World travelers, beware: Laura Burhenn’s Instagram will turn you into a jealous person.
Her images are beautiful: desert landscapes in Joshua Tree; waterfalls surrounded by lush greenery; backstage photos with Ben Gibbard and Jenny Lewis, whom she performed with during the Postal Service’s 2013 reunion tour. Most recently, she’s captured Ireland’s vivid greens and blues during a vacation with her mother, a trip squeezed in before the release of Lovers Know, her third album under the Mynabirds moniker. Burhenn’s travel might’ve started on a whim, but it’d be wrong to call it aimless. While the U.S.-spanning trek with the Postal Service was self-explanatory, Burhenn’s following journeys to both coasts were more about discovery and scenery experienced correctly behind a proper car dashboard, not a tour bus. Here, she took in the views of the States with Charlie, her dog, who sat shotgun as she drove toward the East Coast for a wedding, and later, back to her Los Angeles home.
“I think after the Postal Service tour, I felt a little lost,” she says. “Being on a tour bus doesn’t necessarily feel like you’re on the road. You just wake up and you’re in a new city. I kind of missed being on the road. There’s something that’s so cathartic and healing about it. Getting in the car seemed like the right thing to do.”
That’s the thing about Instagram and social media, though — it’s filled with user-curated moments. That stateside trip had been cathartic, healing, emotionally lucrative for Burhenn. Even the roadside attractions themselves made for good stories, including Metropolis, Illinois’s Superman statue — but those images and memories only tell half of her story.
She had, after all, just been through a “devastating” breakup, one that complicated life down to the vision she had for her next LP. The last we’d heard from Burhenn’s Mynabirds, politics occupied her mind. Generals was a bold LP that took Burhenn’s doe-eyed acoustic songs into wailing rock ‘n’ roll territory with tom-thumping battle cries like “Mightier Than the Sword,” “Karma Debt,” and the album’s title track.
“At the end of Generals, I started asking this question: We’ve got all of these problems in politics and shit…what do we do with them?” she says. “And the final thought was this big answer: All you need is love. It sounded so trite and terrible, but I think that’s the right answer. I thought, what am I going to write next? I thought, I want to write a bunch of makeout songs. I was getting back to a lot of Nineties hip-hop and r&b that I loved so much. Then I went through this devastating breakup. I was like, ‘Wait, what am I supposed to do now?’ ”
Burhenn stuck with that notion; love would be her journey on LP3. But Lovers Know isn’t necessarily an album-length tribute to the art of great kissing — far from it, actually. The songs that evolved from Burhenn’s breakup and the countrywide journey that followed might be awash in Nineties r&b-inspired electronic grooves and Loveless-inspired guitars that set the stage for romance. The lyrics themselves offer a warts-and-all peek at matters of the heart.
“I let my mind wander where it wanted to wander,” she says. “I came up with these songs that asked what we’re all doing here as human beings. We’ve got this one universal thing: We all want to love. We fall in love. We fuck up love [laughs]. Sometimes we get it right. But I wanted to be as honest as I could about it and go into places I hadn’t been before.”
And in the spirit of the album, its tracks were recorded everywhere: Nashville, Los Angeles, a desert dome in Joshua Tree, as well as New Zealand, where Lovers Know was mixed. And that aforementioned honesty wasn’t just a lyrical mantra — it carried through production, much to Burhenn’s own chagrin. Though Burhenn had tracked the last two Mynabirds albums with producer Richard Swift (the Shins, Foxygen, Damien Jurado), Bradley Hanan Carter (Black English) filled the producer’s seat for Lovers Know, and his hands-on approach was jarring for Burhenn, at least initially.
“He’d be like, ‘Oh, I think this lyric is fine, but we can do better,’ which really does something to your ego,” Burhenn says. “I think that left me with songs that are more honest. We’re always trying to put our best face forward, definitely as an artist, but also in our personal life. We meet people that are like, ‘Look at all these great things about me.’ But breaking it down that way, it’s not all roses. Here’s the sadder side as well.”
Burhenn’s post-Generals epiphany might’ve been clear-cut: Love is the thread between each breathing human on this earth. With Lovers Know, she’s proved that matters of the heart — as they often are — aren’t as simple as any postcard sentiment. But here’s what is apparent in the LP: Burhenn is taking assertive steps forward in evolving the Mynabirds, and, like love and politics, there’s no use trying to control that energy. She’s just happy to see where the trip takes her.
“There are times in life where you think, ‘What am I doing? Am I doing what I love? Am I doing it the best I can? Am I succeeding or am I failing?’ ” she asks. “I think at the end of this record, I had to give myself a pep talk: Keep going, keep doing it. Even though you might not see the path, just take the next step. You get into your thirties, you start feeling this sense of, ‘What is my life? What has it been, what do I want it to be?’ So much of it you can’t control, so you keep doing you. You just keep trying, you don’t give up. Maybe the next record will be weird dance songs. You can’t control anything else, so dance it out.”
The Mynabirds are currently on tour in Europe, but will return to New York to play Rough Trade NYC on September 25. Lovers Know is out August 7 on Saddle Creek Records.