Channeling soul, classic rock, folk and gospel, The Mynabirds let their emotions soar through their music and lyrics. Front-woman and multi-instrumentalist Laura Burhenn has been raising her voice for years, and with her latest release, BE HERE NOW, she proves she’s just getting started.
BE HERE NOW, is a collection of 9 songs written and recorded in just 2 weeks in January 2017 following the Inauguration and the Women’s March. Laura channeled all the fears, feelings and resolve she and her community felt into her song-writing as she attempted to process current events, and encourage others to rise up, take action, and be present to everything happening in the world and in our backyards.
One can hear the heartbreak and frustration in her songs, as well as hope in the goodness of others and the power of individual acts of kindness and protest. Last weekend The Mynabirds performed a number of songs from their new album at LA’s Moroccan Lounge, opening with the title-track “Be Here Now.” There’s a reassuring softness to the rallying cry, one that says we’re all in this together. More than ever, we are seeing the power of strength in numbers. May they continue to push us forward.
The Mynabirds’ Laura Burhenn spoke to Culture Collide about the inspiration behind BE HERE NOW, why marching matters, and all the phenomenal humans that are inspiring her right now – and will inspire you too.
Culture Collide: What are some cultural, artistic or emotional influences that inspired the new record?
Laura Burhenn: I’d been on a solo tour of North America in the Fall of 2016, in Portland on election night. It was heavy stuff traveling around after that, hearing people’s reactions to the Trump win, especially on top of my own feelings of anger, shock, despair, fiery resolve and the rest of it. When I found out that my friend Patrick Damphier was getting pushed out of his studio in Nashville to make way for new condos, I asked if I could go down there and make an album with him about that feeling so many of us in America had after Trump was elected: we were being pushed out of a space we felt comfortable, where we thought we’d be forever. The day after the Women’s March, I flew down to Nashville and spent two weeks soaking up the headlines, and more importantly, people’s reactions to the headlines. I devoured so much Instagram, so many Facebook and Twitter posts and tried my best to be a conduit, to channel all the raw emotions and make a record of the *feeling* of that time. I was definitely telling a story of a specific time, but recording the history in a different way. For that reason, I like to call it a work of “Emotional Journalism.” I’ve studied a lot of Buddhism over the years and had Ram Dass fresh in my head. I wanted to welcome every song like you would welcome emotions when you’re meditating: see it come, sit with it there, let it pass away. I named the album “BE HERE NOW” in honor of him and that whole tradition.
Where did the inspiration come from for the gorgeous cover art?
LB: Because the album was a direct reaction to the American political upheaval, I toyed with the idea of doing something that rang out like protest (my manager suggested a bunch of topless women holding protest signs and screaming), but it felt too on the nose. I wanted something that recalled the Statue of Liberty (standing calm through the night of the storm — just as I reference her in “Golden Age”) and also pointed to the emotionality of the album — the mess versus what lasts. My roommate introduced me to the artist Chrissie Abbott and she completely got it — and turned it into something better than I ever could have imagined. She referenced Sister Corita Kent’s incredible protest paintings from the 60s, added the orchid in my hand (blooming and dying as emotions do), and we even played around with the proportions of my body to make me more statuesque as a nod to Grace Jones’ album covers by Jean-Paul Goude. And you don’t get to see it unless you buy the LP, but I was also super excited to have my friend Jadon Ulrich make a Magic Eye poster for the lyric sheet insert. I love the fact that when you hold it in front of you, you have to let the whole world fall away (cell phone and social media included) and simply focus in on the image embedded inside. Hint: it reads “BE HERE NOW.”
How did you feel being out on the streets again for the one year anniversary of the Women’s March? Why is it important to organize and rally in this way?
LB: It was so thrilling to get to march again this year, and exciting to do it in Seattle when I was on tour. I’ve marched in D.C. when Bush was president leading up to the second Iraq war, in L.A. for the first women’s march, and now in Seattle. Representation is important — specifically visual representation. It means a lot to fill the streets with faces and bodies and voices of all shapes and sizes and races and religions and genders, especially for the folks in small towns who might not have communities that support them, to show them that they’re not alone, that there are people who’ve got their backs in a city somewhere, even if they don’t feel supported at home. I marched for my women, LGBTQ, DACA dreamer, Native American, black and brown, immigrant and refugee friends, and for mother earth and our national park lands and all the kids of the world cause we all deserve the brightest, kindest, most loving future. Right now our POTUS isn’t offering policies that support that vision. So we’ve got to show up and literally show him and the whole world that we DO.
Who’s been inspiring you as of late?
LB: Lizzo (what a queen), my friend Jamia Wilson who runs the Feminist Press, Sarah Sophie Flicker who’s helping bring together a whole revolutionary bunch of folks in these strange times to keep us inspired instead of mired in the swamps of sadness and despair. My friends Emilia and CJ who teach this incredible body-positive fiercely non-competitive dance aerobics for “every body” here in LA called Pony Sweat, Fabi Reyna who started and runs She Shreds, Lacey Micallef of Big Bud Press, Sarah Lorsung Tvrdik and Megan Hunt purveyor of women-made clothes at Hello Holiday (especially Megan as she prepares to run for public office in Nebraska), and Anna Bullbrook who’s doing great things for women in music with Girlschool here in L.A. And I’d be totally remiss not to mention my dear friends Dieudonne Manirakiza and Eric Esron who direct the Umoja Choir of Omaha. They came to America years ago as refugees from Burundi and Tanzania and started a choir to build community for newly arriving refugees. They’ve gone on to sing with me on my new record — and also with me at a rally with Bernie Sanders in Omaha and on NPR’s Tiny Desk in DC. I’m raising money to help them make their first record! If anyone has some spare dollars to contribute, they would be most graciously received: https://www.gofundme.com/umoja-refugee-choir-recording-fund.
You have an enviable collection of jumpsuits. What are some of your favorite haunts for vintage shopping?
LB: I love weird thrift shops on the road! The best jumpsuit I ever got was at a Goodwill in Reno. It landed me in Vogue’s Best-Dressed of Coachella round up when I was playing there with the Postal Service in 2013. In L.A., I really adore Worship in Echo Park for vintage. But Big Bud‘s new jumpsuits are heavenly; I can’t wait to own one of every color. They’re sure to be vintage classics in about 30 years.
Last book you read?
LB: Currently reading “The Feminist Utopia Project: Fifty-Seven Visions of A Wildly Better Future,” which was in a big bag of books Jamia gave me when I visited her at the Feminist Press in NYC a couple months ago.
One thing you’d like to see take shape in 2018?
LB: I’ve got some big projects in the works for this year, but I’m not ready to spill the secret beans on those just yet. That said, I’m excited to see more support networks taking shape in America, people fixing politics where they can, but also just digging into their own communities and taking care of each other — doing what we can where we stand!
Favorite go-to place in L.A. when you want to feel re-energized?
LB: I really love hiking with my dog, Charlie. And while I love getting out to Leo Carrillo, and I adore the hike from Trails to the Observatory to the peak above it, there’s something really incredible about the loop to the secret horses in Elysian Park that always fills me up. I’m a bit of a birder (excited to become a seriously weird birder in my coming years), and I love seeing all the hawks and woodpeckers and occasional owls. A few months back, I saw two together at dusk. It felt really powerful.
Honorable mention to Switzer Falls and the whole of Angels Crest. How lucky to live so close to the ocean and the mountains and the desert here.
What’s something you are good at making?
LB: I’m a Jack of All Trades, so I’m proficient at a lot of things, but probably not a pro at any of it. I love drawing, painting (I have a series of gouache and ink birds I did to raise money for RAINN hanging at Woodcat in Echo Park right now), writing, putting together IKEA furniture, decorating interiors and other spaces (it’s the true Taurus in me), making and reconstructing clothes, and I just finished a first draft of my first screenplay about an awkward road trip I took with my estranged Dad when I graduated college. Excited to see where that goes…
Words to live by:
LB: You can move mountains with your point of view.
Consistency is overrated.
And an honorable mention: “I’m the motherfucking tortoise.” I think that might be what I call my autobiography, in honor of every little engine-that-could, plugging their way slowly, methodically to the top. Whatever you’re doing out there, wherever you are: KEEP GOING. 🙂