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Episode 2: The Burney Sisters

Olivia Burney, with sisters Emma and Bella, performed a set and talked with host Connor McGovern at KBIA's Studio B, for this episode of the Studio B Sessions.
Peter Kamp
Olivia Burney, with sisters Emma and Bella, performed a set and talked with host Connor McGovern at KBIA's Studio B for this episode of the Studio B Sessions.

The Burney Sisters are a trio of musical sisters, Olivia, Emma and Bella, who deploy their multi-instrumental talent to evolve the musical genre of folk, rock and indie. And since the release of their first single “Constellations” in 2017, which continues to be their highest-streamed song, the sisters continue to evolve their music to different genres that inspire their songwriting and their music.

All three sisters sat down with host Connor McGovern at KBIA’s Studio B, to chat about how music has always been a strong presence in their lives - and they also took the time to play a set of four of their favorite songs.

Here are excerpts from the set and the conversation.

Olivia Burney: I would say definitely, music has always been a part of our life. Our mom sang songs to us and would always have music playing in the house. I think music is another way to make … it feel more homey or it was for us at least. And so, you know, we'd always have music in the house. And so I think it's just kind of natural that this is the progression of our lives so far.

Connor McGovern: That's pretty awesome. So … all the members are multi-instrumentalists. But Olivia, it seems like your turning point was, I read in the Tribune [about] your songwriting ability, it was when you first found a ukulele at a garage sale for $1? Can you talk about how your songwriting process, how that kind of affected your songwriting process, with using the ukulele? And how, if at all, does the ukulele fit into the origins of a song?

Olivia Burney: Yeah, the ukulele definitely fits. I just wrote a new song with ukulele after not really picking it up for a really long time. But I think it's probably, like, one of the perfect instruments to learn as your first instrument because you can play, like, four chords and learn any song. And then just, you'll feel so good because you're able to, like, learn a song instantly. And yeah, I just started writing songs off of that. And a lot of our first music and stuff was the same four chords and stuff because we didn't really know how to play our instruments as well as we're able to now. But yeah, I think that I write more on guitar now. And different instruments make me write differently. But I still definitely use the ukulele.

Peter Kamp
Emma and Bella Burney of The Burney Sisters trio performed a set, with sister Olivia Burney, at KBIA's Studio B. Producer Aaron Hay is pictured in the background.

Connor McGovern: Very cool. So, Bella, you are the youngest sister who first joined the group when adding a high harmony in the 2019 Christmas single “White Christmas.” What was it like joining your sisters after they had been releasing material? And have you established your own spot in the band?

Bella Burney: Oh, well, people are always like, “Oh, how does it - How does it feel?” And I'm, well, it feels like I've always been with them, like with them and their journey and stuff like that. So I've watched them play and grow and do all of this stuff. And I feel like I kind of learned it from them, like watching them do that stuff. And that's how it's easier to learn how to do things whenever I'm around them. Because it's like, I don't know, they just always - they always have this sense of helping me and it just always, I don't know, it always makes me feel comfortable whenever I'm messing up. And then they're just like, “Well, it's alright, we can try again.” Or, “We can try this different thing.” And it's just like - it's awesome. To have my sisters as my mentors and stuff.

And it's just like - it's awesome. To have my sisters as my mentors and stuff.
Bella Burney

Connor McGovern: You guys incorporate so many different genres into your music - indie folk and rock sounds are kind of the prominent ones I hear. But various elements such as country and then even punk … seem to find their way onto various tracks. How is your group able to, like, transcend genre classifications? And is it hard to try and avoid being classified as just one thing?

Emma Burney: It is, yeah. Well, I think that I've met a lot of musicians who only listen to one style of music. And that's kind of, just, that's what they play. That's how they write. And that's … just them, you know? And the three of us, we all listen to different genres of music, like all kinds of different music. So it's kind of, I don't know - even if she wrote a metal song, which she hasn't done - but I could find a way to, you know, make it work. Because: Don't worry, I may have a metal song [in] my playlist! Yeah ... you've got to listen to lots of different genres.

Olivia Burney: It's like … kind of researching music. … And so I love looking for new music. And I think it helps me and inspires my writing a lot. I think that we, as a band, have never really wanted to be put in one genre and that we basically just do whatever we want. Our fans, I think, know that. Our friends, like, they know that we just aren't going to play whatever songs that we like in the moment. And that it might not fit into this genre, but it'll still be, you know, our artistic expression.

Connor McGovern: What’s next for The Burney Sisters?

Olivia Burney: Next is recordings and stuff. I really want to have more recordings for our fans, because recently … we played at The Blue Note, and, like, everybody was singing the lyrics. And I'm like, we have to do more of this so that people know the lyrics for songs. And then, like, that just feels so cool. Like it just made me feel like a million bucks. It was awesome. Like people singing my lyrics that I'm in my little bedroom writing and stuff. That just meant a lot to me.

Abigail Ruhman is a reporter and afternoon newscast anchor for KBIA. They are working on a special series, and have produced for KBIA's Missouri on Mic and Missouri Health Talks in the past.
Connor McGovern is a host and producer of KBIA's Studio B Sessions. He was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and will graduate with degrees in Journalism and Entrepreneurship from the University of Missouri in May 2023. Previously, Connor has collaborated on KBIA's Missouri on Mic, and he continues to work as a copy editor for the Columbia Missourian and a host on KCOU 88.1 FM.
Aaron worked as a full-time on-air host at KBIA from 2017 to 2022. He continues as the Managing Producer on High Turnout Wide Margins.