Conversations like this don’t come up often for me. Molly Burch never just speaks, she gushes; when we talk about the future, she can only muster giddiness. I can’t imagine that I’m much older than this rising starlet with the husky singing voice, but she makes me feel that way, like I’m looking through the other side of a Blake poem. Is that just the sunny disposition of a former Californian (LA, to be exact, and from a showbiz fam to boot)? The fervent flame of youth? Or the softer candlelight of love rekindled?
Ostensibly, I’m talking to Molly about her debut album, Please Be Mine, a lacey ten-song narrative set to breezy, down-tempo country ballads. The whole scoop, of course, is in her smoky vocals, reminiscent of Billie Holliday and Patsy Cline, through which she flirts, mourns, laments, and begs for forgiveness. Me, though, I’m also keen to peel back to the actual romance behind the album, stuck as I am in the throes of irrational desire. What does that happy ending look like?
We’re chatting via phone – she’s en route to New York for her first tour date, and I’m hunched in my apartment (as usual). After departing from her home base of Austin and camping briefly in South Carolina, she’s now passing through my neck of the woods, which inevitably kicks off our chat with the very gig that’s been on my mind for three months now. We’ll then amble through her unusual education, the songwriting process, and why breaking up (temporarily) might be the best move for both artists and lovers.
DiS: Well! I’m in Atlanta, GA! I hate I didn’t know that [you were passing through], actually. How long were you here?
Molly Burch: Well, we’re just driving up to New York, so – my mom lives in Atlanta, so we just got in last night. But we’ll be back March 12, we’ll be playing at the EARL.
Yes, I’m very aware of that, actually!
I’m so excited to play there.
I know – I’m so excited to see you there! I can’t wait to see you, and – God, I can’t wait to see Tim Darcy.
Aww, yeah, I can’t wait to meet him.
Oh – you haven’t actually met, then?
No, we haven’t! But we’ll meet Saturday, in Montreal, and I’m very excited for that!
So how did that come about, then? Was that him buzzing you, or…?
No, I was asked by his booking agent, Jimmy Hefner, at Ground Control Touring, and he asked me if I could be the support.
Ahhh, I see. So let’s get to the actual first question – you studied Jazz Vocal Performance in college, and I was wondering: what made you decide to legitimately study that as a major?
I’m not sure! I hadn’t really planned on studying jazz or music at all when I was in high school. I think I just didn’t really know what I wanted to go to college for. I’d always been a singer, but I didn’t have a lot of experience in high school – I was pretty shy. And then I went to Sarah Lawrence College for a year, my freshman year, and I was 17. They don’t have majors there, just very make-your-own-education kind of curriculum. But they do have something called “thirds”, where you could be a dance third, or a music third, and the majority of your classes are surrounded by that. So – one of my friends was a music third, so I just thought, “Well, I should do that.” But I think it’s because they have such an open education that I just felt very comfortable. And then when I decided to transfer, I went to a university, and I picked that as a major just because I’d already been doing that. But it’s because that made sense at the time, and because I wanted to push myself in that direction.
That does seem very organic. Just curious, though – if it hadn’t been music, what do you think your major would have been instead?
Oh gosh, I don’t know!
I studied English, but for a long time I was also thinking about music. But when I went to college and saw everything that was involved in music, I was like, “Oh no, I don’t know if I want to practice 10 hours a day.”
Yeah, I wasn’t the most dedicated student, so I feel like – I definitely don’t want to go back to college! I don’t know what I would pick. I think it was just an easier choice in a way.
What made you move to Austin?
So I graduated, I was living in Asheville, and I stayed a year there after college. And I was in a relationship, where we had moved in together, and sort of just feeling like – I didn’t know what I was doing with my life, and it was so small there, that I felt like I couldn’t grow anymore, and I felt like I needed some independence. So I was looking into what to do – I was thinking about maybe going back home to LA, or maybe even going off to Paris or somewhere! And then I broke up with my boyfriend and moved to Austin, because my dad’s from Dallas, and I had only been here once, and I just felt like it’d be an easy place to move; [I liked] the music scene here. And then I started dating someone from here, so I just packed up and moved very quickly, didn’t really think about it too much. But now I’m very glad that I did.
That’s interesting. Your current boyfriend is Dailey Toliver – but that’s not the person you broke up with?
Yes, he is. We lived together in Asheville. And then we broke up, and then we got back together, probably a year after we broke up, and then he moved here, and now he’s in my band on the album.
OK, that’s starting to make more sense. Because, listening to that album – I read on Gold Flake Paint that you wrote a lot of these songs thinking about him, but when I listen, I think, wow, this is really a relationship that’s in flux and uncertain. So now I see where that’s coming from.
Yeah, I definitely [drew] a lot of inspiration from just being apart and then wanting to get back together. I guess I wasn’t thinking too much when it happened, and so I was being really selfish. I didn’t think too much about ending the relationship at all, because I was on to the next thing, I wanted to move. And then I fell for this new guy, so a lot of the songs are inspired by that, and then just getting back together.
Walk me through your songwriting process. Do you start with an idea, or a melody? Or how does that work for you?
So this whole album is basically my first songs, just because I didn’t really start writing independently until I moved here. And so it’s definitely changed throughout the album, because some of these songs are pretty recent. And playing guitar is pretty new to me. But I start with chords, and coming up with the progression first, and then singing along to that, and then lyrics after that. I just want to come up with a melody that I like, and that sounds good, that complements my voice. And then I go from there.
It seems like the voice is more important to you – not that the lyrics aren’t – but that how the voice flows is more vital here than the lyrics.
But now, when writing these songs, do these reflect your current state of mind? Or somewhere that you’d want to be?
Both. In writing the songs, the sound of the songs is just something I’d want to listen to. But in regards to the content, it depends on the song…Sometimes I feel it’s very much how I’m feeling at a certain point in time, and other times it’s creating something that doesn’t exist.
The album’s very cohesive, in a way, in that they’re all love songs. Was that intentional? Did you go into this knowing that you wanted that?
Yeah, because that’s what I’d been writing about…but no, I didn’t go into it just wanting to create a full album, with all the songs I had. And some songs were left out, that weren’t necessarily about this. But these songs fit together well, and told this story that felt very relevant to this time that I lived here.
So you met your boyfriend, and he’s definitely your guitarist – how did the other members of your band come together?
Just very organically, through mutual friends that I met. The drummer, Ignacio, [I met] through a friend in Austin, and I’d seen him play several times in other bands. And so he’s been playing with me – and he recorded on the record – it’s been about two years? And then my bassist Kitty just recently joined the band – my other bassist moved away. Kitty’s not on the record, but she’s with us live now, and she lives with Ignacio, and she’s in other bands in town, so that also just happened very organically. We also play with a keyboardist, but she’s not on tour with us right now. It’s a very tight-knit, small music community in Austin, so it’s very easy to meet and see a lot of the same bands all the time. It’s really nice. And everyone will play with each other, it’s not a competitive thing.
That sounds a lot like Athens, actually.
Yeah! Athens is cool, too. And somewhere like Asheville, smaller-type places…it’s really nice.
Now, this tour – is this the biggest out-of-town tour you’ve ever done?
Definitely! I haven’t toured my music yet. This will be the first.
I am wondering now: do you like the way that people have been talking about your album?
I think it’s been received well! I’ve definitely gotten a lot of love from Austin, and the KTUX station here. But it’s been so recent since we released it...I’m just excited to start this tour and see where it goes from there.
And that tour will climax at SXSW – now, you living in Austin, I take it you’ve been as an onlooker a few times?
Yeah, I haven’t participated in it, so this will be my first time participating. But it’ll be a nice break, as we’ll tour with Tim Darcy for one more week afterward, so it’ll be real nice to be home, and I’m super excited about those shows we’ll be playing.
How is that experience, by the by, of having this huge, global festival just appear in your hometown?
Oh, yeah. But you can also avoid it, if you want to. It takes over the downtown area – and we live a little bit outside. So you can be in it, if you want, and it is sort of surreal. I think it was mostly weird the first year I was in Austin, and then it was crazy. But if you don’t want to be a part of it, you can go a little bit outside of downtown and escape it. But it’s a fun week.
After this tour is done, what are you doing next?
We are going on another tour – we’re supporting Sally Ford – and it’s actually a very similar tour! We’ll be home for a week, and then we’ll be gone for about a month and a half, and then it’ll conclude on the West Coast. But we’ll basically do another East Coast loop in April, and then go to LA, and then [do] the West Coast dates.
Oh, wow! No rest for the weary. I do know what I want to talk about now. I want to talk about love, because this side of it interests me more. First off – how did you first meet, exactly?
We met at a grocery store – I was working at one, in college – and he came through my checkout line. He was one of our good friends, with Mark, so we had met, and I had already heard about him, that “this amazing bass player just moved. Have you heard of him?” People talk, because [Asheville] is small. So I knew who he was when I met him, and I decided he was cute. But we didn’t start dating until a couple months after we first met, though we’d bump into each other all the time.
At what point during the dating process did you realize that this was definitely the guy that you wanted?
He was the first really good person that I ever dated! I have this track record of dating anyone that was around – I just serial-dated people that didn’t treat me well. It was college – I wanted to just date as much as possible! And then he was just the first person that was like, “Oh my gosh, this guy treats me well, and he’s just an amazing musician!” and I just totally fell in love with him. And then, when we broke up – I broke up with him just because I felt like, “I’m too young, I want more experiences.” But then, since we’ve been apart, I just realized how special of a person he is, and I’d made a mistake.
That’s nice. See, this interests me, because I had the exact opposite experience in college – I didn’t date anyone, except for this one guy, who was several years older than me in grad school. He took me to Olive Garden once, and I never heard from him again. But I’m glad you’re definitely in a – well, would you say that you’re definitely in a happy, solid relationship that will last?
Definitely! I dunno, though – I feel like I’m a huge advocate of breaking up now and then getting back together, because you learn so much in that time! And he really grew up in that time, and we were able to work through some things really hard. And he was able to forgive me for leaving and starting to date someone else. So I think that made us stronger.
Please Be Mine is out now via Captured Tracks. For more information about Molly Burch, including upcoming tour dates, please visit her official website.