Aisha Burns looks to continue growing in Western Mass. music scene

Aisha Burns looks to continue growing in Western Mass. music scene

SOUTH HADLEY – Aisha Burns has been surrounded by music since she was a child growing up with her parents in San Antonio, TX, and now the singer-songwriter living in South Hadley wants to continue to share her passion in music with others.

Burns said growing up, her parents’ love for music was passed down to her as the family would be listening to music regularly around the house. She added Motown and Jazz music were genres she was introduced to as a child, thanks to her father.

As Burns got older she started to be more involved in playing music, as she signed up for violin lessons in fifth grade after a friend of hers had just started the same lessons.

“I made fun of her so hard for it, ‘this is the nerdiest thing, why are you playing violin?’ Then I was like, let me just see this and see what I can do, and I remember trying to look at her book and teach myself a couple things and then it was kind of clear that I was actually becoming a little obsessed with it,” said Burns.

Burns stayed active with both the violin and singing throughout middle and high school before applying to the University of Texas at Austin with the intention of going to music school. After a few initial auditions in the application process, Burns said she found “very strange” stage fright that she had never had before and has not had since.

Close to the end of the process, Burns decided to withdraw her application and to study journalism instead. She quickly realized she still had an itch to scratch when it came to performing and living in Austin in 2006 gave her opportunities to explore the music scene in an unorthodox way.

While she had opted out of pursuing a career in music via the college route, she found being thrown into the scene became a whole education itself.

“I don’t know that experience [music school], but I think that deciding to just jump in and figure it out with people, there’s a different skill set,” Burns said.

Burns added that when going through music school, there is less opportunity to explore creation as you typically are part of an ensemble and perform music that is already known. She said it was critical to be able to brainstorm and be forced to create from your own personal place.

Playing music with other artists and being able to get direct feedback from one another on potential work was critical according to Burns. She said she began practicing guitar, but it wasn’t until 2010 when she would join a band and begin live shows.

“I had this group of friends that were hosting house shows once a month and they kind of tricked me into playing a song after they threw my name into a hat. So, I played and I was kind of terrified but also loved it.”

Burns began playing with different folk-rock bands more regularly either as a singer or guitarist. Seeking more of an independent music-making process, Burns started writing songs around 2011-2012 and recorded her work. She sent it to a label called Western Vinyl, that ended up being excited to work with Burns on creating an album.

In 2013 Burns released her debut album, “Life in the Midwater.” The album was called “twisting” and “ethereal” by Dazed magazine and praised for its “delicate intimacy” by NPR. The album explored mortality and relationships.

Having more of an interest in music beyond classical orchestra settings, the decision to throw herself into the scene was paying off as she had been able to create a whole album just a couple years after she had begun writing and signing in private.

“Meeting a bunch of other songwriters, it kind of opened up a different world than I knew about when I was 18 and trying to apply to music school,” Burns said. “I fell into something that really resonated and I was able to make the work I’d like to make.”

Burns said her songwriting process involves brainstorming and creating from scratch, starting with discovering the right melody and chords before finding the words to fill the song. She added she feels when in this process, the thoughts for lyrics come from “a real place” and she begins to examine and figure out what story she wants to tell.

Learning how to express feeling through her songs came through more than ever after suffering the loss of her mother due to cancer. Burns released her second album titled, “Argonauta” in 2018, which was a collection of songs about her struggle with the grief of losing her mother while also navigating a new relationship, ultimately trying to discern what the new normal is for her life.

“[Argonauta] was being honest about depression and having those struggles. The complicated times in your life while you’re also experiencing joy in other areas and how things exist at the same time,” Burns said.

Burns said it was rewarding to be able to release music that people connected to and could relate to what she was putting out there.

Her skill of playing the violin came in handy as she eventually had opportunities to contribute her violin work to a range of projects across genres, including artists and bands like Adam Torres, Thor & Friends, and Dreamtigers, among others.

Eventually Burns would move from Texas to Massachusetts as her spouse was originally from the central part of the state. First living on the North Shore, Burns and her spouse would find themselves driving through Western Massachusetts and being in awe of some of its beauty when driving on road trips from Texas to Massachusetts.

Burns said while trying to join the music scene on the North Shore and in Boston, things didn’t really fall into place, but once they decided to move to the western part of the state, she discovered the growing music scene.

“Just in Western Mass, there’s a lot happening, and I feel like there’s an audience that’s open to sharing this sort of unorthodox interpretation of folk music,” Burns said. “There’s so many spaces to play just within 30 minutes range of each other. A lot of people putting on shows here are energized about getting people to come out and participate, seeing live music again and supporting artists in the area.”

Burns recently performed at the newly opened Drake Theater in Amherst earlier in the month and has performed in multiple other venues across Western Mass. since moving, including Gateway City Arts in Holyoke. The artist, who has over 4 million plays on her top 10 songs on Spotify, hopes to continue to perform on the scene and create music that people can relate to.

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