Molly Burch Mixes Heartbroken Narratives and Fifties Pop
Austin newcomer's debut, Please Be Mine, is a quiet triumph
Sprawled sky creeping toward the rosy hues of dusk, an unseasonably warm winter afternoon begins wrapping on Manor Road. Molly Burch reminisces about her move from North Carolina to Texas in 2013, executed on a whim as the result of a post-collegiate identity crisis. A breakup in Asheville, a new relationship with the wrong person here, working three part-time jobs and doing it while friendlessly trying to settle into a new city, all of it comes rushing back.
"I remember seeing people and being like, 'Oh my god, that group of friends – I'll never have that!' I was so certain," laughs the soft-spoken singer, 26, under the nearly deafening clamor of a coffee shop patio. "It's hard to think back to that time. It was such a lonely time, and I didn't have a natural way of meeting anybody, so it was a really tough transition. But I grew a lot, and gained a lot of independence by doing it.
"I hope that comes out in the songs."
Please Be Mine colors the ennui of a life left behind for new beginnings. Overtly heartbroken narratives accompany. Out Feb. 17 on sought-after Brooklyn indie Captured Tracks, her debut also drums up Fifties pop touchstones.
Burch's aching, expressive vocals carry a velveteen husk from Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison's warble, and the dreamy wistfulness of Françoise Hardy. Drummer Ignacio Guerrero, Dailey Toliver on guitar, Caity Shaffer on bass, and keyboardist Paul Mitchell flesh out warm, gentle, vintage sounds. Pure, simple need takes care of the rest.
Her writing began immediately after moving to Austin, holed up with her voice and a ukulele. She didn't even play guitar yet. The idea of trying to form a band seemed too daunting, so Burch wrote about her broken heart in that first desolate year as catharsis.
Growing up in Los Angeles, she hadn't come from a musical household. A first band didn't come together until studying music during college. Her love of singing as an adolescent, discovering old jazz singers' voices, resonated loudest. Performing proved a struggle – Burch recounts failing choir in high school – so, like her songwriting on Please Be Mine, most of the process was confined to her bedroom, recording covers and keeping it to herself.
"My sister was the only person who knew I sang, because I was very private and didn't have a lot of friends," she explains. "She cast me in her plays in high school and would force me to sing. Any time we were at a family gathering, she would make me sing. I was so insecure, or shy, but I slowly felt like, 'Oh, maybe I can do this.'"
After a year composing Please Be Mine, Burch spent almost that long trying to land the right lineup for her band, a struggle that became an exercise in confidence, musicianship, and bandleading. By November 2015, the current group recorded most of Please Be Mine with Dan Duszynski of the band Cross Record at his idyllic Dripping Springs studio Dandy Sounds. Burch recalls the tall ceilings and large windows of her producer's home, where she looked out at the sprawl of land while recording the album.
Remarkably polished and bold-sounding masters in hand last March, its creator nervously sent the disc to friends before soliciting labels. Independent imprints' email addresses for demo submissions are where most musicians' dreams go to die, a black hole of MP3s and Bandcamp links destined to be rejected, ignored, left unopened. Unless you're Molly Burch.
She emailed her own unsolicited demo to Captured Tracks in April. Founded in 2008, the label rapidly cemented itself as a tastemaker, curating a diverse roster that counts Dum Dum Girls and Thee Oh Sees amongst its alumni, and Mac DeMarco, DIIV, Wild Nothing, Naomi Punk, etc., on its current roster. Backing by such a cultural brand equals the coveted stamp of cool, of being an artist to watch, a rare piece of rightful hype.
Burch hit "send" on her email Tuesday. By Thursday, while at her hostessing job at an Eastside restaurant, she found a response in her inbox from label founder Mike Sniper, a simple, "We've been listening to the record and we really like it."
"It was so fast," recalls Burch, blue eyes widening in shock. "I'm such an anxious person, I was just like, 'What the fuck?'"
She said thanks, unsure of what else to do. The next time she heard back, they wanted to sign her. And yet even more remarkable than said trajectory is Please Be Mine preserving Burch's first foray into songwriting at all.
Pitfall to many, miracle to others, the dynamic works in her favor. The songs are straightforward, unfussy, earnest. Exhibit A might be "Downhearted," the opening track: "I remembered recently that I've lost a few of my things/ My mind, my heart, my good intentions, and most everything."
As much as the songs could be (and are) about heartbreak, they're emboldened by a wistfulness born out of a more consuming, pervasive loss. They're love songs for the life she left behind, the person she used to be, songs tangled up in uncertainty that offers a sincere, immediate universality. Paradoxically, most of the tracks retain Burch's baseline hopefulness, as on "Loneliest Heart":
"I walk alone/ My days are still good."
As quickly as all this has happened for Burch, a totally unknown musician less than a year ago, for her it feels like a long time coming. To possess Please Be Mine at the end of a sprawl of uncertainty and finding her identity as a person – and a musician – counts as an unqualified triumph. She credits her move to Austin.
"When I first moved down, I remember feeling like there were so many possibilities here," recalls Burch. "It doesn't feel fast to me 'cause it's taken me so long. It's been such a long journey to confidence."
Molly Burch appears in-store at End of an Ear on Fri., Feb. 17, 6pm. Her album release party is the next night at Mohawk, Sat., Feb. 18, with Cross Record.