Autumn is officially underway here in Atlanta, bringing in cooler weather, colorful leaves, and the perfect Appalachian folk-inspired songs to hum while drinking coffee on a crisp morning, thanks to singer-songwriter Sam Burchfield and his latest single, “Colorado.” The wanderlust-inspiring track, set to a delicate backdrop of plucked acoustic and subtle percussion, is dreamy enough to stick in your head for the rest of the day and send you looking for the next flight out west (consider yourself warned).
Sam Burchfield has been a longtime favorite of mine after I was introduced to his music through his wife, Pip the Pansy. Raised in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina, Burchfield was surrounded by the sounds of traditional Appalachian folk and bluegrass from a young age. Years later, he returns to the sounds of his childhood as he reconnects with himself, the natural world, and the people he loves most.
AF: How did you find your way to music? Did you grow up in a musical household, or was there a moment where you heard a song and fell in love with it? Did you ever think you’d be making music as a career, or was it more of a hobby for you?
SB: I started playing guitar and upright bass in fifth grade and just got addicted. My sisters both played music in orchestra so I guess I saw that and thought it was cool. By the time I got to high school, I had put out a few “records” with my garage rock band and had started a pseudo solo career burning CDs for my friends (who were kind enough to buy them). I went to UGA to study Music Business and pretty much had decided it’s what I was doing with my life. That didn’t become a reality until my junior year of college when I started recording my first real release.
AF: How did growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian musical tradition influence you as a songwriter?
SB: If you listen to my catalog for like a second, you will hear a million references to mountains. That’s just sort of who I am. I’m divinely inspired by the natural world and have always felt at home in Southern Appalachia. I grew up going to my Granny’s house near Sylva, NC, where I’d play in the creek and hike and pick blueberries and pretend to be Davy Crockett. I guess a lot of my music is trying to touch those memories in some way. Also, just being around bluegrass and Southern music sort of makes that the norm, which meant that as a kid I was rebelling against Southern traditional music. It’s finally come full circle where I feel more connected to those roots and the raw honesty that the tradition calls on.
AF: What drives you to keep creating music?
SB: At this point, probably inertia. Writing songs is what I love most, and I want to always be digging for a more powerful, honest, and better song to connect with people.
AF: Who do you consider your greatest inspiration?
SB: Randy Travis.
AF: Your music toes the line between folky singer-songwriter and more soulful tracks like “Dinner,” released last year. Do you feel more drawn to one or the other?
SB: I think at the moment I’m more drawn to folk songs. It’s what I’ve been writing and it’s more of who I am at my core. I do like to have some fun and play soulful and funky jams with the band live though.
AF: Do you try to maintain a certain sound or style while writing, or do you follow the voice of each song?
SB: In the past, I almost tried too hard for my songs to be different, but lately, working on a record has really made me write for the record, which I think is important. Learning to make something a cohesive body of work is an art in and of itself. It’s a way to weave all of the unique voices of songs into a choir. But I generally let the song be discovered rather than having a preconceived sound I’m going for.
AF: What’s your writing and recording process like? Do you write, produce, and record your own music, or do you prefer to collaborate with others?
SB: Lately I’ve been doing it all myself. In the past, I have collaborated in a million different ways, whether with friends, writers, producers, or band members. I prefer to be pretty in control with the occasional feedback from people I trust a lot and who can be honest with me. Writing for me is normally about getting my mind to shut off and shut up and let ideas flow freely. At some point I just have a gut feeling on an idea that needs to be fleshed out. Sometimes that happens instantaneously, or sometimes it’s five years later. Recording is always a bit different. I want to serve the song, so sometimes I track things live on my own or with a band or overdub and layer the pieces together. I try to be present to what feels the best and trust that as much as possible.
AF: You crisscross the country quite a bit! How do your travels influence your writing? Do you tend to write while you’re on the road, or do you save it for the off-season?
SB: If I am solo driving, I write all the time. I think while I’m driving it’s easier for ideas to flow because I’m just distracted enough to not overthink things. I would say I’m pretty constantly writing or working on some idea in the studio. All the traveling has definitely inspired a lot of my new music, especially seeing some areas of the country I had never seen, like Colorado and Utah.
AF: You’ve released three singles this year: “Blue Ridge June,” “Waking Up,” and “Colorado.” Can you tell us a bit about the songs? What inspired them?
SB: “Waking Up” and “Colorado” were inspired by traveling out West, but all of them are about reconnecting with the natural world and each other. I did some soul searching over the past few years and decided that was sort of my musical mission. “Blue Ridge” is about where I grew up and was a co-write with my wife [Pip the Pansy]. Really my favorite co-write ever, I think. She’s a brilliant lyricist and really brought the feeling to life of missing the Blue Ridge and personifying the mountains as a fairy nymph or something.
“Waking Up” was a very old idea that I started probably five years ago, and then after going out west for the first time, I found the inspiration to complete it. It maps out a sort of spiritual/natural awakening. “Colorado” was obviously inspired by Colorado. Pip and I fell in love with that place and have made some incredible friends there. It was another sort of co-write with her, and originally we just had the verses with nothing else. [I] loved the verse melody so much that I couldn’t put a chorus to it, until one night at like 4 am I was working on it and came up with my first one-word chorus: “Colorado.”
AF: You and your wife, Pip the Pansy, are both incredibly talented musicians and songwriters! How do you influence each other? Do you collaborate often?
SB: We definitely collaborate. We don’t often do it intentionally; it’s more of just a passing thing since we are around each other all the time. I did help write and record her latest project with our buddy Caleb Hawley in NYC, which was a cool week of collaboration. I like to think that we keep each other grounded and hopefully keep each other true to ourselves. That’s such a hard thing to maintain, so it’s awesome to have a very talented partner who can give me honest feedback on my songs but also on my heart.
AF: What’s been your favorite experience as a husband and wife creative duo?
SB: Specifically in the creative realm? We really do love to travel together so it’s awesome when music takes us to beautiful new places. Star-gazing in the Utah desert was certainly a highlight.
AF: You are such a huge player in the Atlanta music scene; what’s it been like to be a part of as it has grown and changed? Do you ever miss the way it used to be?
SB: I’m not sure I can really speak to how it is changing – I think it’s an awesome community of people and it’s still trying to figure out what it is as a “scene.” Smaller towns I think have it easier in a way; it’s more of a natural local scene in a place like Athens. Atlanta is a bunch of scenes all swirling around each other and intermingling, which has pros and cons I’m sure.
AF: What’s been your favorite performance in the city? Do you have a dream venue you’d like to play?
SB: Favorite performance in Atlanta was probably my first time selling out Eddie’s Attic. I’d be incredibly pumped to play any legendary music venue; Red Rocks would be towards the top of that list, but I really am enjoying the cozy intimate rooms that I get to perform in now too. Something about a small space really changes how you can connect with folks, and I’m trying to fully appreciate that while I get to do it!
AF: Last one! Is there a new Sam Burchfield album coming soon?
SB: Yes! There is. Still finishing it up as we speak. But my new record Graveyard Flower should be out soon.