Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
ANNA Bu RCH Press Shot B Credit John Hanson

Anna Burch's meditations on romanticism are at the heart of her starkly beautiful music

20 April 2020, 09:30

Anna Burch’s second solo album is an exquisite snapshot of the last few years, finding her feet as she moves through the professional and personal pitfalls of life. The record overflows with emotional intensity, space and reflection. Its mood ebbs and flows, falling in and out of control as the artist stumbles through existence

By the time it comes to its 12-song conclusion, it serves up hope with falsetto highs and velvety strings.

The climb to this point has been a long one. The Detroit singer/songwritert took to music early - her Mother was the director of children’s choir at her local church, leading her to performing regularly with the Sunday service. She moved from piano to guitar in her teens and began playing covers at open mic nights. Still too self-conscious to confidently write on her own, she joined acclaimed folk band Frontier Ruckus while at college. “It wasn’t necessarily the best genre fit but I really liked the people in the band, the song writing, and singing harmony vocals. But after a while of touring, I started to feel like being on the road wasn’t the most fun. I was young, in my early twenties, and I just thought maybe there is something else out there for me.”

Burch stepped away from music for a while to complete a graduate degree in Cinema and Media at the University of Chicago, tending bar and working as a film projectionist to support her studies. In 2017, she dropped her first single, “2 Cool 2 Care.”

“Coming to the solo thing – everything came together in such a way that it really clicked. I had nothing to do with the song writing aside from harmony vocals in the folk band; but then I befriended Paul Cherry who was really into home recording. One day we were bored, and we worked on a demo of a song I had written years prior – and I fell in love with arranging and recording. It was incredible to collaborate with someone and feel the song come alive,” Burch tells me as we share our isolation experiences and muse on romanticism and writing. She approaches each subject with the same warmth and curiosity that is omnipresent in her music.

Burch moved to Detroit in her late twenties and started putting together the songs for debut album Quit The Curse. She was informed by the lyrical intensity of Matthew Milia, Frontier Ruckus’ lead singer. “When I started writing I really had no idea of an audience, so I wrote like it was a diary. I didn’t have a thought about who might hear it. I think I am still direct and honest with my writing, but not in the same kind of way. It’s different writing with an audience because the idea of there being an audience is kind of inescapable.” Does the presence of knowing someone will hear her music ever prevent Burch from being vulnerable? “The first show I played was a house show and the person I had written a few of the songs about actually walked in during the middle of my set. It was so cinematic. So that was a pretty vulnerable moment which I got through, and I think in a way there was no looking back after that.”

Quit The Curse is a hard-edged record, filled with self-analysis and criticism; and an almost cynical bristle at romanticism. I’m intrigued with how that internalised hostility on the score came about? “It felt like that was that moment and that was what I needed. I guess the edge to it, the grunge nature of some of the songs, I think I needed that. It was an angsty record. I think I felt for these songs that they wouldn’t be served by that style.”

Prior to her current relationship, Burch believed she had a doomed romantic life, characterised by an inability to communicate and a distrust of romantic intensity. “I don’t think anyone wants to be alone, and I don’t necessarily believe in that super passionate love at first sight thing, because any time I witness it casually from a distance, it falls apart. That crazy chemistry up front doesn’t necessarily carry you through.” Now in her thirties, Burch has come to terms with what she calls being a ‘cynical romantic.’

“Growing up, I’ve definitely realised that love is about compromising in a lot of ways. It takes a lot of patience, trust and perseverance to be in a relationship. This record is definitely about that – about stabilising and leaving that fight or flight mode that I was in prior – although it was a hard pivot and required a little bit of renegotiating what I wanted. I am skeptical of crazy love, but at the same time I love love,” she tells me with a laugh.

The first half of Burch's new album If You’re Dreaming was written at the same time as 2017’s Quit The Curse and begins with a sense of profound exhaustion that she was feeling four years ago. “Can’t Sleep” has a shamelessly retro melodic idea, set to weary vocals as Burch drags herself along a dwindling score, while “Party’s Over” is more restless and cleaner. “When I wrote the last half of the record, I found myself in a more stable situation which had not been the case years prior to that.”

“It’s weird to process trauma together because you feel alone in it but at the same time connected by it, the person reminds you of the incident all the time."

Those years were characterised by insomnia, generalised anxiety and PTSD following an experience in 2017 that triggered eighteen months of uncertainty around housing. “My boyfriend and I got robbed at gun point outside of a house that we had just moved into in Detroit. We moved out and found ourselves in a couple of temporary housing situations. We stayed with friends who had a spare room, and also one place that had only one window in the bedroom. It was like an attic. I was touring also around that time, so it really felt like things were chaotic.”

What changed? “I settled down in an apartment that I liked, and I was able to really work on the songs and prepare to record. It was a productive time for me. I think moving into this new apartment and be able to just relax and be creative was really beneficial and it comes through in the second half of the record.

“It’s weird to process trauma together because you feel alone in it but at the same time connected by it, the person reminds you of the incident all the time.” “Ask Me To” speaks to that balance of connection and isolation as you negotiate a new fearful existence, reconditioned by the way the vocals melt into each other. “I wrote that right after I got robbed,” she explains, “and I think dealing with that experience with my partner changed our relationship in a lot of ways. That song is about navigating the fear and uncertainty of what the world can bring but also being open to really being there for someone.”

There is a sense of openness and stability on this second record in comparison to Quit The Curse. She comments that she felt she strangled the first record in some ways, and wanted to be more collaborative with If You’re Dreaming. This is one of many aspirations Burch set out with: she endeavoured to make something with a sophisticated palette of instruments and to expand her vocal performance. Influenced by the work of mellow singer-songwriters from the late 60s and 70s and working with producer Sam Evian in his Catskill Mountains home studio.

“I think the environment lent itself to being soft, with wood panelled walls and plush white carpet. The whole vibe was very relaxed and so the songs felt that way. For example, I intended ‘Tell me What’s True’ to be more of a powerful piano ballad. But we recorded it using a Rhodes so that we could track it all together, and I really liked the way my scratch vocals sounded with the Rhodes, cos I was kind of singing it low energy and quiet. When I listened to it back, I realised that vibe was so right. We didn’t use the scratch vocals, but I changed my approach. I sang into a SM57 handheld mic instead of preparing myself in front of a mic stand, so it had a bit of a laziness to it, and I liked that for the record.”

That laziness and space flows through the latter half of the record and is especially present during the two instrumental tracks – “Keep It Warm” and “Picture Show.” The instrumentals of both songs sew the record together. “With Quit The Curse it felt less of an album and more of a collection of songs. They sound great together and I’m pleased with the flow, but I wanted to be more intentional about there being space, mood shifts, and songs that didn’t have full rock band instrumentation. I think with my earlier songs I was writing more as an accompaniment with rhythm guitar. Playing on tour I started to get better and was able to explore guitar a little bit more. So, the instrumental tracks were sketches I was meditatively playing over and over.

They didn’t strike me as something that could have turned into a song, they kept better as little meditations.”

If You're Dreaming is out now via Polyvinyl
Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next