Similar to the way having a copious amount of choice can bring enthralling possibility or a paralyzing level of uncertainty, being left to one’s own devices in a place of quiet separation can yield vastly different results for anyone that embraces the environment. Though some might find the prospect of deliberate social withdrawal challenging, for songwriter and musical journeyman Spencer Burton, pursuit of a quieter life after extensive touring and becoming a parent served as more of a full circle milestone and Burton’s new single “Further” definitely supports that idea.
Premiering today on American Songwriter, “Further” is not only Spencer Burton’s latest release but it also marks his first piece of work after signing with Dallas Green’s Dine Alone imprint, Still Records.
Burton’s move turned out to be very much a return to his formative roots – even though Burton’s actual roots in Ontario, Canada lie several hundred miles north of Niagara County where he currently lives. A composition steeped in feelings of hope and faith, “Further” quite boldly presents Burton as a songwriter intent on deeply contemplating the complexities of human nature. Additionally, however, it also evokes a tonal and performative lightness that aligns with Burton’s comfort around vast wilderness and an intention to embrace more peaceful living.
That said, the message of “Further” isn’t simply one of flowery convolution. However, rather than unfurling its message in a dry or visceral way, the song’s lyrics are compiled with the help of symbolism and metaphors. The result is a message that projects Burton’s intended honesties but communicates them using language more aligned with the kind of open-ended poetic wonder that pervades his renewed embrace of the countrysides of Ontario and Niagara. That said, the connective complementary nature of Burton’s chosen surroundings and the emotional vibe of “Further” weren’t explicitly a planned artistic strategy.
“With most things I do, there’s no conscious thought put into it, especially when it comes to music,” Burton says.
“I just kind of roll with the punches, which (is to say,) I just take what life hands me,” he continues.
“So you know, the opportunity arose and I moved out of the city and moved to the country. Did the sound, you know, the turn of sound that my music took, have to do with my mood? Maybe, but it wasn’t like (I thought,) ‘Well I live in the country now, I gotta do “that” whole thing (with the sound of my music,)’ It was just, I am just doing what feels natural at the time. I mean, maybe I’ll put out a hip hop album in three years. I don’t know, because I’m never consciously trying to do something. I’m just kind of creating what is coming out of me,” says Burton.
All the same, even taking into account that Burton’s surroundings weren’t directly intended as a core element of for “Further’s” lyrical character, the single’s conceptual intention isn’t without a different rather prominent implication: spirituality. Immediately from the beginning, “Further” introduces the bold image of a house on fire. Though this is not a distinctly spiritual image on its own, the opening verse’s lines come together to project a strongly symbolic sense of hope and an intention that resonates strongly with Biblical concepts of prayer, cleansing with water, and a return to the good in life.
There’s a house upon the hill, filled with flame
The people all pray to go there, lord I pray for rain
Just to wash it all away, go back to a better day
– Lyrics from “Further”
Again, while not deliberately and consciously looking to craft a song that aligns with some kind of religious or spiritual music demographic, unlike the rolling hills and colorful forests of the North American wilderness, spirituality definitely impacts Burton’s sense of self. Thus some of his artistic character takes on influence as well, even if it’s not an excessive or singular creative goal.
“I’m not I’m by no means a very religious person. But I do take myself to be a fairly spiritual person. Like, I I believe that there is a life about this Earth. And there’s even more life on the Earth than we think there is. There’s love and humanity and passion in every living thing – be it a tree, bird, a pig, or a chicken, you know, whatever it is, there’s all this. There’s so much going on, on this planet,” Burton says.
Musically, it’s interesting that the backing band’s combined melodies, harmonies, tempo, and syncopated rhythms, exude a more jovial temperament than the lyrics. The former doesn’t attempt to parallel the somewhat tenuous state of the people highlighted in the song’s narrative (There are echos, whispering , calling from the ledge / There are voices, never heard, never spread / Too many places, too many words get lost in the end). The emotional contrast might initially seem trivial or, perhaps more cynically, even misplaced. Still, Burton will always take time to remind anyone who listens to his music, that there’s no rigid agenda. His creativity, including the noted shift in sonic style for “Further,” is just how the chips fell in his mind at the time.
“I’m not trying to like write one specific genre of music. I just kind of write (songs) as they come,” he says.
That said, much like Burton’s decision to move away from the hectic life of touring and the reprioritization of his life after becoming a father, it makes all the sense in the world that he could and would choose to acknowledge hardships of the present with an optimistic mentality pointing to the future, with a song like “Further.” The coexistence of hopeful promise and weighty discouragement showcases Burton’s willingness to see himself and life overall, just as they are, going with the flow of whatever is needed to evolve for the better.
“For me, it’s almost like music is very powerful and it speaks to me on lots of different levels. I’ve had so many people come up to me about a specific song I’ve written in the past,” he explains. “(Saying) like, ‘I love that song! Is it about this? This is what this is what it means to me, is this what it’s about?’ and I’ll just be like, ‘Yeah man, it’s whatever you want it to be about.”
“And you know,” he continues, “when I talk about (music) making me feel something, it doesn’t necessarily have to be me alone in a car grooving to a song. If I put on like, some sort of trash, you know, and my kid is just like, ‘No don’t change the channel (and) they’re playing a couple of the songs and dancing and they’re happy in the back of the car, (then) I love that song, because it’s made me feel something because my son or daughter is feeling something, you know?”
“That’s what music does: it makes you feel something and generally it’s kind of tapping into your emotions, and what is happening in your life,” Burton says.
“At least that’s like every song I’ve ever really fallen in love with,” he continues. “It’s like, (a song) might be about f–king space aliens but I’m like, ‘I think it’s about the girl that just broke up with me’ you know? So it’s like music can mean, like I said, anything to anybody.”