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Mynabirds' Laura Burhenn rediscovers her tribal heritage

East Coaster Laura Burhenn knew exactly what she was doing when she recently moved to Omaha, Neb. Her old duo Georgie James had ties to the city's bustling Saddle Creek scene, so it made perfect sense to re-sign with the imprint for Generals, her new PJ Harvey-inspired sophomore outing as the Mynabirds. She even wound up playing keyboards in the touring band of local Saddle Creek heroes Bright Eyes.

But those weren't the only changes. Thumping Generals stompers like "Wolf Mother" and "Buffalo Flower" tap into Native American mythology, and for very good reason: Burhenn has rediscovered her tribal heritage.

"Obviously, there's something really romantic about Native American culture, and I was always raised being told that my great-grandfather on my mother's side was a Blackfeet Indian, or Native American," says the whip-smart musician. "And definitely living in the plains, and being closer to where the Blackfeet tribe has been located historically, really made me think in those terms. So I tried to pull in a lot of images of animals because I wanted it to feel very primal. So there are a lot of magical animals on the record."

Burhenn also became more of an activist, helping to launch Omaha Girls Rock with several women who were frustrated with corporate greed.

"They were like, 'You know what? We don't know what else we can do, so we're gonna teach some little girls how to write some kick-ass rock songs!' And it really brought the community together, and it really is making a difference. And sure, there are larger acts of revolution, and I tend to get myself involved in a lot of those. I'm all for protesting and speaking out against what's wrong. But at the same time, it's the neighborly acts of kindness and love that are often the most revolutionary."

Even so, Generals pulls no political punches in vitriolic, venomous alt-rockers like "Disaster," "Greatest Revenge," "Mightier Than the Sword," and the dark opening processional "Karma Debt."

"The first question I asked on the album with 'Karma Debt' was: What is my role as a musician? And even if I sing my lungs out about this, is it going to make a difference? And what it comes down to is that bridge in the song — 'I'd give it all for a legacy of hope.' And thankfully, I now live in a community where I'm surrounded by some really amazing people, who just keep plugging away, every day."

Burhenn also found inspiration in the feminist writings of Gloria Steinem, Naomi Wolf and Sojourner Truth. The Occupy Wall Street movement also played a pivotal lyrical role.

Ultimately, she says, Generals stands as "a wake-up call, a call to arms, a call to specific women to recognize what's being done to them and to their rights. With every album I make — and everything I do — I want to look back on it at the end of my life and feel like it was good and useful, and not totally self-absorbed. And I finally feel emboldened enough to say exactly what I think."

scene@csindy.com

  • Mynabirds' Laura Burhenn rediscovers her tribal heritage

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