Molly Burch faces her fears and finds her voice
Molly Burch, 27, is still relatively new to the touring musician’s life. With sophomore album “First Flower” in tow, she’s making her way across the country in her first headlining tour. But, she explains from the road between New Orleans and Atlanta, she’s noticing how she’s marketed.
“Sometimes I feel like women are compared to other women,” says Burch. “I feel like I get compared to women that I look like, but I don’t think the music sounds alike.” (Angel Olsen gets brought up a lot.)
Born in Los Angeles but drawn to Austin, Texas, by its slower pace, Burch has brought the vintage-photograph genre of the torch song into the 21st century with her striking deep voice and her band’s breezy, jangling instrumentation. Her first album, the intimate scorcher “Please Be Mine,” was a surprise success after she sent a demo to Brooklyn-based label Captured Tracks. Some of the songs she’s penned for “First Flower” also sound like they wouldn’t be too out of place in a smoke-filled speakeasy, but she’s swapped out her lovelorn lyrics to face down larger personal issues such as everyday sexism, social anxiety, and codependency.
Q. You’ve said you used to be too embarrassed to play with other people. Obviously, that’s not the case now. I’d love to know about some of the work you did to move through that.
A. I was extremely shy as a kid. I always wanted to sing but I kind of had this mental block that told me I couldn’t do it. I think I’ve been always afraid of failing. But I was really encouraged by my sister. With her sort of pushing me to do it, I would take small steps in any way I can, like performing a song in high school. It used to make me so nervous and anxious, but with experience and facing the fear, it’s become so much easier with practice and time.
Q. You studied jazz vocal performance at University of North Carolina, Asheville. What did you learn there that you still use in your performance, and did you learn anything you rejected?
A. It was a great school but it wasn’t a really intense music program. I think what I gained most was performance experience. I still was pretty uncomfortable doing it, and I felt super stiff and anxious about it. I think I had to perform in front of the whole department every month, so just having that experience, I feel like that’s what I got most out of it. Also, just learning how to play with people. I formed my first band there. It was a really good learning experience in that way.
I wasn’t the best student. I think I was most interested in crafting my voice as opposed to being super interested in jazz theory. I was like, “This is not something I feel would serve me,” and it was hard. But the experience was so great.
Q. Tell me about “Wild.” Where did that repeated lyric “I wish I was a wilder soul” come from?
A. I struggle with a lot of anxiety, and that song kind of formed after I was . . . sort of that feeling of wishing you were free from anxiety and free from voices in your head that compare yourself to other people. I will sort of idealize other people and think that they don’t have similar experiences with social anxiety. That song is sort of addressing putting people on pedestals.
Q. Did any specific incidents inspire “To the Boys”?
A. Totally. Ugh. Definitely everything that’s going on in the country. Just, like, base level sexism. It was rooted in that, and being a woman in music, and also my past experience working in service jobs, working in restaurants. In the first verse, when I talk about being soft spoken, that’s something that I have been so much — working as a waitress, getting told to speak up by men. It was just the worst feeling ever. I wanted to address a couple things in myself that I felt were seen as a negative thing by men, and just embrace it and talk about that with confidence.
Q. What do you miss most about home when you’re on the road?
A. Being cozy all the time. I’m feeling more comfortable on tour as I get more experience with it, but I miss being able to go to bed in my own house, and not be around people when I’m PMS-ing. Just the freedom of being alone when you really need to. And my cat. I really miss my cat.
With Olden Yolk. At Lilypad, Cambridge, Oct. 14 at 9:30 p.m. Tickets $10 advance, $12 door, www.lilypadinman.com