Erica Sutherland, lead singer and guitarist for Littlefoot, has very small feet.
“They’re [size] five,’ Sutherland said. “Nobody’s a five.”
Hence the name, (unfortunately) not a tribute to the Apatosaurus protagonist in A Land Before Time but instead a literal foot size — and a kind of figurative descriptor for the way Sutherland presents her music to the world; treading lightly and floating softly, going where the tide takes her.
Sutherland originally started making music in Providence, Rhode Island, where she lived for about four years, in-between stints attending MassArt in Boston. That was where the singer-songwriter first started playing around with the idea of pursuing music more seriously — though her band lineup would change dramatically through the course of a few years.
“It was always something in the back of my mind that I wanted to do, and I just started making demos in GarageBand and got a band together,” Sutherland said.
To create her Beach House-meets-Beach Boys surfy dream-pop, Sutherland experimented with layers in GarageBand, a method she still employs to this day, alone in her room.
“I’m not very good at writing at band practice,” she said. “There’s something, I don’t know what it is, I think maybe it’s just the pressure of having other people around… I’m way better at writing when I’m just in my room.”
One night out at E&O Tap in Providence’s Federal Hill, Sutherland met Roz Raskin (of Roz Raskin and the The Rice Cakes), who quickly became a founding member of Littlefoot, the first bass player, and Sutherland’s personal musical mentor.
“We instantly hit it off and started this band together, and we’ve been friends ever since,” Sutherland said. “I actually learned a lot from her in the beginning… it was kind of just a new world for me, and she kind of showed me the ropes, because she he had been in a band for couple of years at that point.”
Littlefoot’s first album, Night of the Living Dreams, released December 2014, contains the first songs Sutherland ever wrote. “Those were the first songs I finished,” she said. “I had sort of tried to write a song a couple of years before that, but I didn’t feel like I really knew what I was doing.”
Three years later, a discernible difference can be heard in her 2017 album Lavender, a more confident record with the same distinct sound. “I think it sounds a little bit stronger, I guess, like I’m not hesitating as much,” Sutherland said. “I think when I recorded the first album I was still a little shy about it.”
That shyness grew into anxiety — which is why Sutherland says it took her so long to produce Lavender.
“I was just stressed out about songwriting,” she said. “I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to write something that I liked as much as the first album, and it was just hard, I just felt kind of stuck because I was too anxious to get started something with an idea. Eventually I just had to get over it and just do it.”
Sutherland says that anxiety still creeps up on occasion — especially when she’s showing the band new songs. “I definitely get a little shy about the lyrics,” Sutherland said, “it’s like you’re baring your soul every time you write a song.”
The lyrics of both albums echo themes of frustration and sadness, embraced by a quixotic sound, like a porcelain doll left on the shelf a little too long.
“I would rather write something that is meaningful to me than to try to cover up a feeling that might make me look vulnerable,” Sutherland said.
Littlefoot’s sound is the one constant, surviving the approximately ten members that have passed through the band since 2012.
Sutherland attributes the shifts to many reasons, mostly because the group is her “creative baby,” a personal experience for her. “I feel like if it’s not really your creative project I think it’s hard to want to put as much effort in as me, just because it’s my passion project,” she said.
Today the band consists of Sutherland on guitar, vocals and keyboard, Dash Lunde on guitar, Matt Liset on drums, and Zy Baer on bass.
Though everyone contributes musically, the sound has remained constant because Sutherland contributes the bulk of the lyrical work, constantly pushing herself to the furthest reaches of her own abilities.
“Sometimes I end up writing stuff that is a little bit past my guitar ability, but I think that’s how I’ve gotten better at guitar over the years, I’ve kind of pushed my own guitar playing to stuff that isn’t super easy for me to play, but then I end up practicing it so much that I get the hang of it, eventually,” she said. “It’s writing parts that are kind of out of your comfort zone in terms of playing abilities, just to get a little better at it.”
That DIY approach has also led Sutherland to stretch her wings beyond the music, working in her father’s video production studio to create videos for a handful of Lavender songs.
For the upcoming "Feel Better" music video, Sutherland is learning stop-motion and working with a green screen for the first time. “It’s really fun,” she said. “I love not just playing music and writing music and stuff, but to see other stuff that I can do in the band, I always do our album art and these videos have been really fun.”
In the meantime, a few new songs are in the works and Sutherland has embarked on a solo tour, and estimates the new music video will be ready in the next few months. “I can give you a date but it probably won’t be right,” she said. “I’m kind of a perfectionist when it comes to creative stuff.”
Littlefoot has some shows coming up around Boston. You can get more information here, plus request alerts for future shows.