Burr Oak – In Their Own Words

Based out of Chicago, Burr Oak are a four-piece band based around the songwriting of Savanna Dickhut. Having previously played in other bands, Savanna started Burr Oak back in 2019, with the release of her debut single, Southsider. A re-worked version of that track is one of the many wonderful moments on Savanna’s debut album, Late Bloomer, due out next Friday, with a cassette release on Substitute Scene Records.

The recording of Late Bloomer began back in early 2020 before most of us had even heard of Coronavirus. The record had something of a cursed path, with various sessions cancelled, and as a result it has a list of production credits as long as your arm, thankfully it seems to have done little to diminish the quality of Savanna’s songwriting. Her musical vision walking the line between the grand arena romanticism of The National and the intimate, straight-talking honesty of Weyes Blood.

Ahead of the album’s release, I recently spoke to Savanna about the joy of teaching, recording an album in a global pandemic and why she wants their live shows to be a place for everyone to, “let it all out”.

Photos by Ash Dye

FTR: For those who don’t know, who are Burr Oak?

Savanna: We are a four-piece indie rock band with folk roots out of Chicago, IL. I started the project in early 2019 then shortly after met drummer, Anthony Mest at Schubas Tavern when I was interning there and he was playing a show with another band he was in at the time. The next week we met up at his place in Rogers Park to jam and I started showing him some of the songs I had been working on. Jeffrey Sullivan (guitar) was a member of my old band, Elk Walking, and I asked him to join Burr Oak when I started the project. He is the only current member that recorded on the original versions of “Southsider” and “Rosemary” that we recorded at my house in early April of 2019. Jacob Gordon (bass) was the last member to join later on in November of 2019 and only played a handful of shows with us before the pandemic hit. It’s exciting now that it is safe again to play we can finally get back to working together and preparing for our album release show on August 7th at Schubas Tavern in Chicago. 

FTR: You’re about to release your debut album, ‘Late Bloomer’, what can you tell us about recording it?

Savanna: We began recording with Nicholas Papaleo at Decade Music Studios in early 2020 before the lockdown. Drums, bass, guitar and scratch vocals were originally tracked live there for “Flower Garden,” “FOMO,” “Pulp Goddess,” and “Around You.” I re tracked my vocals and acoustic guitar at Nick’s apartment right before the pandemic hit and Jeff re-did some of his guitar. Nick also recorded his synth for us there and I added shaker. The plan was to finish up the record with Nick at his place and/or Decade but we couldn’t obviously during quarantine and then shortly after quarantine he moved away to California. Eventually we went back into the studio ourselves (once it was safe to do so) and tracked the drums and bass for “Trying,” and “The Crowd.” Then I reached out to Luke Otwell who I knew from playing shows in the Chicago music scene and ended up booking a few days with him at his studio Wall of Sound and we finished up [most] of the record there. But mixing and mastering still had to be done of course.. plus I ended up adding some harmonies and all the final touches I thought of later on with Michael Mac at his studio in Chicago, Pallet Sound. I was fortunate to work with so many great people on this record and even though things didn’t play out as planned (because of the pandemic) I am very proud of this debut body of work and very thankful for all the hard work everyone involved contributed to make the record what it is. 

FTR: How do you approach making music for Burr Oak as compared to your previous musical projects?

Savanna: In the past, in the first band I started while still in college [Elk Walking], that was more of a collaborative effort as I was working with another writer, Julian Daniell, who sometimes would write the songs and I would sing them, or we would sing together. This time around in Burr Oak, I am the only songwriter in the group so I get to tell my story [lyrically and melodically]. My process is: I will write the melody and lyrics for a song by myself, then when I feel it is finished I will bring it to the band and from there they will write their parts (drums, bass and lead guitar.) I think of it like a seed.. I start out planting the seed and watering it.. then the band helps me to grow the flower and bring it to life.  

FTR: Who are the influences on your music? What were you listening to when you wrote ‘Late Bloomer?’

Savanna: I grew up listening to a lot of singer-songwriters and folk music because of my dad– Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Natalie Merchant [to name a few.] Those bands are some deep rooted influences for me I think since I grew up with them. While writing this record specifiacally, I was listening to a lot more contemporary folk music, mostly female fronted such as Hand Habit, their album ‘placeholder’ and ‘Crushing’ by Julia Jacklin. Also during that time when I wrote both “Southsider” and “Rosemary” I was listening to Weyes Blood pretty heavily, her album ‘Titanic Rising’ really impacted me and I even saw her play live at Lincoln Hall around that same time before the pandemic which was almost a spiritual experience. 

Photos by Ash Dye

FTR: It’s obviously a strange world to be releasing the album into, how has the pandemic affected your plans? 

Savanna: Well, as I mentioned already, we had planned to record the album in an entirely different fashion but nonetheless, that is life and plans change. Like I said already, I am so proud of it and just ecstatic to release it into the world.

Aside from recording plans, the pandemic forced us to cancel our first tour which was going to be a week long tour to the east coast. But now that shows are back and its safe to play now with the vaccine, we plan to tour this album in the spring of 2022. 

FTR: What’s the best way for people to support musicians at this time?

Savanna: I would say the best way to support is to come out to a show if you’re able to. Buying a ticket and supporting us by being there in person plus buying merch if you’re able to is the best way. We get close to nothing from streams and bandcamp is great.. but they take a 15% cut also from digital album sales. So if you want to support us directly, buy merch and come see a show ☺ 

FTR: Once you can get back out on the road, what can people expect from the Burr Oak live show?

Savanna: They can expect us to give it our all every night and for it to be a safe space that allows everyone there to feel all the feels openly and enjoy there time and the music. Our sets are honest and open, and vunerable. I want anyone who attends a Burr Oak show to feel accepted and like they can cry, smile, laugh, whatever emotion they are feeling during the set to just let it out. And please come talk to use after a show, we love to hear feedback and connect with our fans.  

FTR: Why do you make music? 

Savanna: Music has always been a natural release for me and it helps me cope with my anxieties and sadness about things. Truthfully, I make it because I have to, it helps me get through tough times. 

Photos by Ash Dye

FTR: Do you have any other creative outlets beyond music?

Savanna: I do, in fact. I love to do embroidery when I can find the time and another hobby of mine is playing 12” softball. (I played varsity in high school and now I am on a weekend league for fun.) 

FTR: What are your ambitions for this record? Is music still a viable career?

Savanna: For me, music has always been something I wanted to do full time but during the pandemic I decided to accept a full-time job as an Early Childhood Education teacher at a preschool here in Evanston. I enjoy teaching and it still allows me time to do my music as well. Supporting yourself only from making music and touring is a hard thing to do, you’d have to be on the road all the time to make money, and I am not there yet. But maybe one day I will be lucky enough to do so. Until then, I will continue to teach children for my day job, I enjoy it very much although it is very exhausting. Kids open your eyes up to so much and just show you so much love and happiness.  

On another note..I hope this record does well and people can relate to the music and it helps them cope through tough times, as it did for me. That’s all I can really hope for [is to help others] and the rest is just a cherry on top. 

FTR: What’s next for Burr Oak?

‘Late bloomer’ will be out everywhere on streaming platforms and cassette tapes July 30th and following that.. our album release show is on Saturday, August 7th at Schubas Tavern in Chicago. 

Late Bloomer is out July 30th, with a casette versions available via Substitute Scene Records. For more information Burr Oak visit https://whoisburroak.bandcamp.com.

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