The Beauty From Heartbreak: A talk With Burr Oak

Photo By Alexa Viscius

Conducted by Jess Dominguez

Over a month ago, Chicago based artist Burr Oak released their debut album Late Bloomer. Songwriter Savanna Dickhut is the voice behind indie folk band Burr Oak, as well as a preschool teacher. Savanna shared with WLUW what influences her songwriting filled with imagery, beauty, and heartbreak. 

Late Bloomer was released almost a month ago (July 30th), who else makes up the band?

Sure! So it’s me, obviously, the band’s a four piece. I sing and play guitar, Anthony Mest is on drums, Jake Gordon is on bass, and Jeff Sullivan plays guitar. 

How was the process recording during quarantine? 

We started recording the album right before the lockdown so it was kind of tricky because we were working with a producer but he moved to California in the midst of the pandemic. Yeah, we did some recording back in July so after everyone was freaking out. When summer rolled around we said we would do things but it would have to be safe. So we finished recording the record at the end of summer 2020. It was difficult but we needed to finish it. 

So now that you’re able to perform, what are you most excited for when it comes to being live on stage?

I would say getting to be in the room with fans and friends. I got asked to do a handful of livestreams during the pandemic and I turned a lot of them down because personally I need that feedback and energy exchange between the audience. So for me that’s my favorite thing… Being able to be in a room with humans and feed off of them and talk after the show. So that’s definitely my favorite part. 

I would imagine as a musician there’s just a huge disconnect. You don’t get to see the reaction of fans and the most we can do is use an emoji to express reactions which isn’t intimate at all. 

Yah it’s a disconnect which is weird for me. I just don’t like it. 

Do you have any musical influences that shaped the way you wanted the album to sound?

I think I have my influence from growing up, ya know, listening to folk music like Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac. My dad sort of shoved those down my throat but it’s now ingrained in me because I grew up listening to that 60s and 70s folk music like Joni Mitchell. The greats, the song writers that set the way for people now. Contemporary stuff I’m listening to is a lot of female fronted artists like Julia Jacklin, Faye Webster, Hand Habits, Waxahatchee… Folk singer songwriter indie stuff. I can’t really pinpoint who directly influenced this record but I think a lot of things happen subconsciously. I will be listening to a record and start writing and I think it sounds like me but maybe I got some influence from a culmination of different people. 

I love folk music, especially Joni Mitchell, which I realized really influences the music I also listen to today. Female lead artists are just really comforting. 

It is comforting!

What’s your favorite part about working with other musicians in different projects?

I like collaborating and I had a band when I was in college and went to Columbia… so when I was 20 (I’m 27 now). A  few years back I started my first band called Elk Walking. It was cool for a while… I guess we were together for five years, it sounds like a relationship. You know, we split up but it’s kind of what being in a band is like being in a relationship with a very close knit group. There was another guy in the band, Julien, who wrote songs so we would collaborate and write together but mostly separately and bring songs to the group. Then as a group we would work them out.

 I enjoyed that for a while because it lent itself to opening up my mind to someone else’s perspective like different songwriting styles and experiences. That’s not the case in Burr Oak, at least not right now, because it’s a collaborative but I’m the only songwriter. So I’m the one writing the lyrics and melodies and then I bring them to the band and they write their parts. I think I prefer it that way because I like to have creative control over what I put out there and I rather write about my own experiences than sing someone else’s song. 

How does nature influence your music? I love those calming aspects of nature throughout the album. I kind of interpret “Late Bloomer” as self growth and growing into yourself. What in particular made you go with that route? 

First of all thank you, I appreciate that. I think it makes sense to me personally. I grew up with my mom working for the city. She’s an urban planner and my dad is a social scientist and studies how people interact with nature. And I think as humans we’re very nature oriented. I don’t want to sound like a hippie or something but I feel like I’m one with nature. I Love being outside, I don’t think I would want to live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere but I really enjoy getting away and being amongst trees, flowers… stuff like that. The imagery from the album comes from me deeply rooted in loving nature and being outside. Of course the name Burr Oak comes from a tree. I feel very connected to flowers and I like that imagery of metaphorically speaking, like Flower Garden for example, “oh honey you are my flower garden”. Even just that one line says a lot. What is a flower garden and what does that resemble and how can you tie that into being in a relationship? I don’t like literal stuff and I think using nature is a cool way to talk about things in an interesting way.

The imagery really paints a picture for the songs which is something I really love about music. Is there anything else coming up in the near future?

We just did an audiotree that comes out September 9th. We’re doing a festival at the end of September called DZ Fest, and that’s in Hickory Hills. We’re going to do local stuff until probably Spring 2022. We’re going to try to go down South by SouthWest and do a little tour. But I’m not really rushing anything and for me I have a full time Job teaching. Music is sort of a passion thing so I don’t feel like I need to get on the road. 

Make sure to check out Savanna’s Audio Tree performance here!

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