This Is Where: An Interview with Ali Burress

[Photo courtesy of Ali Burress]

Music is one of the truest forms of connection. When a close friend sits you down to show you a new song they found and love, you know that, by listening to it, you’re about to discover a new part of that person. You’re about to discover feelings they can’t put into words, but someone else could. That’s the first thing I thought of when I listened to Ali Burress. Ali Burress is a San Diego native currently living in Portland, OR. She has a haunting voice and a sound that goes beyond “indie.” Each song is a different part of herself, and she has this way of taking the darkest and loveliest parts of life, and constructing them into melodious harmonies and guitar accompanies. She was recently signed with Spirit House Records and just released her latest EP, Dwell, this past February. I sat down with Ali to talk about love, life, and how she brings it all together through singing and songwriting.


CP: Can you start by telling me how you got into music, and how your sound developed into what it is now?

 AB: When I was 13, I started falling in love with discovering new music and searching the darkest corners of the internet for songs and artists that made me feel something. I started writing because of this. These artists inspired me to create these little stories that felt like a secret I could keep just for myself. My music is less of a secret now but it’s still the sole tool in helping me process my emotions. This past week, I found a bunch of old videos of me singing on Photobooth and it was crazy to see how different my sound was and how unsure of myself I had been. I’m at a place now in my life where I’ve found my voice (both musically and non-musically) and feel confident enough to perform personal songs in public spaces. Sound wise, my music taste has luckily grown since age 13 and I feel like I’m gaining inspiration with every song I listen to. I’ve definitely become more interested in a full-band feel and trying to incorporate that into my recordings. I’ve also been listening to a lot of rap and hip-hop, which I never used to do and the new Kendrick Lamar album is blowing me away right now.

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Photo courtesy of the artist

CP: Your last two EPs, This Wind, and Dwell both delve into a very real, very emotional space. How do you go about baring your soul like that? Is the process uncomfortable? Is the sharing nerve-wracking?

AB: I have always admired artists who were honest with their pain and experiences in their songs. It feels like they’re gifting me this slice of their soul and nothing has felt more genuine or beautiful than that. That’s what I hope I’m doing with my music. I hope by being honest, people can connect to that truth and we can both “see” each other in the music. I also feel like there’s no way for me not to completely bare my soul. Something I really struggle with is opening up to people about my emotions when talking face-to-face and I’m slowly learning how to do that through music—it has held my hand through the process and has opened up this new world of communication. Sharing my music is actually incredibly comforting for me. I mean, I always worry about if people will like it but on a personal level, it feels like all the weight and emotions I held onto are finally being released into the universe.

CP: Who are some of your musical inspirations?

AB: Laura Marling was really the first female songwriter who I outright fell in love with. Her songs and her overall essence feel like pure strength to me. I fell in love with her because her songs weren’t only about heartbreak or romantic relationships, but the ones that were were about the lessons and strength she gained from the relationship. Sharon Van Etten is another beautiful human being whose music never fails to make me cry. I also love Nick Drake, Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, Damien Rice, Heather Woods Broderick, Tiny Ruins, and the list goes on and on.

CP: When do you find it easiest to write? What people and places inspire you?

AB: I always write my songs late at night and I think it’s because that’s when the world becomes quiet and I can finally process things. It’s really hard for me to write songs when I feel rushed or when things are loud and chaotic. Meaningful and emotional conversations with people I love always inspire me to write music. I’m also currently living in Portland and this place is gifting me so many beautiful new experiences to write about, as well as the feeling that I’m always in a magical, forest wonderland.

CP: You recently signed with Spirit House Records. How has that been? Is it surreal being involved with a record label?

AB: It has been an absolutely incredible experience. If you had told me a year ago that I was going to be on a record label, I would have laughed at you. Surreal seems like an understatement at times and I still feel like I’m processing how exciting it all is. I am so young and still have so much to learn about the music industry and Spirit House has given me so much comfort in knowing that I’m not alone. I couldn’t be prouder to be on the label alongside so many devastatingly talented artists as well. There are so many exciting things happening in the next few months with Spirit House so be sure to like our Facebook page!

CP: What have been some significant milestones for you, music-wise?

AB: Buying my first guitar, releasing three EPs, learning how to record/mix/master all of my own music, having my heart broken, discovering my voice through my music, realizing that I wanted to devote my life to my art, signing with Spirit House Records, moving to Portland to pursue music, meeting other artists and musicians at open mics and gigs. I feel like my life has recently been full of significant milestones and because they’re all in connection to my music, nothing has felt more validating. I feel like I’m finally at a place in my life where I can confidently say I am doing what I love and working towards a dream that feels genuine and true to myself.

CP: Do you have any specific moments that you feel have had a memorable impact on you and your music?

AB: I think the biggest one for me so far has been my dad’s car accident that happened this past July. That’s how the songs of Dwell were born and when I realized that I wanted to make the most of my life and pursue what I really loved: music. As well as inspiring me to pursue this dream, it also grounded me in a way that I am unbelievably thankful for. It made me appreciate my family a lot more and all they’ve done for me and continue to do. It made me consider who I want to surround myself with and how important people are in shaping who I am. Most importantly, my dad survived and has become an even stronger person because of it. My dad is my #1 fan and the kindest person I know and nobody/nothing has taught me more about the value of life than him and his experience.

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Photo courtesy of the artist

CP: What advice do you have for other young singer/songwriters struggling to find their most honest voice?

AB: What a lovely question. I still feel like I’m trying to find my most honest voice and I definitely don’t think it will be something that happens overnight. I think the most important thing to consider is to be honest with yourself. I know I’ve written a good song when I want to play it all the time because it’s the only way I can feel better about a situation. With my songwriting, the music inspires the words, and a chord can uncover a feeling I have never experienced or one I thought I had forgotten. Music helps uncover old and new experiences and feelings and I think it’s also a matter of writing a melody that strikes a feeling in you. Also, surround yourself with people who aren’t scared to be vulnerable with you. I think we often forget how important our daily interactions are but they do have a significant impact on us and our creativity. Be around those who inspire you and make you unafraid to share you most honest voice. And don’t be hard on yourself. Let yourself feel those hard feelings and be held by the music because nothing is more beautiful or rewarding than turning those painful experiences into song/art.

Follow Ali Burress on all of her social medias to keep up with her and her music!

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