Laura Burhenn was only midway through recording the second album with her band, The Mynabirds, when disaster struck. “I lost my voice! I lost it worse than I ever did before. I couldn’t even talk for a week, and I was terrified. You think, ‘This is it. Maybe I’m done,’” remembers the singer-songwriter. With a voice like hers—equal parts soaring and sultry—we’d panic, too.
Lucky for us, she wasn’t done; after giving her swollen vocal chords some rest (as her doctor put it, you can’t expect to tour with Bright Eyes for nearly a year and not have it affect your body in some way), the Omaha, Nebraska-based musician finished Generals, which is arguably her strongest showing yet. In large part, that’s because of her ability to wrap a political statement in a shiny pop veneer. “I’m from DC and lived there for 10 years, from before September 11th to right before Barack [Obama] was elected. So it was a really incredible time to be in DC, and all this stuff was brewing in my subconscious for years,” explains Burhenn of her decision to not just write another love song. It’s something she’s admittedly nervous about. “I knew it was a risk, because sometimes you don’t want to be reminded of the things that are wrong; it can be more fun to get on your iPod and drink your expensive latte and forget that there’s a world outside of that,” she says, pausing for a moment before adding, “There’s nothing wrong with being entertained, and everybody wants to have fun when they’re listening to music, going out on a Saturday night. That’s what was important to me—I wanted to talk about serious subject matter but have fun doing it. No one wants to feel depressed listening to your record!”
With The Mynabirds’ effortlessly catchy music, it’s hard to feel down by the time you finish Generals. “It’s still a dance record in a lot of ways, and it’s meant to be fun,” Burhenn notes. Indeed, from the electro tinkling on “Radiator Sister” to her lilting singing on the title track, it’s a rousing blend that falls somewhere between PJ Harvey, The Dead Weather, and Animal Collective. For Burhenn, her experimenting is just a part of getting older and becoming more confident—a product of moving to the artistically minded city of Omaha, where she felt supported by the local music community.
But it’s not just sonically where she’s found her voice. Coinciding with the release of Generals is her portrait project The New Revolutionists, which honors women across the country who are standing up for what they believe in. From Amy Klein, founder of feminist collective Permanent Wave, to political satirist Lizz Winstead, the website presents the stories of these modern day rebels. And it could include you, too, since it’s a completely nominative project. “They’re open for anyone—if you know of someone who is particularly revolutionary, please nominate them. It’s about women seeing themselves and being beautiful and powerful and strong, because often times we don’t. There are mothers, teachers, doctors who are doing really important work every day and don’t see it as such,” explains Burhenn. With the presidential election season underway—and the political fights that come with it—is she hopeful? “I can’t not feel hopeful—otherwise how do you get up in the morning and keep doing what you do?” she asks. “So I’d rather die an optimist than live a pessimist.”