Center stage may very well be Aisha Burns‘ calling. Commonly known as the violinist for local post-rock group Balmorhea, Burns has recently embarked on a solo career, having released her debut album, Life in the Midwater, last month.
The album, a sprawling nine songs that portrays Burns at her most intimate and vulnerable, is the result of her coming into her own as a multi-instrumentalist, crafting beautifully structured songs through insightful lyrics and luscious violin and guitar.
Before Burns ever picked up an instrument, she was already surrounded by music. “In our house we always sang.” Burns said. “Music was just a part of daily life.” At the age of 10, Burns began to learn how to play the violin through a friend, and ultimately became a part of her elementary school’s after-school strings program.
“I remember picking it up and flipping through a beginning book and trying to figure how to play any little piece of a song,” Burns said. “At the end of it, I remember feeling like, ‘Okay, well, maybe this is kind of fun; maybe I do want to do this.’ So I joined that class and I’ve been playing ever since.”
When Burns was 18, she moved from her hometown of San Antonio to Austin to study music at the University of Texas, but ended up studying journalism instead. However, it was through one of her classes that she became a part of folk-rock band Alex Dupree and the Trapdoor Band (now known as Idyl).
“A guy that was in one of my reporting classes had overheard me talking about how I played violin growing up and was like, ‘Hey my friend has this band and he needs some violin players. Do you want to play,'” Burns said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know, I’ve never written my own music before and I don’t really know the first thing about playing in a full band.'”
Burns ended up seeing Idyl perform at the now-defunct Blue Theatre and became their violinist soon after, performing with them for the first time at The Parish back in 2006. And although the transition from classical to folk-rock music (and the improvisational skills that came along with it) was difficult at first, Burns quickly became familiar with it.
The following year Burns became the violinist and backing vocalist for other local post-rock group Balmorhea, while still being the violinist for Idyl. Through both groups Burns has toured both nationally and internationally, even performing in Rome with Balmorhea. “It was our first time there and there was probably 400 people and we were like, ‘How do 400 people in Rome know who we are? How are they even here,” Burns said. “It just blew my mind; it’s such a historic city faraway from home, and it’s cool that a place like that is packed with people that are excited about songs you wrote in Texas.”
Now, after spending nearly six years in each group, Burns is going solo. What began as an experiment to see if she could create her own songs has become a reality. “Writing [Life in the Midwater] wasn’t too difficult. I felt that most of these songs happened organically,” Burns said. “Maybe the most challenging thing was being in the studio and deciding how we wanted to mix certain parts. I became a little more decisive and confident in mixing on my own.”
Recording for Life in the Midwater began around this time last year at Estuary Recording Facility, and features contributions from John Michael Landon, Travis Chapman, Alex Dupree and others. But the album is all Burns: a near 30-minute collection of somber strings and tales of loneliness, confusion and resilience, all told through Burns’ simultaneously beautiful and pained voice.
Although the artist enjoyed making every song on the album, it’s “Requiem” that stuck out most for her. “The outro of the song begins with this string ensemble, and then fades into this echo of strings with a bunch of effects pedals and going through different amps, and it kind of creates this bigger atmosphere,” Burns said. “I loved the way that turned out and was very pleased with it.”
With the album now available through local record label Western Vinyl, Burns is preparing for a short solo tour happening later this year after she’s done touring with Balmorhea in Europe. She’s also completed a music video for one of the songs from Life in the Midwater.
“It’s my first music video for my solo stuff and we shot all of it on the north shore outside of Boston,” Burns said. “I wanted it to feel like a portrait, like something that was really beautiful to look at with a lot of natural imagery.”
Burns’ endeavors as a solo artist have just begun and, like the fish that seek refuge in the Midwater parts of the ocean, is slowly and bravely exploring the vast world around her, using her fears as a blueprint for creating something beautiful and, most importantly, memorable.
Listen to the song “Requiem” from Life in the Midwater below.