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Profile: Callie Burns, aka Burnsie

This week, I decided to hit up my friend Callie Burns for an interview about who she is as a musician, what got her there, and when she’s playing next! She gave me thoughtful and honest answers which pretty much sums her up as a person, as well as an artist. Here’s a further look at how she created Burnsie: 

You go by Burnsie. Why not go by your full name? What prompted your choice?

I am so happy to answer this question. There are so many parts to it, so buckle up! For one, Burnsie is just a cute twist on my real name. I basically took the “i-e” in my first name and added it on to the end of my last name. Second, Burnsie is a name that already holds significance for me and my family. It was the name of a dog my dad and uncle had growing up, and I used to hear all kinds of wild stories about that dog. I’m full of stories, so it seemed appropriate to honor their beloved pup. Separately, it was also a nickname I had throughout childhood and adolescence, primarily (though not exclusively) given to me by various male P.E. teachers. I used to resent the name. The tone in which they would say it made the name sound more like an insult since it was usually coupled with some kind of jab at my poor excuse for athleticism. So it’s really funny to me now to think that I’ve reclaimed that name with a “look at me now” kind of mentality attached to it, in so many ways.

Not only that, I’m just a big fan of one word band/artist names in general – names like Queen or Paramore, for example. To me, there’s something about a one-word name that is so simple and concise, but still iconic and powerful, which are conveniently all traits I wished I possessed. I also knew I didn’t want to go by my full birth name (Callie Burns) because I need a degree of separation between me and the art I make. I know that sounds weird, especially since I want my music to display the most vulnerable parts of me and I want to be honest with people. However, having an artist name that I perform and write under helps me to put up a little bit of a barrier that protects my identity from the scrutiny of others if even just the tiniest bit. It’s a kind of defense mechanism to save face; if someone out there doesn’t like my music, going under a different name is a symbolic way to remind myself not to take it too personally, or that their feelings are not necessarily a direct attack on who I am as a person. It’s all a big mental game really, but it’s working well for me!

What kind of music would you say you write? I know genre is a blurry subject. Who are your influences?

Gah, I hate this question because I have a lot of friends in the Nashville area who put way too much thought into genres and genre boundaries. I also just have a lot of eclectic influences. Some of them include pop-crossover allstars like Misterwives, Panic! At the Disco, and Sia. While others are edgier and a little more genre-specific like Manchester Orchestra, Julien Baker, and Portsmouth (good friend and fellow Belmont kid, Tyler Wells). But the majority of my influence actually comes from some of the bands and artists I listened to most as a kid – the polar opposite likes of Ben Folds Five, and P!nk.

Something else that’s kind of crazy about this genre thing, is that I have nearly 11 years of classical vocal training and only about 2 years of additional training outside of the classical realm. So, even though I try to draw from so many of the unique artists I look up to, fitting my voice to a particular genre has been a struggle. A close friend of mine and I like to joke that if my music were to fit into a nice category, my genre would be “Contemplative-Disney Princess-Acoustic-Emo.” That’s so extra, and also just really hard to explain to people if they don’t get the nuances of what each of those words represents. My latest thing now I guess, whether or not you can call it a genre per se, is that I just write “music to be yourself to.”

As far as the message goes, what do you think your music wants to show others? Do you want to share your own stories, or highlight others’?

When I first began writing, I stuck to the adage of “write what you know,” and I used that as a starting block from which I could propel the rest of the process forward. I love people, so a majority of my songs are about or inspired by real people in my life. It’s also not uncommon for me to write a song about someone and then perform it in front of them. That’s a really fun game. Sometimes they know, other times they’re completely clueless. It’s a little reckless and risky, but life is honestly too short for me to hold back now. Luckily, I’ve recently branched out and have written fewer songs about specific people and more about specific emotions or phases of life. I have one song right now called “Shuffle” that I drafted during a period when I wanted to quit music altogether. It asks a lot of tough questions I was battling with at the time I wrote the lyrics. The content of the song itself is a metaphor for being confused about both romantic and creative endeavors, and different people take different things away from the lyrics. I love that. I think you can definitely tell a difference in maturity between this song and ones I wrote more than even just a year ago.  

With that said, ideally, I just want my music to highlight my own experiences and stories. This is why I write about past and current relationships so openly. I want other people who watch me perform to walk away with a sense of cathartic emptiness because that’s what this whole thing does for me. In other words, I want my songs to feel like a huge release, both for myself and my audience. We all walk around with emotional baggage and my hope is that my music will allow other people to feel free enough to drop all of their baggage at my feet (my music’s feet?), even for just a moment.

What do you think it takes to gain confidence in order to perform your songs in front of others? You’ve spoken a bit about your journey on social media, and I’d like for you to expand upon it.

For sure. Way back in high school, I was known as a really strong and gifted singer in my community. I was in countless choirs and plays, to the point where I was eventually awarded one of two awards given for musical performance in my senior year. I received quite a bit of positive reinforcement, so when it came time to college decisions I chose Belmont University, specifically for their School of Music. I expected to feel the same sense of accomplishment when I arrived my freshman year, but instead, it became apparent that I was no longer something special. Without getting too deep into it, my self-esteem took a dangerous toll. My ability became my identity, which was very quickly torn to shreds. I questioned if I deserved to be in the music program since I lacked confidence entirely by this point. I had let the criticism and comparison ruin me to the point where I gave up on myself and became completely withdrawn. I ended up changing majors after two full years and took a small break from music.

I think when I finally started to miss music and longed for that sense of confidence again, I wanted a quick fix. For an embarrassingly long amount of time, I was wishing, wishing, and wishing for things to miraculously just “get better.” Oddly enough, I literally did have an epiphany one day, as I’ve mentioned in social media posts. I woke up and decided it was time to actively focus on changing instead of playing the waiting game. I hated that I had begun to feel sorry for myself. So I started taking songwriting more seriously and really pushed to churn out songs that I felt happy with. Then, when an opportunity to play a local festival called Threat Fest last August had fallen into my lap, I jumped on it. Was it my best performance? Hell no, but I pushed through.

I wish I could say that I don’t rely on the opinions of others as a weather vane for my own progress, but obviously and unfortunately it is a small character flaw of mine. As I mentioned with the story of how I got the name Burnsie, I’m constantly working on ways to find confidence again and buffer myself from my own predisposition to assign personal significance to others’ judgments. In light of everything that has happened, one of my biggest resources in overcoming my performance related anxiousness has been my circle of close friends and supporters. I would be nowhere without them because they have gotten me out of my own way so many times. It really helps to have people there to remind you how far you have come and how much they have seen you achieve, even if you cannot identify it yourself.

Any advice for those struggling with putting themselves out there?

I need to be honest and say that I’m still struggling. Every day. I am still filled with so much doubt. No one wants to hear that though because it’s not the most desirable answer. But for me, it’s very real, and putting yourself out there takes a huge amount of courage that needs to be acknowledged. I mentioned already that I played in a festival setting. God, that was so hard but so worth it. I walked away from the experience of being involved in Threat Fest with a new perspective of who I wanted to be as an artist because I had been surrounded by so many other artists who had what I wanted. I wish I could promise someone that it will happen just like that for them. I was lucky, I felt like I caught lightning in a bottle. But what sparked such a dramatic behavioral change in me was this new feeling of self-efficacy that came from watching and learning from people in the environment I so desperately wanted to be part of again. I remember thinking if these people can do it, why haven’t I? Since then, my progress has just unfolded so naturally.

My advice for anyone struggling to put themselves out there, regardless of the context, would be to watch others that inspire them along the same path, see what worked and didn’t work for them. Start out by emulating them (now there’s a difference between that and stealing, I’m not condoning that). Soon enough, you will be able to internalize the tricks you’ve picked up along the way until you’re ready to enact them for yourself.  

Do you have any upcoming shows? Tell us about them, please!

As of right now I only have one other gig lined up: April 26th, at Phat Bites! I’m really excited for this because it will be a cool change of pace from house shows, and I’ll be on a bill filled with other genre-bending artists. I will know more details as it gets closer to time, and I’ll be sure to post the info around on social media!

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Natalie Peterson is a quaintrelle with a wordy agenda-- a Songwriting Major at Belmont University in Nashville, TN, she wishes to portray her life through her own vernacular. She enjoys food, spending weekends at local animal shelters, and can often be found binge watching Portlandia or reading classics from the discomfort of her lofted college bed. You can follow her on: Twitter: @melindaloves Instagram: @melindaloves11 Tumblr: quaintrellish
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