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Texas duo Beth // James talk Americana evolution, Carly Simon, James Taylor, more

The award-winning Austin-based duo Mikaela Beth and Jordan James Burchill (who also happen to be married) discuss how classic influences informed their debut album 'Get Together.'
Carly Beth album

Austin, Texas award winning indie-Americana married couple Mikaela Beth and Jordan James Burchill, known as the duo Beth // James, discuss Carly Simon, James Taylor and their debut album Get Together.

GOLDMINE: Welcome to Goldmine and congratulations on Get Together. Why are you called Beth and James instead of Mikaela and Jordan?

MIKAELA BETH BURCHILL: Well, Beth and James are our middle names and we thought it sounded better than The Mikaela and Jordan Band.

JORDAN JAMES BURCHILL: We are still Mikaela and Jordan outside of performing and recording. We have been married two years and live in Austin, Texas, the best city ever.

GM: You met at The University of North Texas in Denton. My wife Donna and I visited that area in the early 1980s when we, like you, were married around two years and living in Texas. How did the jazz program come to your school?

MBB: I guess some jazz freak moved there and started it.

JJB: It was the first jazz program that was started in the country.

Carly Simon's flip side of "Anticipation" recently featured in a Goldmine article with guitarist and author Jimmy Ryan

Carly Simon's flip side of "Anticipation" recently featured in a Goldmine article with guitarist and author Jimmy Ryan

GM: From your college jazz beginnings, you evolved as a duo with a folk-rock or soft-rock 1970s sound, which I grew up on. What did you think of Carly Simon’s flip side “The Garden” which I compared your new song “Happy Birthday” to?

MBB: Thank you for such a sweet comparison and for all the music you sent to us in preparation for today’s session.

JJB: I like the rebirth message in “The Garden” and I can see the connection to “Happy Birthday,” which Mikaela wrote about her dad who passed away, where maybe in the next stage of life she would be able to see him again.

MBB: I also loved in Carly Simon’s song how there was beauty in the darkness and that we are now in the garden and can do all these things, finding a silver lining in a situation, which is also what “Happy Birthday” was trying to convey.

JJB: I love the recording of “The Garden.” It feels very swirly to me, with an ambient tone. With “Happy Birthday,” we tried to make it feel ethereal.

GM: Let’s move from Carly Simon to James Taylor with “Dog We Don’t Have.” I remember driving around in my senior year of high school to his song “Mexico” and thought it was so relaxing. That is the sound I hear with “Dog We Don’t Have,” a song about future planning, which was certainly on my mind as a high school senior.

MBB: We actually love James Taylor’s “Mexico” and listen to it all the time. I love that comparison because it is kind of playful, which is what we wanted along with being sweetly romantic, thinking about all the fun things in the future that you could plan with this person.

JJB: It is funny that you compared it to “Mexico” because when we were writing that song, we were listening to James Taylor’s cover of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” and how playful those Holland-Dozier-Holland lyrics are.

MBB: Yes, how sweet it is to be loved by you and how sweet it is to just go on a walk with your person and hang out together.

GM: Both songs are from the mid-1970s Warner Bros. era for James Taylor, who you also mention in the song “Voicemails,” highlighting a late father’s story to his daughter about seeing James Taylor in a coffee shop, which is both beautiful and tearfully emotional.

MBB: Thank you. That is a true story that my dad would always like to tell. He was a huge music fan and a big James Taylor fan. He had seen James Taylor in a coffee shop in the Northeast before he was famous.

JJB: He loved to tell that story so much and it would put a smile on your face.

GM: Sticking with my senior year of high school for one more reference, the group Starbuck had a song called “Moonlight Feels Right” with keyboards and a marimba instrumental break. I am reminded of that Top 10 hit with the friendship song of “Sean.”

JJB: I am so glad that you sent us that song. I had never heard it before, and it was so much fun. I wonder what synthesizer they were using. We use an old 1970s ARP, and their synthesizer sounds similar. “Sean” is a story of my best friend who I grew up with in college. We lived in the same house. He came to our wedding and told us some crazy things about wanting to live in his car, but it was good to get together and talk about the past.

MBB: The tattoo part of the story is also true where Jordan was the only one of his friends to go through with the tattoo pledge. Everyone else chickened out.

GM: Mikaela, your high vocal notes on “Boy Genius” really stand out.

MBB: Thank you. "Boy Genius" was fun to sing, record and harmonize on. Our inspiration for the recording was Fleetwood Mac’s "Dreams."

GM: On Nicolette Larson's debut album there was a very pretty song written by Adam Mitchell called “French Waltz,” which is what I was reminded of “The Sun,” with its 3/4 waltz tempo. The big vocal build at the end is so nice.

JJB: Thank you for also sharing that Nicolette Larson song with us, which we also hadn’t heard before. It was beautiful to listen to. When we were recording "The Sun," we were listening to Tommy James and The Shondells' "Crimson and Clover" with weird effects on his vocals. 

MBB: Like the long version of “Crimson and Clover” we made the “Sun” about five-and-a-half minutes long.  

GM: “My Problem” is a melodic duet with a rolling backdrop.

JJB: Thank you. During the pandemic, we were very much into the music of The Beatles, listening to their catalog. Then we got into Paul & Linda McCartney’s Ram album, listening to it so many times, and then we continued with Wings. We are certainly Paul McCartney fans. I hope that “My Problem” comes across like “Heart of the Country” from Ram.

GM: “Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl” is another nice 3/4 time selection as a duet finale. Mikaela, your beautiful voice sounds like Alison Krauss. It is so pure.

MBB: I love Alison Krauss. That is a huge compliment. I grew up listening to her.

GM: Finally, let’s go back to your 2017 song “Lion Eyes.” How did it get placed in Blackkklansman film?

JJB: It is a crazy story. Mikaela’s sister-in-law and brother were living in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn where Spike Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks company is based. Her sister-in-law followed Spike Lee on Instagram because she we would always walk by his headquarters and was curious. Spike Lee had an open call on Instagram to submit songs for a television show, which was She’s Gotta Have It, based on the movie.

MBB: She saw this post, reached out to us and suggested that we submit a song, so we submitted “Lion Eyes.” Then we forgot about it.

JJB: They called many weeks later and said, “Spike Lee loved your song, but he won’t be using it for the TV show. He is working on a new movie, which we can’t tell you about yet, but would you like your song to be in the upcoming film?” We said, “Absolutely! Sign us up!” That is one of the coolest experiences of our musical lives. I am a huge Spike Lee fan. I love Basketball and He Got Game. I still can’t believe it happened.

GM: Congratulations on all your success. You have shows coming up from Texas to Hollywood listed on your website. Have a wonderful time.

MBB: Thank you and thanks for listening so thoughtfully to our music.

JJB: Yes, thank you and Goldmine for doing this. It is so fun to talk with someone who loves music and knows what they are talking about. This has been a fun conversation.

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