The Burney Sisters- Folk-pop stars in the making: Olivia and Emma Burney, aged 15 and 12 respectively, have only been performing as The Burney Sisters for about three years. In that short period, the sisters' folk-pop music has taken them to festivals and music halls across mid-Missouri. Hear about the sisters' musical journey, love for their family and new EP, "Letter to You," in this special episode.
"And I get really inspired for songs, storylines and stuff with movies, because there's just endless storylines out there. But I really I really love to watch old 50s and 60s films with Audrey Hepburn and stuff like that," says Oliva Burney.
Listen to Vox Voice on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play and Spotify.
Want more Vox?
Don't miss a thing: Get more Vox straight to your inbox. Fill out the forms to receive highlights from out monthly issue, hand-picked calendar events, reviews, recipes and everything else you need to thrive in Columbia.
Sam Mosher, 1:26: How are you both doing today?
Burney Sisters, 1:28: We're doing good. We, I just ate anyway. And we're just kind of chilling because there's not really much we can do.
SM, 1:37: Yes, so we are recording this in the midst COVID-19 we are in separate locations, but we're doing our best to make it sound like we're in the same room as we would normally do with Vox Voice. So thank you both for putting up with the recording situation.
SM, 1:53: So naturally this interview is going to have a lot to do with music. So I want to start off with kind of an odd question. What are your first memories of music?
BS, 2:01: I my first song that I actually remember, like actual song that wasn't like a nursery rhyme or something “Is Waiting on the World to Change” by John Mayer.
SM, 2:13: All right.
BS, 2:14: I just yeah, my. My parents would play that for me. And that's actually a really amazing song. So I'm kind of proud of that. But what about you? I actually have no idea but I feel like it was “Roar” by Katy Perry. Yeah, that just shows how young we are that was out a few years ago.
SM, 2:38: I love that. So now so today, uh, correct me if I'm wrong, Olivia, you're 15 and Emma you're 12.
BS, 2:46: Yeah.
SM, 2:47: So, roughly 10 or so years since those first memories are so music is still a huge part of your lives. And so today, what can what can you say about your love for music? Why do you love it?
BS, 2:59: It's a way, I feel it's just always been in our family, our grandpa and our grandma were in a band together. And our mom, she knows how to sing. And she actually taught both of us harmony, but it's just really a way to, I don't know, show your emotions in a different way than like speaking, and connect with people. So yeah. That’s pretty great.
BS, 3:28: I want to want to make music because I know that at least we try to inspire other people with our music and make them feel something and I've heard that so many different times because whenever I write my music I really like I feel something whenever I sing it and whenever I write the lyrics and so making other people feel that like how I feel when I listen to the music that I do, that really moves me is my biggest goal for all of it for people to enjoy it and to feel something and, playing live shows was just amazing because, you could actually see it on their face whenever they they would listen to the song so that's my biggest thing about music and my biggest goal for it.
SM, 4:14:If all of you listening out there have not had the pleasure of seeing The Burney Sisters live I would highly recommend it. A quick note, I think on if you needed proof that we were recording at home, I think it was at a dog barking on.
BS: 4:26: Yeah, that was her dog outside. Yeah.
SM, 4:29: No worries at all. So that's, why you love music? How did you get started making music?
BS, 4:36: We we started playing with well, we would always, played music around the house and sang and stuff like that. But we started playing music with a local musician named Rocket Kirchner. And so we played I think what two or three shows with him, and maybe maybe a few more, I'm not sure. And we did backing vocals and stuff on his his CD that he recorded and we went in a real studio and that was pretty much our first experience with that, but we had never done our own stuff and at that at the time, we really really like pop music. So we started we started playing a bunch of, really popular covers and stuff.
BS, 5:26: And then we went downtown and started busking. So that's kind of when we started playing music and how we did.
SM, 5:34: And for those who don't know, including myself, what is busking?
BS, 5:38: Busking. So yeah, that's uh, that's like downtown over by Tellers. That that's pretty much just street performing, on the on, like, downtown or outside or, in front of a few people or whatever. Yeah.
SM, 5:55: And so you both are more than just talented vocalists. You're talented instrumentalists as well. What instruments do you both play when and how do you learn to play them?
BS, 6:03: So my first instrument I played for just a few months, it was violin, and I was five, I think, but I didn't really I didn't really get much out of it. And I forgot how to play, the violin within like two months. Yeah. So, yeah, but years later, I think it was, what was 2017 maybe for guitar I was nine I think and then I, I picked up the guitar because Olivia knew how to play the ukulele. And I was a little bit jealous because I didn't really know how to play anything. And so, yeah, I decided to pick up the guitar and I taught myself on YouTube and then kind of went from there with other stringed instruments.
BS, 6:50: Yeah, and then tell him about the story with the violin or whatever. Okay, so Pat Kay, he, uh, he was kind of in between fiddle players. Pat Kay from the Kay Brothers. Yeah, about two years ago. Yeah. Yeah. And he was really in between fiddle players, just like he couldn't get any of them to actually, be at every single show. So he needed another kind of permanent one. And I since I had, four months of experience on violin when I was five I decided to pick it up again and try to learn fiddle music. So, two weeks later, I texted him and told him, I learned one of your songs. And he was just like, ‘Alright, well learn a whole our whole set and then we'll play a show with you next month.’ Yeah.
SM, 7:45: That's amazing.
BS, 7:47: Yeah, it was crazy to she she practice so much. And, started just playing with him off the bat. It was kind of crazy.
SM, 7:56: Pick it up real quick. Speaking of which, so we've, I've covered The Burney Sister before. I've had the pleasure of meeting you too, before this. And I remember when I was taking photos in your house, Emma, you were showing off your banjo skills. Do you still pick up the banjo every now and then?
BS, 8:12: I don't as much as I did then. But I do play around with it sometimes. I like playing banjo a lot more than I do. Yeah. That's very fun.
SM, 8:26: So we've talked about the origins of, the all capital, The Burney Sisters. What was your first performance? Do you remember that?
BS, 8:34: Yeah, it was at a, it was at a nursing home. And we made $100, which was like super, super huge for us. And we had one hour. And we just played a bunch of like, I think it was all covers except for like, we played “Like the World” or something, which was my first song ever is very interesting. And I remember there was this guy there. And he, he was just, well, pretty much everyone was asleep throughout our whole, but he came up to us at the end. And he was like, ‘I was asleep through the whole thing, but when you play Johnny Cash I was awake’, apparently he lived like down the road from Johnny Cash like when he was really young or something like that. Which was wild, but yeah, there's so many good stories at places like that. Yeah, it's funny.
SM, 9:32: That's a very memorable first performance and making money off of it. Not many musicians can say that for their first time. So that's, that's a great story. Yeah. How many years ago was that?
BS, 9:44: Three. Yeah, it was like in March of 2017 or something. Yes.
SM, 9:50: Okay. So just a little over three years ago, and obviously since that time, you've played Roots N’ Blues, Rose Music Hall among many other places. What is performing for you like now? How has it changed? Do you still experience stage fright?
BS, 10:05: I barely get nervous anymore. I do. You know, it's certain people especially people that are my age. I get really scared to perform in front of I I love performing and it's it just feels weird not being able to play shows right now. But I don't know, I, I just have so much fun with it and I get lost on some. I get lost on stage and sometimes,forget what I'm doing and then it's, I don't know, just really, really into the music. I feel I am sometimes and sometimes there was this one time I was singing a song and I got like so into it. And then after the song I was shaking. How was this happening?
BS, 10:58: But yeah, I get scared or nervous that the weirdest places I like even Roots N’ Blues. I wasn't. I was kind of just chill there, which I feel like I shouldn't have been, but it'll be, somewhere with three people. I'll just be up there like I'm freaking out. Yes.
SM, 11:18: So you mentioned not being able to perform right now. I you you both released a new EP in March this year titled “Letter to You,” it can be found on Apple Music, Spotify, Google Play and Amazon. I highly recommend giving it a listen. And you had performances coming up to play in from songs from this new EP. But unfortunately, as with all live performances right now had to be canceled due to social distancing guidelines, but in its place. You both are hosting some basement sessions on Facebook Live Saturday nights at 7 p.m. Tell me about the idea behind that? what those have been like?
BS, 11:57: So our mom had the idea for it. I think it was right, right before everyone was, kind of figuring out that we would be in quarantine for a little while. And so we had a few friends over and we did our first basement session. And it was it was really cool. It we've since improved with with lighting and cameras and different camera angles and all that stuff because it's like the only show we can do. So that's pretty much what we've been working on.
BS, 12:29: Our little sisters in the band now. So she's been, she's been playing with us there. And it's we've been getting a lot more people to come on to our Lives and stuff, which is really cool. Yeah, the setup. She was saying the setup is very severe. It's pretty great. There's a swivel TV. Well, no, yeah, swivels around where we can sit on the couch and watch it or while we're actually playing. We can see the comments on Facebook. Yeah. And yeah, so we've really upped our game. But yeah, it's a lot of fun to experiment on there with lighting and sound and all that jazz.
SM, 13:13: That's awesome. So what can people expect from tuning into one of these basement sessions?
BS, 13:19: So I think one time we played as a joke, we played a song from “Tiger King.” Yeah, from Joe exotic and we all wore cowboy hats and everything which was really funny. Jokes aside, we pretty much just, play, play our songs and try to make the setlist different each week and we learn new covers every single week to put online and so we played those in the show too. That's pretty much what we do and then, answer comments and talk to people.
SM, 13:58: Yeah, again, that's Saturday nights 7 p.m. so everyone get involved and engaged with with these basement sessions. I have to ask, was it “I found a Tiger” What what?
BS, 14:09: Yes, I saw I saw a tiger. I saw this meme that was like I hate country music me and then it was like, also me
SM, 14:22: It's a moving song no doubt.
BS, 14:24: Yeah for real.
Sm, 14:26: So then speaking of songwriting, tell me about this new EP, it's again titled a “Letter to You” what were the inspirations behind this new release?
BS, 14:34: So we wanted to kind of put out an album that sounds like we we sound now actually live and it's pretty, it's almost the exact same as what you'll hear when you listen to us live because it's, it's super stripped down, and some of the songs are usually more produced, but we stripped them down for this and we recorded them in our basement. And I don't know it, a lot of the songs are kind of sad. And so that's kind of we grouped them all together, because I like to write sad songs. So it's just my favorite thing to do so, but so it was easy to find them, but we put them all together and they're, they're kind of all like letters if you write them out. So that's kind of where we thought we can add the title of the song to the whole EP.
SM, 15:26: I like that now. What are your favorite songs on the album and the stories behind them?
BS, 15:33: Okay, so “Regret, Love, or Me” I really like playing that song. Sometimes I get carried away with my picking on guitar and stuff. So we had to get the metronome they’re like Olivia, go slower with the guitar here. And so that's, that was kind of difficult with trying to do that. But finally I got it. And that song I really wanted to write a song about rain and I just kind of, some words just kind of fit and it means something different to me now, but I really like what came out of it. And then “Unbearable.” I can't remember I think it was about a year or two ago when I wrote that song. It's got to be one year I think that song. It's just it like puts the imagery in my head of like, big cities for no reason I just I just keep thinking that whenever I sing that song, but we got Bella in on that song and she's actually not on the EP, which I wish we would have had her on there with us but this we're gonna be recording and quarantine and put her on it. So that'll be exciting. Do you have any of the songs on there that are your favorites?
BS, 16:53: I like “Letter to You.” That's my thing, or no. Those two sound the same? “Regret, Love, or Me.” Yeah, that's my favorite one because it reminds me of “Fisher road to Hollywood.” Oh, yeah. But they were brothers. Yeah, we covered that a few days ago. Yeah. Walk down thing.
SM, 17:14: Yeah, I know you both are huge fans of the Avett Brothers. And you correct me if I'm wrong have had since I think the last time we've talked had the opportunity to play with them or open for them.
BS, 17:25: Yeah, we we got to meet them and we got to play. I think it was like a band or two before them at Roots N’ Blues, which was unbelievably cool. They were really, really sweet and Emma went to and Scott's like art gallery like art showing this one time with a friend of ours. And he remembered her and he was like, oh, how was your tour and stuff like that? Which was really really cool. Yeah, yeah, they're awesome.
SM, 17:54: That is so cool. Yeah, I mentioned earlier Olivia that you like you prefer or lean toward writing sad songs. Tell me about why that is.
BS, 18:02: Because I, I like to listen to faster music, which is is it's kind of weird. I also like listening to sad songs. But I think I think it's because I feel like I mean it more when I when I really like write a song where I'm paying attention to all of the lyrics and how they come together and just like the flow. And I feel like I used to with a lot of my songs used to force some of the lyrics because of what it meant to me, instead of changing them to make them flow better with the melody, and I read this book called songwriters on songwriting, and it was this one, where Bob Dylan was speaking about some artists I can't remember. And he was saying, the thing I liked about his lyrics are that they were so effortless they they matched perfectly with the with the melody and that's what what got me about his stuff because few artists know how to do that. And so that for some reason really stuck with me. And I always make it a priority to make sure it really flows with a melody and feels comfortable to, to sing and everything. So I don't know. Hopefully Bob Dylan, if he listened to our music would feel like it's comfortable.
SM,19:29: I he should if he is not. So what emotions do you hope to evoke? From your songs when people listen to them?
BS, 19:39: We, we've gotten a lot of people said they cried. So people that said, there we go. That said they cried when they listen to the album and that and then a lot of a lot to them and stuff that's exactly what i what i want to do with these songs. I mean, I, I really want them to mean something to somebody and feel relatable and, have them say I went through that and this song, helped me through it or something like that. Yeah. I agree.
SM, 20:12: Especially during these times when it's so hard to connect with people. I think music that is as emotional as yours, I think is much needed. So we kind of talked about the specifics of the songwriting process. Say what is the song making process look like for you walk me through the writing to figure out the instruments to the recording.
BS, 20:33: Okay, so I don't know, mostly I, I start writing a song in my room or downstairs or something like that. And I usually come up with the melody first. But sometimes I come up with a few lines or chorus or something in my head, and then I write it down and I figure out what I want the song to be about. Actually, that's, that's not really true. I sometimes I kind of stray from that, because I was also reading another book about about songwriting this one time and they were saying, sometimes you can tell whenever somebody is really trying to stay on the subject and, it flows more comfortably if you, put whatever, whatever words and stuff sound comfortable there. So sometimes some of my songs don't make sense like stay on the same topic all the way through but they make sense to me so I'm fine with that but so I write the song usually have the melody. Emma sometimes helps me with melody on some of the songs but mostly she just helps arrange it and put vocals on it and put instruments and stuff.
SM, 21:53: And then tell me about what it's like in the in the recording studio, the recording booth for you? How does the that playing process look like?
BS, 22:01: For some reason, I don't know we've been recording stuff since I mean we were we were really young with with Rocket. I guess that was the first time we ever recorded something but I'm just I'm not that comfortable in studios. I don't know why I just I feel more comfortable. My singing changes for some reason. I don't know. It's it's sometimes it's weird because voice boxes are usually really small spaces and so I feel confined.
SM, 22:31: Emma, do you feel the same way about being in the studio? That it's a I guess maybe too sterile or inorganic of environment for playing music?
BS, 22:39: Yeah, it's kind of I don't know. It just brings up your nerves a little more. I'm just all those people in that room just watching you play. I mean, I know that's basically playing live show. It's just weird cuz it's like, you're not kind of in a zoo. Just in a cage. Looking at you. You just have to take care of the tigers on “Tiger King.” Yeah.
SM, 23:10: It all comes back to “Tiger King.”
BS, 23:12: Everything in our music comes back to “Tiger King.”
SM, 23:16: So you mentioned earlier, making some are planning on recording a bit while we're all at home self quarantining are you? Where are you getting your inspiration? Both right now in, in making new music.
BS, 23:31: Cuz we're watching a lot of movies and stuff right now. And I get really inspired for songs, storylines and stuff with movies, because there's just endless storylines out there. But I really I really love to watch old 50s and 60s films with Audrey Hepburn and stuff like that. And I just I love how overdramatic she is I'm like, No, no one would ever act that way right now. But I don't know, I think I think it's, I don't know, I've just been wanting to write every single night. And so I've just been cranking out songs and poems and stuff like that, which is, which is really nice because I can, you know, start arranging them with the girls. I think we did two or three new songs since we've we've arranged two or three new songs. Since all of this I've written more but we've kind of all come to agreement on those two or three. Yeah, those have been really, really fun to to work on because we've been getting Bella and on as many as we can, and she just makes us sound like so much better than we could do by ourselves. For real. Her voice adds so much.
SM, 24:48: So you mentioned so watching movies right now, how else are you both keeping yourself entertained these days?
BS, 24:55: Well, I mean, there's “Tiger King.” But I mean, what else we've been watching? Well, I mean, even before this happened, we've just been trying to watch like, all the comedies, all the comedies ever, Bella and I just watch what is it “Drillbit Taylor”, that was interesting. And then been trying to watch, Adam Sandler, Emma loves Adam Sandler. I, also I need to
SM, 25:25: I do too.
BS, 25:29: I love all the Austin Powers movies. Oh, she just loves them. I honestly I think they're funny, but she just thinks there's so much so much more funny than I do. Those are great. They even did a dance to, to the mini me song. Yeah, Bella and I did to just the two of us.
SM, 25:52: It's definitely good to laugh right now that's for sure. So do you have other creative outlets outside of just music? Do you have other hobbies? I'm sure.
BS, 26:03: Yeah, yeah. Um Emma. Emma likes to sketch. Have you done any sketching done any in months actually, um, but I, I've been trying to come up with another song. I'm not very good at writing. I was I think you are you she's, she's shown me a long time to come up with a half a verse. So I'm just trying to work on. Yeah. What about you?
BS, 26:30: Yeah, I've been painting a lot. And me and my little sister we roller skate all the time. So, we've been we've been doing that. And we've been going on walks and stuff because I didn't actually ever realize but we have a we have a trail, Bear Creek Trail right by our house, like just a little bit down the way. So we've been walking on that. And that's been really fun.
SM, 26:52: That's nice. So now for a lot of kids right now i'm sure school has changed a lot for them. But for you to I suspect school has not changed as much. Tell me about you know what school is like for you whether outside the quarantine or in it right now?
BS, 27:08: Yeah, we we usually do school in the mornings so that we could do we could do shows at night. But we've just still been doing it in the morning because we just kind of have that routine already. Yeah. Olivia and I are actually learning how to drive right now so yeah. That is fun.
SM, 27:28: How is that going? I have to ask.
BS, 27:32: A bit. Okay. Emma is a better driver than me. She's more calm. I get really, really anxious and nervous. And yeah, that was very scary. She was an intersection with three different cars coming at her. And she was in the middle of the road. Oh, yeah. I should have moved over a little bit. Don't tell my secret.
SM, 27:55: Driving is scary for everyone. But I mean, I guess the one perk right now is that the roads are a little less busy. So a good time to get your practice, right.
BS, 28:03: Yeah, absolutely.
SM, 28:05: So to kind of look forward to a more hopeful future when these live performances start picking up. Just kind of a fun question. What is is there a dream goal venue for both of you?
BS, 28:15: The Pageant would be really nice, Delmar Hall. I was really really looking forward to our show at the Duck Room, our CD release party because that was gonna be so much fun. And we have we have like a younger following in St. Louis St. Louis like more of our age. So we just had loads of teenagers and stuff saying I'm coming to your show we're so excited to come and see you and it was it was March 21 or whatever when it was when it was supposed to be going on but it got canceled, which was really sad, but hopefully we'll have even more people wanting to come at the whenever all this is over.
SM, 29:00: Exactly. Coming from St. Louis area native. The Duck Room and The Pageant are great venues. So those would be very fun with you both being stuck at home. For the most part I'm sure you're spending a lot of time with your family. How important is family to the both of you?
BS, 29:15: Oh, it's it's very important. We pretty much our whole business is a family business. You know, we've got everyone actually in on it. Now that we have our little sister in the band. Our dad he does, he does sound, he does a lot of tech stuff. He recorded us when we were playing downstairs when we recorded “Letter to You.” Our mom she does a lot of social media stuff and works with merch stuff and replies to emails and she does a whole lot of stuff. And then our little sister she plays bass and sings with us now. And she can also play like she's just she's been around music all her life so she's able to pick up different instruments and stuff and she, she kind of listened to us sing harmonies and stuff. So she's just like, right on and she just has the ear for that kind of thing, which is really cool. I mean, it's really hard for us sometimes to be able to, stay patient and stuff and wait on people. To figure out harmonies but she's just she's just got that just intuitively which is really cool.
SM, 30:30: So we we've brought up the youngest Burney sister a few times. Tell us a bit more about her. What's her name? When did it become time for her to be ingrained into the The Burney sisters musical act?
BS, 30:43: Yeah, I have never ever wanted to be the kind of person that was like, alright, this is, this is what everyone else in the family does, this is what you're gonna do. You're gonna be a lawyer, you know? But so I just kind of waited till she was having more of an interest in music and wanting to, play more and took an interest in singing with us or playing an instrument to be like, well, how about you come and play this song with us or come in, like, learn this cover with us, and so she has the coolest taste of music. She really, really likes a bunch of Motown stuff. She's really into she's doing wink faces over there at us. She her name is Bella. She loves Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5, and she listens to Wolfpack which is really cool. I was definitely not listening to like that rad of music when I was her age.
SM, 31:44: So to kind of close the loop on our conversation about family and music. What is your favorite part about being The Burney Sisters and having this amazing these amazing experiences together?
BS, 31:56: I think the most important thing for me is connection. I just think it's so cool how we can. I just I don't know I've never met met so many different people from different times of life and different interests and stuff ever in my life except for playing music and meeting them at shows and meeting them as musicians. And it's just the coolest thing. The the network of people and musicians and stuff that I'm able to call friends and, and be able to meet is just the coolest thing for me. I just think it's so awesome. And then I just keep thinking about we, we read something about the, I think it's seven degrees of separation with Kevin Bacon that that kind of thing. And like how many different people everyone that we know is connected to somewhere else, someone else that we know and it's like best friends with them and it's just it kind of blows my mind how how closely connected everyone is and, and Columbia. And we have a really, really cool art scene a really cool art scene and music scene and just there's so many creative people here. Just and I I'm glad to be friends with a lot of them. Yeah, totally.
Sm, 33:28: What about you, Emma anything? Olivia didn't touch on that you want to bring up about the The Burney Sisters experience?
BS, 33:35: I feel there's a lot of siblings that aren’t very close to each other and they're just like, Oh, we see each other a year. She’s off over here. If you look at bands, that have siblings in them, they're they're so close together. You know, they're not. I mean, we do fight. We do. And, I feel like we're a little bit closer than oh, siblings. Yeah, I think so. And also because we kind of have to be we live in the same house. So yeah, that's a thing.
SM, 34:16: Well, I mean, sisterhood. I can't think of a better note to end this episode on. Thank you both so much for joining us to talk about The Burney Sisters, “Tiger King” and, and everything to look forward to speaking of which, is there anything you'd like people to keep an eye out for in the future from The Burney Sisters.
BS, 34:34: We are recording music starting next Wednesday so and we're doing it all ourselves so we're able to figure out whenever, whenever it's coming out and we're hopefully going to be able to put out some singles really, really soon. So we that's what we're working on right now and hopefully have it out in the next two, two months, at least a single like, this month or next hopefully.
SM, 34:59: Well, that's really exciting. Thank you both so much for coming on Vox Voice. This was an absolute pleasure.
BS, 35:05: Yeah. Thank you so much this has been a lot of fun.
SM, 35:08: I'm glad I'm glad again The Burney Sisters new EP titled “Letter to You” is out now on Apple Music Spotify, Google Play and Amazon. And to close this out here's a song from the EP this is “Unbearable.”