There is always a bit of reluctance when you have to speak to someone who is attractive, talented and confident. Will they be nice? Will they tell it like it is? Will they open up and share a fascinating story, or has everything been handed to them because of their looks, brains or talent? Luckily, if you have a chance to sit down and talk with Brea Burns—the tall, sultry, uber-talented singer/songwriter with great red hair who currently fronts the phenomenal band Trailer Queen—you’ll get everything you could hope for. And she’s incredibly nice, as well.
A fan of all things retro, Burns is devoted to her cat, her guitar and making music
Burns, who is old enough to know better but young enough to still get carded, has been living in Phoenix for about nine years, since moving here from Nashville, Tennessee. She was born in Southern California and grew up with both of her parents working in the music industry, so music comes naturally. But she’s also a gifted hair stylist who works at Salon PhD and is regularly featured on Channel 12 in a segment titled “Monday Makeover.”
2016 has a lot of great things in store for the band, including the release of a full-length album and—hold the phone—a name change that Burns is very excited about yet not quite ready to disclose. While they are still Trailer Queen, Burns and the boys will be making two Valley appearances, on February 5 at Rooster’s Country in Mesa and February 12 at the American Italian Club in Phoenix. Down the road a bit, on April 28, the band will be opening for the inimitable Dale Watson at the Rhythm Room, so keep your eye out and dust off your boots for that one.
We spent some time conversing with Burns over the past few weeks as she prepped for upcoming gigs and recordings.
I have one amazing cat named Thor! He was given to me by (awesome) DJ Johnny Volume when he and his wife had a baby. So Thor became my child.
How did you end up in Phoenix?
I moved to Phoenix about nine years ago from Nashville, Tennessee. I came here with a boyfriend at the time. We were both looking for a change. I was feeling very suffocated by the South (laughs). I grew up in Southern California, so the idea of moving back out West sounded good to me.Nashville by way of Southern California, and nine years here in the Valley—nice. Are you and the boyfriend you moved with still together? Married? Single? Children?
Oh no, that boyfriend is long gone! (Laughs) I am not married and no kids.
Music was always around me. My mom (Dacia Burns) was a musician, and my dad (John Burns) has been in the music business my whole life, so it kind of just happened.Tell me a bit more about your parents.
My parents met in the ’70s when they were both working for MCA Records in Los Angeles. My mom was in the art department, designing album covers for bands (the old school way, with X-ACTO knives and hand drawing things!) and my dad was working his way up as a record executive. He went on to do very well, and was the CEO of Giant Records among other things. So they met there. My mom wasn’t a famous musician, but she was a great piano player and played keyboard in bands in LA and stuff. She died when I was 15. I like to think I am carrying a part of her on with my music.
As far as songs about my mom, I have not written one yet. I’ve started a few but couldn’t really finish them. Maybe one day—that would be cool. I’ll have to ask my dad if he has any recordings of my mom’s music. That would also be really cool.
What’s the best advice your dad has given you about the music business?Hmm, probably that a lot of people are full of shit when it comes to business stuff (laughs). It doesn’t hurt to be skeptical.He’s always there for me when I have questions about stuff. But his music world is pretty different than mine, so at this point he hasn’t helped beyond just being kind and supportive about what I’m doing. I got my first guitar when I was in 6th grade. I played in my bedroom for years before finally getting the courage to jam with other people and try to put projects together. And it wasn’t until I focused on classic country music that I really found the right people and things began to flow. It kind of just clicked after that.
I’d say Loretta Lynn is way up there, as well as Wanda Jackson and Kitty Wells. I also love George Jones, Dolly Parton, Ray Price and Tammy Wynette. That answer could go on awhile.
I have had my current project for about four years now, with Pat Roberts on lead guitar, Tommy Collins on bass, Mike Lopez on drums, and I sing and play rhythm guitar and write the songs. I also use other backing bands when I have to, usually when playing in other places that are too far or expensive to bring my guys to.
I think it is sometimes challenging to get people out of the house to come to events. We don’t have as much of a culture for going out and hearing live music as some places do. But it is nice to be a part of that changing, with Phoenix being more on the map as a music town.
Phoenix has some great bands. Junction 10 are amazing. My guitar player fronts an awesome band called Pat Roberts and The Heymakers. Tony Martinez puts on a killer show. John Rickard is my favorite pedal steel player. Jacob Woodside is a fantastic up-and-coming guitar player. Tommy Ash Band are super talented.
I love Rhythm Room. I used to work there as a cocktail waitress, so it was really fun coming full circle and being on the other side of the stage. We played at Valley Bar for the first time recently and that was cool. It’s a very unique, refreshing environment. Crescent Ballroom is also great.
This is so hard. I guess I’d want a well-rounded mix, so I’m gonna say Hawkwind’s Warrior on the Edge of Time. I love some psychedelic stuff from time to time. Radiohead’s Kid A because I never get sick of that album, and George Jones Salutes Hank Williams because how can you go wrong with The Possum singing Hank songs?
The hardest part of being in a band is doing all the other stuff that goes into making a band run. Like website/Facebook, promoting/booking, scheduling things when all my players are in multiple projects—just trying to balance all that with life and having a day job and still finding time to be creative and write new songs. I envy people that are married to other band members and can work as a team (laughs). Of course, not having that has its perks too—less drama (smiles). The easiest part is having a total blast on stage and getting paid for it. As much work as it takes, it’s always worth it in the end. Music has pulled me out of moods and depression more times than I could ever count, which is worth more than the money side of it.
A huge goal right now is to do more touring, especially in Europe. I got to play a show in Belgium in October and that was totally amazing, so I am in the process of trying to work out a short northern Europe tour for this summer.
I also want to finish recording a few more songs so we can officially release our full-length. We have an EP out now, but are long overdue for a full LP. It’s been a challenge finding the right person to record with.
I played a show here at Rhythm Room with a band from Belgium called Crystal and Running Wild. They were great and we hit it off and stayed in touch. I had a Europe trip already planned and they set up a show just for us and backed me on some songs in Ghent, Belgium, where I was already gonna be! It was so awesome of them, such a blast.
We’ve been lucky and have opened for some of my favorite musicians (Dale Watson, Wayne Hancock, Junior Brown), but it would be really cool to open for Dwight Yoakam one of these days and also Reverend Horton Heat. I tried to get on that show at Crescent last time they came but they didn’t have room for local openers.
I try to eat light and healthy the day of a show, especially, and I take my time with my hair and makeup for sure. Ya gotta have big hair in country music! At least I do (smiles). I used to get terrified before gigs. It was awful. I was too scared to even talk between songs. But now, I am pretty comfortable on stage and it is usually fun. I still get a little nervous if other musicians I respect are in the crowd, or if we are opening for someone awesome.
It’s funny. There are times when I’ve went in thinking a show will be amazing, and it’s been a disaster (at least in my mind) and vice versa—thinking it won’t be super great and then our energy just lines up and it’s awesome. But there are other times, too, when the venue, crowd, lineup and band dynamic all flow together and create a magical night. Those are the best.
We play pretty regularly within Arizona—Flagstaff, Jerome and Prescott, and I play in Nashville about once a year when I am back home visiting friends and family, and the Europe thing was a first and hopefully not last.
I’ve lived in the Coronado Historic District for about six years.
Well, I go to a lot of live shows at various places. Other than that, I like playing bingo at the American Italian Club, having drinks at Rokerij, and thrift store and vintage shopping.
I love how much more detailed and beautiful things used to be, even everyday things. There was so much thought and craftsmanship put into them. I feel more alive and comfortable when I surround myself with vintage things. I also love wondering where those pieces have been, what kind of people owned them. Beyond that, I can’t put my finger on why. I have always been instinctually drawn to vintage stuff.
Aside from thrift stores in random places, Antique Sugar and Retro Ranch! Both those shops have great stuff, reasonable prices and the owners are awesome.
They might be surprised to know that I collect creepy vintage baby dolls, and also that I was Amish in a past lifeAmish in a past life? (Laughs) So obviously I don’t know this for sure, but I have always felt strangely drawn to the Amish lifestyle. Not as a permanent thing, but I’ve always been fascinated and wanted to go live with an Amish family for a month to see what it would be like. Then recently, a friend of mine who is a medium and highly psychic looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You were Amish in a past life.” I had never discussed any of my feelings about the Amish to her before, and the comment was literally out of nowhere. So, that kind of sealed the deal for me.