Snowqueen of Texas
But once in the dress, the woman who, five minutes ago, you would imagine to be too self-conscious to pose becomes someone too self-aware to not know all her best angles. Burch takes a seat on the couch, tilts her chin this way, crosses her ankles just so and waits quietly for the next shot. Everything is effortless—Molly Burch is a natural.
A natural-born singer, she would agree, and there are some incredibly cute videos floating around of young Burch warbling in her little toddler voice. But she explains that her ability to perform in front of the camera or on stage is something she’s acquired much more recently.
“Basically until I was in college, I was fighting stage fright and performance anxiety—knowing that I wanted to pursue music and singing, but not feeling confident enough to actually do it,” she says. “It took me a really long time to commit to that as my identity and pursue it as a job.”
In college at Asheville, North Carolina, Burch formed a band that she says helped ease her into performing and songwriting. The band was also responsible for throwing the jazzy Christmas parties that became the spark for her newest EP, The Molly Burch Christmas Album, dropping November 15.
For a singer equally steeped in jazz and pop who offers aching vocals and heartbreak ballads, a Christmas album is the holy grail. Growing up, Burch idolized Billie Holiday and Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Nina Simone. “I would memorize—I would try to sing exactly like all of those people, like, do invocations of them almost,” she says. “I feel like that’s how I taught myself to sing.”
And Burch has always been a singer first, above a performer and a writer, both of which don’t come as easy to her. The Christmas album may be her third EP, but it’s the first time Burch feels she’s been able to experiment so freely. “There’s something about when you’re recording your own songs––there’s a lot of insecurity. You’re in your own head,” she says. “With covers, you’re like, ‘OK, well I don’t have to worry, I didn’t write this song, I’m just interpreting it.’”
Burch did write two new songs for the album, Holiday Dreaming and New Year Love. But the covers gave her a chance to play around too, as is evident in her reworking of the classic Last Christmas, where she welcomes on comedian friends John Early and Kate Berlant.
“This project was so great because I always wanted to do something with them, I always wanted to have our cat be apart of something, and I didn’t know what that was going to be,” Burch says of having her and her guitarist boyfriend’s cat, Mr. President, featured on the cover art. “But this is definitely not a flippant project. I put my heart and soul into it. I mean, I’ve been listening to Christmas music since last Christmas.”
Burch says the focus on vocals gave her a chance to get excited to write her next album, a process that she treats “like homework.” It’s a surprising revelation, coming from an artist whose songwriting consistently proves touching, poetic. Burch’s tender lyrics act as the thread that runs through her other two albums. On the most recent, First Flower, Burch delivers quiet but bold folky numbers, while on Please Be Mine she rendered the raw feelings from her move to Austin with a folky, throbbing nostalgia.
It was the Austin move that helped her to start seriously songwriting. She broke up with her Asheville boyfriend Dailey Toliver, and the resulting time spent on her own in Austin led to the beginnings of Please Be Mine.
“Graduating college is such a dramatic crisis, depending on what you want to do,” she says. “For me, I was lost in that way, so I just focused on my writing. The band that I played Christmas songs with—we would write together, and it was very baby steps for me into songwriting. But when I started writing my own songs it was basically out of necessity. I moved here by myself, and it was hard to find friends, so it was out of loneliness. I was like, if I really want to pursue this as a career, I need to really push myself to write.”
In that year spent alone, she sent the occasional song back to Toliver, her guitarist, for his review. It’s the same process they use today—Burch composes a rough draft of a song and brings it to Toliver to flesh out. After a year apart, Toliver moved to Austin, and the two established themselves in the music scene there. “Us getting back together, that helped in a lot of ways,” she says. “Because it was almost like this rebirth for me here, because it was like ok, now we’re a couple, and we’re meeting other people.”
Burch is no longer the Loneliest Heart she was on her first album. These days she’s performing with Dailey and a rotating band across the country, across the world. It’s a creative partnership that’s weathered the test of time and touring.
“At first it was hard, because touring can be really stressful, so we would fight a lot and take it out on each other,” Burch says. “And it’s through experience and practice now that we’re at this point where we’re this well-oiled machine on tour. We do not fight, everything professional, and we know how to do it. But I feel like the next step is also finding balance in our relationship and putting our relationship first sometimes.”
When she’s not on tour, she’s at home in Hyde Park with Mr. President, probably watching The Bachelor. They’re both homebodies. “I read this interview on InStyle the other day about Michelle Pfiffer, and I loved it so much, because I related to it a lot. She was like, ‘I just live in extremes, either I’m like the busiest ever or the laziest ever,’ and that’s just how I am. It’s how I’ve always been, but now because we tour a lot, and it’s so taxing, when I’m home, I’m such a homebody, and I’ve been trying to accept that. And not feel like shit.”
Austin hits a sweet spot between tours, not too peaceful and not too fast-paced, either. It’s a good place to relax for an extremist, as long as periods of relaxation—and writing—are broken up by the whirlwind thrill of touring.
But maybe Burch isn’t so much of an extremist as a paradox. Like the Mamas and Papas song she covers on the Christmas Album, Burch is the true Snowqueen of Texas, resisting any easy categorizations, striking the delicate balance between folk and pop, glamor and vulnerability. “I'm not what you want me to be and I never will,” as she sings on To the Boys.“I hope you're listening still.”