Doug Burr

Doug Burr Session - April 2009


Session Date: April 09, 2009
Artist Hometown: Denton, TX
Links:, Facebook
Recorded by: Michael Briggs

Note: This is an older session and may not exactly follow the “3 Questions / 3 Songs” format.
Michael Briggs: We’d like to thank Doug Burr for joining us today, and we have a couple of questions for you. First, can you describe your new album, The Shawl, for us, and what made you decide to make this album now?
Doug Burr: Well, that’s a good question. It’s basically a record of Psalms verses, passages, if you will, or chunks of contiguous verses that I just selected because, maybe a certain verse in the passage really stuck out to me, and I wanted to…so I’d get verses in front of that verse and verses behind that verse and just try to work it into a whole song. Also, part of the criteria was something that seemed to have a musical feel to it or something that I could work into a musical feel, you know, with the syllables and whatnot. Why I wanted to do it? Actually I arranged, because it’s not any of my words obviously, so I just arranged it. I wrote the chords and the melody essentially. Let’s see, back in ’05? Actually, was it before that? Yeah, it was about 2005, and I’d had the idea since about ’03 just because I would sing to my daughter a lot, and sometimes I’d sing like Psalms and just make up stuff ‘cause she would never, she’d take forever to go to sleep, and I’d just sing and sing and sing. So I’d make up stuff and sometimes verses, and I always love to do Psalms. Then I just got to thinking it’d be cool to have a whole record of that stuff, something very meditative, something even parents might want their kids to fall asleep to. Just kind of that whole idea ‘cause, of course, I’m a parent. So that was kind of the birth of the idea, and then in ’05 I was laid off, had a lot of extra time, and I just started arranging it ‘cause it took a long time. And, of course, it’s kind of a side project, so I’m still trying to write other stuff, you know. But I had the extra time, so I sat down and picked out almost all of the passages that ended up on the record that summer of ’05. Since then, I kinda sat on it. I didn’t really know how to move it past that point or how great I felt about it. Then Amanda Newman booked me at Club Dada to do the little Artist & Residents program she was doing there. So on one of those nights…you know the challenge with a program like that, Artist & Residents, is like you’re playing every week for a month, and you try to do new stuff every week. I picked one Wednesday night…or Thursday, I can’t remember, and went out there and did all that material and, for the first time, kind of played it live in front of people. It wasn’t a big crowd, but I had a good response, so that kind of encouraged me to keep moving it forward. Then the next step was…tell me if I’m going too long here. The next step was to try to figure out how to record it and which players, if any, to play with me. How should I do it? Should I do it real stripped down or whatever? It ended up…it’s a very mellow record. Maybe, definitely instrumentally bare or sparse in some ways, but it’s also very lush in ways. But anyway, I ended up using the same guy I worked with on Promenade ‘cause he was willing to get a bunch of good high end gear together and then go out into the middle of nowhere to this building called Texas Hall, which I had also thought about just ‘cause I had ties back to from the late 90’s. I had been out there and visited. It’s this gorgeous old building. It’s kinda run down, but it’s still gorgeous. Kind of in a cathedral-type environment, ‘cause this building just kinda has that feel to it and it’s got this size, it’s huge. So we went and there and Britton brought out all this gear. Of course he brought out another guy to help him. It was a huge effort on their part and then on the musicians’ part. I had rehearsed these guys. I ended up drawing from most of the guys who play with me live or have recorded with me in the past. We just went out there, and it all really came together for us, and it could’ve gotten really ugly, you know, and gone south. But it went really well, and it just seemed to come out with a little magic to it.
MB: So, was the music all written for the lyrics? Or was any of the music already pre-composed previous to that?
DB: No, I just…I mean… None of it was previously composed. I just set the chord changes around the verses, and I would just pick out the verses that I liked, that resonated with me, and then I would pick out a chunk. A lot of times I would hone in on the verse I liked, and then I’d have to go back a couple verses on one side of it and forward a couple verses on the other side of it if that makes any sense. And then say, “OK, this is about the right length to try to work into a song and then work it into musical phrasings.” And occasionally, I’d have to abandon one ‘cause I couldn’t, you know, just make it musical, but quite a few of them lended themselves to it. And then the other cool thing about it is because obviously this is poetry written in Hebrew and then translated into English, so it’s not rhyming, and it doesn’t sound like it would, probably not near as beautiful as it would in Hebrew. But still, in English, it had kind of these funny rhymes like in the middle of the lines, and it’s kinda cool because it’s certainly a unique style, a unique feel to it. That’s something that I’m not…you know… I normally don’t write like that.
MB: It seems like many of the songs seem to deal more with God’s punishment of the wicked than about His love as most songs would talk about. Is there kind of a reason for that? Do you see that at all?
DB: Yeah, yeah, I do. I think that that’s part of what I love about the Psalms. There’s a lot of that in the Psalms. There’s a lot of darkness, and I like the Psalms because they’re just very honest and candid. So, not really. I didn’t set out to do that. There’s just a lot of that in the Psalms, and maybe it was just the verses that I picked. I mean I do like that, I like the idea of justice, and that resonates deeply with me. So maybe I cleaved a little bit to those verses more than others, but I was also just trying to stay from some of the, you know, like the Psalm of the good shepherd that we grow up in America hearing. I tried to get a little more obscure with it just because there’s so much to that book, and there’s so many beautiful moments all laced throughout.
MB: Is there anything in particular that you’d like people to get out of this record or to feel about it?
DB: Yeah, just…Not really. Not anything more than just to enjoy the beauty of that writing and the power of that writing. I think any good writing gets under people’s skin, and that stuff is…goodness, stood the test of time almost more than anything else. So, no, I think it’s just powerful writing, and I feel like we did a pretty good job of supporting it musically and just kinda sticking it out there for people to hopefully enjoy.
MB: Do you have any plans to continue performing The Shawl live?
DB: Yeah, I mean, we’ll continue to perform it occasionally. It’s…normally, an artist kind of makes their living because there’s always something fresh coming out, and you’re always playing the new stuff, and you’re always writing the new stuff. But this, again, is not my words. It was a bit of a side project, so I don’t really see myself continuing to put out Psalms records. So, therefore it’s kind of like this closed cannon, right? It’s just this one record. I don’t wanna play it into the ground or anything. So, just the whole nature of it, to me, suggests that it should be done rarely. So, that’s kind of my plan with it is just, occasionally, once in a blue moon we’ll do it.
MB: So what’s next for you with your own music aside from The Shawl? What’s going on in the future?
DB: Well, got some more songs that we’re gonna be going into the studio with very soon this Summer, starting in June. So, hopefully by the end of this Summer we’ll have another record. I mean, it probably won’t be ready to release until Fall at the earliest. But yeah, that’s the plan to get back into the studio soon. I’ve got another batch of songs I feel pretty strong about.