On Inauguration Day 2017, it poured rain in Los Angeles, cats-and-dogs rain, 40-days-and-40-nights rain. It was part of a winter that brought enough precipitation to end a decadelong drought.
“We were in rain boots, I was in a rain jacket — that doesn’t happen very often,” says Laura Burhenn, founder of the indie-pop band The Mynabirds.
The next day was the Women’s March in cities around the world, but in L.A. “it was so pristine and not a cloud in the sky.” Then “it rained again.”
For two weeks after the Women’s March, Burhenn hunkered down in her friend’s studio in Nashville and recorded “Be Here Now,” a record dedicated to both the rain and the (scarce) sun during the first weeks of the Trump administration. The mood and the events of the nation are reflected on those nine tracks, with references to punching Nazis in the face (“Golden Age”), protests at Standing Rock (“Which Wolf”), and the all-too-human impulse to curl up with a loved one and shut out the cacophony (“Cocoon”).
amNewYork caught up with Burhenn in advance of the East Coast debut of the record at Sunnyvale in Brooklyn.
A phrase that’s been attached to this record is “emotional journalism.” What does that mean to you?
I didn’t really know what I was doing when I was writing the record. After the Women’s March, I went into the studio and I just decided that I wanted to be a conduit for whatever people were thinking or feeling. I wanted to write that story, channeling the emotions of people. To me, it’s a different type of journalism. I’m trying to make a record of what people are thinking and feeling in response to the news, to what journalists are writing about.
You now get to live with these emotions from the first weeks of the Trump administration for an entire album cycle. That sounds … daunting.
To be honest, I feel like all of the feelings that I document were there and had been there, during the past election cycle. Everything was so amplified. It felt kind of schizophrenic. One minute we were up and the next minute we were down. As much rage and sadness as people felt, there was that much energy and celebration of what’s great about Americans and what’s great about each other. A song like “Be Here Now” is a celebration of unity. My last record [2015’s “Lovers Know”] was sitting with a lot of heartbreak for a full album cycle, and that was hell. So to be able to focus on a lot of different emotions, I’m grateful for that.
In times of distress, which speaks to you more: art that reflects the time or art that creates a vision of how the world could be?
Looking back on my art, I love to write words of encouragement. I love to say, “things are really awful right now, but just hold on and keep going. It’s going to get better.” There’s a lot of that looking ahead on my previous records. Ultimately, that is what I like to cling to in tumultuous times, and what I tend to gravitate towards writing and creating. But there’s something really valuable in acknowledging what’s happening right now. It’s just like being a good listener. If someone’s going through a hard time, and they say, “This is really rough right now, I’m hurting, I’m angry, I don’t know how I can go on,” sometimes being the best friend you can be is saying, “I hear you” instead of saying, “Oh don’t worry! It’s going to get better, it’s going to be fine.” Sometimes you need a friend to say, “I hear you and it’s really OK that you’re going through that.”
IF YOU GO: The Mynabirds play 8 p.m. Thursday at Sunnyvale, 1031 Grand St., Bushwick, $14, sunnyvalebk.com