Interview: The Mynabirds

Check out our Q&A with Laura Burhenn of The Mynabirds — she talks all about songs from the upcoming album Lovers Know (which comes out this Friday)!

The Mynabirds Interview

After The Show: Lovers Know has songs with really rich textures and sonic layers – how are you planning to reproduce that sound (especially the backing vocals) on tour?

Laura: Well, I’ll be touring with a full band and we’ll attempt to fuzz it out as much as we can altogether live. I recently bought this amazing magical box that I use to process my voice live. It creates loops and harmonies, and I like to joke that I’ve replaced my backup singer with a robot…

Bradley (Hanan Carter, who produced the record and whose vocals are all over it) is touring live with me as well, so we’ll be doing the female-male vocals live together.

What did you learn on your tour as a member of the Postal Service?

I learned so much on that tour! Above all, I learned that being good people should always come before making good art. Ben, Jenny and Jimmy are some of the most creative and talented minds I know and that I’ve worked with. But above that, they’ve all got hearts of gold. Seriously. If you’re going to ask a crew of people to leave their homes and help you give your vision to the world, it helps when everyone is feeling loved and appreciated and is enjoying themselves. It was a real joy, that tour.

And the light show!!…Although it was pretty hilarious that I never even saw it until I saw videos of us playing. Yeah — you’ve got to have a great team of people who can help you see the big picture. That’s another important lesson to take home.

In “Semantics,” the juxtaposition between water (half empty, ice, rain, the water’s edge, fog, storm, cooling down) and heat (a thousand suns, dry up, Roman candle, lightening up, fire) is brilliant. Were you consciously making a connection between how half empty/half full is sometimes just a matter of perspective and “you can move mountains with your point of view”?

I was thinking in really elemental terms when I was writing Lovers Know. I had been watching a lot of Carl Sagan’s The Cosmos and actually started out writing an album about string theory, and the ties that bind us together. And then my relationship fell apart and I found myself writing about love and heartbreak, but the elemental pieces (fire, water, wind and earth) — those remained, as well as the hope that still leads you on. I think “Semantics” perfectly illustrates that — how you hope against everything being prone to destructing and fading away in the natural world.

But yes, it IS all about perspective — that’s the joy of semantics, in general. Words create our reality, and we can use them to make it better. Energy can neither be created or destroyed, right? So it’s all about turning it into something good and useful.

What did you envision thematically with “Orion”? I like how the name “Orion” simultaneously evokes the constellation, the Greek myth, but how it also sounds like you’re singing “Oh Ryan.”

I have always loved the constellation of Orion best of all. He’s the most recognizable in the night sky, and one of the few you can find all year long. So I was thinking about that — about the constant of “him” in my whole life, and about the mythologies we build up around our perfect match and mate, the one who has got to be out there — if only we could just find them. And so I wanted to sing about that — about how the dreams we build up can both kind of mess up our ability to love someone in a real, earthly and intimate way, and also how the hope for that one true love can help lift us back up after we’ve had a deep heartbreak.

I hear a little bit of “Fallen Doves” in “Omaha.” What inspired you to write “Fallen Doves” – did you really see a bird on the side of the road in Arkansas, or is it entirely metaphorical?

When I was on tour with Bright Eyes, my friend Scotty McPherson who was playing drums told me this story his mom used to tell him when he was little — that if you found a dead bird on the side of the road, if you said a prayer to it, it would fly it up to heaven. I thought that was such a beautiful way to transform this sad image of death that all kids encounter and can’t quite make sense of. And after he told me that, there had been this story in the news about all of these birds mysteriously just dropping out of the sky over Arkansas. I just thought it was so beautifully poetic, that imagery…

I like the imagery of contrasts (all vs nothing, a believer vs no faith) you created in “All My Heart” and “Believer.” What feelings and moods did you hope to evoke with those songs?

To be honest, I still have no idea exactly what I’m singing about in “Believer” but it strikes a certain chord of truth in me (and other people), and so I know it’s right. And so singing it is kind of an act of faith. I think I felt utterly lost when I was writing Lovers Know. I felt like I was doing okay in life, but in a lot of ways failing. And finally I had to face the fact that I didn’t believe in myself. It had nothing to do with other people.

And admitting that aloud — how depressed and dark you’ve become — can be so hard to do. So I did it. I don’t think I had written a song ever about how wrong things were in my life. I’ve always been such a hopeful, positive person — always wanting to see the bright side. But sometimes you just have to admit that you’re not okay. And as you can tell in “Believer,” I wasn’t.

Thanks Laura! For more info on The Mynabirds (including tour dates), head to the band’s website.

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