International, Intergenerational And Improbable, The Burnt Pines Have Lit A Fire
On paper, it doesn’t seem like a plausible plan for storming onto the Americana radio chart. Start a brand new band with members based on two continents, with gently surreal songs written by a fifty-ish fingerstyle folk/classical guitarist and a lyricist/singer who’s a generation younger from Denmark. That is however the basic origin story of The Burnt Pines, and it appears to be working.
Released Jan. 22, the self-titled debut of The Burnt Pines was positioned by the band as “a multicultural marvel, chiefly comprised of a trio of talented musicians who first came together at a Lisbon recording studio in the summer of 2018, and in a relatively short period of time rose to the challenge of inter-continental recording.” This, to put it mildly, needs explaining, so I got on the line withinstigator of the trio, Boston-based guitarist Aaron Flanders.
It all goes back to when Flanders met keyboard player and recording engineer Miguel Sá Pessoa in the late 1990s, after studying guitar at the Boston Conservatory and the Berklee College of Music and starting an acoustic instrumental duo. “Over the years,” Flanders says, Sá Pessoa “had worked with a number of quite successful musicians here in Boston and he’s a wonderful producer and arranger, and we'd worked on various projects. Eventually he moved back to his home of Lisbon and opened up a recording studio about six years ago.”
Into Miguel’s life walked Kris Skovmand, native to Denmark with an American mother and Danish father who lived in numerous cities over his adult years as a filmmaker, artist and musician. He was newly married to a Lisbon woman and needed studio space, so he moved in with Miguel. When Flanders began sending Sá Pessoa guitar parts for songs he was writing, Skovmand was suggested as a vocalist for the demos. And dang if the Dane didn’t have a terrific voice, hearty with a slight grain and a vulnerability that reaches out of the speakers.
“And I thought, wow, if I went over to Lisbon, and we were all in the same room together, maybe we should try to start co writing,” Flanders said. “We were really pleased with the results. We finished it after I came back to the States. So we had even pre-pandemic begun getting used to figuring out some process that enabled us to co write being across the ocean from each other. We had to figure out some way to make it work because we really liked the chemistry of our writing together after that first song. So we had an incredibly productive year and a half writing and producing Burnt Pines songs together.”
Late last year, radio stations plucked the project from obscurity and began the first singles, including lead track “Diamonds” with its simple folk progression and its quirky evocation of canine fidelity as a vehicle for talking about lasting love. There’s an e.e. cummings freedom and precariousness to Skovmand’s verses, as in another early spotlight track, “Heavy And Young.” He sings: “Old and weightless, is what you called me for my drifting mind./ Halfway to the moon, and I turned back, because the sun was in my eyes.”
“Kris's lyrics can sometimes be oblique; they're very imagistic. They're thinking lyrics. They suggest stuff,” says Flanders. “But there is a narrative I think behind all of them. They sort of invite multiple listenings.” Also attractive is the gentle Laurel Canyon vibe of the acoustic/electric blend and the lush vocal harmonies, which Flanders says is actually Kris’s voice stacked up.
Inspired by the sound and early, effusive reviews, the project reached Americana radio as a complete album statement. The band’s team reports that by this month, DJs had played every song on the air somewhere at some time at least once, which is rare. The project has spent eight weeks in the AMA top 50, peaking at #25.
The pandemic has made the Burnt Pines method of virtual co-writing more of a mainstream thing by necessity, while they came up with their way by choice. Conversely, they are thinking about scenarios to tour and perform the material as the three to five-piece band they want to be. “When I was over in Lisbon, we did play some stripped down trio gigs without bass and drums,” says Flanders. “When the pandemic hit, in a way, oddly, I guess, our way of producing music, whether it be bi-continentally, or even just in remote studios from anywhere became sort of the way to do it. And so perhaps that worked in our favor. We would love to get together and be able to play together. That would be in the US at this point. And we're looking ahead to some possibilities.”