“The gentler feel of the record was definitely influenced by the setting.”
After the success of her debut album, Quit the Curse, Anna Burch found herself in a state of fluctuation, touring heavily with little time to catch her breath. Those chaotic months matched the album’s nervous, jangly rock. While she did craft some tunes on the road, it was only when she settled down post-tour that she began the slow and thoughtful process to write follow-up If You’re Dreaming. You can hear the difference almost immediately. The songs are breezier, more layered and sonically rich, while still retaining a directness and lyrical power. It’s the type of evolution that only comes with time and reflection.
A few days before If You’re Dreaming was released, I chatted with Burch about recording in the Catskills, late-night piano writing in Berlin and finding a sense of tranquility.
Where are you riding out the coronavirus quarantine and how’s that going for you?
I am in Hamtramck, Michigan. It’s a little enclave inside the city of Detroit. I’m doing okay. It’s a bit of a roller coaster of emotions. I’ve been feeling a little more mentally strong the last few days. I feel safe and lucky to be quarantining with my boyfriend and my cat. I’m trying to just rest and relax and try not to get too overwhelmed.
You wrote that your time after the release of Quit the Curse was mostly spent in transience via touring. Can you speak about how these feelings of transience impacted the writing of If You’re Dreaming once things stabilized for you?
The transience fed into a lot of the early songs that I wrote for the record. Once I got off the road and got into the apartment that I’m in now, I was able to just relax and get acclimated to home life. That was really conducive to creativity. I was able to plan to record the record and that gave me a deadline, which I thrive off of. The songs that I wrote after tour I’m probably most proud of. I think they benefited from stability.
From what I’ve heard so far, If You’re Dreaming seems to be a more layered and nuanced approach than Quit the Curse. What led to that decision when you were writing the album?
I definitely knew going into this record that I wanted to open things up a bit in terms of instrumentation. With Quit the Curse, because it was my first record and a lot of it was done in short bursts working with friends in their apartments, I wanted it to be a manageable project. The rock band instrumentation with just electric guitar, bass and drums helped me focus.
For this record, I wanted to experiment a little bit. Part of that was also working with Sam Evian. He’s a great multi-instrumentalist, so he was able to bring a lot of different sounds to the record, like saxophone and slide guitar. I also personally wanted to incorporate keys more into the new record. I hope to make piano more of a part of my creative process in the future too.
Besides the instrumentation that Sam brought, what else made that working relationship beneficial to you for this record?
Sam is a very classy guy. He has great taste and his demeanor is very calming, but fun. It was a great setting, his studio in the Catskills. We’d go out for walks and take breaks and make coffee. It didn’t feel like a hectic or stressful schedule at all. Even though we only had two weeks to do everything, it unfolded in a really nice way. Sam helped me stay in the moment and enjoy the process of arranging and recording.
Did recording in the Catskills have any impact on the album’s sounds or vibes?
Absolutely. Being in nature with very few distractions, and being able to stay there while I was recording and feel really taken care of in all capacities, it lent itself to the kind of relaxation that benefits collaboration and creativity. The gentler feel of the record was definitely influenced by the setting.
Can you speak a bit about writing “Tell Me What’s True”? I read it’s the first song you’ve written on piano rather than guitar.
I was on tour in the summer in 2018, and I had two European tours that were a month apart. So, I decided that instead of flying back to the States, then returning for the next tour, I would rent a flat in Berlin. I decided to rent a flat with a piano, because I wanted to write a piano song. I wasn’t trying to necessarily make my time in Berlin be all about writing. I only wrote that one song. My boyfriend came to stay with me, and he had never been out of the country before. It was a nice time to spend together, to break up all the time on the road.
The piano had an input for headphones, even though it was an acoustic, upright piano. I was able to play throughout the night. I was having a lot of problems sleeping during the time I wrote the record. So, I’d crawl out of bed, go over to the piano and work out the song. It felt really organic.
Did your trouble sleeping have any type of impact on the record’s title or lead to any other late-night inspiration?
Throughout the album, there are themes of sleeplessness or dreaming. I wanted the title to reflect that. I don’t know if there was another all-nighter session for any of the songs. But I wrote the song “Not So Bad” the day before I left to record with Sam…and that wound up being the first single! I think I’m a bit of a procrastinator and I like working down to the wire.
Do you have a favorite song on If You’re Dreaming that you can’t wait for your audience to hear?
The song that I’m most looking forward to people hearing is called “Every Feeling.” I felt very clear-headed when I wrote those lyrics. That one came naturally and I’m proud of the chord progression on that one. Lyrically, it’s probably one of my strongest.
The chorus has an anti-capitalist sentiment, but it’s really a love song. It’s about wanting to upend of those feelings of desire that we all have in terms of commodities but also in relationships—the endless search for the perfect fit. I wanted to talk about how human connection doesn’t work that way. It’s so much more important to compromise and realize that nothing’s perfect and no one’s 100% suited for you. That wanting for the next best thing is really damaging. It’s better to appreciate the people you have around you.
What do you hope your audience gets out of this album?
I hope that it can be soothing in a time that feels really uncertain. The record deals with feelings of isolation and wanting to connect, wanting peace and tranquility. I think it’s a hopeful record.
And on a more personal level, what do you feel you’ve gotten out of writing and recording If You’re Dreaming?
I feel like the recording session itself, being there and making a record in two weeks with people I like to be around, that was such an experience. I will cherish those memories forever. I’m really proud of how it came out. I think I’ve grown as a songwriter and a musician and a person. This record reflects that. It was a very special time in my life.