Recently, we covered Birch’s fantastic new track ‘Halfway’ on the site. But who is behind the beautiful vocals and melody? We spoke to Michelle Birsky, Birch vocalist and founder, to find out about the band.
This is the full, unedited interview. For the feature, click here.
“I started Birch back in the Fall of 2014 when I took a solo two-week trip to Vermont. I had spent the past year in New York working for various musicians and trying to figure out what music world I belonged in. My musical background consists of songwriting and classical composition studies, so when I graduated college and moved to New York, I wasn’t sure where I belonged. This trip to Vermont was the start of Birch, and was where I wrote our first single ‘Halfway’. When I returned I found musicians to play in the band and teamed up with producer Ariel Loh (of the band Stone Cold Fox) to record our EP. Over the following months as both the live and studio sound of Birch developed, these musicians came and went until I found the perfect fit in Mat Towles (Birch’s bass player) and Emma Munger (Birch’s guitarist).”
Do you consider yourselves a studio band, or a live band?
“I’d say we’re more of a live band, as practicing and perfecting our live sound is what we spend most of our time doing. However, working with Ariel in the studio really opened my eyes to the ways in which recording can help shape a band’s sound. I’m looking forward to getting back into the studio to record an LP in the not too distant future!”
Your latest single ‘Halfway’ is a mesmerisingly melody-focused track, with a big sound that builds the framework for the beautiful vocalwork. Was it challenging at all the develop the song into the final version, and what inspired the track?
“Thank you! The inspiration for the track, and the basis of the track itself, came from my time spent up in Vermont during those two weeks last year. The first verse tells the story of a hike I took up a mountain during that time. I got halfway up the mountain, realized how completely alone I was in this world, and ran back down terrified. I went back to the house and dove into these feelings, and that’s when I wrote the song. It developed into a song about the two sides of the human brain and the dark, sometimes wonderful places our mind can go when left to it’s own devises. When I brought the song back to New York, I work shopped it with the band, building it up and turning it more into the song you hear today. We added the bass, more intricate drums, and the signature chorus synth line. When we finally took it to the studio, Ariel encouraged me to re-work the bridge, and we ended up building a bridge that completely diverges from the rest of the song, allowing a type of transformation to take place – which to me symbolizes a crossing over, or giving in, to the darker side of your brain. We also added denser guitar lines and I wrote three part vocal harmonies to add an eerie affect on the choruses. The song developed naturally over the course of many stages.”
The video for the single is a little strange (in a good way). Is there a meaning behind it, and how did the idea for the video come about?
“I wanted the video to reflect the main theme of the song: that there are two sides to our personalities that are constantly at odds and how you feel on the inside isn’t always what you portray to the outside world. So using this theme, I created a narrative about a woman (played by myself) who is bored with her conservative reality and is drawn into a daydream by her “inner self” (played by Sarah Lass). She winds up becoming so wrapped up in this daydream, which consists of dancing cult women in a foggy warehouse, that she decides to transform, or give into, that darker, inner side. Basically, the video is about stepping out of your ego, or what you display to the outside world, and fully succumbing to your inner being, which may be darker, but is so much more fulfilling. Luckily I had an amazing crew in director Filipp Kotsishevskiy, videographer Max Lewin, and choreographer Sarah Lass, that really helped me bring this vision to life.”
What’s the songwriting process like for you?
“The songwriting process can come in different forms – sometimes it takes me a year to write a song, other times it takes me a day. Living in New York, I often come up with melodies or lyrics while walking around the city. I’ll take the melody or lyric home, decide on what I want the song to be about, and go from there. I truly believe that songwriting is the ultimate form of storytelling and I want my music to have lyrical substance, so I tend to have a theme or narrative in mind while writing a song.”
What would you say makes you stand out as a band?
“I think we experiment with form a little more than most rock bands, often changing sections, time signatures or keys midway through a song. I think this comes from our various musical backgrounds – I have a classical background, Emma has a jazz background, and Mat has a punk rock background. Because of these differences we’re all able to add something unique to the sound. I also hope that our lyrics make us stand out a bit. I try to stay away from writing clichés; even my love songs have a dark twist to them.“
What’s the highlight of your time in a band so far?
“Honestly, making the music video was one of the best weekends of my life. Our amazing director, Fil, was able to pull all of his strings and get so many talented people involved in the production. My friend and choreographer, Sarah, was able to get six beautiful, talented dancers to dance in the video. The day of the shoot, we drove out of the city to a freezing cold warehouse and we all smiled and made art. It was so humbling to see dancers, videographers, photographers, and directors come together (for little to no money) and bring my vision to life.”
Your EP is launched at the end of the month. What is your proudest moment on it, and why?
“I think my proudest moment would be the bridge and last chorus of Fighting Words, the first track on the EP. The recording of the EP took place over the span of three months and I had multiple musicians play on the tracks. Fighting Words was the last song we recorded, so Mat and Emma played on the track. It was such a collaborative experience between myself, Mat, Emma, and Ariel and it was really one of those moments when it set in that THIS is my band. I had finally found the right fit. In the bridge of Fighting Words, Emma plays this amazing guitar line that is super fast and difficult and gives the bridge a great arc. The bridge releases into two final choruses to which, in the recording process, we added new synth lines and vocal harmonies over. To me, the combination of these two sections, the swell and release, is Birch’s sound.“
How would you describe the sound of the EP, in three words?
“Anticipatory, electric mountains.“