The past few years have been unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before, especially for those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic. The astonishing singer-songwriter burwell lost her mother in March 2020, and in the years since, she’s been turning her pain into the beautiful EP boxes: an exploration of grief and some of the heaviest emotions known to humankind. It’s a devastating, yet comforting, testament to strength that honors her mother in one of the most beautiful ways possible.
“It felt so natural at first,” burwell tells TREMG. “The songs in this music project were on my heart before I had the chance to write them, so it was easy at first. Beginning to open up enough to share these songs has required a lot of letting go & has been a part of the grief process for me. I’m grateful for the texture it’s added to my life & the whole process.”
Opener “anywhere but here” begins the project on a dreamy note with a music box sound effect in the beginning, with burwell contemplating different forms of escapism and a lack thereof, wanting to be by her mom’s side through her final days no matter how hard it may be. It perfectly sets the scene for the rest of the EP, diving right into her headspace and the tragic story it explores.
“I think I wrestled with the lyrics for ‘anywhere but here’ longer than the lyrics for any of the other songs, even after the day it was written,” burwell admits. “Thinking back and reconsidering lyrics, playing with words, trying to make sure my heart felt happy with the final words. It called the most from me emotionally, I think, and brought the most tears of all of the songs on the EP.”
“hold me, still” describes the comfort that burwell’s mother brought to her over a whimsical synthpop track that mirror the floaty, detached feeling she experienced following her loss. It touches on her fears of losing her memories with her mom with a gentle vulnerability that still offers an element of strength, opening up to the world about one of the hardest experiences of her life.
On “boxes,” burwell starts to metaphorically and literally unpack her grief as she looks over her mom’s belongings and is reminded of elements of her life. She knows that “one day [she’ll] see it through” and learn to cope with the emptiness the loss has left in her heart, but for now, she ses her mom’s things as a way to connect with her. Whether it’s planting a garden with her mother’s gardening tools or simply thinking back to better times, her mother will live on through her.
The synthpop styling returns on the thoughtful “in the dark,” where burwell steps “out in the unknown” and starts rebuilding her life knowing her heart is still full of her mom’s love. It’s one of the standout tracks on the EP, serving as a beautiful tribute to her mother while showcasing her strength in pushing through this difficult time. It’s a triumphant step forward into the sunlight following unthinkable pain. The bridge even returns to the music box sounds that appear on “anywhere but here,” bringing the project’s journey full-circle.
The longest track on the EP is the melancholy closer “Whole Again,” a hauntingly detailed track about little things that pop up and remind burwell of her mother. It’s a stunningly heart-wrenching acknowledgment that a truly painful grieving process may never end, no matter how much you’ve progressed. “I’ll let the light come in,” burwell insists as she sets her sights on moving forward and keeping her mom in her memory.
boxes is a breathtaking exploration of human grief and how loss affects us for years to come, offering brutal honesty “even if it’s messy.” If you’re hurting after losing someone right now, this project can help heal you. You shouldn’t go through something like that alone, and this EP can provide the perfect support for a reeling heart. burwell touches on her pain while also addressing the growth and progress she’s made, and she’s turned one of the worst experiences possible into a masterpiece of intimate details and rallying reminders that life can still carry beautiful things.
“Life after death is a strange concept, but it’s been part of my journey to realize what ‘being okay’ looks like, day to day,” burwell shares. “For those who face loss, love can help us keep living.”
You can find boxes on your favorite streaming services now, and get to know burwell on Facebook, Instagram, and her official website! Keep reading for more from our interview with the emotion-provoking singer-songwriter.
Congrats on your recent single, “anywhere but here!” How does it feel to finally let it out into the world?
it feels good to have the song out there at last, although i feel shy! working on the song has been such a huge part of my life and healing through grief over the past year or so – i can only hope it will help other people process grief in a way that brings them life, too.
“anywhere but here” and the rest of the boxes EP are inspired by your late mom, and I’m so sorry for that loss. Was it hard for you to be so vulnerable on these songs about something that personal?
thank you so much ❤ in short, yes! it felt so natural at first… the songs in this music project were on my heart before i had the chance to write them, so it was easy at first. beginning to open up enough to share these songs has required a lot of letting go & has been a part of the grief process for me. i’m grateful for the texture it’s added to my life & the whole process.
“anywhere but here” is a stunning song full of escapism and callbacks to memories you shared with your mom. Is there a certain lyric on the song that you’re especially proud of?
thank you, kindly! “if death is something we must face, love could be the way that we come back to life.” life after death is a strange concept, but it’s been part of my journey to realize what ‘being okay’ looks like, day to day. for those who face loss, love can help us keep living.
Did the boxes recording process awaken more painful feelings in you or did it help you find closure and start rebuilding your life?
it has been life-giving to have a place where i can express myself, through music. i think the ep has been somewhat of a catalyst for conversations around grief and what it’s been like on the other side of losing a loved one. it’s hard to face hard feelings, but there’s life there, too.
The songs on boxes are really gonna help listeners who are dealing with grief themselves. Which song on the EP are you most excited for fans to hear?
thank you, goodness i hope so! lately, i feel the most excited about “in the dark” because it’s so much more upbeat! i love a good sad song, but upbeat/hopeful songs have a place too. i picture an awakening with the release, to walk through it all & feel everything, especially hope.
With how personal this project is, I could imagine you took a lot of breaks to process what you were writing and singing about. Which song on boxes took the longest to make?
Ha, yes! so true. i think i wrestled with the lyrics for “anywhere but here” longer than the lyrics for any of the other songs, even after the day it was written. thinking back and reconsidering lyrics, playing with words, trying to make sure my heart felt happy with the final words. it called the most from me emotionally, i think, and brought the most tears of all of the songs on the ep.
From July 2020 to July 2021, your Instagram feed was largely black and white, but since then, you’ve infused it with color and bright pastel shades. What was the process like to start adding color into your life following your loss?
ah, you noticed, yes! i have a history of hiding from the spotlight, downplaying myself and my artistry wherever possible. i think the black and white phase was a part of that, where i wasn’t sure about colors so i washed them away by wishing them out of my newsfeed… it has taken time to see my own potential and to believe it’s worth stepping back and giving it some love. as i started to dream up what i could do or release through burwell, color kept entering my mind so i worked it in. i’m not sure exactly what song broke through the quiet, maybe parts of “silence,” but it became easier over the past 2 years as i began experimenting with color. in the same way, finding life after my loss has looked similar, with pockets of joy everywhere.
You’ve been releasing airy, emotional pop music as burwell since dropping the aptly named ‘The Beginning’ in 2019. How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist since then?
yes! so much growth, wow. i think one of the primary things has been self-belief, and realizing it is worth spending time on things that we care about. music brings my soul to life and for that reason alone, i want to keep creating it and finding avenues where i can share it with others. i have also developed an open mind and heart for collaboration. getting to work on projects with other artists whether it’s a cowrite, video or a dream they have has been so much fun.
In addition to solo work, you’ve also made music as part of both The Tide Rose and The Cheap Royals. How does your approach to your own work differ from how you approached band-focused work?
i have more time to overthink my solo stuff, for sure! it’s so helpful to have someone else to help me sort through ideas and figure out what’s worth taking forward, or leaving behind. i miss things about having a full band, but i’m seeing the beauty of being a solo artist, too.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention that the questions didn’t touch on?
if you’re reading this, thank you so much for taking the time! it seems like we’re all so busy these days and the internet is always active so there’s a lot of information out there. getting to connect through music has been such a cool thing, and i value your making time for this. 🙂
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Hi! I’m Madison Murray, a pop culture and music writer who also loves writing about lifestyle and fashion. I have credits on sites like TREMG, The Honey POP, Genius, Young Hollywood, and Audible Addixion, as well as my own Melodic Musings blog. Find me on socials @madisonmwrites!