On her most recent album and current tour, Molly Burch is working to understand and overcome her own anxiety through songwriting and performing.
Molly Burch helped listeners cope with their break-ups, but now she’s helping them cope with their anxiety. Her first album, Please Be Mine, dealt with the former, and on her new album, First Flower, she opens up about her own anxiety, and extends a helping hand to listeners grappling with similar feelings. Burch will play Gasa Gasa on Monday, and on this album and tour, Molly Burch has a newfound confidence with herself and with her audiences.
From a young age, she was inspired by female performers she perceived as confident including Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Nina Simone, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera, but her anxiety kept the performer within under wraps. She was nervous to share this side of herself, so she kept quiet and even hid her physical responses to anxiety by muting the color in her cheeks with makeup. Because of this, Burch didn’t come to songwriting until her twenties. In college, she studied jazz performance, and began to get experience performing live.
“I used to be incredibly nervous playing, and I think it’s taken a lot of practice and experience and it’s just gotten easier over time,” Burch says. “But before, I would be cripplingly anxious, and I could not do it.”
Anxiety is the driving force behind First Flower’s content and production. After touring Please Be Mine, she and her boyfriend/bandmate, Dailey Toliver, moved to a small town on the outskirts of Austin. In this new space, with more idle time, her anxiety began to transform itself into an album.
“Coming off the hyperstimulation of tour, there’s this energy and anxiety that you have. You have nowhere to put it because you’re so used to doing things,” she says. Learning to manage this newfound anxiety is what inspired her to make it the focus of her new album.
On this album, we watch Burch mimic the symptoms of her own anxiety. On her third track “Dangerous Place,” she begins, “Here we go again / Oh, I have been here before,” where listeners are sucked into the stagnant cyclicality of her anxiety. The song is filled with questions and doubt which mimic the irrational thought processes anxiety produces, while the lines “I hope I learn from my mistakes / I hope I forgive myself one day” mimic the rational side of our brain peeking through in these moments self-doubt.
She does not aim to present herself as someone who has it all figured out, but instead as someone who’s actively trying and slowly improving. After the release of her first album, Burch realized that songwriting gave her a platform to make people feel seen. “I realized I could talk about other things,” she says. “That would be such a goal, to be relatable to people and make them feel less alone, and I think it’s important to talk about anxiety.”
Her song “Good Behavior” begins with the lines “'Be good, be good,’ you said, my baby / Don’t you, do you see that I’m trying?” where we see the external pressure put on her to simply “be good.” Anxiety is a constant internal struggle, but it’s one that’s amplified by other people’s explicit criticisms of anxious behavior. The rest of the song is Burch’s desperate inner monologue trying to both explain herself and dig herself out of her anxiety, culminating in the repeated lines, “Will I ever know good behavior?” She says about this song, “I feel that one really represents really low moments of feeling very ashamed of your anxiety and questioning what will help it and will it always be this way?”
There is an implicit apology for her behavior that is rooted in the internal and external shame that anxiety produces, and Burch contextualizes it so that viewers might understand the internal shame underneath the nervous external behavior. The album doesn’t only probe her weaknesses, though. “To The Boys” portrays her timid nature in a forgiving, confident light. She embraces the quiet parts of herself rather than feeling insecure in them, singing
I don't need to scream to get my point across
I don't need to yell to know that I'm the boss
That is my choice
And this is my voice
Here we see her reinscribing power to timidness and finding strength in a voice that she often is ashamed of.
Burch’s journey with anxiety is reflected in this album’s lyrics and in her growth as a performer. As she has progressed as an artist, she says that her anxiety has faded. She does not struggle to get on stage anymore, and the rhythm of touring has helped her get out of her own head, giving her a newfound confidence.
The last song on the album—and the song Burch is most excited about performing—is “Every Little Thing,” a bold track in which she repeats over and over, “I’ve worn my body down / I’m done,” increasing in volume and power then slowly fading. This track is Burch at her most powerful. We feel the weight of her frustration, but also feel her defiance shining through. We see someone honestly trying and still standing.
“I think I’m most excited to perform because it’s kind of a ballad-type song, and I just love singing ballads," she says. "But I hope that it has a more hopeful energy towards it.”