By Abby Jeffers, News Editor
[Photo courtesy of Molly Burch/Captured Tracks]
Vocalist and songwriter Molly Burch grew up watching her dad sing along to the Ben Folds Five from the backseat of the car and “truly believing” that he was actually a member of the band. Her dad was involved in the Los Angeles movie business, although his love for music introduced Burch to artists who became foundational to her own passion, including The Cardigans, Cat Stevens and Sheryl Crow. Later, when she wanted to find female voices that she herself could emulate, she gravitated toward powerful women like Billie Holiday and Lauryn Hill. This background, combined with a degree in jazz performance from the University of South Carolina, built Burch into a strong and buttery vocalist with an impressive range.
Burch’s sound today is a distinctive romantic blend of country and pop, a style that she attributes to listening to artists like Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton while also loving Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera.
“It took me a while to craft my voice and balance all of these attributes I aspired to have,” Burch says. “The blend just came with time, practice and experience.”
Though her first record, Please Be Mine, garnered a largely positive reception after its 2017 release, Burch noted that the feedback was surprising. She was unsigned at the time and “had no idea if [the record] was ever going to be released.” The 10-track album was recorded in a whirlwind of two days in the studio, as Burch funded the record entirely with money saved up from her two part-time jobs. But she says the praise was more than she could have asked for.
Burch signed to her current record label, Captured Tracks, in 2016 and toured for a year before sitting down to write her sophomore album. The time spent traveling was “incredible,” but also brought bouts of change and anxiety for Burch. She was also apprehensive about writing a follow-up to her well-received debut, so she pulled from those feelings while creating First Flower. Thus, instead of themes like those on Please Be Mine, which detail a “heart-wrenching breakup,” First Flower focused on shifts in friendships, Burch’s relationship with her sister and how she learned to fight her anxiety.
She has not completely won the battle against anxiety, but Burch believes she has “learned and grown a lot” since the release of her first record. She has developed coping skills and realized that while touring, it is vital to her mental health to surround herself with the right people. Burch has also learned to ask for help; she says that she tends to be hard on herself and “take on too much,” but both of those things have been alleviated in the past year.
This emotional maturity is evident in the standout track on the album: “To The Boys”. It is Burch’s favorite song to perform and also an empowering ballad written in response to her own experiences with sexism in music. Burch wanted to write an “anthem” for anyone who needs to feel powerful, so “To The Boys” functions as an open letter to the men who have neglected to respect her or her “role as a leader” in creating her music.
“I wanted to make it clear that even though I am a soft-spoken person, I am a leader and a boss,” says Burch. She sings almost this exact sentiment on the track, crooning, “I don’t need to scream to get my point across / I don’t need to yell to know that I’m the boss.”
First Flower is still a bright album overall, despite its seemingly paradoxically heavy content. Instead of allowing her anxiety to drag the music down, however, Burch parallels real life with her ability to remain positive throughout the album. It is a largely candid record, and Burch narrates the intimate details of her insecurities as well as her triumphs. On “Dangerous Place”, she sings of self-doubt (“Why did I question myself?”), but that comes only a few songs after “Candy”, a playful and sassy opening track on which Burch pushes away a former lover (“Why do I care what you think?”).
Please Be Mine was commended for its “smoky, effortless vocals and bleeding-heart lyrics” according to label Captured Tracks, and though Burch maintained those smooth vocals on First Flower, her second record was much more lighthearted. Burch and her band, which retained her guitarist and boyfriend Dailey Toliver despite an almost entirely new lineup, had the luxury of more time in the studio with First Flower. It was a “fresh start” with new musicians and financial support from her record label, so she was able to make music that sounded brighter and less serious. That was in part due to the fact that she was in a better place mentally, but Burch also wanted to create a “positive and fun” record. And though she “loves singing slow, sad ballads,” she also says that this album can be more fun to perform live.
The sweet country-pop sounds of Please Be Mine and First Flower reflect both of Burch’s hometowns: she implements the poppy charm of Los Angeles, where she grew up, and the country twang of Austin, where she currently resides. And though she says she misses California, Austin felt like a natural place to land. Her family visited Texas often as a child, spending time with family in Dallas, and she was always drawn to how “wholesome” the state felt.
“I loved the sound of the cicadas and the hot summers,” says Burch.
Today, she loves that life in Austin has a slow pace, and the city itself is “really manageable” yet never boring. Its active music scene is supportive and comfortable, allowing Burch room to grow and be vulnerable with both her heartbreak and her anxiety on each record.
Despite adoring her hometown of Austin, however, what Burch truly loves is to perform. She gained performing experience while studying music in college, and she was able to overcome her stage fright. Burch hopes to release tour dates for spring and summer 2019 soon, though it has already been announced that she will be performing at South by Southwest in March and at Ohio’s very own Nelsonville Music Festival in June.
“I hope to keep doing what I’ve been doing,” says Burch. “Recording and touring around the world! It’s been such a dream.”