B&L: What animal do you associate yourself with given our ties to oxen?
Isa Burke: For whatever reason, birds seem to be a recurring theme in our music. We sing an old a cappella tune called “Turtledove,” so we’ve got a turtledove on our T-shirts and tote bags. “Birdie” is also my nickname in the band. I wouldn’t say I particularly associate my personality with birds, but like many artists, I’m drawn to them as an image or metaphor.
B&L: Why music? Why do you seek it? Why do you create it? How’d it come calling to you?
Burke: What a question! I guess an easier, more prosaic answer would be that I (like my bandmates) was raised in a musical family, immersed in songs from a very young age. But in a larger sense, I am just continuously floored and inspired by good music. A devastating lyric, an unexpected chord… Those moments are what I live for, and they make me want to create those moments for other people. Audacious, maybe?
B&L: You just graduated from school! Congrats! Are you looking to make music your life? What would your parents think? ;o)
Burke: Thanks! Yeah, music is the plan. Fortunately my parents are local folk music heroes Susie Burke and David Surette, so they more than get it. They taught me that this life is possible.
B&L: What’s the making of a great show? What do you look or hope for as you step foot on that stage?
Burke: It’s all about the energy between us and the audience. A live show is an experience that the performers and the audience create together. The best shows happen when the performers are giving it everything they have, and everyone is engaging with each other and with the songs.
B&L: You guys are about to drop your debut, self-titled record on the world. What were the goals when you set out to make it? What excites you about having the record out for the masses to consume?
Burke: We are so, so excited to finally be releasing an album. Basically, we wanted to strike a balance between two goals: capturing the energy of our live shows, and taking advantage of the production opportunities that a studio album offers – more fiddles, more vocal harmonies, electric guitars and drums, some subtle mixing effects, etc. This record simultaneously feels like a summation of all the work the band has done over the last few years AND a new direction for our sound. I’m honestly really happy with it.
B&L: What are you hoping people take away with them when they experience your music, be it the new record, or a live show?
Burke: I think above all else, we hope that our songs resonate with people in some way.
B&L: Let’s talk about how and why Lula Wiles became a thing. What brought you ladies together?
Burke: Ellie and Mali grew up together in Farmington, ME, and they met in swimming lessons as kids. The three of us met in our preteen years at Maine Fiddle Camp, which is where we all really fell in love with music. Ellie and I started playing as a duo just over three years ago (!) after realizing that it feels nothing short of magical to sing together. Lula Wiles was really born when Mali joined the band a year later. We originally just asked Mali to fill out the low end at a few loud bar gigs, but she is such a brilliant musician that she quickly made herself indispensable and we realized that we’d become a band. What keeps us together is that we’re all best friends, and we’re all deeply inspired by each other’s musicianship.
B&L: I love the dynamics of the “frontwoman” switching from tune to tune – as well as instrumentation passing different hands as well. Was this sort of variety by design? Or was it completely organic?
Burke: It was quite organic, actually! We’re all songwriters, singers, and multi-instrumentalists, so it just seemed to make sense.
B&L: What’s the state of acoustic music? It seems to be flourishing in the contemporary musical landscape. What led you to want to jump in and play a hand at adding to the soundtrack that is acoustic, roots driven music in 2016?
Burke: I grew up surrounded by various styles of folk, roots, and traditional music, so it’s interesting to see some parts of that world moving into mainstream music culture. I’m excited about it, personally. There is an ever-growing movement of people who are deeply schooled in folk music and doing wonderfully modern and innovative things with it (Aoife O’Donovan and Sam Amidon are two of many, many examples I could bring up), which is something I’m really stoked about and inspired by. I hope our band can be considered part of that trend. And there are also a lot of artists moving in the other direction: people who don’t come from a folk background incorporating acoustic aesthetics or sounds into pop- or rock-based music. And, of course, I hope there will be people playing fiddle tunes around campfires till the end of time.
B&L: What’s one tune (or, heck, a couple) that exists out there in the ether that blows you away that you kind of wish you had written yourself?
Burke: Oh man. This is so hard. I keep changing my answers. Okay: “I’m Over You” sung by Keith Whitley but written by Tim Nichols and Zack Turner, “Amelia” by Joni Mitchell, “Powa” by Tune-Yards. I’ll stop there but I could keep going.
B&L: What can folks expect when they come out to see you perform at the ol’ Stone Church this Friday?
Burke: Three gals who love each other a lot, singing and playing their hearts out.
B&L: Question number 12. If you could have a dozen of anything, what would that dozen of something be?
Burke: When she did this interview, Anaïs Mitchell said a dozen new songs to take immediately into the recording studio, and I can’t think of a better answer than that.