MOLLY BURCH has a voice fit for the silver screen. Her commanding tones come laden with a smoky aura, the type that would effortlessly hold the attention as a panning shot poured its eye across the dust bowls of America. The Hollywood-approved voice isn’t a coincidence. As the daughter of a producer and casting director, it’s likely Burch took her cues from the voices holding their own in the sprawling dream factories of Los Angeles. But it’s not the occupation of her parents that defines her talent. Far from it. Her sun-kissed brand of poppy Americana mirrors the warming hues reflecting from the Texas landscape – the geographical muse of her second full length record, First Flower – not the insincere lights of LA.
With a tour that’s winding its way across Europe before stopping by Liverpool on 5th December, Elliot Ryder spoke to the Austin-based star about finding her voice, the pace of life and comfort in creativity.
Hi Molly, how are you? How’s the tour going?
I’m just in Paris, currently. We head to Germany today and we have two weeks left of touring around Europe before we reach the UK. So far it’s been great. We’ve only done three shows, but it’s been going really great.
I just wanted to start by touching on your new album. On the whole, it sounds a little more upbeat than Please Be Mine. Was it a conscious decision to move away from the melancholic themes?
Yeh, I think so. The first song I wrote was the title track to album. For me, that really set the vibe for whole record given it steers clear of any tales of heartbreak or sadness. Moving on from Please Be Mine, I wanted it to produce a collection of songs that were a little bit more upbeat, a little happier; just a bit more fun to listen to.
You’ve spoken before about the process of finding comfort in creativity. With that, can you expand a little on the album’s title? Does it bear any significance in respect to your growth as a songwriter and musician?
The whole album tries to flow along the theme of self-growth, and awareness of self-acceptance. The title of the album does intentionally reflect that. It wasn’t so much that I came to the name of the album and then constructed everything around it. I just liked how it sounded; it captured a particular feeling. While it’s the only track on the album that’s a straight up love song, personally, it seemed quite fitting, and the themes grew from there.
I’ve heard you say before that singing is your main instrument. Does this impact the process of arranging?
Definitely. I begin writing a song on guitar and build everything in around that. It’s the only way I know how, but, for me, it still feels like a great way to write. I always have my voice in mind whenever I’m thinking up a melody, but it’s on a guitar where the foundations of a track will flow from. Generally, I come up with the chord progressions first and then the melody arrives from that. This allows me to write the rest of the track around my voice.
Does this mean you write your lyrics with more of an emphasis on melody rather than narrative or introspection?
I think the emphasis on melody is more of a second nature; something that I’ve always found easy to weave into my songs, even if it becomes a little personal in places. Both aspects are really important, though, and I’m still learning my craft in many ways. I’m only on my second album so I’m still finding my voice as a writer, whereas I feel more confident as a vocalist. That’s likely one of the reasons why I might try to locate the melody ahead of building a song straight from a narrative.
Do you think your ability to find melody so easily owes much to your time studying jazz at university?
I spent four years there, so I was able to take the time to craft my voice, take lessons and learn jazz standards. As this was the main emphasis of my study it was a big help, yeh. There was also a lot of performance interweaved between the study. I feel like this appreciation of theory and melody is the main thing I took away from my college experience, so I owe a lot to it. I didn’t study songwriting, or begin writing any of my own songs when I was there. It was all about refining my voice.
Talking to you now, it seems strange to hear you so softly spoken. Where did the husky voice come from? Was this something you knew you were capable of from young age?
I discovered the voice from quite an early age. From then on it’s just been how I’ve sounded. It wasn’t all natural though, it’s been something I’ve had to craft – something I’ve been working on for many years. The process has helped it get to where it is now. Even when I was a child I was always drawn to the deeper voices I heard on record. Even then it was something I thought could be achievable for myself, so I really tried to hone in on it and make it my own.
You’ve moved away from LA and recently moved to Austin. Was there a feeling that your music found a better home in Austin given its more alternative scene?
Moving to Texas really helped me find my way as a songwriter. It was a little bit of leap into the dark; I didn’t know anyone before moving there, so I didn’t have anyone to lean on. As a result, I had to quickly learn to lean on myself. It was from there I really started to branch out and attempt writing my own songs. Being somewhere new inspired me, and so I was able to pour this into my songwriting. The scenery and landscape were important, too, as was the pace of life in Austin. It’s really easy and slow. I don’t find it to be a stressful place. It’s calming, and it’s had a big effect on my mindset in regard to concentrating on music. It’s nice.
Do you ever think there is an over emphasis on how geography can impact music? In many ways people still look towards Liverpool as a city tied to jangly pop…
I think it is really important. I think living in a place where the lifestyle isn’t so hectic can have a big effect. In Austin, I feel like I have a lot of time. When I was writing First Flower I was living in a little town just outside of Austin. There it felt like I had all the time in the world to focus on my music, whereas if I was living in LA I feel like I’d have to be hustling all of the time, likely leading me to neglect my songwriting. When it comes to how much time your surroundings can give you, it has a really big impact on your music. It’s definitely one of the reasons why I think I found the right headspace for this album.
Have you ever seen the film Slacker, by Richard Linklater? The Austin in that film sounds exactly like one you’re describing?
I haven’t seen it!
Ah, you really should. It’s a great film. Up there with his other masterpieces like Dazed & Confused and, of course, School Of Rock. We’ve touched on that you’re currently touring Europe, stopping at Liverpool in December. Are you someone who likes to write on the road and, if so, should we be expecting new music in 2019?
I’m definitely someone who is more home based when it comes to writing, so I don’t think I’ll be doing too much when we’re on the road. Just staying focused on this album for now!
Molly Burch plays Leaf on 5th December. First Flower is out now on Captured Tracks.