Erin Harkes and Cursed Ice Cream Trucks
Written by Liam Sweeny on October 24, 2018
There are people in the area who haven’t heard the music of singer and comedian Erin Harkes. I feel bad for you if you’re one of them. With a powerful voice and a surgically sharp wit, Erin has been making the rounds, not only here in the Capital Region, but beyond, even appearing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
From my own limited experience with her, I’d be hard-pressed to find a harder working entertainer. I had a chance to sit down with her (well, we both sat at our computers and exchanged emails, but it counts) and ask the probing questions I thought you all would want to know.
RRX: I started writing these interview questions by reading your Wikipedia article. I know that people joke about Wikipedia, but not everyone gets one. How did it feel knowing you had an entry?
EH: At first it felt pretty cool. Then I realized my uncle made it. Which I appreciated for sure but it felt a little less cool. Then I kind of forgot all about it. Recently someone brought it to my attention and there’s so much inaccurate information on there that I’m afraid to look again. Someday…..
RRX: You’ve been a fixture in the upstate music scene through a fair amount of change. And I’m sure you hear people, in their nostalgia, lamenting that the scene is dead. But how do you see the change in “the scene” being that you’re not just in music, but in another performing art? Is the scene not what it used to be, or are we not what we used to be?
EH: It’s definitely not what it used to be. In fact it’s why I try to travel as often as possible. There is some amazing talent here but it’s so hard to get people out. I absolutely cherish and appreciate the fans I have locally, but there is a lot of apathy in this area. That’s not meant to offend anyone. Obviously if you’re reading this and you’re thinking “I go out all the time! I’m a big supporter of live music!” then what I said doesn’t apply to you!
RRX: I would love to ask you who your musical influences are, but everybody asks, and it’s hard to answer fully. So I’ll ask an oddball variant; name a song by one person that you wish would be performed by another. Pretend you have ten million and can make it happen. And why that song, that artist?
EH: Hmm. I’m not feeling particularly creative because I can’t really think of anything like that. Usually when I love a song as much as I do it’s because it’s being sang by the exact right person. I would however give anything in the world to be a tiny third harmony on “Dimming of the Day” by Richard Thompson when he sings it with Bonnie Raitt. Like I could finish that song and go straight to the grave. I’d be complete.
RRX: I read (in the Wikipedia article) that at one time, you drove an ice cream truck. It got me thinking that your sense of humor may have gotten you hired and/or fired from a whole host of interesting jobs. Do you have any war stories on the work front?
EH: I only ever got fired from one job and it was after I gave my notice anyway so it isn’t that much of a story. The ice cream truck driving job was apocalyptic though. I had just graduated college and was looking through the want ads, stoned. The ad had a smiley face. I thought I would be spreading joy and ice cream through the streets of Albany. The first truck I drove broke down in the projects and I was shot at with (luckily) paint ball guns. I was able to get it started and got it to safety. The owner came to meet me, fixed it up and said “get back to work”. I was shaking. But I pressed on. The second truck caught on fire. A little girl yelled “you’re on fire!” and I jumped off the truck and saw the flames through the grill. A woman let me use her phone to call 911. I then got back on the truck and grabbed my sweater and the cash box just as the fire department arrived. I had the box under my arm and soot under my nostrils when one of the firemen said “you went back on the truck?” I shook the box and said “I work on commission.” Then the third truck electrocuted me. Sent me flying to the back of the truck. My arm went numb. I brought the truck back and quit.
RRX: If you had to merge your comedy and your music into some mutant hybrid, would you be on the side of a singer that can make the crowd piss themselves in between songs, or a comedian that sings parody songs so good you have people telling you you’re wasting your pipes on comedy?
EH: That’s a good question. I’ve obviously thought about what I would want to do should I ever combine them. Nothing has occurred to me organically and so I’ve not made the attempt yet. I’ve seen it done and more often than not it’s been horrible. I don’t want to do something unless it’s gonna be amazing. I don’t want to make a bad first impression that can’t be erased.
RRX: Watching your comedy set, what I noticed the most was a pretty no-holds-barred honesty. You dig deep at your life and your past, but your delivery of it all just pulls out the laughs. What parts of that are just you being you, and what part is more, say, a hard-fought-for skill?
EH: It’s mostly just me being me. Sometimes it just clicks the first time you tell a joke/story. Sometimes you have to tell it a few times to for it to develop into a worthwhile bit. So it’s about half and half. Usually the first time I try something out it’ll be too long and too wordy and a few minutes long. Then I shave off the unnecessary words; the redundant parts. It gets more succinct and funnier. Occasionally you tell something for the first time and it’s just perfect. That’s very rare though.
RRX: Being that this is the last question, I’m going to ask you to be an influencer. Who’s out there that doesn’t get the press? Where are the diamonds in the rough? Shout-outs, acknowledgments, and all of that. It can be people or places.
EH: Oh boy. I feel so far removed from the scene, ashamedly. I mean I work so much myself that if I’m not being paid to be out I’m probably at home resting. Being sober as well it’s not always enticing to go out. I love hearing other musicians and comedians but for me going out on a night I’m not working is like going to the office on a Sunday morning. The ones that I have gone out to see or have gotten the chance to work with are getting pretty ample (and much deserved) press thanks to outlets like this. The local press has always been very generous to local performers. I mean maybe that’s easy for me to say but I’ve always felt like they’re paying attention. Whenever I’ve won a readers poll it’s usually followed up with some article – and I’ve seen the same for others. They listen to the community and then in kind listen to what the community is listening to. That being said the second I log off I’m sure I’ll think of about 100 people. 😉
Erin is hard to keep track of, whether it be her music gigs or her comedy spots. But she has a website – a good one too, and you can follow her exploits at ErinHarkes.com