Quinn Erwin, musician and former high-school teacher, will perform at Common Grounds

Teachers give a lot of advice. Do what you love, reach for the stars, never give up: the clichéd phrases of motivational posters and paid speakers. Musician Quinn Erwin, who plays at Common Grounds tonight, doesn’t think teachers should give that kind of advice if they’re not willing to take it.

Erwin himself has been a high school teacher on and off for the last 10 years. Living and teaching in Nashville, he told his students to pursue what really mattered to them, what they were good at and were meant to do. Erwin said somewhere along the line, he realized that he needed to do the same thing.

“The whole time, my message had been to do what you’re passionate about, do what makes you come alive,” Erwin said.

What made him come alive—in addition to teaching, of course—was music. He started taking time off from his day job, became the lead singer of the band Afterlife Parade and crafted his own sound, a melodic combination of pop and electronic that manages to capture both triumph and despair.

“It’s really fun stuff that’s really genuine but really deep as well,” said Mitchell Taylor, a member of the band Mountains Like Wax. “I met him at one of his shows and was floored by his performance with Afterlife Parade.”

When Afterlife Parade took time off from recording and performing, Erwin took the chance to work on his own EP, which will come out later this year. Erwin said his new work is more straightforward and commercial than Afterlife Parade’s, using big hooks and choruses to get audiences to sing along and dance with the music. He said he evaluates subjects like death and change through a hopeful, joyous lens.

“I just want to have a party with people,” Erwin said.

Playing solo, of course, means that Erwin is on his own in front of a crowd of people—just like a teacher in the classroom. He even uses some of his old jokes and teaching tricks to get his audiences to pay attention while he plays. And he’ll be teaching the same lessons to his audience tonight that he taught to his students years ago.

“I’m still a teacher. My classroom has just changed. My music is a means to encourage and inspire a generation to be their best selves,” Erwin said. “My show is important, but I just love talking with people and getting to know individuals.”

Anyone wanting a lesson from Erwin can see him tonight at 7 p.m. at Common Grounds.