Erica Lubman (Boy Jr.) is an indie musician operating out of Rochester, New York. Their first album, Starter Pack, was released in September and their next EP is slated for October 30th. They’ve gathered a TikTok following made up of nearly 80,000 followers. Erica and I sat down just days after the album’s release to discuss her ability to mimic other bands, how the COVID-19 pandemic has increased their productivity, and the ups and downs of performing live.
Chris Duffy: I’m gonna take this away from Starter Pack, on a song like “Anyway,” which was a single you released as far back as 2018, you cite inspirations such as The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, etc. You consistently cite The Strokes as inspiration as a group you admire a lot. Are there any other groups you’ve done covers for or exercises where you mimic their style that later influence your later work or your sound on a bigger scale?
Lubman (Boy Jr.): Yeah, I think so. I have a cover of “Last Nite” on Starter Pack that was originally inspired by listening to a lot of Billie Eilish and trying to try my hand at more of that dark pop — more airy, production-heavy sound. And I’ve been listening to a lot more pop lately, so I feel like I’m veering toward stuff like that. Being able to do smaller, bite-sized challenges with TikTok videos has been a really, really nice way to dip my toe into other sounds, as opposed to the usual, which is your ability always trying to play catch up with your tastes. The alternative would be like me listening to Charli XCX all week and thinking “wow, I really wish I could write a song like that, but there’s no way I could just sit down and do it because I don’t even know how I would translate that style into my style and there’s no way I could do it and feel authentic.” And that’s where comedy comes in!
Those TikToks you make where you’re emulating the style of another group are some of your more popular ones, too. You’re really great at emulating some of those sounds because you’ve done Gorillaz, you’ve done Arctic Monkeys, and, of course, Billie Eilish. So, when you’re doing an exercise like this, or a challenge as you call it, how do you sit down and break that apart? Do you take one song by that group? Do you take an album? For some groups, doing entire discographies is impossible. Like, there’s no sound to Gorillaz.
Honestly, it’s generally the Spotify Top Five, because I know that will cast the widest net for accessibility to people just scrolling through TikTok. Not everybody’s familiar with everything Gorillaz has done, but most people are familiar with “Feel Good, Inc.” and “Dare.” It’s more fun for all the people who aren’t, like, hardcore Gorillaz fans.
Do any of these other exercises find their way into finished work outside of “Last Nite?” Do you take cues from [these groups] and think “man, I really like what I did when I was emulating Arctic Monkeys. I’m going to take the baseline or the way I did the vocals there.”
I think that started to slip into my actual work. Mostly in the sense of learning more about production and learning about different mixing styles. I’m especially thinking in terms of vocal production. That’s really the core of everything, for all the challenges and for my own work. It’s such a sensitive area because it’s so inseparable from myself to be mixing my own vocals. Getting to play dress-up with it a little bit has allowed for me to feel a little more removed when I’m doing the production stuff, instead of being like, “ew, that’s what I sound like, ew that’s me.”
How long have you been making music in general? Set aside production, I know you play guitar; how long have you been doing stuff like that?
Probably since elementary school or middle school. Middle school, I started learning guitar just to be able to accompany myself singing, and I just wanted to learn pop songs. I was just playing acoustic guitar then. Eventually, I moved onto electric guitar. Recording myself, I tried to do in high school and the beginning of college. I don’t think I really felt confident or comfortable until later in college.
When did you realize Starter Pack was going to be the album? Did you sit down one day and write a couple tracks, or was it over time, you had material produced and went, “oh, there’s something here.”
I had been lowkey promising to myself for years, “this is the year I’m going to put out an album,” and then the perfectionism curse was like, “no you’re not, you don’t know what you’re doing.” 7Teen is really old, and my senior year I wrote “Me and My Darling Friends” at a wake, and that was really when I started to move into how I define Boy Jr. as a project now, which is a lot of stuff that’s written in a DAW [digital audio workspace] versus something like 7Teen which was written for guitar. I had several tracks that were favorites of mine to play live. Recently I’ve had songs that had some interest in them because of a TikTok video — like, “oh, great, this gives me a reason to finish these songs and really add my own flavor to them.” I put out “Suck My Finger Again” in February, and that was very exciting, both on the front of, “okay, cool, I can do this, I can get over my fear of music and not being perfect.” Also, people were interested in it! And if people were interested, then I should put out more music while I have the time. And in quarantine, I was able to stay home and finish all my recordings.
So a song like “It Still Fits (My Pikachu T-Shirt),” was that one that started out as a full out song or did you see the reception to it and thought “Well, I gotta make this a full song now?”
Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. [laughs]
You mentioned quarantine — with COVID you said you have more time to work at home, but how does that impact your workflow? You also mentioned performing live. Obviously, that’s not super sustainable at the moment just because of the nature of people going to live performances [or the lack thereof]. Do you find yourself fulfilling your obligations to yourself more or do you see yourself slipping into those habits of “I have all this time; I need to make it perfect?”
I actually feel like it’s been the opposite. I have all this time to work on this stuff, which means instead of sitting on it until I’m not interested in putting it out anymore, I can keep up the momentum and work on it frequently and get this stuff out. It’s also really exhausting to perform live. I mean, I love it, but I also feel like having the opportunity to perform live and not even be there, I was able to funnel that energy into making things digitally which is something I can do on my own time. It’s something I can do without the pressure of drinking and without having to stay up late. All of those things can be really fun about live shows, but so physically taxing. So being able to funnel that energy into a digital space has been, I think, good for my overall wellness. [chuckles] I’m kind of a homebody.
So do you prefer performing for TikTok as opposed to a live space, or is it a give and take relationship?
They’re different. I really miss doing live shows, and nothing compares to really feeling the energy — and I know that sounds so cheesy, like, “feeding off the crowd’s energy,” — but that is a really powerful thing; to be in a room full of other people and you’re all hearing the same music at the same time. I think being separated from all of that now has given people a very new appreciation for what it is to feel connected. It does make me value the ability to perform and do a livestream, because then I can connect with people from all different time zones at once which is unbelievable. But it’s a different kind of energy to get on stage and do a live show, there’s a different kind of pressure. It’s pressure, but it’s also really exciting. It’s different and I miss it, but I also do feel very grateful for the changes that have been brought and the opportunities it has afforded.