once exclusively bluesy mix.
"A lot of that has to do with me growing up," Coburn tells Guitar World. "I recorded my early albums as a teenager, and now I'm 22. It's been said before, but you get better, and you grow as you get older. And it keeps getting harder, so as I've matured, I'm finding that I relate more to the rock scene.
"Bands like Alice in Chains, Arctic Monkeys, Sleep Token, and even Polyphia are all ones that I relate a lot more to because they're angsty, and they have an edge."
Anyone who has seen Cobun play live can confirm her dynamic personality, which can't help but bleed into her eclectic playing.
"I like to think of myself as a bubbly person," she says. "But I also live the badass, edgy side of rock, you know? I want to invite more of that into my life. And as I've gotten older, I've gravitated more towards those sounds.
"But don't me wrong – I still love the blues because the blues isn't bubbly; it has a dark side, too, but maybe not as dark as those I mentioned. The blues were so important to me as I grew up before I had all the super-dark feelings that come as an adult."
Looking at it critically, Coburn's assessment of her music as "light meets shade" is dead-on. And that's not just in her songwriting, structures, and progressions but in her soloing, too.
"One of the big things that I've learned is that I'm talking through my guitar," she explains. "So, when I'm writing or improvising a solo, I first look at what I'm trying to say. And then I break it down to if I'm saying it in too many words, or if there something that fits better, and it goes from there."
Further elaborating, she continues, "I know a lot of guitar players struggle with the idea of playing too many notes, and maybe fall into the trap of thinking, 'I have to play a thousand notes to get people to be impressed.' It's easy to think that way, but the one thing I've learned is that while I'm crafting solos, always try and show something new that you've learned and to keep branching out into new rhythms, phrasings, and timings."
When asked how she's applying this approach to her latest music while retaining what she's established, Coburn lights up, saying, "I'm working on the new album right now with some of my favorite people, and I've been trying to apply these things to every new song that we're working on."
"On my first albums that I recorded when I was like 13, I had no idea what I was doing," she laughs, referencing her debut Chaos Before Conformity, which was ultimately released when she hit the grand old age of 14 years old.
"I had never been in a studio before, so it was a journey of identifying who I am. But with my new stuff, I want to convey the energy I've harnessed in my live shows and have that be apparent. I aim to have songs that make people mosh, grind and flail along with the high-energy madness."
As well as her playing intent, Coburn's gear choices have switched up, too.
"I'm now a Strandberg artist, who I found at NAMM in 2019," she says. "I saw their booth and was immediately drawn toward these… things. I was like, 'Oh, wow, what are those?' Back then, I was mainly a blues-rock player; I didn't see many blues artists playing Strandbergs; it was mainly metal players, but I just fell in love with them."
Digging into her collection of Strandberg curios, she continues, "I have a bunch, but my main guitar is a Boden Classic NX6. But on the new songs, I'm also using a Prog NX7 quite a bit. So, I'm exploring the seven-string guitars and a Fusion NX6 that I tuned to C# standard. And, of course, there's a guitar that my dad made from an old lunchbox, which isn't playable but looks awesome!"
But no blues-meets-modern rock record would be complete without a collection of sizzling amps and modern tech, right? Coburn's got it covered.
"I graduated from a pedalboard to a [Neural DSP] Quad Cortex, and I've got a Bad Cat cab," she explains. "I love the Quad Cortex because I have a lot of fly-in dates, and it allows for quicker changeover. It's really easy; you load up the sound, and it's ready to go."
There's been considerable change in Coburn's approach, but her restless nature has served her well, allowing her to modernize her sound. That growth has gone hand in hand with success.
"One of my main goals is to successfully be seen as a rock artist," she says. "I play a lot of blues festivals now, but we'll be playing rock. I want to be seen as a rock artist and a rock guitarist and to be able to speak to those audiences."
She concludes, "So, I'm switching from going by 'Erin Coburn' to my band going by 'Coburn.' It's part of my transformation, especially since the music we're writing is hard rock rather than straight-up blues and Americana. I want to be on stage at rock festivals, getting crazy, and starting some insane mosh pits. I know that's a change, but it feels fresh. I'm excited for it."
- Erin Coburn tours the US with Leilani Kilgore in September 2023 – see ErinCoburn.com for full dates.