Charmingly unique and skillfully crafted, the globally-spanning group The Burnt Pines look to set the tone for their upcoming album with their propulsive title track, “Don’t Look Down.”
Not only is the group’s sound unparalleled with their weaving of fizzy folk melodies with pop and jazz techniques, but their poly-cultural dynamic makes their story even more interesting. The trio’s core musicians span two continents, with members based in both the United States and Portugal, making production and collaboration increasingly challenging.
Despite the milage obstacle, the group has made better of a tough situation, and worked tirelessly on their sophomore album in order for it to match up with their 2021 self-titled debut album.
They have established themselves as masters of mesmerizing melodies and exuberant displays of musical creativity. The lead single, “Don’t Look Down,” is another glistening example of their upbeat and intimate songwriting style paired with an exciting composition of intricate piano and acoustic guitar leads.
Lead singer Kris Skovmand’s candid vocals perfectly complement the versatile musicianship that makes the project so different in comparison to other folk groups where it’s uncommon to see such cultural diversity within one group.
We got to chattin’ with Aaron Flanders (guitar, banjo) about their new single, upcoming album, long distance musical relationship, and more.
So how has the year treated y’all so far?
Not bad, so far. We’ve all been relatively healthy and safe and sound, and preparing to release our second album.
I see the band is split up between the U.S. and Portugal. How difficult is that to maintain, and what kind of routine do you have for songwriting and recording etc.?
Well, it certainly has made performing or touring at all fairly difficult. But we’ve figured out a very productive and prodigious way to co-write songs together and also to record them, which has worked for both of our albums so far. Essentially we each record our parts and send them back and forth between my home studio in Boston, and Miguel and Kris’s studio in Lisbon.
Along the way we tweak them as needed to iron out any things that need refining. And we’re very democratic in taking into account each of our respective ideas and opinions. Most of our songs started with a guitar part I wrote, but not all of the songs. Kris started some too with his guitar. And Kris writes all the lyrics, except for two songs on this new album that I wrote (“Pushing On” and “In From the Outside”).
Let’s talk about your new single, “Don’t Look Down.” What’s the inspiration and back story behind it?
“Don’t Look Down” and all the songs on both of our albums, really, were written during a very difficult period in Kris’s life, when he was going through a very difficult period in his marriage, and during and through his eventual separation. The song “Don’t Look Down” reflects Kris’s struggle between staying in his marriage and trying to work things out, and the eventual reality of their marriage not working out.
And I see this is the title track of your upcoming album. What else can you tell us about that? Any overarching themes or motifs, etc?
Again, both of our albums were written during a very intense and difficult period of Kris’s life, and, as the singer and lyricist of our band, most of the songs (with the exception of the two on this new album that I wrote) revolve around the pain of living in, struggling with, and eventually separating from a long marriage and family with young children.
So a lot of our lyrics on our first two albums deal with that pain, the struggles involved with that, and that’s reflected in the lyrics as well as the music of the songs. All that said, there are a couple of quirkier and chirpy songs on the album too!
Is there a song on the album that was the most difficult to write/record for one reason or another?
Not really, though during the height of the pandemic, it was impossible to record with Luis our drummer or Fernando and Dan our bass players for a good while. So for some of the songs we had to wait out the pandemic to be able to record drums and bass on a handful of the songs.
I see you cover and close the album with Jethro Tull’s “Skating Away.” I found this to be of interest. What made you choose this particular track of theirs to cover, and stick it last?
“‘Skating Away’ is one of my favorite songs of all-time, of any artist, and after we played around with it and heard how it sounded with Kris’s voice, we decided to do our own version of it. Jethro Tull songs, and Ian Anderson’s voice in particular are extremely difficult to cover, because Ian’s voice is so amazingly unique and singular. So we didn’t want to do it unless we really felt like we could honor the song and do it justice with our own version, and make it our own.
I hope we succeeded! We put it last because we thought that ‘Skating Away’ was a nice image for the very end of the album.
What messages or feelings do you typically try to convey in your music?
Again, I think because our first two albums were both written during a period of great stress and tension, and sadness and marital strife for Kris, our songs have tended to reflect that sort of aching, but also gorgeous, quality. The lyrics have a degree of pain in them (Kris writes most of our lyrics), but also the vocal quality of Kris’s voice brings a certain prettiness and sweetness to the songs, even if the lyrics might be a bit darker. But overall the messages – at least in the lyrics – are a bit on the sadder, reflective and tender side.
What does success as a musician and songwriter mean to you?
To have our music heard and enjoyed and respected by a large number of people around the world. Beyond that, I suppose being able to make a modest income in some way from our music would be a nice degree of success as well.
If you could tour and open for any present-day artist, who would it be and why?
Wow, that’s a good question. It would obviously be a thrill opening for The Lumineers, whose music we all love. It would also be a blast opening for Mumford & Sons and/or Marcus Mumford solo. We’d also love to open for Bon Iver.
Did you do anything fun or exciting for Halloween this year? Any fun costume ideas?
No, stayed home to answer the door and give out candy and also to make balloon animals for all the children.
What else might you have in store for the rest of the year and into 2023?
Hopefully enjoying what we all hope will be the successful release of this new album of ours, getting it into people’s ears and hands, to have it be received well. And then hopefully to follow that with more music, performing, recording and possibly getting to make another album.