by tom johnson
In some ways, the music of Ali Burress belies her tender age of nineteen and in others it makes perfect sense. Blessed with the ability to pause the passing of time with just one breath of her enchanting vocal, Burress’ work feels heavily informed by long stretches of the night lost to the act of self-exploration and all the ups and down such a thing invariably brings.
Previous track “This Is Where” was a beautiful next-step but new track “Desert Dust” takes things to a whole new level, the track rolling on and on for a tender but mesmerising six minutes; Burress’ exquisite vocal backed only by the shadows of her own voice and the softly plucked instrumentation that is draped quietly behind it all.
Taken from a new EP which is released at the start of February via the wonderful Spirit House Records – an artist-run label that aims to empower free-spirited female, queer and non-binary musicians – the track is both evocative and stirring; a beautiful introduction to a special new talent.
Listen to new track “Desert Dust” right here from today, and be sure to scroll down a little further to read an interview with Burress regarding her craft and the journey that led to it. You can find more of her work on her Bandcamp page here.
What led you to becoming an artist?
I was always very interested in being an artist of some sort. When I was little, I put on concerts for my family and danced around, played the rainstick, or made up songs. My mom had me take piano lessons when I was around eight, but I wasn’t ever interested in learning other people’s songs. When I was in seventh grade I was really into the drums, so I started taking bongo lessons for a little bit. Soon after that, I picked up the ukulele and started writing original music. In eighth grade, my friends started learning how to play guitar, and the second I learned a few chords, I fell in love. It was after my first relationship ended, when I was around fifteen, that the connection I had to my guitar felt incredibly therapeutic and comfortable. I was exploring a lot of different emotions at that time and found that the only place I felt sane or a sense of peace was in my songs.
Were you always as passionate about the recording side of things? Do you think having the ability to record at home had a big impact on your work?
I became passionate about recording when I got involved with the recording arts club at my high school my junior year. I think I originally wanted to join the club because I really loved the music program and the fact that all different grade levels were welcomed into the space. I got close with a lot of people in that club and they really inspired me to start recording and releasing my own songs. With my first EP, On My Own, I went to a studio to record, mix, and master it. While it was an incredible experience, I realized that I felt sort of detached because I wasn’t physically hitting the record button or meticulously listening to the mixes. It’s been really fun to explore my sound through recording at home and being comfortable enough to experiment with different things just because I am the only person who’s creating those recordings. I just moved to Portland, Oregon this week so I’m looking forward to setting up a recording space here and seeing how the sound evolves with this recent transition!
Your work often references the idea of “home“. How much of influence has your own home-life been? Your dad’s accident had a big impact on you and your work, I understand?
I moved back home after my freshman year of college because I decided to take a completely different direction in my life. I really struggled with finding a space I could call home when I was there and while I loved the connections I made with the people, I didn’t feel that I really fit into that lifestyle. When I came back home after freshman year, I originally had a plan to earn a degree in nutrition at a natural medicine school but after my dad’s accident, I realized that that wasn’t where my heart was. Seeing my dad come so close to the end and go through something so transformative really awakened me to what’s important in life: showing up for people, telling them you love them, and devoting yourself to making a life that you love. In a sense, my dad’s accident helped me realize my purpose, and even though it was a traumatic and painful event, it made me grow in a life-changing, fervent direction.
“This Is Where” is a beautiful track – how do you think it compares and contrasts with “Desert Dust“?
“This Is Where” is a song I wrote for myself. I wanted to find a way to say that music is really my “home” and where I feel the most comfort. But “Desert Dust” and “This is Where” are similar in the sense that they’re both about figuring out what kind of space you hold in the world. “Desert Dust” is a reflection on the space you hold in someone else’s mind, while “This is Where” is more about finding a real sense of space and belonging in your art.
There’s a real weightlessness to you work – do you write and record at night a lot?
I actually do record mostly at night! There’s something so peaceful about being in your garage around 11pm and hearing the hum of the fluorescent lights while having your cats stare at you haha. I’m definitely a night person and have written most of my songs at night. Recording at night feels like a warm blanket and I often try to convey that feeling in my recordings.
You’re still quite young in terms of being a working musician – has “the industry” been difficult to navigate? How have you gone about such a thing?
I am really lucky to have come across such supportive people in my life so far. I just recently signed to a record label called Spirit House that’s an all-female, artist-run label that encourages female and non-binary voices in the music industry. The artists on this label are all such incredible human beings that have really “raised” me in a sense since I decided to commit myself to being a working musician. I’m really fortunate to have experienced a community in this way: a collection of talented individuals coming together to support and raise each other up to their highest potentials. I’m really looking forward to the future and learning more about what it means to be a young working musician and I think that having a beautiful group of artists around you definitely doesn’t hurt.
The ‘Dwell’ EP is released on February 3rd, via Spirit House Records