NYC-based indie-synth pop Birch is the face of female representation. Birch is filled with well-crafted narratives and divergent societal normalities which permits her to stand out and be who she really is. She recently released “Spelling Lessons” and is getting ready to release her full-length album, femme.one. I spoke with Birch about her story, releasing new music and her thoughts on feminism.
What’s the story behind the name “Birch?”
So, my name is Michelle Birsky so my last name is half of the word Birch. It started there, but also my family is all from Vermont — I actually grew up in Connecticut — but my whole extended family is in Vermont and my parents live there now, actually. In their yard, there are birch trees at the base of the mountain that were struck by lightning years ago, but are still standing, but bent. They are a symbol of resilience.
Haha, I was afraid it was going to be a sad, high school nickname that got stuck with you.
Haha, no. Probably wouldn’t have been chosen as my band name.
Tell me about your beginnings with music. How did you get started?
When I was young, I did a lot of theatre, musicals, picked up a guitar, etc. I started songwriting in the safety of my bedroom and would never really show anybody. It wasn’t until I went to college where I started to actively perform my own work.
What made you finally start to perform in public? Was your bedroom just a blanket of security to hide behind an element on stage fright?
I think it was meeting like-minded people. I grew up in Darien, Connecticut, and and there wasn’t a lot of opportunities for performing except theatre. That was the role I fell into there. When I went to college, I met a lot of other people interested in music and forming bands and I started trying my hand at it there. I wasn’t very good at first.
During theatre forced me to beat stage fright early on. I forced myself to do that in middle school. The first time I sang in an audition, my voice shake uncontrollably. It was crazy but I kept going back and auditioning for other things and I finally got over that. Singing my own songs was always scary. I was used to playing a role written for me.
So college was your pivotal beginning with music?
I went to Kenyon College studying music. I originally started out as an English major, thinking I would be a writer because I had no model musicians in my life. Once I really started studying songwriting and composition, I went abroad and studied at Goldsmiths in London and got the chance to study pop music there. I got to merge classic and pop which was fun.
Who are your influences?
I was interested to the music of Sufjan Steven in high school. Right now, St. Vincent, Grimes, Mitski, Angel Olsen. A lot of female influences.
Let’s talk about your awaited album release: femme.one.
This album started being influenced by the 2016 elections and the results of that, and what has happened since with the MeToo Movement, and TimesUp. This message of big female empowerment has come to the forefront because it reached this head where we elected someone who has said derogatory things about women. In the music industry, there are a ton of female music artists out there. If you look behind the scenes, the amount of female producers, female executives and female CEOS are extremely low, and that’s in all industries. The people at the top of the food chain are generally men. Until that changes, we have to keep talking about it.
Has there been situations you’ve been in where you feel you were treated as a lesser artist because of your gender?
Yeah, so my live setup is often just me and my bass player. I’m the one who has the electronic setup with my with a computer, a launchpad, keyboard, clearly indicating I’m the one running it. More times than not, the sound guy will go up to my bass player, holding only a bass, and ask him about the sound and he will respond with, “I don’t know what you’re saying. I play bass. Maybe you should ask her.” Sound guys often like to give females a lot of advice as well. If I were a man, I don’t think I would be getting as much advice.
Focusing back on the music, what is your favorite song you’ve written?
Probably femme.two which is the last song on the album I put out a few months ago. There’s a music video to it too. It’s the vibe I am going to go into for the next album. It’s very chill yet electronic. Leaning in that direction these days.
What’s a song that you wish was yours?
Birth in Reverse by St. Vincent. Honestly, the whole album St. Vincent by St. Vincent is great.
What’s the story behind your single “Spelling Lessons?”
Spelling Lessons is based a very small, but memorable experience. I was in the library in 6th grade and I bent over to grab a book, and I guess my shirt slid up exposing a small part of my back, and the librarian whipped around and was like, “Excuse my young lady. Pull your shirt down. I won’t have you in here distracting the boys.” I was embarrassed. I didn’t understand why it was a thing and why I would be distracting the boys, especially at that age. It’s not our responsibility to tell boys to behave. We tell girls to cover up before they even know what their bodies mean. It’s sexualizing young girls before they are women.
What is something that you learned early on in your career that has made you a better career?
Follow my instincts versus following what other people tell me. I spent a lot of time listening to other people and trying to focus on what they wanted versus what I wanted. Now, I’m working from a place of my own creativity, and what I want to make versus what do want to hear.
Lastly, what’s 2019 bringing?
I’m putting the album out in April and then playing a big album release show at Union Pool in Brooklyn. I’m also in the midst of putting together a Sofar Sounds tour on the east coast.
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