Sarah Burton

Songwriter Profile: Sarah Burton - Tumbleweeds, Truth and Terlingua, Texas

While Canadian-born singer-songwriter Sarah Burton originally relocated to the US for expanded career opportunities, she says she had an ulterior motive. “All of us Canadians who go south have a warm spot for warmth,” she laughs.

Burton embraces the heat in Terlingua, TX. The far-flung desert town celebrates eccentricity; in the recent past, a beer-swilling goat was elected mayor. “It’s pretty wild,” Burton says. “This weird juxtaposition of a small town with a vibrant nightlife, filled with music, culture, art and crafts.”

This arid landscape and the vivid characters who live in it lend color to Burton’s latest full-length release, Give Me What I Want. The collection’s opening track, “Desert Sky,” evokes a forbidding landscape of towering thunderheads over shadowed mountains. “For this record we recorded live off the floor as a band, but this song I recorded acoustically and added everything afterward, to treat it more cinematically,” Burton explains.

Burton tours regularly and also performs closer to home, at a local club named The Thirsty Goat Saloon, named in homage to the aforementioned beast with the propensity for suds. As she is independent from a label, income from these bar gigs financed her latest release. “One of the things I love about Texas is that it loves songwriters,” she notes of her adopted home. “It’s a great place to be as a working singer-songwriter. I’m so grateful to the audience—live music is alive and well in a way that I hadn’t seen anywhere else in North America.”

Growing up in Canada, Burton says that she was painfully shy until age 20. “When I was first dragged on a stage, it changed everything. But that part of the shyness has never left me. As I get more into the performer lifestyle, constantly putting myself out there on stage, I go through bouts of severe social anxiety.”

Give Me What I Want has gentle melodic moments, and Burton is possessed of a voice that can soothe and embrace, but she is not averse to accelerating to rocker velocity to match tracks orchestrated with feedback and corrosive guitars, as heard on the arresting “Smiling for the Camera.” The track is constructed over an addictively buzzy synth line. “I will say there is a bit of homage to Pulp in that first synth part,” she acknowledges. “I’m singing about people in the city on Tinder dates, riding the subway, going fast. I wanted that dance beat even though it’s not a dance album.”

“Time to Go,” from her newest album is an ambitious melodic excursion with Burton’s voice ascendant in an intricate melodic bridge with classical overtones. “I did do the Royal Conservatory up until the sixth level, at which point I was ready to quit piano,” Burton says. “I was tired of the exams, and I was a player and a performer.”

She says that her supple voice is often the driving force in writing songs. “I’m mostly a phone writer, it’s super handy, and the voice memo is amazing. I tend to write in transit, so it’s handy. In my early days, when I was waitressing, I had drawers full of cocktail napkins with lyrics written down on them.”

Burton notes that in alternative rock and pop music, female representation is on the rise. She is dismayed that country music and the Americana genre remain male-dominated. “I went to the Americana Fest last year and there were a lot of great female nominees and representation on stage, but they didn’t win,” she says. “They were nominated, but the Americana voters chose more men. It sucks that it has to be the women’s music scene versus the men’s music scene. I wish there was a music scene where people were represented according to skill and awesomeness.”

Awesomeness indeed: An authentic, inspired artist, Burton has clearly paid her proverbial dues. On her title track, “Give Me What I Want,” to the reverberant accompaniment of a plaintive steel guitar, she sings a droll plea to the heavens for a romantic reward. “It’s taken me all of these years to realize that if you want something you have to ask for it,” she concludes.

Contact Angela Moreno, Reckoning PR, angela@reckoningpr.com.