Holly Burke & The Naturals


One of the most gifted instrumentalists we've come across in years, Holly Burke is making a big splash with new material from her 'Nature Girl' album like 'Serengeti' - sure to be a charting jazz favorite this year.

You can already feel the force of anticipation building in response to Holly Burke's fast ascent to prominance as an instrumentalist, singer, composer and companion. Perhaps it is no accident that her new momentum as an artist accrued largely after she found love - in the form of award-winning arranger Bill Runge. There is a logic to this. From the standpoint of much later on you would want to look back and see that the peak years of your creative adventure transpired while your soulmate was there to render the experience an eternally glorified bond - not just a heap of hurried, half-formed impressions that mostly hit the cutting room floor before the nebulous edit you finally conceive is cemented in mind. It certainly seems to work here. The art this duo has produced includes some of the most vital and nuanced jazz we've heard, dexterously engineered to seem poised but dynamic, and littered with delightful microexperiments in tone and cadence. Their new album 'Nature Girl' explores a wide range of stylistic propositions, and one of the best singles is 'Serengeti'; sure to astound anyone who hears it with the technical ingenuity and creative passion Holly Burke & The Naturals bring to their craft. Independent reporter Brandon Pierce recently caught up with Holly to talk about her history with music and singular new track 'Serengeti'.

BRANDON: Let's just get this out in the open - what's the craziest thing that's happened to you in your music career?
HOLLY: I was badly shocked on stage as I sang the Eagles 'Peaceful Easy Feeling' while on tour with an all girls band! It wasn’t peaceful at all, but I did carry on and finish the tune, tears pouring down my cheeks. I imagine the audience thought I was just really into it or something...

BRANDON: Your song ‘Serengeti’ is receiving a positive listener response on radio. What was your initial reaction when you first heard your song playing on radio?
HOLLY: I started jumping up and down and running around and screaming! Hearing Serengeti on the radio allowed me to truly believe there’s a place for my music in this world. It’s real. It’s actual. It also inspired me like crazy to write more music, to believe in myself, and above all - keep going!

BRANDON: What was the inspiration behind your debut radio single?
HOLLY: The original Serengeti melody was a wistful Celtic tune that came to me out of the blue. I have an Irish-English background and the mood of the ancient melodies does speak to my heart. My collaboration with the brilliant Bill Runge was already underway for the album 'Nature Girl' and Bill had the notion of morphing it into an afro-cuban inflected work. He was excited about it, had a vision of wildebeest galloping over the great plains of the Serengeti... We had ten versions of it going back and forth between us before settling on this one. It was an intense and exhilarating process, much like riding the creature itself, in our fanciful conjecture. You can hear it in our solos! In fact the weather that day was really stormy and windswept, and I believe you can hear that in the music, too!

BRANDON: It is often said that great art arises from difficult experience. Is there something in your life experience thus far that you would describe as the ‘catalyst’ or ‘fuel’ for your desire to create music?
HOLLY: When I was fourteen I came down with rheumatoid arthritis, which was pretty heavy for a musician, dancer and runner. I was working on my first piano concerto at the time. It took me a couple of years to get back to the piano, but when I did I started consistently writing my own music. That’s also when I discovered the flute! A girl came and played one morning in our echo-plagued stone chapel and I fell in love with the sound. Writing, expressing and performing are all essential health activities for me. I guess there are things that can be expressed through music that just don’t happen any other way. I also unexpectedly became a single parent when my son was only three, and raised him on my own by doing all kinds of different jobs as needed, from telemarketing to working in dress shops. We’re wonderfully close.

BRANDON: How would you characterize yourself as an artist/musician? (Ex. Down-to-earth, serious, fun-loving, complicated…)
HOLLY: I love to have fun! I like live performance to be tight and loose at the same time. I like to interact with the audience and my bandmates in a real, friendly way. I love to laugh! Seriously, my all-time favorite thing to do - with or without music. I do have a quiet side that loves to muse, to be in nature, to write poetry and doodle patterns, shapes and colors. That’s also essential to me. I just love coming up with ideas, generally. I like playing! At the same time, ‘cos we live in a universe of opposites, I really dig expressing the most sombre and solemn feelings, musically. The anthems, the dirges, the keenings. The vast and eternal and beyond! Many a time my heart’s broken open on stage... ah yes, it’s all a part of it.


BRANDON: What has your experience been like working with the other people on your team?
HOLLY: The Naturals are a dream team par excellence! It doesn’t get any better then this! I have had the extreme good fortune to find my perfect writing companion in Bill Runge, award-winning multi-instrumentalist and arranger extraordinaire. Not only that, we fell in love! And so The Naturals came together... well, naturally. Our band members enjoy each other and love playing together. Our shows transmit an intangible feeling which clearly moves and communicates to the audience.

BRANDON: Did you come from a musical background? Are there other musicians in your family?
HOLLY: My Dad was a pretty famous broadcaster in Canada, but he drove Mom crazy because he couldn’t keep time when they danced together. On the other hand he sings the Chinese Marching song and certain drinking songs just fine. He's an inspiring human and has always been very supportive of my creativity. My brother Kerry is a music therapist, and my three brothers can all play drums. We sing 'T’is the Gift to be Simple' before our family meals. My mother could play one piece on piano but is still a pretty fierce music critic. My son's a great skater and rapper; ZanDeezle.

BRANDON: What do you find most rewarding about being an artist? What do you find most challenging?
HOLLY: The best thing about being an artist is actually 'being an artist'; being sensitive to the world and willing to translate experience - especially emotion - into sound. What a privilege! I am enthralled with the mysterious process of musical creation itself. From the first stumbling moments of discovery through the exhilaration of public performance. On the downside, you sometimes get asked to use the backdoor of hotels! That has never been and never will be cool. You know, I’ve found much more respect for artists outside of North America. I lived in Costa Rica for six months and there 'The Artist' would never be expected to haul equipment, for example. 'The Artist' is treated more like a deity (and I like it that way!) Our culture needs to wise-up about what’s really important and really valuable in life. We need a revolution!

BRANDON: Who are your role models in music?
HOLLY: I grew up studying classical piano, and playing the music of J.S.Bach was my first big 'aha!' I had widely spread influences and role models coming up including Ian Anderson, the great Roland Kirk, Sting, Chick Correa, Betty Carter, Jobim, Motown, to name a few…I revered my teacher David Gross in New York, as well as Judy Mendenhall of the same city.

BRANDON: Describe your best or most memorable performance.
HOLLY: Just as we started the sun was setting behind some tall trees which gave us a beautiful cool shade right for the downbeat. We had a dream sound guy, and the mix was so good the flute just flew out over the crowd, utterly clear and expansive. I felt like I could do anything, and had the fully lucid conviction; 'This is where I want to be... always!' Then again, there was that college gig way back with a rock band called 'Black Horse,' where I had to crawl across a cord-strangled stage to get the guitarist to take his big booted foot off my flute pick-up cord. He wasn’t responding to hand signals. Another time we were playing our tune 'Nature Girl,' and the horn player was deep into his high-energy solo, eyes squeezed shut for what seemed like eternity, while a white-haired lady in the font row scowled malevolently and covered her ears like she had a raging migraine. There was no cool way to get outta that one.

BRANDON: What advice would you give to young, aspiring artists out there who are unsure and need guidance?
HOLLY: First of all, we’re all unsure and need guidance, no matter what age! I think Shakespeare had it right; it all pretty much boils down to 'To be, or not to be.' I tend to think of myself as the lead character of my own story. How do I want my story to go? Does the hero give up at this point? probably not, eh?! I find it helpful to step back sometimes and look at myself and my life, strengthen my weak areas. You have to get your skills where they need to be, as a musician, performer and business person. Stay tuned and stay true to yourself. Help can come from unseen and unexpected places. Dance! Explore! Take shelter when you need to, and laugh your head off every chance you get!

BRANDON: What's next for you as an artist? Is there a new single in the works? If so, what can you tell us about it?
HOLLY: Yes! We have a new single in the works called 'Brave Waking.' It’s another jaw dropper! Bill and I are passing rewrites back and forth and we’re getting quite close. Lyrically it was inspired by the Robert Service poem 'Song of the Campfire.' I’m taking it even further into the realm of self-reliance. 'I am the angel and the devil, I am the tyrant and the slave.' It has 'heavyosity.' The original musical stimuli was an 'arpeggiator' pattern on my Yamaha piano. Unlikely bedmates all ‘round but ain't love grand?

BRANDON: It is such a pleasure to speak with someone so bouyant but well-centered, Holly. You are amazingly talented and we expect the coming year will see grand new horizons develop for your musical ambitions!


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