Anna Burch Isn’t Sentimental

Northern Transmissions' interview with Anna Burch
Anna Burch by Ebru Yildiz

Anna Burch isn’t one to let her emotions take over her music. Though Burch had been making art for years through Frontier Ruckus and her time in film school, she hadn’t been able to create music of her own until a friend forced her to push herself. Burch’s cynical view on the world was focused through these sessions, eventually leading to her clever record Quit The Curse. We caught up with Burch ahead of her March 4 show in Montreal at Bar Le Ritz (w/Weaves and Ezra Furman) to talk about what got her back into music and why she’s so snarky.

Northern Transmission: You’ve been playing music since you were a child and you spent years in Frontier Ruckus, so what brought you around to doing music on your own?

Anna Burch: I guess when I joined Frontier Ruckus I was pretty young, 18, and I was interested in music but didn’t have much creative agency. I would play open-mic nights and covers but the idea of writing songs felt so hard. I remember just trying and I hated everything I’d tried because I was so insecure. When I joined Frontier Ruckus, I just really enjoyed singing harmonies, my mom sung harmonies to me as a kid for everything that came on the radio. Harmony felt like something I was good at but it was kind of passive because it didn’t feel very challenging. Every now and then I try and have some creative input with that band, but to be honest Matt was more than capable of writing songs for that band, so I was happy being a supportive member. When I quit, I wasn’t liking the touring lifestyle, probably because I didn’t feel like I had a lot of stake in the band. I didn’t do much music at all, and I spent about four years away.

NT: How did Paul Cherry inspire you to get back into writing and see your material differently ?

AB: When I decided to join back with Frontier Ruckus, it wasn’t really my intention to start a solo thing. When I got excited about playing music again, I started playing more on my own. I was hanging out with a Paul in Chicago who was going to music school and was a bit younger than me, he was really excited about recording his own songs. One day we were hanging out and he said “Do you have any songs we could work on?” I had one song I had written a few years prior to that, but I didn’t think it was particularly good. We worked it out, and did a little bedroom recording which sounded great. I wound up moving to Detroit and he said “You should come back and visit, and we could record more songs.” Writing music was something I always wanted to do, but I was always too overwhelmed to do it, and wasn’t confident in what I had to say. That moment of stepping away for that course in grad school and a more professional life, and then coming back just shifted a lot of things and made it click. That and people like Paul who were encouraging and made it feel safe to try out new ideas.

NT: You’ve also talked about listening to a lot of classics to inspire your new music but it feels like your album rejects a lot of its romanticism?

AB: I think the whole listening to classics as inspiration was about learning how to write a song structurally, and learning melody. What I wanted to do lyrically, consciously or not, was to create some sort of tension in that dynamic. I didn’t want to just wholeheartedly do a retro, nostalgic album, I wanted it to be more personal. I liked that tension that more updated lyrics, that are more self-aware and cynical really add to that. I don’t know how conscious of a decision that was, but there was definitely something I found funny about that dynamic.

NT: Your lyrics are notably more snarky than many of your songwriter counterparts, is this therapeutic for you or do you feel it’s more of a humorous tool?

AB: I think a lot of it had to do of feeling incapable of expressing myself in my personal life for a multitude of reasons. I mean modern dating is really just terrible, trying to play it cool, anticipate someone getting scared and playing the balancing act of getting close to someone without being vulnerable. I just found myself in situations where I didn’t know whose fault it was but it was hard to be honest. I felt humiliated in my personal life, so the snark was more of a shield, and a cathartic way of letting myself feel righteous.

NT: Alternatively, despite some lyrics ‘Belle Isle’ is the most hopeful track on the record, so why have you said you feel embarrassed listening to it now?

AB: “Belle Isle” was the first song I wrote for the record, so I definitely feel like I grew a lot from writing that song. I liked the tension of updating, but that was the most retro/nostalgia song. There were a couple things I did lyrically to push against the grain, like saying “made-out” instead of something classically romantic. It’s a little embarrassing because it feels really sentimental, it doesn’t feel like me yet. It’s weird because a lot of people really like that song, probably because it is more of a tradition, it’s less me but more emotive in a way.

NT: It also seems like moving around and the instability that comes with that informed the album as well, do you think having those roller coaster years with Frontier Ruckus helped you shape the album?

AB: There were a number of things that clicked for me that allowed me to write, not just the move, my personal life or rejoining the band, it was a combination of everything. Things were exciting, even when they were bad they felt tangible. I feel so much more comfortable right now, it’s weird and the record is such a snapshot of that time. I wrote it in the first nine months of being in Detroit and we also toured seven months of that year. When I was on tour or not I was always just thinking about writing.

NT: What felt off about the record to you and how did Collin Dupuis retool it to what it is now?

AB: Part of it was when Paul and I were writing and arranging the record, it was a small batch of songs that we spent time on. We spent time with some players working on them, and then Paul reached out to me on tour and said “I think we can do better, and I know you’re working on songs so maybe we could give it a proper go and record a whole LP.” We arranged it, and I was going to come down for a week and a half in Chicago and knock it all out. The drummer we had been demoing with bailed, and Paul found a last-minute replacement who learned everything in a day. We did everything to click-track, and doing that all in a week, with a click and with a band that I hadn’t worked with, it lent a stiffness that didn’t really work. I had to tour more, and was working at a restaurant, and then I would be punished with more shifts, I was so busy and we really just couldn’t keep cracking at it. The drummer I was playing with said Collin should mix it, and I sent him the record, we talked for a long time and he wanted to work on it if we could re-track some things. We re-tracked it mostly live with the band, and it breathed better with more natural dynamics. We worked for less than a day-and-a-half and it helped so much.

Words by Owen Maxwell