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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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Interview: Mahina Gannet

Mahina Gannet is a tour manager and leads the Artist Relations team for Governors Ball Music Festival. She has served as Production Coordinator for huge Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service tours and is currently tour managing Neko Case.

Mahina Gannet After The Show

After The Show: What’s your background career-wise – how did you get started working in music?

Mahina: I started as an intern at Superfly Presents, a concert promoter based in New York City during my senior year at NYU. That internship led to my first full time job in music, working for Superfly as their Office Manager.

What’s a typical day for you when you’re working on a tour?

A typical day on tour depends on where you are, the type of show, the size of your band and crew and what position I’m filling. Currently, as TM for Neko Case, I start my days earlier than load in, simply to catch up on emails and all the other advance work I can’t accomplish once we start loading in the show. There’s usually a bank run, a hotel run and then load in.

My job really focuses on backstage, not the stage itself, so I spend load in time putting up information, setting up dressing rooms, the production office, catering. I make sure the band has whatever they need. I work with the promoter rep on backstage security, guest lists and show settlements. I work on the logistics for getting to our next city. I’m sure there’s a lot more but essentially it’s just making sure everyone (band, crew, management, agents) is well informed for all show related items and as happy as possible.

How helpful was attending NYU Stern School of Business…do you apply what you learned to your current jobs?

I’d say attending NYU is directly related to what I do now. But it was completely unintentional and not because of New York University, per se. It was one of those “right place at the right time” situations. A very good friend of mine, Tom Russell, now co-owner of Founders Entertainment and The Governors Ball Music Festival, was a displaced Tulane University student during the fall of my senior year due to Hurricane Katrina. A Manhattan native, he transferred to NYU while his school recovered from the storm. He was at the time already an intern at Superfly and happened to be in my International Marketing class. We had to partner up for group work and he was the only person, aside from me, not wearing the typical Stern suit and tie uniform. I immediately introduced myself.

Tom eventually got me my internship and we’ve been friends ever since. So – was NYU helpful in getting me my first job? I’d say for its location and the notch on my resume, yes. But up until that point, I had no intention of working in the music industry. And I honestly only had two classes from NYU that still stick out in my mind as useful: my business law class and my entrepreneurship class.

The actual Governors Ball festival is only one weekend, but how long do you work pre and post that weekend? And how do you remain so calm and in control in the midst of the chaos of working a festival?

Gov Ball is essentially 7 months of work for me. I usually start working on it in January and don’t finish till a month after the festival.

And RE: Calmness During Chaos – lots of deep breaths. Managing Artist Relations at a festival is by and far the most consuming gig I have. It really does take a lot of energy to maintain a state of calm. But in all seriousness, I practice a lot of yoga in my personal time and really do try and apply those fundamentals to working in such a chaotic environment.

Besides being able to manage schedules, logistics, and accounting for bands, what type of personality makes someone well-suited to being a tour manager?

I think someone is a good fit to be a TM if they have a well-balanced personality themselves. The TMs I admire not only have a great job, but have great home lives as well. For me, it’s a combination of being relaxed, taking charge and being aggressive, being super organized, punctual and a good traveler. And at the end of the day, knowing it’s just a job and that I can go home to my loving family anytime I need.

I’ve heard horror stories about dishonest promoters and ill-equipped venues. What’s the most challenging thing that you’ve ever dealt with as a TM?

Gosh – I don’t know if there’s anything specific…Assuming that it’s not the tour’s fault for not advancing the show properly, awful promoters / venues are usually due to a lack of awareness about the other parties involved. Most bad days are due to either bad communication or a lack of understanding that most touring people just want simple comforts: a clean shower, clean towels, a safe place to put their stuff, laundry machines, good food. These things are the least difficult but most commonly overlooked – that’s when it’s most frustrating for me.

Is it ever a struggle to balance being professional and in charge while also being fun and friendly? It seems that once you’re traveling and living so closely with bands, a TM could easily go one extreme (too business-oriented / babysitter) or the other (too friendly and like another member of the band).

Yea – but I think a lot of people struggle with that balance in any job. I think it’s more accentuated on tours because you are working, living and traveling with your co-workers. But I just find that there’s a time and place for both. I’m there to get a job done, and when it’s done, I love to hang out. A lot of TMs I’ve seen definitely can go to either extreme (some actually thinking they are a member of the band, some so distant the band can’t talk to them) but it’s like everything else in life. It’s about finding your own personal balance that then can be translated to all the other facets of your life.

What are your current favorite albums or songs?

To be honest, ever since I’ve been touring full time, I don’t listen to as much music. I think that’s because it’s so hard to find time when it’s quiet. But, I will say over the last couple years, I’ve loved a band called Surrogate more than any other. I highly recommend them. There’s also this band Bad Rabbits I love, I always go back to LCD Soundsystem and recently I fell in love with Haim.

Any future projects you’d like to share, music or otherwise?

My most current project is that I started a Supper Club (aka an underground restaurant). A few friends and I essentially create a restaurant for the night at a house, invite 15-20 people we know and serve a three – four course meal paired with cocktails. I’m super lucky that I live in an area surrounded by amazing agriculture, so everything we bring to the table is made locally. It’s pretty awesome and will hopefully lead to me starting my next company, a local restaurant in Chico, CA.

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