For nearly five years, Erica Falls has been principal guest vocalist with Galactic, traveling with the New Orleans funk-rock-jazz band for its one-hundred tour dates per year. She also appears on the band’s albums, including this year’s Already Ready Already. “Oh, I love those guys,” Falls says of Galactic. “They’re like my brothers.”
As for her solo career, Falls describes herself as a “vintage soul” singer. And when she performs with Galactic, she sings the songs special guest stars recorded for the band’s various albums her way. Galactic’s in-studio guests have included Macy Gray and Mavis Staples, both featured on 2015’s Into the Deep, and David Shaw of the Revivalists, the New Orleans jam-rock band that rose to national prominence in recent years. “Erica can even sing David’s parts,” Galactic’s Ben Ellman says. “And she makes them her own. We’re just lucky to be in her world.”
As fun and good as her years with Galactic have been, Falls informed the band in March that she’ll be leaving the group in September. “It was really hard,” she says of the decision. “They really are like brothers to me. They accepted me into the fold. We spent four years traveling the country, riding in a house with wheels. We put on pajamas and ate snacks after shows. It’s cool to be in that environment with such great musicians and people.”
But now, Falls explains, “It’s time for me to spread my wings and let the world know more about Erica Falls, and what she has to say musically.”
In 2017, Falls released her second solo album, HomeGrown. Five years in the making, the album features songs she composed—grooving soul-jazz numbers that meld classic soul with contemporary R&B—plus classy reinventions of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” and Irma Thomas’ Allen Toussaint-composed “Old Records.” The latter two songs initially served as a launching point for the entire HomeGrown project.
“From there, I became more comfortable writing and recording,” Falls says. “I don’t want to say it was a rough journey, but it was an evolving journey. Because I was on the road with Galactic, I recorded in the pockets when we were home.” But taking her time for the album, she adds, “allowed me to really learn to be vulnerable and express myself as an artist.”
Of course, there’s a massive difference between singing backup for an artist and being the artist. “When you’re hired for sessions, time is money,” Falls says. “So, you want to be professional and precise, do your job. It’s different when you’re telling your own story.”
Falls credits her manager, Leslie Blackshear Smith, audio engineer David Farrell, bassist Donald Ramsey and drummer Bobby Economou for their invaluable guidance during the HomeGrown sessions. “They were like, ‘Naw, you’ve got more to say. Try it again,’ ” she recalls. “They really helped me to learn how to be vulnerable in the studio. I’m really proud of the record because it allowed me to find myself as an artist.”
“Erica has made huge strides,” Smith says. “She’s gone from making everybody else sound good, to being the front woman. She’s stepping into her power.”
Falls tells her story in the autobiographical song “Destiny,” and on the album’s title track, “Homegrown.” “‘Destiny’ is a peak into my upbringing and the decisions I made as a I got older,” she says. “‘Homegrown’ comes from questions that I’m always asked. ‘Who are you? Where do you come from?’ I’m from right here in New Orleans. I’m homegrown.”
Falls’ journey began in the Ninth Ward. The youngest of eight children, she grew up in a musical household with a father who loved jazz, and a mother who sang beautifully and played piano and organ. Early in Falls’ life, she found her mother’s formidable talent intimidating. “Oh, yeah,” she recalls. “Even when my mother practiced in the house, she sang with so much conviction. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll play instruments instead.’”
Falls’ musical training and ensemble singing proved helpful later, when she sang in the vocal groups ELS and Nu Beginnings. Those groups led to backup vocal gigs with Dr. John, Sting, No Doubt, Joe Sample, Martina McBride, John Fogerty, Jennifer Hudson, Davell Crawford and, for the last six years his life, New Orleans’ brilliant producer, songwriter and pianist Allen Toussaint.
“It was such a great learning experience to see how Allen operated, how he conducted his rehearsals,” she says. “He was so skilled and such a gentleman in the way he coaxed what he wanted out of you. I witnessed the genius up close. I was his student. He gave me a lot of tools and gems to work with.”
In addition to her upcoming focus on a solo career, Falls has launched HEN.E Sweets, a business that sells cupcake-sized bread pudding treats. Based on her grandmother’s recipe, HEN.E Sweets is available at Vino Volo, the wine bar at Louis Armstrong International Airport, Concourse C.
“Cooking is another passion of mine,” she says. “And it’s like making music. You start with the basics, add seasonings and different layers, until it’s great.”
Saturday, May 18
Friends of Bayou St. John
Orleans Stage, 5:15 p.m.