- The Mynabirds' Laura Burhenn
A catchy tune is always welcome, but it’s even better when the singer brings something personal to bear. Secretly, you want to believe that beyond the artifice of the stage and the performance, there’s a real person whose art communicates something authentic. So, let it be known that The Mynabirds’ Laura Burhenn is just as wild, soulful and seductively intelligent in conversation as she is on her two very different albums.
Her latest, Generals, departs from the lush, baroque ’60s pop and sultry Dusty Springfield-soul sway of 2010’s What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood into a moodier, grittier, more exotic, less orchestrated sound. Center stage is Burhenn’s smoky, shimmying croon, sidling over songs that highlight the political and social fissures quaking beneath our feet.
“It does kind of go all over the place and we have different people or inspirations in mind on different pieces. For example, I feel on ‘Disaster,’ there’s just as much Tribe Called Quest as Low-era David Bowie,” Burhenn says from her Omaha home between discussions about string theory and love. “I think of this album as an expressionist album, where the last album was more like paint-by-numbers in that we picked colors—we drew the outline and we filled it in. It felt very much like a cohesive thing. This one, it was all kinds of different canvasses from moment to moment.”
She wrote the album—much like the last one—largely in the shower. She had been trying to get away from writing on guitar (as she’d done most of her life) when she discovered her new hot-and-cold rehearsal space. She confided at the time of her debut that she was also wandering around her house banging a tambourine trying to make up songs.
While she still relied on the shower, she also purchased an old drum set with the intent of making this a more rhythmic album. You can hear it on tracks like “Body of Work,” bouncing over a sputtering Latin-tinged beat with pulsing keyboards that recall the electro-folk of Beth Orton.
Burhenn received a lot of help with the arrangements from Richard Swift, who also produced her first album. A talented singer/songwriter in his own right and touring keyboardist for The Shins, Swift shepherded Burhenn through the rough patches and intermittent catch-as-catch-can recording schedule.
“At one point, I lost my voice for a week or two. I’m writing this album totally about having a voice and totally losing mine,” she chuckles. “It was intense, but at that point Richard and I were really close friends and we kind of holed up in the studio, and we kind of went to the next level of consciousness that week.”
Originally from Washington, D.C., Burhenn had self-released some solo music before she connected with John Davis (Q & Not U) to form the duo Georgie James. They imploded in ’08 after one very well-received album. The band’s breakup accompanied a romantic dissolution for Burhenn and she fled to Omaha, right into the arms of Bright Eyes. After licking her wounds and touring with the band for a while, she started anew with The Mynabirds, vowing to keep her eye on the prize this time.
“We were both surprised at the success of the project, and pleasantly so. Then to have that pulled out from under me was a shock,” Burhenn says. “Suddenly, I have this fear, I’ve been making music for 10 years, and what if I don’t bounce back? What if that’s the pinnacle of my musical career and those are my glory days?
“What I did is I just set out to write a record that was in my heart, so if the record failed I could at least say that I made something that was 100 percent true to what I was,” Burhenn continues. “I felt like it was sort of what I was meant to say, what I was meant to do with my life. As long as I felt I was true to that, then I didn’t care if I sold a single record.”
If she keeps making music this sultry and inviting, she’ll sell a lot more than that.Â
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