Laura Burhenn can tell you exactly where she was on the night of Nov. 8, 2016. In between gigs on tour, she was hanging out in Portland, Oregon, with several musician friends. It was strange for her to be away from her L.A. home on such a big night. But the Champagne was chilled and she was hopeful. Alongside Burhenn were her friends with daughters, who were already elated about electing America's first female president, Hillary Clinton.
But Burhenn’s excitement was premature. “It was hell,” she says of the surreal experience of watching Trump win the election. “It tore apart my family and my friendships. I think everybody’s had that experience. [The election] really exposed a lot of horrible racism in our country.”
Overwhelmed with grief, Burhenn turned for comfort to what she was most familiar with: music. In December 2016, after her fall solo tour, the Mynabirds lead singer went to Nashville to record a song called “Wild Hearts” with her friend Patrick Damphier, who divulged that he was getting kicked out of his studio because of gentrification. “It felt like a metaphor after the presidential election ... like we were all getting pushed out of the place where we felt safe, where we thought we’d be forever,” Burhenn says.
At a time where horrifying news seemed to be taking over the world, her need for a new album felt immediate. The emotional rollercoaster that she and the rest of the nation was going through spurred The Mynabirds' fourth record, Be Here Now, which arrives in full on Aug. 25, after being released over the course of the summer on a trio of three-song EPs.
At the heart of Burhenn’s belief system is Buddhism, which fueled The Mynabirds’ new album. In the distress caused by the election, she looked to the religion for guidance, comfort and peace of mind. The idea of shenpa — a Buddhist term for shutting down in the face of high emotions — is what inspired Be Here Now. Instead of running away from unwanted feelings, Burhenn found herself focusing on mindfulness and being present, even in a moment of discomfort — which is why she borrowed the title of spiritual teacher Ram Dass’ book Be Here Now for her band’s latest body of work.
In crafting the nine songs from The Mynabirds’ forthcoming record, Burhenn felt as if she was a reporter doing “emotional journalism." "I was trying to make a record at a very specific time and place, and I was trying to make a record of how people were feeling,” she explains of Be Here Now, which was recorded in the two weeks following Trump's inauguration and the massive Women's March in January. “I felt like I was observing.”
In a lot of ways, Be Here Now takes cues from the band’s 2012 politically charged record, Generals, but has the added effect of more analog instrumentation. The live moments weren’t overwrought, and there was no time to overthink anything. Burhenn wasn’t trying to make the album be anything in particular, which made the record emotionally raw. “It felt like singing a collective catharsis,” she explains.
Burhenn wasn’t afraid to experiment with new sounds on her latest LP. In fact, genre-wise, Be Here Now is all over the place, making it a self-described “modern-day, political, Hunky Dory” record. It’s something that comes from her admiration for artists who aren’t afraid to be musical chameleons. “Anytime I make an album that doesn’t necessarily fit in one folder, I’m like, 'David Bowie did it so it’s OK,'” she notes. While you might hear the influence of Fleetwood Mac on one track, it’s possible you’ll notice allusions to Jenny Lewis on another.
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The decision to put out a first single wasn’t an easy one, but The Mynabirds landed on the glimmering love song “Cocoon.” (L.A. Weekly is premiering the video, directed by Lavinia Wright, above.) "It's about being in the middle of all of the political tumult, wanting to turn off the news and be surrounded by love and hope,” Burhenn explains.
In a broader sense, the track is about connecting with people — something inspired by Kimya Dawson’s essay on safe spaces following the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland (posted on Facebook and since made private, but partially quoted here). Though the Ghost Ship proved to be unsafe in other ways, it was also a sanctuary for artists and the LGBTQ community.
“It’s a funny time right now where I feel like [the music] community feels stronger and safer than ever,” Burhenn says. “I feel closer to everyone, and I think we have each other’s backs more than we did this time last year. That seems really hopeful to me.”
The Mynabirds' Be Here Now is available now for pre-order via Saddle Creek Records. Pre-orders will receive an instant download of a three-song EP featuring "Cocoon," "Witch Wolf" and "Ashes in the Rain." The Mynabirds play an album release show at the Bootleg on Friday, Aug. 25, the day of Be Here Now's release.