“I had health care through the job and all that stuff…”
It’s Thursday evening in Manchester and Detroit based singer-songwriter Anna Burch is in town to kick off her Autumn EU tour. At Gullivers in the Northern Quarter, the second support of the evening is gearing up to head out in front of the sold out crowd. Meanwhile, Anna sits across from me in the back room, offering up a nip of whiskey as we talk about the year she’s had – and what came before it.
“Inbetween touring in the past, I worked a lot of restaurant jobs, bartending – stuff like that. I had a pretty solid bartending job at a nice restaurant.” She continues, adding with a laugh. “I quit due to kind of dramatic circumstances.”
As a member of Midwestern folk-rock band Frontier Ruckus for much of her 20’s, Burch got stuck into the cycle of touring one minute and making up time at the restaurant the next. Having slowly started working on her own solo output on moving back to Detroit from Chicago, it meant that time was precious – any time away was almost detrimental to finishing what would become her debut album.
“It was tough to sneak away and work on the record, so that process got stretched out much longer than I would’ve liked.” Continues Burch. “It feels great to not really have a boss, I mean, I’m my own boss now and that’s stressful in its own right I guess, but I do have people helping me. The only person I really have to answer to is myself now.”
Off under her own steam for the most part, Anna’s visit marks her official Mancunian debut good and proper – though she’s no stranger to Gullivers, having previously popped in last time she was up North (“Just for a pint.”)
May saw her up the road in Salford as part of Sounds From The Other City, kicking off her first UK Tour as a solo act, with further dates throughout the summer including festival appearances at Gold Sounds and Deer Shed in Yorkshire, as well as End of the Road Festival not long after we spoke.
It all comes off the back of that aforementioned debut album – ‘Quit The Curse’, released back in February. A nine-track summer breeze of a record, it brings to mind sun-soaked afternoons with not much to do, each song becoming an instant earworm. But there’s a depth to these nine tracks, with themes of absent lovers, destructive relationships and pangs of nostalgia for a fleeting romance. The move to Detroit four years ago saw Anna make initial steps toward her solo output, having briefly stepped away from music completely to attend Grad School back in Chicago.
A google search will tell you Detroit is the ‘largest and most populous city in the U.S. state of Michigan and the largest city on the United States–Canada border’, though when speaking with the local Detroit Metro Times, Burch commented on how everything can feel so small (even spying the subject of most of the record’s inspiration at the bar during said interview!)
“It was definitely cathartic.” She says, back in Manchester. “I don’t know if I even knew how to write any other way. For whatever reason, figurative language and poetry and stuff like that doesn’t come super naturally to me, so I think I almost couldn’t do it any other way.”
She laughs. “It was certainly a cathartic experience getting it all out there, after not really having a creative outlet for so long.”
Inspired by the perils of romance in her new surroundings and friends advice to work on her own material, it was moustachioed friend and Chicago based musician Paul Cherry who helped Anna shape phone-recorded demo’s to become something more workable.
“Most of that was done in apartments and not a studio.” Says Anna of its production. “I retracked some stuff in a studio – maybe a third of the record – but two thirds of the record was all done in apartments. We were all kind of learning our own little parts at the time. I was learning to be a songwriter, Paul was learning how to record and produce and stuff like that.”
The journey picked up steam via the more than kind introduction of friend and fellow Michigan artist Fred Thomas, who put the word out to Polyvinyl Records in the states. Legend has it, Thomas sent some of Burch’s demos to the label back in the summer of 2017 with a note that read “This is not a drill. You need to hear this”. Recalling this moment, Anna lights up and laughs.
“Fred Thomas, my good friend…” She smiles. “…Felt like he warmed them up very nicely. They were very receptive.”
Closer to home, it was Heavenly Recordings who picked up on Anna earlier this year, distributing the record throughout the UK. Label man and founder Jeff Barrett even met Burch whilst in Texas, excitedly thrusting a hand in her direction at first sight.
“The first time I met Jeff was like right after I finished my first set at South By. He came and shook my hand right up at the stage, introduced himself!” Says Anna, extending her admiration for the label past Jeff and beyond. “They’re fantastic. They’re such music lovers, they really care about what they do. They’re so fun and friendly and communicative.”
From the streets of Austin, Texas for South By Southwest, to more intimate festivals over here such as Indietracks at the Midland Railway in Derbyshire (!), on top of releasing her wonderful debut LP, Burch played here there and everywhere, even knocking out a number of live sessions as she went along – including one in Salford for Marc Riley on BBC Radio 6 Music (“I think that probably attributes to some of the Manchester turnout tonight. So thanks Marc!”)
“It’s been really great to be busy to be honest.” Says Anna of the fruitful year she’s had thus far. “I mean, I had toured a bunch in Frontier Ruckus before, so it’s something that I’m at least kind of primed to do. I know the ropes a little bit. That’s been really helpful to know what to expect. Yeah, touring is a very different way to live, so I think my expectations were in line and it’s been really great.”
With visions of her previous role as supporting player now fading, we talked of Anna opening up and having the focus shift solely to her. Before assembling a band to form around the new songs, Burch originally did go solo on a few occasions (“Ugh, so scary”), and with her actual name on the marquee, I queried if it can be daunting.
“It is my own name, so there’s no degree of separation when it comes to people talking about the project. It can be really flattering and then it can also be really stressful. There’s definitely something to be said about being part of a band or having a moniker – separate your own identity. I feel like there’s a lot of bleed into my personal life, so it’s just kind of… In some ways I would like a little bit more separation, but it’s also kind of like – you get all the attention.” She laughs. “I’m not gonna say that’s a terrible thing.”
“There was a point in time where I thought I wanted to come up with some sort of moniker. Everything I came up with just seemed kind of forced or false or pretentious. It just became more stress than it was worth trying to figure that out.” Continues Anna. “I just thought, the songs are pretty blunt enough and there’s no point distancing myself from those sentiments. It was the first effort and I think at that point in time, I didn’t really have an audience even in mind, I was just kind of writing songs for myself. Now that there is a bit of an audience, which is crazy to me, it feels a little different. The stakes are certainly raised for the next record.”
Later on in the evening, halfway through a run through of ‘Quit The Curse’ in front of a captivated Manchester crowd, Burch bashfully asks her live band – featuring members of Girl Ray and The Golden Dregs – to leave the stage for just one song. A new one.
“I’ve got a little less than an album right now, waiting to be arranged.” Burch excitedly announces across the table hours before. “I can’t tell right now how many great songs there are, but I think the arranging process really makes things clear. I definitely know that there are a handful of songs that I’m really excited about and I’m looking forward to having some more time once tour’s over in the fall to work on it. I think I’ll actually be recording hopefully early next year.”
Whilst the banner reads Anna Burch and the words and chord progressions belong to her, Anna is keen to note how much of the project is collaborative (“I’m not crazy about the idea of playing solo”) and whilst the DIY approach that birthed ‘Quit The Curse’ remains a treasured memory, for album number two she’s looking to change it up.
“I’m so proud of what we came up with, but I’m definitely looking forward to approaching it in a more professional manner. I definitely have some things in the works that I’m super excited about. I can’t really talk about it yet, probably. But needless to say, I’m really excited for what’s ahead.”