Aisha Burns (Austin, TX)

Aisha_MaryKang007
photo by Mary Kang

You grew up in San Antonio, correct? And you moved to Austin to go to school? What was your perception of the Austin music scene from a short drive away?

Yes, I moved here in 2005. I’d been playing classical music up until then, so really the whole world of playing in bands was brand new to me. Also, all the shows I saw growing up in San Antonio were in the punk realm, so moving here and playing with songwriters and folk-rock bands was exciting and felt completely unlike anything I’d ever been a part of. I was in Alex Dupree and the Trapdoor Band then, and I think what I remember most clearly was how connected everyone was with other bands in town. Some nights there’d be 4 of us and other nights we had 9 or 10 people onstage, and most everyone had their own active projects too. Meryll, Zookeeper, Balmorhea, Sad Accordions, The Cocker Spaniels, Follow that Bird (now Mirror Travel)– those were all bands intertwined with folks in that group. It seemed like everyone I played with was so supportive of and involved with other people’s projects and I feel like that’s still pretty true today.

How long have you been writing songs for yourself?

There’s a really embarrassing CD floating around my room with 5 instrumental songs that I wrote on guitar and violin in high school. They’re Godawful, but they were my first songs! Counting that, I guess you could say it’s been 12 years. But really, in my professional life, I started writing songs for voice and guitar around 2010.

Western Vinyl, an Austin-based label, released your first solo album Life in the Midwater just over a year ago. How did that relationship come about? Would you have released the album on your own if you hadn’t found a label for it?

I met Brian Sampson from Western Vinyl back in 2007 through playing in Balmorhea. We’ve released all our records with him, and he’d just signed the band when I joined. Brian was one of the first people to hear me sing, once I finally gained the courage to let anyone hear me. Balmorhea had just finished playing a show in Marfa, and we were sitting around a fire with the venue staff, having drinks and singing songs. He was surprised and encouraging at the time, but I was so far from dreaming of my own record.

I was initially planning on releasing Life in the Midwater as a 5-song EP, before I decided to extend it and send it around. Somehow sending the record to labels made the whole thing feel instantly incredibly terrifying. I thought it’d be fun to send him this fully-arranged thing that hardly anyone knew I’d been working on. Luckily, he loved it and I decided Western Vinyl would be a great place for the record.

Your music has a dreamy, underwater quality. Do you think living in Texas has influenced your music?

Oh, I don’t know. It’s really hard to say. I haven’t lived anywhere else! I’m sure it has. I didn’t spend a lot of time near water growing up, but I did spend a lot of sunny days laying outside, watching the clouds go by. That’s akin to watching the hypnotic sway of water, to me. It’s got that same mesmerizing stasis, a calmness. So maybe it’s present there. I think the degree to which I’ve been exposed to country and folk music has definitely influenced me. Growing up in the suburbs, feeling bored in San Antonio when I was young just gave fodder to my propensity for sad introspection (laughing), and I think that is evident in my songs. I’m obsessed with looking inward. I get really hung up on one emotion or another.

Aisha Burns – “Sold” from Western Vinyl on Vimeo.

You mentioned you were currently writing songs for your second album. What is that process like?

Slow. I don’t work quickly. I tend to get anxious about that, about how long it’s taking, but I don’t write at all on tour and I’m not good at sitting down and saying, “Okay, now I’m going to write a song.” I have to just create the space in my life for me to casually play and sing regularly, and it’s in those times that I tend to develop ideas into songs. For the first time in many years, I don’t have any tours on my schedule, for at least 9 months, so I’m looking forward to getting some writing done. Staying in one place for a while definitely helps.

You were part of the ATX6. Can you tell me what that was and how you became a part of that?

The ATX6 was a group of musicians chosen by a handful of music venues in Austin to represent the city at a couple of international festivals. We were all diverse in sound and many of us hadn’t met before, but we traveled together to play Austin showcases in Toronto at the North By Northeast Festival and in Hamburg, Germany during the Reeperbahn Festival. The group included Dana Falconberry, Leo Rondeau, Jesse Moore of East Cameron Folkcore, Mrs. Glass, and Carson McHone. It was the first time I’d traveled with a group of songwriters. It was really cool to get connected to some talented folks who’ve spent years running around Austin, all trying to do the same thing. And we just got along absurdly well. We had a blast.

You and your partner recently returned from a tour of Europe. What’s it like playing music and touring with someone you’re in a relationship with?

It’s incredible and challenging all at the same time. On one level it’s the best thing because you get to go on tour and not miss each other. Jake plays in two other bands as well, so we’ve spent a lot of our relationship Facetiming from backstage hallways or hotel stairwells. They just feel like two totally different worlds to me, touring and being at home, so it’s awesome, easier, and such a huge comfort to get to share that tour experience together. And we just have a ton of fun together too, so that’s great of course.

But then there’s the fact that on top of the normal sensitivities of being in a relationship with someone, you’re now stacking all the stresses of tour upon that dynamic. On this last tour, we realized at the end of 33 days on the road that we hadn’t had one meal with just the two of us the whole time! We weren’t alone much, so there were definitely points where we started to feel too much like bandmates, and not as much as two connected people in a relationship.

Also, can you imagine your partner being frustrated with you because of X-Y-Z and then you both attempt to talk it out in the 10 free minutes you have before you both get onstage and have to work together to make a show happen? (I’m laughing again!) It can be nutty. There have been several moments where Jake and I have pondered our musical lives and have just decided that we’re probably a bit crazy.

Thai food or pizza?

Oh come on, that’s not fair! I love them both to an ungodly degree. Maybe pizza?

Nirvana or Metallica?

Nirvana, all the way.

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