20:20 — 20 Questions, 20 Answers

Published August 28, 2020

In Part 5 of our series, we get a three-for-one bonus from The Burney Sisters, as the girls

Olivia, age 15, Emma, 12 and Bella, 10—from Columbia, Missouri, all indulge us our questions.

 We don’t like to throw the word prodigy around lightly here at NWM—let alone prodigies—but Emma and Olivia began their professional careers at 9 and 11 and play ten or so instruments a piece. Now comes Bella who delivers the bassline and adds a mean high harmony to the sisters’ sound. Prodigies or hard working performers? We are only sure they’re a hella act adding up to more than small numbers after their names. They’re big talent and heart. Join us as we delight in spending a few minutes with them.


The Burney Sisters

Photos by Amber Nicole Thiessen | Photos courtesy of The Burney Sisters

20:20 with The Burney Sisters

NWM 1: Name three things that make you smile.
Olivia: Playing live, chocolate Coca-Cola cake, and writing.
Emma: My dogs, bacon-wrapped shrimp, and Wii Fit.
Bella: Playing with friends, making crafts, playing with my dogs.

NWM 2: What instrument holds the most fascination for you, and do you play it?
Olivia: Drums. No.
Emma: Piano. Yes.
Bella: Bass. Yes.

NWM 3: What is a favorite concert or show you have attended?
Olivia: Black Pumas. Roots N Blues [Columbia, Missouri]
Emma: Jason Isbell.  Roots N Blues [Columbia, Missouri]
Bella: Avett Brothers. Roots N Blues [Columbia, Missouri]

NWM 4: Who might we be surprised to find on your playlist?
Olivia: Conan Gray, but only one song.
Emma: Mason Ramsey.
Bella: Nicki Minaj.

The Burney Sisters

NWM 5: Favorite book?
Olivia: Legends of the Chelsea Hotel.
Emma: The Beatles Biography by Hunter Davies.
Bella: The Baby-Sitters Club.

NWM 6: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that you actually follow? 
Olivia: I read that Bob Dylan said he admires writers who aspire to make the flow of a song sound natural.

Emma: Use a metronome when using vibrato on the violin.
Bella: When plucking (on bass), use one finger to pick and the other finger to mute it.

NWM 7: Harry Styles or Billie Eilish?
Oliva: Harry Styles!
Emma: Harry Styles!
Bella: Harry Styles!

NWM 8: What are the pros and cons of being so young and accomplished and working in the business?
Olivia: Pro—Having more time to figure out what styles I want to explore, flexibility. Con—People underestimating us because we’re so young.
Emma: Pro—Developing a skill set early. Con—Having people make presumptions about our ability to play well when they hear our ages. Some people can be pretty condescending, but usually change their tune after hearing us.
Bella: Pro—Appealing and connecting to younger crowds with music. Con—Less time to do other things.

“Some people can be pretty condescending, but usually change their tune after hearing us.” ~Emma Burney

NWM 9: What is a favorite cover you perform? 
Olivia: “Bobby” by Alex G.
Emma: “No Hard Feelings” by The Avett Brothers. 
Bella: “Somebody that I Used to Know” by Gotye.

NWM 10: What song/album could you play on repeat? 
Olivia: “Punisher” by Phoebe Bridgers.
Emma: Rumors by Fleetwood Mac.
Bella: Off the Wall by Michael Jackson.

NWM 11: Weirdest show? 
Olivia: We played in a theater behind a bar that had a cigarette dispenser in a machine and weird decorations. 
Emma: Paid to play in a park, away from the main event, where no one was.
Bella: A venue—that got shut down—where a person told me to leave because I was too young. … But I was with the band. 

NWM 12: How do you express your creativity other than through music?
Olivia: Painting.
Emma: Sketching.
Bella: Creating things with polymer clay.

NWM 13: Favorite movie?
Oliva: Empire Records.
Emma: Austin Powers.
Bella: Austin Powers: Gold Member.

The Burney Sisters

NWM 14: If you could see anyone from throughout history perform who would it be? 
Oliva: Lou Reed, Otis Redding, Prince.
Emma: The Beatles.
Bella: Michael Jackson.

NWM 15: We’re sure there are more names than you have time to list, but who jumps out as the biggest influences on your music or career?
Olivia: Phoebe Bridgers, Jeff Buckley, The Wild Reeds, First Aid Kit, and The Avett Brothers.
Emma: George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Sam Cooke, Stevie Nicks, The Avett Brothers, and Bob Dylan.
Bella: Michael Jackson.

NWM 16: What are some favorite “oldies” you listen to?
Olivia: Frank Sinatra.
Emma: Hank Williams.
Bella: “Sleepwalk” by Betsy Brye

NWM 17: What contemporary acts do you enjoy?
Olivia: Julia Jacklin, Phoebe Bridgers, Clairo.
Emma: The Avett Brothers.
Bella: Doja Cat.

The Burney Sisters

NWM 18: What was your most memorable performance and/or venue?
Olivia: Roots N Blues [Main Stage, 2019]
Emma: Roots N Blues [Main Stage, 2019]
Bella: Roots N Blues [Main Stage, 2019]

NWM 19: What was your first concert as a fan? 
Olivia: Kacey Musgraves in downtown Columbia
Emma: Panic! at the Disco at Enterprise Arena
Bella: The Avett Brothers at Roots N Blues

NWM 20: What is one thing you would want our readers to know about which we might not know to ask? [Here, the girls collectively decided we hadn’t known to ask about their pet peeves. They were right! How had we missed asking people about their pet peeves?!? Thank you, Burney Sisters!] 
Olivia: Scraping teeth on utensils.
Emma: Dry dirt between toes.
Bella: Doors creaking.

The Burney Sisters “Make Me Happy!”

The Burney Sisters

The Burney Sisters

A seismic sister trio with an ever-evolving folk/rock/Indie sound. The traditional childhood music repertoire just wasn’t their jam. Instead, the girls steeped themselves in pop music and daily family singalongs. The musical phenoms are now a heady force. With a maturity and emotional intelligence that belies their age, Olivia writes keen and knowing songs while Emma rounds out their sound, arranging for multiple instruments and structuring unique and resonant harmonies. The result—personal and penetrating songs that both connect with and captivate the listener. The Burney Sisters have played stages big and small, opening for Wynonna Judd, Lonestar, and Jo Dee Messina.

To learn more about The Burney Sisters and to buy stuff, visit https://theburneysisters.com/.

Be sure to read April Burney Shafer’s The Day the Music Died.

You may enjoy our previous 20:20 with Jayme Stone.

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