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Erik Koskinen ventures into new territory with Down Street / Love Avenue

Erik Koskinen at Mennesota Fest at The Ripple Center in Aitkin.
Lorie Shaull
Erik Koskinen at Mennesota Fest at The Ripple Center in Aitkin.

Minnesota musician Erik Koskinen, and his drummer Richard Medek, stopped by KAXE to talk about Koskinen's new album, Down Street / Love Avenue.

GRAND RAPIDS — Erik Koskinen was recently in town to perform at Kick It with KAXE alongside Mae Simpson. While in Northern Minnesota, he and drummer Richard Medek stopped by the KAXE studios for a conversation that found them loose, at ease and cracking jokes.

“What happened to the banjo player when he got his car broken into?” Koskinen joked. “They found eight more banjos stuffed through the window.”

Volunteers and community members who did outstanding work were recognized with awards, and the evening featured the musical talents of Mae Simpson and Erik Koskinen.

At the KAXE event, he debuted several songs from his new album, Down Street / Love Avenue. The set was steeped in the blues which, according to Koskinen, all music “goes back to.”

The new album is a record about love and the strength of women. His mom went through an intense battle with cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Koskinen was inspired by her strength and the strength of the nurses who took care of her.

“Basically, it was female nurses and my mom, and they all killed it... They all were strong as heck,” Koskinen said.

Although his sixth full-length album, Down Street / Love Avenue marks a first for Koskinen in many ways. It was created over a four-year period, beginning during the pandemic. The earliest track is "I Got You (To Get Me Through)." Due to isolating during that period, he recorded all the instruments and parts.

Two men dressed in black with a woman in the center with a cat shirt on.
Maria Hileman
Erik Koskinen and drummer Richard Medek stopped by KAXE to talk about the new album, Down Street / Love Avenue, out now.

“I quickly got bored with myself,” Koskinen said.

With most of the songs already written, Koskinen decided to send the rest of his early recordings to a group of musician friends to see what they could add. Additionally, he gave them free rein to send the songs on to other musicians they thought could add something. The songs took shape like a chain letter or friendship bread, adding new sounds at each stage.

“I reached out to a bunch of musicians and said, 'I'm going to put these songs in this Dropbox folder of me playing the guitar and singing my song. If anybody would like to add anything while they're sitting at home doing nothing, feel free,'" Koskinen explained. "It was an exercise for people to just stay creative and busy.”

Through that process came new instrumentation to Koskinen’s songs. For example, Minneapolis sound engineer Alex Proctor added piano and vocal harmonies to "Two of Us," then sent the song to Mike Lewis (Bon Iver, Fat Kid Wednesdays) who added saxophone.

The process required the musician to let go of both the songs and ego in a different way than ever before.

“It was a good exercise in trusting in other people’s creativity which is something I have to get better at,” he said.

Creating in this style has inspired Koskinen to think about recording in a whole new light. He’s ready to throw the rulebook out of the window just to see what happens.

“Lately I'm getting slightly tired of conventional things. I'm going to start to experiment," Koskinen said.

"Instead of putting [the microphone] right next to the drum where you're supposed to put it, I'm going to put it in the other room instead and see what the drum set sounds that way to try to find a different angle to get through it.”

As a whole, Down Street / Love Avenue is varied and complex with storytelling that leaves you listening on the edge of your seat. In the words of drummer Richard Medek: "It’s my favorite record of his.”

Speaking of favorites, the band was welcomed back to Northern Minnesota with open arms, the crowd at Kick It With KAXE dancing and singing along to much of his set. Koskinen said the feeling is mutual.

“This is our favorite place," he said. "We love it here."

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The music director at KAXE since 2014, Kari (pronounced Car-ee) Hedlund reviews music on the daily. She also hosts New Music every Wednesday (2 and 10 p.m.) and Sunday (noon), along with the KAXE Morning Show on Thursdays.