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What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood

Author: Christina Lee
03/18/2010 | | | Live Show Preview
Today Laura Burhenn returns to SXSW a changed woman.

The songstress, once of D.C. pop rock effort Georgie James, first met Richard Swift at the same music and film festival one year ago though by then, Burhenn had already confessed to Swift via e-mail that his saloon soundtrack for the afterhours, Dressed Up for the Letdown, was her "favorite record of summer 2007."

"There's just these beautiful arrangements, the layering of his voice and the harmonies," she says. "He just orchestrates things so well and he's the producer, so he's got this great ear for sound. He's not afraid, I think, to be quiet, which is so nice in this era of really loud, compressed pop songs with the vocals way up front and searing guitars in the back."

So in celebration of finally making each other's acquaintance in Austin, Texas, they took a shot of tequila and then decided to make an album together Burhenn's soul and country-inspired What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood (Saddle Creek). The album swaps shrill punk guitars of Georgie James yore for swooning saxophones from Bright Eyes' Nate Wilcott, allowing her smoky voice to billow out to its full potential. And now, more than a month before its release on April 27, What We Lose in the Fire has already provided the setlist for Burhenn's five SXSW slots this year, in addition to the debut of her new moniker, The Mynabirds.

Though initially chosen by happenstance, Burhenn found that the name perfectly summed up her newfound musical tendencies after discovering The Mynahbirds, a Motown band that once featured Rick James and Neil Young. After not one, but two breakups including that of Georgie James, a collaborative effort between her and John Davis (Q and Not U, Title Tracks) she found herself turning to the hymns she once sang in church and the Motown songs she loved as a result.

"I think that if you have two different people, you might get two different answers," she says, "but at the end of the day, I think we just had different visions of how we wanted to make art and make music, and what we wanted that experience to be. I wish that it had gone on and grown up into other things, but that's what happens sometimes in life."

So when she began writing for What We Lose in the Fire last spring, Burhenn had even considered rehashing songs she initially wrote for Georgie James. In the end, she decided against it. "Carrying around old energy was not something I wanted to do," she says. "It was like spring cleaning."

Burhenn then fled from D.C. to Oregon to record in Swift's one-room studio though some songs, if not snippets, sound as if she's transported back to the childhood church. For a brief moment in "Numbers Don't Lie," Burhenn's echoing laughter seemingly bounces inside the walls of organ pipes. And although the gospel-inspired "What We Gained in the Fire" starts as a simple piano, bass and snare number, it eventually crescendos with a few triumphant horns as she repeats the album title over and over: "What we lose in the fire we gain in the flood."

"It's almost like these melodies are passed along, part of the oral tradition where they are passed from generation to generation," she says of the hymns she once sang in church. "So there's something about these really simple melodies and simple lyrics that is really powerful, and I feel like people turn to that sort of music when they're trying to get through a low point or really tough time in their lives."


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