Q&A: Molly Burch dissects her music, live performances, and life in Austin

by Caroline Smith

Q&A: Molly Burch dissects her music, live performances, and life in Austin

Q&A: Molly Burch

Molly Burch’s voice is the first thing you’ll notice about her. It has been described as “smoky” and “effortless,” which is fitting for a professionally trained jazz singer. But Burch’s talent goes far beyond her voice. She has a knack for conveying gorgeously written lyrics of love and life, of happiness and pain, of fear and anxiety. Burch is using her professional training to break away from the boundaries she was taught in. WRBB’s general manager Andrew Goldberg spoke with Burch in anticipation of her performance at Great Scott on August 10. Tickets available here.

Andrew: You recently decided to step away from performing with a guitar during live performances. What was the rationale behind that, and how do you think it affected your performance to date?

Molly: It’s always been a dream of mine to just sing and be super present. The guitar is super secondary to me – I picked it up later in life. So, at first, performing with it was like really kind of fun, and exciting. But then I feel like it kind of got in the way of my headspace while performing because I was too worried about how I sounded because I was insecure. I get really insecure playing it, I don’t feel very good at it.

I initially picked it up out of necessity and not having the means to hire a rhythm guitarist. Also, it’s really hard to find people to play with when you’re first starting out. For this album, I made the choice to play with a five piece band—it’s been so fun. It’s made the performance a lot stronger.

Now that you’re a decent time removed from the vocal jazz world, do you see any of that training popping up in your music in unintended or surprising ways?

I graduated in 2012. Moving to Austin, I just had a big separation from the jazz scene, I haven’t found that pocket in Austin at all. When I was in Asheville, I was very much in that world, you know, with playing transcripts—I went to school for it. Moving to Austin, having so many years away from it does sort of feel like my past, but it’s definitely present in my voice and a lot of my inspirations and how I think. I really learned at school, how to work with other people, musicians, and kept performance experience.

Do you think entire duo albums could or should be making a comeback, a la Ella and Louis? Other artists you’d get to cut a record with?

Yeah. I feel like that would be amazing, in the way of the future for me. I love that idea. I’ve definitely thought about it. I feel like I would have a couple people in mind, but I don’t want to say anything yet.

I read that you kind of were having a slow time recording and writing First Flower. Do you feel like you’ve gotten more comfortable after having two records out?

Q&A: Molly Burch dissects her music, live performances, and life in Austin

Molly Burch.

I definitely feel this kind of relief now that I have two albums behind me. I did feel pretty anxious writing [First Flower], because that was a really new experience for me, because with my first album, I was writing songs not knowing that they will be released, years before I was signed to my label. There’s so many insecurities tied to writing a second album, I think. I was also finding myself as a bandleader. I was changing up my band, and I had a whole new band on when we recorded, so I really found a sense of confidence with that too, because it just felt so nice and positive to have that experience. Going forward, I feel a lot more confident.

I find it really interesting that each release has felt like its own release, but still thoroughly within the world of Molly Burch. A lot of folk artists are letting their influences sit on the back burner as they get a bit more electronic, a bit heavier, and a bit more striking. Do you feel a certain pressure to be constantly innovating on your style or feel it seeping into the songwriting process?

I honestly don’t feel any pressure. I’m really hard on myself. I put pressure on myself in other ways. But stylistically, I really just go with what feels right and organic at the time. Also what I’m inspired by at the time. I don’t put pressure on myself, and neither does my label. I feel like super lucky in that way. That’s not where I put pressure on myself.

To me, your songs (and especially the new singles) are those in a small handful of artists I can listen to at any time of day—even at 4 or 5 in the morning, on the way to the airport. Do you have an intended atmosphere or space you imagine people are enjoying the new singles?

Gosh, I guess I don’t really think about it. I guess I imagine like people listening to my music when they’re alone, or at home.

Ok, so I know Amoeba and all of the buzz-y record stores have artists come in to buy records and talk about them, but since we’re on the phone—if you had to push 3 records onto me to go buy, what would they be? I need to get educated!

Okay. Well, firstly, I’ll say, RF Shannon. They just came out with their record on August 2, it’s called Rain On Dust. And they’re currently supporting my East Coast dates and they’re one of my favorite bands. And I love Bedouine’s new album [Bird Songs of a Killjoy]—it’s on Spacebomb. And then my third would be my other support for my West Coast states. Jackie Cohen also just put out a record this year on Spacebomb (Zagg).