DMV-based vocalist Rachel Burns approaches her music by balancing the silly with the serious. Her new EP “What a Nasty Woman” was released on July 7, in which Burns’ vulnerability is met by her clever satirical songwriting as she yet again combines genres such as jazz, blues, pop, and country.
Burns is a mother of two daughters and a breast cancer survivor who has many stories to tell, which is evident in this EP. “What a Nasty Woman” comes after her 2022 debut EP release “Living My Breast Life”, a five-track project that tells her breast cancer story in a unique way that mixes hope with humor.
Regarding her new EP, “These songs I wrote during the Trump era and definitely during the Me Too Movement,” she says. “I was protesting a lot … And these little ditties would come into my head and would allow me to laugh out loud; I would spin them around until the lyrics really flowed the best and gave me the best laugh. There’s a lot of hidden messages in the music and there’s a lot of hidden messages in the lyrics.”
For Burns, the best way to cope with hardships is with humor: “I just felt like the best way to combat or dilute our anger in terms of the radical changes of reversal of forward momentum in this country, and now we’re going backwards … is just to have humor about it, because if you don’t laugh, it’s just going to kill you.” She describes her music as sugar to let the medicine go down – sugar rather than salt on a wound. “I thought it would be more palpable for people to get the message and just laugh a little bit and have some fun with it.”
“Mansplainin’” opens the EP, a song about putting men in their place when it comes to feminist issues. Read previous Alchemical coverage about the song here. “Some people have commented, ‘You hate men.’ I don’t hate men … I’ve been happily married for 20 years to a man … It’s just telling the truth of the way society works,” she says. It is followed by a cover of Elvis Presley’s classic “All Shook Up,” “a sultry, sexually empowering song about women owning their bodies and their power,” writes Mitch Mosk.
“After cancer, I never want to sing another love song,” Burns explains. “I always want to sing life songs, so all my music is life songs and they all have truth in them. Some of them are like an onion, like ‘Triple D’s’ – that’s a triple entendre of truth.” “Triple D’s” is the third track on the EP that definitely utilizes Burns’ theater and opera background, presented almost as a cabaret.
“Pollyanna’s Lament” falls in the middle of the EP as an emotional climax, a particularly vulnerable and beautiful song about Burns’ grandmother, which is accompanied by a moving music video featuring dancer Katie Breland. “Pollyanna” was written overnight after the melody came to her in a dream, as if her grandmother was using her as a vessel.
“That was a really special moment,” she explains. “My grandmother had breast cancer twice before any of these meds were here that I had to take, and somehow got through it and lived to 86, which is amazing.” Burns describes her grandmother as a Pollyanna, referencing the fictional character from the early 1900s. “She was like toxic positivity at its core … even though she was suffering inside.” Her grandmother was born around the same time and went through similar struggles. “
She didn’t have the greatest marriage and pulled through it with my grandfather and stayed married to him, but with a smile on her face and swallowed her pain.” She came to Burns in spirit at four in the morning, and the song was written by nine when her children woke up. “I sat at the piano, and for some reason my hands just started playing the melody.”
Burns has a lot of strong women in her family and, “Being a breast cancer survivor, I think about maybe not being here for my kids one day … It was also written for them to heal so if I’m not here, they don’t end up with somebody that isn’t the best for them; they can listen to that song and know that they can make that change to get out of that situation if they need to.” Although Burns is happily married, “Pollyanna” contains some of her truth, as “People have always called me a Pollyanna and you learn a lot of lessons after you face death.”
“Tiny Hands” and “Sundown of the Macho Man” are more light-hearted, yet still uncover truths about our current society. It is a righteous conclusion for a project that takes you on an emotional journey while still honoring the value a laugh can bring.
Emma Page, a recent Journalism graduate of The George Washington University, possesses a passion for music journalism and storytelling in all its forms. Originally from Baltimore, MD, when she is not writing, she can be found at a local concert or making music of her own.
Flow-bending artist aSanTIS discusses art, culture, and whether sound can solve the world’s problems in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
My interview with Amy Santis aka aSanTIS began in the most unexpected way. The Maryland-based flow-bending artist and lyrical storyteller came prepared to engage in conversation around questions I had posed – and she also brought one or two of her own thoughtful prompts based on her curiosities around my view of learning.
This practice of taking in her surroundings deeply through observation and inquiry has come naturally to aSanTIS ever since she was a young child. In terms of her early starts in music, she notes that she began as a discerning listener. “Just listening to music from my mom, on the radio, just being a consumer in the world of sound. But I think mainly, my mom has always loved dancing and listening to music, so that was sort of like second nature. We play music at gatherings, we play music in the car, and these songs are sort of like diaries that take us into a specific place.”
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