After years of playing in other people’s bands, Anna Burch initially began to pull scraps of her own songs together out of necessity. “I just had a lot I wanted to get off my chest and sort through,” she remembered of writing her solo debut, 2018’s slacker-rock stunner Quit The Curse. “The first record is a little more narrative-driven and diaristic. I think it was partly because I felt newly inspired to do it, and I didn’t have any anticipation of an audience or a release or anything.”
Initially entering music as a longtime member of the Detroit folk-rock collective, Frontier Ruckus, and later cajoled by her dear friend Fred Thomas to be part of his indie-pop outfit, Failed Flowers, Burch’s solo work came much later in her musical career — but it has proven to be her strongest venture yet. Prodded by both Thomas and another peer, Paul Cherry, to prioritize finishing her demos, Burch’s debut was quickly snapped up by the independent Illinois-based label Polyvinyl Records and her deadpan, stripped-down rock put her on the map.
Two years later, Burch is back with a follow-up record that takes the momentum she built on Curse and runs with it. If You’re Dreaming is a lush, tranquil album that’s full of the kind of downtempo moments that someone coming off a packed touring schedule would most want to hear themselves. Full of imagist lyrics that excavate fear without flinching, Burch calls the album something of a “negative pep talk” to herself and recognizes it as a shift, sonically, from her debut.
“The music I was tending toward in my private time was generally a little more calming and a little more melancholic,” she explained when we spoke over the phone a few weeks ago, while America enters a period of harrowing uncertainty due to the spread of coronavirus. “That really influenced this record. I wanted to make a record that I would want to listen to and expand the sonic palette.”
Enlisting producer and multi-instrumentalist Sam Evian in order to accomplish that expansion, Burch and her drummer, Matthew Rickle, joined Evian at his studio in the Catskills for a simple two-week recording session. Days began slow and indulgent, with lots of time for coffee and conversation, sessions were intuitive and minimalist and included lots of live tracking. The resulting record is a study in tranquility, and even meditative at times, a welcome escape and calming listening for a country in crisis.
The mood of the record was inspired, in part, by Burch’s own internal chaos. After a grueling tour, she returned home to Detroit only to undergo a series of stressful housing experiences — one that resulted in being robbed at gunpoint. “Any song where I’m talking about insomnia is kind of coming off of that experience,” she explained, discussing the album’s first track, “Can’t Sleep,” and how certain themes of anxiety seeps into other material on the project. “I was thinking about conversations I’d had with friends about feeling isolated. We all feel pretty alienated and don’t have a good sense of community. I think we’re kind of coming to terms with that now.”
Writing an album that manages to explore inner turmoil while still sounding peaceful is no easy feat, but Burch executes it with immaculate precision, doubling down on her status as both a rookie and a vet.
If You’re Dreaming is out April 3 via Polyvinyl Records. Pre-order it here.