It's winter in Ohio and I'm sitting down preparing for a phone call with front woman Katie Burke of The Lunar Year to ask her some questions about her inspiration, her band, and their plans for the future. To my delight, Katie and I immediately bond over Conor Oberst, Bright Eyes, and all things emo in our younger days.
“Emotion is universal” she tells me, about her attraction to writing about emotions. "Even those shitty ones that live way way down in the bottom of your heart."
What makes it all so special is that people are responding like crazy to The Lunar Year’s heart wrenching lyrics and haunting sound. Throughout our conversation I learn that she is a self-taught musician, with a poet's soul. The words tend to come first through exploration and introspection. Katie and I connected about a year ago when she saw something beautiful in The Campfire Sessions. When I ask her what that was, she tells me that two things bring people together: music and food. I couldn’t agree more. She loves that we are approaching a musical showcase by stripping down the sound and the environment to make the focus on the band and their music, gathering people around a fire, and creating a community. She tells me that it's in those times when we are connecting through music that all our differences can fade away.
"No matter what our differences are, we all have a skeleton, we all breathe air. With everything going on, it just feels like an appropriate time to unite people through music."
This conversation is already my favorite of the week. We finally focus and get into the interview:
Amy: So where are you right now?
Katie: I am currently on the central California coast, very close to San Francisco. I moved out here at the end of March. However, the rest of my band is still back in Philadelphia!
A: So, tell us about the people who make up The Lunar Year? How did you meet?
K: So it's myself, Zach McCaw, Steve Heine and Kevin Walker. Zach plays bass and produces our music, Steve plays guitar and Kevin plays drums. I've known Zach since we were teenagers through mutual friends we had, and then we became closer and collaborated musically when I moved to Ohio. We actually just recently discovered that we went to the same summer camp when we were seven years old but never officially met! We joke that it was always in the stars for us to connect and make music together. We met Steve and Kevin through an Ad when we were looking for a guitar and drum player. Once we started playing music with them everything connected.
A: Who decided on the name The Lunar Year? How did the name come about?
K: We had thrown a few names around for a while but once we realized that this was a serious project we had to pursue, Zach, my husband and I sat down to brainstorm an official name. I have always been fascinated with outer space, the planets, etc. and I put a lot of themes relating to that in my songs. “The Lunar Year” was the title of a chapter in a book that I had been reading at the time...and then of course there's the whole lunisolar calender thing. We just fell in love with the name and felt that it was a good fit.
A: You are living in California, by way of Philadelphia, and you have ties to Ohio. Tell us a little bit about each place you’ve called home.
K: Pennsylvania will always be home. I love the people and the culture. It's where I grew up. Columbus is where my bass player, Zach, is from. My husband also grew up there and we got married in Gahanna, so it's a big piece of my heart. I hope that California will be a place for me to grow and help me to become more well rounded. I haven't connected with it as much as Philadelphia yet but I hope to!
A: What musicians have inspired you personally? What musicians have inspired your sound?
K: I grew up on The Beatles-my dad and I are huge McCartney/Lennon geeks! My mom and I share a love for Janis Joplin. Those two are my bigger and more lasting influences, but I've also been really inspired by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens and The National.
A: Other music bloggers have described The Lunar Year to have an indie-folk vibe. Is that how you would define your music?
K: I am actually thrilled that bloggers have put my music into a category because I have never known what to say when people ask me what kind of music I make. I'm always like “Um..sad?” Honestly, as long as my band is not labeled as “Girl music” (whatever that means) I'm happy.
A: What inspires your songwriting?
K: (Laughs) That question digs deep...I think for a long time I was such an observer, mostly of myself and my own brain, but also of how us humans react to things. I find it kind of fascinating the things that make us angry, sad, happy...and then I think about those behaviors and habits in relation to how infinite this universe is and it kind of frightens me. We all think that our individual lives have such deep meaning and purpose. But if you really think about it, the things that keep all of us alive (the sun, moon, gravity) are doing their work regardless of what we do, what job we have, how kind or how selfish we are. It makes you feel really small. But at the same time, we all have the ability to affect the people we are around and it sort of motivates you to use your life on earth wisely. So I guess my writing is mostly a way for me to cope with my mortality, but it is also a way for me to try to relate to people who might feel the same way that I do. Sorry if that got way too crazy deep...once the door is open its hard to stop!
A: Not too deep at all, I totally relate! Your lyrics are so raw and emotional, can you tell us a little about your songwriting process? How do you turn that emotion and poetry into a song?
K: I write each song very differently. Sometimes I'll be humming to myself and come up with a little melody and a few words, so I'll write it down. Then I'll go home and build a song off of that one melody, and other times I'll find myself with two full pages of weird notes that I almost have to piece together like a puzzle. I very rarely sit down and say “I am going to write a sad song today”. But that's not to say that I don't take the time to cultivate the songs. Even when a song comes very naturally it's wise to perfect and craft it into something worth showcasing.
A: So you have a new album?! Tell us about it!
K: Yes we have an album! We're so excited. It's a really character-driven record with tons of themes about memories and past youth. We took the name “Herodias” from the last track of the album which is loosely based on the character Herodias from the Bible, who had John the Baptist beheaded (I know..it's dark). We also have Hey Mister Gray, which is based on the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray...and Backyard Deck which is a story about me and my childhood best friend. The album cover is a picture of my Grandfather when he was a kid. We're really excited for the record to come out.
A: Campfire Experiences are times that we around around good friends, good music. Times when we are our most connected and authentic. Do you have a campfire experience of your own you can share? A memory of being in a space that allowed you to completely relax, unwind, and reconnect to yourself and the people you love?
K: I really love the theme of The Campfire Experience-the idea of connecting with nature, family and friends without having to completely distract ourselves with material things. It kind of takes me back to my youth when my brothers and I would spend all day outside just finding things to explore and discover. Every leaf, insect, flower is so interesting when you are a kid and it sort of shows you the purity of a child’s mind. I think it's healthy as an adult to do things like The Campfire Experience and take a break from the stress of life.
A: What is one of your earliest memories in nature or camping?
K: Well, I'm embarrassed to say that I've never actually been camping! (Laughs) But we always spent tons of time outside as kids. One memory I have, which I actually just remembered the other day, is when I was about four or five I would sit in my backyard and put my face super close to the ground to watch these tiny red bugs crawl around. I thought they were so cool. They were really small but moved so quickly and I'd just sit there for an hour and wonder what they were thinking and where they were moving so quickly to. Another memory I have is digging up these rocks with my brothers, and we were convinced that they were some kind of rare jewels or stones that our ancestors had buried for us to find. We thought we were rich! I have a few really sweet memories like those that I'm glad I have kept with me.
A: We are excited to have you at our kick-off Campfire Session in June! It’ll be an afternoon in nature with good friends, good music, and good beer. You’ll be sharing with us a stripped down version of your album. What are you most looking forward to given it is your first session?
K: I think I'm most excited to share the stripped down versions of my songs. My band makes our music complete, but I want people to see where the songs started and maybe get something new from them that they wouldn't get from our louder shows or our album
A: We are thrilled to share your music with the world. Where can people find you? How can people support you?
K: We are everywhere! People can find us on Spotify, YouTube, Soundcloud or Facebook. Also our website- www.thelunaryear.com. I try to make our music and shows accessible to everyone. I think the biggest way to support us is coming to our shows, telling their friends about us and buying our album! Word of mouth is such a powerful thing that can't be replaced by the internet.
The Lunar Year's debut album, already creating a lot of buzz, is set to release this week on June 16th! Take a listen to the title track Herodias and my favorite track Porcelain to get in the mood for their visit with us on June 25th at our first Campfire Session of the season! We limit seating to keep the vibe chill so get your tickets before they're gone!