The Mynabirds new record, Generals, is an amalgam of styles. Like
most good bands these days they are difficult to pigeonhole. Their music moves from the electro-poppy Disarm to the anthemic soul-rock of the title track with ease.
“I might call it ‘garage soul’ just because it is really rooted in soul but it is kind of all over the place,” says Laura Burhenn. “I think my music is forever rooted in soul music, the song that tells and emotional story. Nina Simone, Aretha
Franklin, singers who give the highest and lowest of the human experience.”
But it isn’t all singing about feelings. There is a political angle to the music as well.
“I have always written songs with a political bent. In high school I rewrote Amazing Grace to rail against politics,“ she says. It is hard having a political voice that goes deep. I had a decade of frustration living in D.C. between 97 and 2003. I was present for protests leading up to Iraq
How people’s memories seem to vanish perplexes Burhenn. How things that happened just a few years before leave the collective consciousness so easily. She talks about how people, a few years after the election of 2000 had forgotten that Al Gore actually won (at least as far as the popular vote goes).
“You stand up and say ‘I’ll never become like that;’ then you realize you have become that way,” she says. “It was very frustrating personally. I wanted to take the frustration and turn it into something positive. In the end I wanted to focus on things that unite us rather than divide us. Love/Vamp songs are a way to do this.”
Burhenn isn’t naming names, placing blame or taking sides in the partisan political nonsense of the day. The music and its message are not about that.
“I didn’t want to name names; this is about the eternal struggle, small men and women against those in power. I don’t know anybody who has the answers.” says Burhenn.
She admits she certainly doesn’t. In fact she felt there was something missing from the album as she was writing it.
“What can you do in the face of war and discord? I felt I was missing a song.” says Burhenn.
She also thought, who am I? How do you write songs about personalizing the world’s problems? Then she had a crazy dream; she relates the short version. At one point in the dream she turns around and there was a chorus, all races, all ages, holding different color balloons.
“The realization was; ‘oh, right, love. Be kind to the people around you'. That is the line, ‘I’d give it all for a legacy of love’.” says Burhenn.
The first song on the album, Karma Debt, includes the line, as does the final track. If there is a single, overarching theme to that line encapsulates it.
Buy Generals directly from the label HERE.
“Last year I toured as part of Bright Eyes, that was the most extensive touring I have one. It was a full year. As for The Mynabirds it doesn’t seem like as much as the first record.” she says.
On tour you always learn some life lesson. Burhenn learned a valuable one the last time out; watch out when you play in Chicago or someone might steal your fox head. On stage Burhenn wears a fox headdress made by artist, Erin Shaw (she is quick to point out it is fake and no foxes were beheaded or otherwise harmed)
“I wear the headdress and it never crossed my mind someone would try to steal it.” says Burhenn.
But someone did. Burhenn says she had a few whiskeys in her when someone yelled “He stole your fox!” Members of the band chased him down. And the cops arrived.
“I just wanted my fox headdress back. I didn’t want him arrested. I probably sound like an old person. He was drunk. He thought he was being real funny.” she says.
It was probably less funny in the back of the Chicago police car. Nothing sobers you up like a trip to the land of the stainless steel toilets.
being a musician.
“You make these records, write these songs near and dear to your heart but the industry is in a state of flux. “she says.
She mentions a statistic she heard that only 1 percent of records sell more than 10,000 copies. At a fairly generous royalty rate that translates into “you need a
What about making money selling your songs to advertising? Artists can do that
“I come from the school—music shouldn’t be made to sell products
but we are in an era where it happens. I have turned down some licensing, a
sunshiny grocery store ad,” she says
They wanted to use the song, Cape Parade, which was about a friend of hers that died. And you just don’t sell a song like that to sell chips and dip. Burhenn quotes the title track from Generals that ends with the line; “I haven’t made a dollar yet.”
Burhenn says that is the plight of musicians these days. Someone is a musician because it is in their soul, is going to do it anyway. That is a true artist. The whole system takes advantage of that.
She laughingly talks about an imaginary room full of capitalists telling each other “they will do it for nothing!” Burhenn doesn’t REALLY think this literally happens of course.
“We are in a singles era; everyone wants to listen for 2 minutes. That’s why I made a concept record. “ she says.
“I know the point was focusing on the positive, every time we go out we have so much fun. We played Phoenix, Arizona. It was their first time there and the place was packed. It was wonderful, people coming up and saying ‘I love this record, it is how I feel.’ It gives me hope.” says Burhenn.
The band played Houston recently and a couple of underage fans travelled an hour and a half and couldn’t get in. They begged the venue to let the kids in. And they did. It is a big problem for bands not playing arenas. Bars often don't let fans under 21 in. And you cannot always play festivals.
The Mynabirds also recently played Pickathon in Portland.
“That is the best festival in the world. Pickathon is special. I love that they keep it small, ecologically sound.” she says.
Burhenn also loves the musical diversity. While there are some well-known acts at the festival that isn’t the focus.
“They are clearly not trying to get bands that draw the most people. They have incredible people I’ve never heard of.” says Burhenn.
And there are doubtless music fans who have yet to hear about The
Mynabirds but that should be short term. There is no chance this music will go