Words by David C. Obenour
Following the jangley, energetic pop of her 2018 debut, Anna Burch is back with If You’re Dreaming, an album of reflective beauty and artistic growth. While more of the same could be welcomed at only two albums in, these new songs reach out into new sounds and moods, hinting at what could be on the horizon.
With an evolving sound, the most exciting growth showcased comes from Burch’s vocals – which are featured as centrally as an instrument in the new song’s construction. Simply put, these are the songs that only she could make because only she could deliver them in the way she did.
As an artist, Anna Burch has a lot to say and this is still only the beginning of that journey.
Off Shelf: If You’re Dreaming is a decidedly more quiet and relaxed album than your debut, Quit the Curse. Did you set out to make the record that way?
Anna Burch: I was listening to more mellow music when I was thinking about the next record, which had a lot to do with a general weariness and desire for rest and stability. I knew that I wanted there to be quieter moments on this album, and a couple of instrumental tracks. The environment in which the songs were arranged and recorded also really informed the general mood. I recorded the album at Sam Evian’s home studio in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York at the very beginnings of springtime and it was such a peaceful and idyllic setting. For this record we were able to track a lot of it live, with my drummer Matt Rickle, Sam on bass, and me on guitar, or Rhodes piano, and I think it really captured the spirit of those sessions.
OS: Can you talk about working with Sam for your second record?
AB: I think I learned to really be present and enjoy the recording process from him, rather that stress about the outcome. At one point he was like, “This is the best it gets” and he was so right.
OS: What do you think has changed about how you write and perform music between then and now?
AB: A lot has changed in my personal life most notably. Quit the Curse had more of an edge, and was more directly confessional in tone. I think I’ve grown up a lot since I wrote those songs so in some ways If You’re Dreaming feels more adult. I also think I got a bit better at guitar after touring so much on Quit the Curse, and feeling more comfortable as a musician made me want to expand the sonic palette to include keys and other instrumentation. I went into recording If You’re Dreaming with more of an open mind and less of a controlling attitude so I think that really benefited the collaborative process.
OS: Is there anything from Quit the Curse that doesn’t resonate as deeply with you now? Or maybe resonates in a different way?
AB: I’m really proud of that record and I always will be, but I feel like a pretty different person now and I’m thankful for that. There’s an antagonism in some of those songs, and a lot of insecurity that took the shape of bitterness and sarcasm. There’s still a bit of that on If You’re Dreaming in some of the earlier songs I wrote, but there’s also a lot of hope.
OS: How did your sources for inspiration in song writing change for If You’re Dreaming?
AB: Well I became involved in my first serious relationship in years, and maybe my first adult relationship ever. I also went through some tough times; got robbed at gunpoint, had to move around to a few different temporary housing situations, and then I was on tour for months—that part was fun but also exhausting. But I wanted to write from a place that went beyond reacting to specific situations and allowed for more nuance and subtlety.
OS: Can you talk about the picture you used for the cover? What about it struck you?
AB: My friend Chloe Sells took some photos of me in my apartment and when she got back the film she texted me that photo first and said “This one is my favorite.” I don’t think we always see ourselves as clearly as others can and I’m not sure I would have chosen that particular one without her perspective. And I do think the photo is a good representation of the music on this record. It’s shadowy but hopeful; relaxed but inquisitive. And the setting is important to me because I feel like I’m finally at home, even if it’s in a rental.
OS: You use your voice beautifully on If You’re Dreaming – taking some lines to slide between notes that almost seems to more mimic the sound of an instrument. Did you think about how you sung differently for these new songs?
AB: Thank you! I wanted to change up my vocal affect from the long, straight, lower range notes I was using on the first record—partly to challenge myself but also to serve the songs. I don’t want to marry myself to the same modes of expression, because I want to keep evolving as a musician and as a person.
OS: Carole King is referenced in the press materials for both of your albums. I don’t know how involved you are with their creation, but I was wondering how big of an influence you would consider her.
AB: Maybe that’s a bit of an oversell aesthetically, but Tapestry was formative for me musically. My mom is a pianist and she had the sheet music for that album, so I used to sing along with her as she played it. It made sense to mention her in the bio for this album because I wrote my first piano ballad and she was a big reference point for it.
OS: For all of the sounds that you explore on If You’re Dreaming, the sequencing works really well. Can you talk about your process there? Are there any songs that were left off, rerecorded, or recorded later in the process to help with flow?
AB: We used every song that I went into the session with—I even wrote one last song the day before I left to record, which wound up being the first single—and we only had two weeks to arrange and record everything so I think that cohesiveness comes from the session really having a time and a place informing it.
OS: Have you already started working on new material? It’s an impressive amount of range on your first two albums, so I’m excited to see where you might want to go in the future and what if any boundaries you see for yourself musically.
AB: Honestly, I really haven’t started anything else yet but now that I’m stuck at home for the foreseeable future I’m hoping inspiration will strike soon and I’ll be able to devote myself to some new songs.