Interview: Molly Burch on 'First Flower,' Growth & How Women Are Ruling Indie

I don’t think I’ve read a single piece about Molly Burch that doesn’t describe her voice as “smoky.” It’s true: she has the kind of warmth to her voice that makes me think of incense burning, but also a perfume filled with roses and violets. That might be a weird metaphor, but it’s an excellent transition to discussing her new album: the floral-titled First Flower. I learned about Molly when I first heard the album’s single “To The Boys,” a pop song in the style of '60s girl groups that, instead of being a love song to a partner, acts as a love song to herself. Though she sings it on the quieter side, I want to scream the lyrics: “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 / You can tell that to the boys.” I got the chance to talk to her recently about that song, the best records by women this year, and the power of going to all-girls schools (always on-brand for you, Barnard).

Her Campus: My favorite song on the album is definitely “To The Boys.” How did that one come together? Because I feel like lyrically, it's not really something that you hear in songs a lot, but something I really connected with.

Molly Burch: Thank you so much. I think I was really inspired to write a song that empowered women or young girls. I think with what has been going on in the world for the past couple of years, like the election and so much sexism being like the forefront of conversation, I really just wanted to add that into this album and write a song that felt like an anthem for women, to empower and just add to the conversation. And it also is pretty personal, but I hope it's also relatable. I just sort of like pinpoint a couple things that I have seen in the past or people have perceived as flaws in myself, like how I’m really soft spoken person, but just to turn it around and sing it with confidence. I think it was important for me to do that for myself, and I think since writing the song I’ve grown a lot.

HC: As someone who experiences anxiety, I found that I really connected with that song and the record in general. You mentioned the election and what's going on right now—was it a conscious choice to focus on anxiety, which I feel like for people who already are experiencing it is probably really heightened right now in this moment?

MB: I think it just naturally came about when I started writing the album, but a year ago after I had pretty much done all the touring for my first album I just was dealing with a lot of anxiety and a lot of change at that time, of course the election was part of that. I also had moved to a really small town outside of Austin, Texas and I felt way more isolated than I thought it would feel. And then also just going through all of these new experiences, like signing to a label and releasing my first album and touring so much. I had really intense tours, and I had a lot of learning experiences but they weren't so easy. … So once I had time to really reflect on the year that had happened, it just sort of felt most natural to talk about my anxiety. I had to deal with different types of relationships, like friendships and business relationships, and really find myself as more of a leader and a boss, which I hadn't really experienced before. So I think it just felt like really right at the time.

HC: Does the name “First Flower” have to do with that growth?

Molly: Definitely! That was one of the first songs I wrote for the album ... so it just felt right, and then it also works with the growth for sure.

HC: This series is about women in music. Were there any women that you were listening to at the time of making the record or women that you've been listening to your whole life that really influenced you?

MB: I’ve always, always listened to women. Like I feel like that's all I listened to growing up—female vocalists. I think growing up mainly I listened to a lot of old jazz, my people were like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. I'd listen to Lauryn Hill, but then I also listened to, secretly, like I felt ashamed of it at the time, people like Britney Spears. I would always listen to Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey and just try to sound like them. But I was always obsessed with listening to female vocalists, then I went to college for jazz vocal performance where I would study female vocals. I feel like when I was writing the album I wasn't really listening to any current music for inspiration. But now, with current artists, I'm still always drawn to female musicians—like I love Bedouine, Natalie Prass, Mitski and Ariana Grande. I've always just been so obsessed.

HC: I feel like this has been a really big year for women in music. Have you noticed a change this year, or do you think it’s more of the same?

MB: I definitely feel a change, especially like in indie music. I feel like all of the big people are women, like all the big albums this year. do feel like there is this really positive change happening, obviously it’s not all perfect and fixed, but I feel like there is really exciting and positive change happening, I really do.

HC: Yeah, I agree. The joke of this series is that I’m calling it woman in music™️ because of that question, “What's it like being a woman in music?” that is just so funny to me. I'm sure you've been asked that at some point, right?

MB: Yeah, for sure. But it's important to talk about because, it's so weird, I had this interview the other day with this guy who was awesome, but he was like shocked that I dealt with sexism. I was like wait what, really? It was kind of nice because he was like, I thought we were past that! I was shocked by him being so shocked. I have mixed feelings about that, like I guess it's good that [he] thinks so much positive changes is happening, but to think that it doesn't happen is crazy!  

HC: You were mentioning that all the big records this year in indie were by women this year. What were your favorites?

MB: Kacey Musgraves, but I guess she's not that indie but I love her. Mitski’s album, Be The Cowboy—that's amazing. I love the Snail Mail record and I love Lucy Dacus.

HC: Are you into the boygenius record?

MB: Yeah! I haven’t had the chance to spend too much time with it but I just love Lucy’s voice, and I love Phoebe Bridgers too, they’re all great. There’s been so many great records this year.

HC: Yeah, I definitely agree. So back to the album, I really liked the videos you did for the record. You just put out a video for "Candy," and that one definitely has a feminist message. How did that come together?

MB: I had become friends with Noel Wells who directed it just like on Instagram and we just wanted to do a video for like the longest time but it just wasn't lining up. She had all these amazing ideas and finally the timing worked out. I went out to L.A. and [Wells] just came up with the entire concept. My sister is a casting director in L.A. and I told her the concept and she got all the actors involved like Max Jenkins who plays the photographer who yells at me [laughs]. It just came together so well, I loved her idea. All I did was I explain to her what the song meant, which is really just about talking to that voice in your head that tells you a negative narrative about yourself and just like trying to find a way out of anxiety. And I just thought that the video really encapture that, especially just a man of power yelling at me, literally above me, and then running away from that.

HC: Do you have a favorite song on the album? Is there one that you really love to play live right now?

MB: I think my favorite is to “To the Boys.” ... This past tour I saw a lot of girls in the audience singing along and that was just such a cool experience and I think it's really fun to perform because it makes me feel powerful.

HC: Do you think you'll continue writing songs in that vein?

MB: Yeah, definitely! You go to college at an all-girls school, right?

HC: I do!

MB: I went to an all-girls high school!

HC: Do you think that influenced your music at all?

MB: Maybe! I feel like going to an all-girls school is so special, I’m still friends with all my best friends from high school. I’m so glad that in those years of feeling so uncomfortable I was surrounded by women.

Listen to First Flower here.