Interview: Oliver Birch – Burning Daylight (Album)

Hey, super nice to have the chance to chat with you. What first got you into music?

Hello! Thank you so much for your time. I first began writing music at the end of 2020. I felt at the time as though I’d come to a standstill. Music for me was an opportunity to invest myself fully into something; I didn’t have to depend on anyone or anything else. The more I put into it, the more I felt I might get out of it. It became something I obsessed over, and I couldn’t be prouder of the result.

Are there any musicians who inspire you? What qualities do you admire about them?

Brian Eno, for sure. I find his philosophy for music-making, through using what he called ‘oblique strategies’, really useful. Oblique strategies are (in my words!) ways of interrupting habits of thinking. By taking a step back from my work and reflecting, or by trying to create a dilemma that requires a creative solution, I find it helps me to avoid making the same choices, using the same sounds, and effectively, creating the same songs. In terms of albums though, I’ve really been enjoying the recent work of Perfume Genius, Big Thief, Dijon, and HAIM!

Your latest album is ‘Burning Daylight’. Can you share with us the background of its creation and did any unusual things happen during its creation?

I first started jotting down ideas for it in a word document a couple of years ago. Mostly, it was ideas for what I wanted to talk about with my music, but also musical ideas that I wanted to steal from others! That went on for months while I couldn’t record due to my living situation. It eventually became a 40-page monster that included (what felt like) every idea that I’d come up with over that time. I’ve been playing, recording, and producing ever since, and spent hundreds of hours on every track to get it exactly as I’d planned.

Which skills have you gained that help you perform effectively as an artist?

Throughout this whole period, I’ve also been working (in theory!) towards a PhD. I think that’s taught me the importance of a clear methodology. Whether you’re a phenomenologist or an ethnographer, and whether you’re a post-punk artist, or a shoegaze artist, the means have to be justified by the end. I have ideas for songs, I know what I want to achieve, and what I want to say. Then, it’s a matter of making sure every element – lyrically and instrumentally – matches that idea. At least, that’s how I’ve come to think of it!

What are your favorite musical genres, and are there any you dislike?

I’m really not fussy. I think most of what I’ve been listening to recently would fall somewhere under ‘art rock’ or ‘experimental pop’, but I enjoyed Black Midi and Soul Glo’s albums this year too. I also loved Oso oso’s album ‘sore thumb’ from a few months ago. I’m not too sure what genre that is, but I liked it!

Describe your creative process when you write new music.

I start from ‘the top’ and work backwards. I always know the theme of the song before anything else, and I at least have a rough idea of how it will be structured, and the sort of sounds I want to try to include. From there, I get a preliminary instrumental recorded, before then writing the lyrics, and recording the vocals. After I have a rough draft of the song sorted, I’ll start to question it. What if this section was shifted here? What if I deleted this? What if I replaced this with a tambourine solo?…

What are your long-term goals?

I want to improve with every release, but in the meantime, I want to improve as an instrumentalist. Most of my playing on this album was what I would charitably call ‘functional’! Otherwise, I want my next work to be bigger, better, and have a greater reach.

What is it about music that makes you feel passionate?

I love that someone can dedicate themselves to making something that has a very specific, personal meaning to them, but then once it’s released, it gets to take on many different shapes in other people’s lives. I can relate most tracks that I love to specific moments in my life, or to certain conversations, or memorable evenings. Perhaps I haven’t interpreted them as they were intended to be interpreted, but that’s their special quality.

How do you feel the Internet has impacted the music business?

I’m about as far away from ‘the music business’ as any artist, so I’m not too well equipped to speak on this! I do worry though that the current state of streaming, and the ‘consumption’ of individual tracks robs people of the opportunity to hear songs in the context that artists intended – say, within an album. But without the internet, I wouldn’t be talking to you now, so it’s swings and roundabouts.

And finally, what’s next for you? Is there more music or any live shows on the way?

I’m working on recording some live performances that should be released soon, and I’ve got an idea for a second music video that’ll hopefully be out sometime this year! After that, my next album’s already planned out – surprise, surprise! I imagine I’ll be recording again within the next few months… It, all going well, will be an exploration of coming of age, I think…

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