Feature: An interview with singer Clare Burson

photo by Ted Barron (from clareburson.com)

New York-based musician Clare Burson is set to release her new album, Silver and Ash, on Rounder Records later this year. As part of NewBeats’ 10th anniversary, here is an interview that the magazine did with Burson a couple of years ago; since her debut EP Undone, she has put out three more releases: In -Between, Idaho and Thieves

Clare Burson: Troubadour with a Twang

by David Chiu

Sometimes when you enter a bar or a club to listen to live music from a new artist, it can be hit or miss. When it misses, at least you could go back to the bar, order a tall cool one, and flirt with the person next to you. But when it the music hits, it makes the evening more interesting than you expected. And if that person goes on to superstardom, you can be proud to say you were one of the first to witness how it all happened.

That is what happened to this reviewer when he saw Clare Burson perform at the Luna Lounge on a hot August Saturday night. Despite the lack of name power, this young artist managed to play strong and convincingly to a small but very appreciative audience in the Lounge’s performing space. Somewhere down the road Burson has the potential to ascend to the stratosphere of recognition.

Burson’s music has sort of a country and bluegrass influenced sound reflecting her Southern background–rootsy would be an apt description. Some of her introspective songs were moody and other were upbeat enough to at one time invite audience members to dance. Burson’s voice is very earthy in tone that also is reflected in her guitar and fiddle playing (adding that homespun flair).

Not much can be said of Burson’s background since she is relatively unknown outside of her base in Boston. originally from Nashville and a graduate of Brown She has performed mainly in Boston as well as gigging in places such as New York as well as performing live on radioboston.com. Burson recently released a 5-song EP Undone. So this reviewer wanted to know a little bit more about her, and this is the result.

1. Tell me where you are originally from? What got you interested in music in the first place?
I was born in Memphis, Tennessee. I’m 25, by the way. My parents played me endless tapes of classical music (there used to be such things – they run continually – no need to flip them) when I was little and put a butter-box violin in my hands when I was two and a half years old. I didn’t have much say in the matter.

2. Did you study music or had a music education? Your fiddle playing on a few of the numbers at the show lent an elegant and down-home feel to them.
I did not study music in college, but I took classical violin lessons (starting with the Suzuki method, which is really great in terms of developing a musical ear) for about seventeen years ­ I took lessons through high school at the Blair School of Music in Nashville and at various music camps ­ I continued for about a year and a half into college, taking private lessons and playing in chamber music groups. When I quit taking classical lessons, I began to concentrate on fiddle music ­ which I discovered when I was 15, after moving with my family to Nashville – first bluegrass fiddling, and then I started to explore Irish fiddling and klezmer music after going to college – went to bluegrass, Irish, and klezmer fiddle camps during those years . . .

3. At what point did you decided you wanted to pursue playing full-time?
I had always toyed with the idea but, for various reasons, focused instead on more academic interests until I graduated from college. I decided to pursue music seriously almost three years ago, while I was working on a research project in Germany. I realized that I really did not want to spend the rest of my life in academia, so I moved to Boston, and threw myself into music.

4. Which artists would you say were influential or admired?
I listened to a lot of Shawn Colvin, Nanci Griffith, Suzanne Vega, and Mary Chapin Carpenter before I began writing my own songs. since then, I’ve fallen in love with Gillian Welch and Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris – new stuff and old. but also Liz Phair and Elliot Smith and that beautiful Jeff Buckley cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” . . . oh yeah ­ and my most recent discovery, Amy Correia. She’s such an amazing presence. And the list continues to grow.

5. What goes into the songwriting process or what influences to compose? Do songs like “Please Don’t,” “Don’t Promise,” and “Tonight,” which are melodically rich inspired by real-life experiences?
Heart break. 🙂 Almost anything that I feel fiercely. A collection of words or melodies that strike me in just the right way at just the right moment. “Tonight” was actually inspired by the death of my grandfather at the beginning of February two years ago. I wrote it while I was living abroad, feeling simultaneously far too stationary and far too adrift from the world I cared most about ­ somewhere else, somewhere moving ahead without me.

6. How would you describe your sound? The impression I got from the Luna Lounge show and from the CD, it’s this edgy yet introspective folk rock/pop vibe (apologies if I am off the mark).
I think your description works – though it’s missing the country vibe. My music has been definitely influenced by strains of bluegrass and country. This is becoming more and more evident as my writing develops, actually.

7. How long have you been performing live professionally? Where in the States have you played?
Two years – the first 9 months were spent playing lots of open mike nights and playing primarily solo gigs. I’m actually moving down south this fall to start touring. so far, I’ve just played in Boston, Providence, New York, Northampton. I played in London last year and, I played a bit while I was in Germany.

8. Any interesting moment(s) or highlights from gig-ing?
At this point, it’s all so new to me that there are highlights every time I play. always learning something new and having exciting new interactions on stage and off.

9. Have you recorded anything on disc aside from the Undone EP?
Well . . . I recorded a CD with my a capella group in college . . . but that doesn’t really count . . . no. I have been doing a fair bit of recording over the past two years – I recorded an acoustic demo when I first moved to Boston – and there are some band tracks that didn’t make it on the EP, but basically, the short answer is other recording, yes, other songs on CD for general consumption, no.

10. T-Bone Burnett produced the song “Mysteries Revealed” on Undone. Considering his impressive track record, how was it like working with him?
Amazing. I was very excited by his approach to recording and production and arrangement as well as his ideas about singing and writing. The best part of the experience, however, was that, while working with him, I had one of those rare but spectacular moments during which you realize just how huge the world is, just how many possibilities exist, how many different ways you can express the same idea. He opened a very important door for me, and my job now is to take in what exists on the other side of that door and learn to make music with what I find there.

11. Have the major labels courted you? Are you looking to be signed right away if that is the case?
Not yet. Sure, I’d love to be signed – but only if the timing and terms are right!

12. What do you hope to accomplish in this music career?
I want to make beautiful music. (as I once said to my college roommate, if I can’t save the world, I want to at least make it sound better.) I want to emote and encourage the people who listen to me to do the same. I want to work with great musicians and writers and artists and become great at what I do in the process.

13. Has what you been doing a personal learning experience as well as a professional one, and if so how?
Absolutely. Without sounding completely cheesy, doing this has helped me to feel good in my own skin, to understand what it is that orders the world for me, to understand how I process and communicate and operate – and how others do the same – to learn what moves me as well as what moves others and to learn how broad life can be.

For more information on Clare Burson, visit her official Website.

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