The Mynabirds with The Shining Lights and Hotel Love
9 p.m. Thursday
8911 N. Western
The Mynabirds debut, “What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood,” is a stately, soulful slab, moving with a grace of swelling strings and moody keyboards fueled by singer Laura Burhenn’s smoky delivery. Produced by musician Richard Swift, it mixes the rich arrangements of baroque pop with the gut-twisting vocal verve and soul of gospel. It’s the kind of album that would be intriguing even without powerful lyrics that keenly capture a feeling of drowning, only to end washed up on new shores.
In case, you didn’t guess, Burhenn wrote the disc while recovering from a breakup (or, more precisely, two). Not only had a romance ended, but her band with John Davis (of post-hardcore act Q and Not U), Georgie James, had also run its course, despite unexpected success that’d taken the pair overseas and onto appearances on late-night TV.
“We were both surprised at the success of the project and pleasantly so. And then to have that pulled out from under me was a shock,” Burhenn said. “At first, it seemed like, ‘No big deal. I’ll go on, I’m resilient, I’ll bounce back,’ and suddenly I have this fear. I’ve been making music for 10 years, and what if I don’t bounce back? What if that’s the pinnacle of my musical career and those are my glory days?”
So Burhenn tore a page out of a Bruce Springsteen song, and took the highway to the promised land. She packed her bags and left Washington, D.C., where she’d lived all her life, for Omaha, Neb., the home of Georgie James’ label, Saddle Creek Records.
“What better time to do it than when you’re already out of your comfort zone? In fact, I was really excited about the prospect of having to start from scratch,” she said. “What I did is I just set out to write a record that was in my heart, so if the record failed, I could at least say that I made something that was 100 percent true to what I was.”
Burhenn’s grandfather was a Methodist minister, and she grew up in a conservative Christian household replete with church music. That gospel undercurrent bled into her first love, Motown, catalyzed by her very first concert, The Temptations.
When she set out to make a record from her heart, she returned to these influences. When she arrived at Swift’s studio, she told him she was interested in making an album that sounded like Neil Young doing Motown.
Indeed, the very name of the band carried that idea, although entirely by chance. She’d asked her friends for their help in naming her project. From a list of James Joyce characters, she plucked the name Mina, which, in her mind, became Myna, and then, Mynabirds.
“I thought that maybe it could be The Mynabirds, or an alter ego named Myna Bird. Because I had no idea what I want this persona to be, I thought, ‘Let me just Google it,'” she said. “When I looked it up, I could not even believe there’s this obscure band that was Neil Young and Rick James were signed to Motown called The Mynah Birds. At that point, I decided I was just going to have to take it, and hope Neil Young or someone from Motown didn’t come after me.”
Although the album has but a hint of country in its corners, when Burhenn and company play live, it comes even closer to that initial inspiration.
“There’s a certain amount of garage sound to it, though maybe it’s more in my mind because it’s what Richard and I discussed when we were recording things. Our recording approach is all live in the room and there’s gruffness,” she said. “I started thinking how can we do the live show, and I thought, ‘Why not do it more like that, because, sadly, there’s not going to be a horn section or string section. So let’s just go with that.’ The live show has a lot more electric guitar. It carries a lot of the horn and string parts, and I think it’s a little more exciting live that way.”
Although Burhenn had to run out of the fire and negotiate the flood, when the disaster subsided, she found herself with something durable and personal. Even if it never achieves Georgie James’ acclaim, don’t bet against it, because when she reaches into her soul, what she pulls out is pretty amazing.
“A friend of mine years ago sent me a poem by Rumi called ‘The Guest House,'” Burhenn said. “Basically, he says if thieves come into your house, welcome them, because they’re just making way for better things. So sweep it all out because new things are coming in.” “Chris Parker