Pip the Pansy (Erin Burchfield) (fka Wrenn, 25) was born in Syracuse, New York, moving to Woodstock, Georgia when she was 10. She played flute in High School but quit the orchestra, veering to visual arts. She then quit visual arts to do theatre. She quit theatre to sing in the chorus. She attended Art School at the University of Georgia to study photography. After graduating she decided that music was her path and hasn’t looked back since. Her record, Hi (2014), was followed up with Apathy and Good Books (2015). Her new EP, Royal Blue Daydream, will be released in September. Here’s the first single, “All my Friends are Animals.”
Royal Blue Daydream is more experimental, a one-woman sonic love-affair, recorded with producer David Butler at Matchbox Studios in Austin. She’s evolved from a talented newcomer into a serious and provocative explorer of the experimental and electronic possibilities for her unique, pop stylings. Royal Blue Daydream is a record of bright, ethereal pop songs opening new sonic wonder-worlds for this restless, innovative, artist. Pip (if you will) recently married singer-songwriter Sam Burchfield.
I spoke with Pip the Pansy before her show – along with Zale, Chelsea Shag and Prisca – at The Foundry in Athens on March 30, 2017. – Mark Katzman
What happened around 2014 that led you going into Chase Park Transduction Studios with a couple of songs?
I realized that I was looking for jobs in photography, but there was no passion doing that. I love photography and I love art and they are still a big part of my life, but as far as pursing it like a career, it’s more of a private thing. And then a lot of the jobs in photography are in retail, or weddings, you know. It can be the same for music too. But, yeah, it was just this realization that this is not what I wanted to do. So, I had to kind of like center myself and think of what can I offer and what am I good at and what do I love, you know what I mean? It is going to be hard, but what is the thing I get the most joy doing and also feel like I am contributing. So it was like, Oh crap. I just finished college and, like, how am I going to make a living? I had to kind of figure out how I’m going to make a car payment and all that stuff. (laughs) So I stayed in Athens, where you can live fairly cheap compared to other places, get a job at a boutique or whatever. It is the perfect place to do music because you kind of have your built-in fan base being your friends, since not everyone had left Athens yet. It was like a perfect combination of things for starting. Athens is a music town, so you’re never going to have trouble finding a gig. I came in trying to do something that is a little more pop. Athens is just too cool for that, but people were still receptive of the art that I was making. It is a receptive town, that’s what makes it special.
So you began writing songs?
I taught myself keys to get by with playing or to write a song. I had actually hired a keyboard player but decided not to use him. And I just went into the studio. The first album is called Hi. It is by no means good. (laughs) It is cringe worthy, but it is also import because I didn’t know anything about recording. It was embarrassing. I got in the studio and I put the headphones on not knowing why I needed headphones. I said, “What is this?” And the engineer said, “That’s your volume.” (laughs) I learned a ton. Here’s what I felt, and this is part of the process: You have the song, and then you record the song, you mix the song, you master the song. Everyone’s telling you all this stuff is going to happen in mixing, so in my mind, I’m like okay, I’m recording this song and I’m thinking, this is totally against how I’m going to tell you when we’re done.
You know what I mean? And I had to learn that’s how it happens. You have to record it as close to as you want it to sound like, and it’s the same with photography. I love to shoot, so that was a huge thing. When we got into mixing it was not what I had hoped it would sound like, but I was still proud of certain elements of it for sure, because I mean it’s a lot of hard work, and we did it fast. I thought, I’m like 21, 22 years old and hate to be a downer, but I think that female artists expire faster than the male artists as far as how long am I going to perform. And so I thought, If I want to reach a really high level, I’ve got to do it fast. I was like, Let’s just make an album so that it looks like I’ve existed for a little while. Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors, fake it till you make it. That was the whole thing, and now I am getting to the point where maybe I’m doing things on my own, and like how it feels, like she’s actually doing these things, where it was like, let’s pretend we’re doing all these things so that we are more legitimate when we’re trying to do that. The reason things caught traction was not necessarily because the songs were just so wonderful, but because they might have been. Certain people could see potential behind it. And that there was a visual element. I’m very much about the visuals. Style was a huge thing for me. It was like, I’m not just going to push these songs, I’m going to push who Wrenn is, you know what I mean? I’m going to make up this persona and push the flowers and the photography and the art and the color.
Did you perform in Athens?
My first full gig was at the 40 Watt, which was, like, Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m about to play the 40 Watt, which was my second show ever. And I think that a lot of it was like this appeal to what it looked like. I think it looked professional. Again, fake it till you make it. So we ended up getting some buzz with industry folks, and it was like, She really needs to hone it in, Hi is all over the place. She needs to hone in her sound. So it was like, Okay, I’m going to write these 4 tracks and like hone it in. It’s still not there, but it was the next step. Royal Blue Daydream is a lot brighter and happier and actually I like it better than Apathy. You keep taking these steps towards what you want to be and this is the next step.
You’re solo tonight. Do you still have a band?
Recently I let my band go, which was very hard. So no band for the moment. I love those people a lot, but it was a really really good thing for me. Now I’m learning things. I’m playing with a lot of different players to figure it out. But tonight you’ll get a taste of where things are going, which is hopefully more of a solo electronic vibe. I have more control over the entire sound. I had never intended to be my keyboard player on stage, like tonight. I’m learning that I’m a little bit of a control freak. I’m pretty chill and I like to have people on the team, but if you want something done a certain way, it’s like, man, you just gotta do it. (laughs)
Where was Royal Blue Daydream recorded?
It was recorded at Matchbox Studios in Austin with David Butler. I had gone to Austin several times and I met with David and we decided it might be a good match to try to work together and I wanted to go into this electronic route. I’ve taught myself enough instruments so I can get by. I didn’t bring a band so it was just me and David. I have anxiety because I feel like I had started late with music and have a lot of insecurities when I’m around other musicians. And I just felt comfortable around David. It was the perfect environment for creating. He’s a kick-ass producer and did an awesome job. There was not a time when I was not present in saying what I want. It wasn’t like, Here’s this song, you produce it. It was like, Let’s both work on this song together. It was another huge learning experience. So the record is completely different than Apathy which is way different than Hi. I was eliminating players and adding more knowledge.
You call your fans, fireflies. Where did that come from?
It’s a term of endearment that a friend had given to me when I graduated High School. They wrote me a letter, it was like, You are a firefly to us, and blah blah blah. (laughs) It was a very sweet sentiment and so I thought if that was one of my favorite things to have been called, then that is what I should call my fans because they’re the people that make it matter. I could write songs, and that’s cool, but it only matters because people are listening. So it’s a big term of endearment for me, and that’s why I like to call the fans fireflies.
Who are some of your inspirations?
Lady Gaga and Elton John are huge inspirations for me. I recently started listening to Grimes, who is more like an electronic artist. She’s kind of the reason that I switched gears. She’s a huge one for me because her sound is about the atmosphere and the texture of the song versus the song itself. And so I love that.
What’s the R.A.I.S.E. Program?
The R.A.I.S.E. Program is Reviving Art in Student Education. My friend, Bradley McKee, who is an artist, had started doing something called Support the Arts Tour. Bradley had this idea to help funding for the arts in Georgia, which is really low. And so Bradley had this idea of going to go to schools and talk to like the chorus kids, and I was like, Oh my God, I would love to be part of that.
So we kind of spruced it up a bit more and gave it the R.A.I.S.E. name and added some artists to the roster. It is a volunteer-based program and we go to schools in Georgia right now and we just talk to kids about what a career in the arts looks like. Even in college I lacked that information. You’re being artsy, you can contour a man’s face or whatever, but how do you get a job afterwards. (laughs) And the style that I do it is very like entrepreneurship. I mean you’re running your own business when you’re an independent artist. That’s what I can go and talk to kids about.
What’s your take on social media?
We’re in the technology age and it is a huge part of people’s lives, a huge tool. People come to my shows because I put it on Facebook and Instagram. And so it’s this weird window. I hate it and I love it at the same time, but it is the way the world is going. It’s live music connects to people on a face-to-face level. Isn’t that why we paint pictures and write music? Royal Blue Daydream is about screen addictions. I like to think of the blue illuminating your face. And it’s the crazy art that revolves around the world daydreaming. We’re basically addicted to the screen, so we’re like tripping off the screen. And I’m not even criticizing people because I’m totally part of it. It’s just a commentary on the fact that that’s kind of our lives right now. Crazy.