Little Orange Room Sessions is a one-take, one-shot, “living-room”-style performance video series recorded in Eugene, Oregon. Each two-song session is recorded in the 125 square feet that I use for mixing, producing, and sometimes even recording entire albums. Little Orange Room Sessions grew out of my crazy love of music and mixing, a growing curiosity about film and cameras, and a deep-seated passion for performance and the art of song.
Session #4: Ky Burt
Ky Burt is an Oregon based singer/songwriter with a wide range of influences spanning Appalachian string music, old country, and contemporary folk. The Sky In Between, Burt’s debut full-length album was released earlier this year (April 2019). The album is described as…”Reflecting on connection, love and loss, the bustle of city life, the desire for and decline of small towns and quiet grounding places, it’s a chronicle of how nature is a guide for our lives, and how impermanence and the passing of days is both beautiful and difficult.” Burt recently took the time to answer some questions via email.
LORS: I feel like physical location plays an integral role in a lot of your songwriting, at least on the new album. Is that fair to say? Some songs off The Sky In Between for example, “Midwestern Sky,” “Idaho,” “Back to The City,” “Small Town Dream,” “Seeds in the Dirt” all seem to place the protagonist somewhere they are either trying to leave or trying desperately to get to and stay.
KB: Absolutely. I grew up in the Midwest in a town where most folks stay their whole lives. We called ourselves “flatlanders” and I knew I needed to journey to the hills beyond. I had this deep yearning at a young age to discover new people and new places. As I’ve grown up and gotten older, there’s been more of a deep longing for a sense of place like previous generations in my family had, a deep sense of rootedness. So yeah there’s kind of this push and pull, that juxtaposition of looking in the rear view window with a letting go of the plains while seeing the mountains over the highway ahead. Its living between that push and pull that reminds me of the value of living in the journey and process and being grateful for each experience. I am building new roots in the Pacific Northwest now and writing this album allowed me to look back and give credit to all those places that have helped to define my journey getting to his debut release of music.
LORS: The juxtaposition of a nomadic lifestyle (trying to leave) vs putting down roots (trying to stay) creates an interesting tension through the album. Was this intentional when you were writing it or did it just kind of happen that way?
KB: It was intentional, but more just through the experience of trying to connect the songs to what was really just happening to me in my life. I had been living in the Southwest for awhile, in Arizona, and knew I needed to leave behind a stable job at the time to pursue my passion for music. It was such a difficult decision, but in the end, it proved fruitful to start touring and to make music in the Pacific Northwest. I’d say I always have one foot in the back door and one out the front, like this deep reference for what I had in a place, and a deep excitement towards the open road again. I’m not so sure any of us are meant to always stay or always be on the move. For me its a delicate balance, the journey of discovery with newness and in deepening the familiar.
LORS: How does a Ky Burt song get written?
KB: There’s no formula really. I’d say after a lot of trial and error over the years, for me the melody is the center. If I can nail down a melody that resonates with the mood and tone I am trying to convey, then the rest is building on that. With that said, the lyrics are so critical. They have to work with the melody, like two friends who compliment each other, or two lovers who think and say the exact same word at the same time. Once the lyrics and melody are joined, its just a blast to start adding other parts.
LORS: You have a new band called Holy Smokes. How did that come about? Any tour or recording plans in 2020? Do you find that collaborating with other musicians influences or informs your writing for your solo project?
KB: So I’m just a big fan of all forms of music really. It seems like I get into one vein, learn everything about it, and then want to perform it. I’ve performed blues, bluegrass, old time, and dabbled in jazz. But after doing some country two-step dancing in Portland, i just couldn’t help but think how much I love old country. Its at the heart of being an American with influences from so many black roots musicians as well as both country and urban folks. So I sat down with my buddy Matt Keenan who also wanted to form a country band. Over a beer in August we decided we’d do it, right about the time the Ken Burns documentary on Country Music came out. And then I met another Country/Americana songwriter, Sarah Holtschlag from Chicago who just moved out to Oregon. She was jazzed to join! And then we found our fiddling friend, Jessilyn Brinkerhoff. And so there we go! We’ve only played one show in October where we opened for Front Country. But it was a blast! And word is we have several booked already for winter/spring. We are also joined by drums and Bryan Daste on pedal steel.
LORS: Guy Clark sings, “Some days you write the song / some days the song writes you.” Which line best describes you?
KB: I love Guy Clark! And that is more or less spot on. In a way though, I’d say the song always eventually writes me. I will sculpt, shape, twist, and bend that song but there’s always a way ‘it’ wants to go to fit sonically and energetically with me and my audience. I was told once ‘you have to honor the song’ and ‘let it breathe.’ So that’s what I try to do. And interestingly enough, its like this relationship, where the song can change over time, maybe a few words, maybe the rhythm, etc. So I see it as an evolving thing, despite its fixture in recordings.
LORS: Any music you’re listening to (old or new) that I should put in my ear holes? Or any good books you’re currently reading or just finished?
KB: I’ve been going way back as of late in the country realm. I’ve been listening to Buck Owens hits, Tom T. Hall greatest hits, and Patsy Cline. I also recently just got back into Nina Simone, she’s amazing. Some contemporary folks I’ve been digging are Western Centuries out of Seattle. I am a big fan of Cahalen Morrison’s songwriting and their band is super tight.
As far as books, I just picked up Tom T. Hall’s songwriting book from the 1970s. Its an old one but cool to read how he approaches songwriting through that era.