Jess Viscius is the singer of the Chicago-based quartet Bnny, which she plays in with her twin sister Alexa Viscius, and Tim Makowski and Matt Pelkey. Their debut record Everything is out now via Fire Talk.
Molly Burch is a California-born, Austin, TX-based singer-songwriter, whose album Romantic Images was just released by Captured Tracks last month; Jess Viscius is the singer for the Chicago alt quartet Bnny. To celebrate the release of Bnny’s debut Everything — out today via Fire Talk — the two friends hopped on a Zoom call to catch up.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
Molly Burch: I’m so excited about your album.
Jess Viscius: Likewise! I also love that you’re doing your release show a month after, because it gives people time to listen to it and really get to love it.
Molly: I hope so! I do miss how things used to be. It’s way more exciting, I feel like, to immediately go on tour instead of just being at home and having too much time to think about stuff, crying. [Laughs.]
We met, when was it? 2019? Because you opened some shows for me, and it was so fun. I feel like we immediately connected. I love you and your sister.
Jess: It was just a short little run — we only joined on for a few dates.
Molly: You and your sister are both so hilarious, and I’m so glad we’ve been able to keep in touch. I guess my first question is: what is your favorite part about collaborating with your sister, your twin, and were you guys always so close? Because it’s such a special relationship, and it’s so cool that you play music together and you’re visually so in tune as well. I love all the album artwork.
Jess: Thank you. I guess I’ll answer your question backwards. We’ve always been super close, — like we’ve always had the same group of friends, we’ve always been best friends. We went through some rough times in college, because we lived together and that was just really stressful. But it was a learning lesson — don’t live with your sister and best friend.
Molly: [Laughs.] Yeah.
Jess: But yeah, I think working together is amazing because we just have this trust that I haven’t experienced with anyone else. We can be really honest with each other. I feel so grateful to have someone like that in my life. And it’s so important as an artist to have that person who’s your support system no matter what, even if you’re doing awful — she’s just always got my back.
Molly: I love her. And she did all the photographs for the album, right?
Jess: She did, yeah. She’s an amazing photographer, I know you know that. I also feel like I’m really lucky to have this incredible photographer sister — press photos aren’t cheap, or music videos, and she’s the one filming the videos.
Molly: Amazing. I love that. Is she part of writing the songs? Musically, how do you guys collaborate?
Jess: I write the songs, and then I’ll bring them to practice and then the band will fill in their parts. It’s cool. Do you have any siblings?
Molly: I do, I have an older sister and we’re so close.
Jess: So you know the sister bond.
Molly: Yes, I do, very well. [Laughs.] Sisters are the best.
Jess: I have a brother too, but we just don’t have the same relationship, and I feel like he had a hard time growing up, because my sister and I were so close. I think he always felt left out.
OK, I’m going to ask you a question: I see that you’re growing some flowers in your backyard, and I wanted to ask about your garden.
Molly: Well, that is all my boyfriend, Dailey [Toliver], who you met who’s in my band. He does all the garden stuff. I don’t even water it, so I can’t take credit for it. You posted recently about your garden, and it looks just like ours because we have all these zinnias. But that’s my garden story — I just love that he does that, so I can appreciate it and I don’t have to do anything.
Jess: Yeah, that’s nice. I feel like zinnias are a really easy flower too, like you just put the seeds down and they grow, like six feet. You can cut them and they grow back.
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Molly: Let’s talk about the album. I’m sorry, this is a really basic question, but we haven’t talked in a while — I just want to know about when you recorded this album. Did you do it in quarantine? I know you’d been writing for so many years…
Jess: So we recorded the album here in Chicago at this place called Jamdek in 2020. Some of the songs are much older — some of the songs are from, like, 2015. But yeah, we basically recorded it live, and then I would track my guitar if it was awful or something. And then I did my vocals in closets, mostly.
Molly: I’ve done that before.
Jess: It’s like the best way to save money, when you’re like, “We can do the vocals somewhere else.” Because oftentimes, the vocals take a long time.So I was recording in these really hot closets, because nobody ever had AC. That was a struggle.
Molly: Was it in quarantine? When did you guys start recording?
Jess: It was before the quarantine, so it must have been 2019. But it was finished and mastered in 2020.
Molly: Cool, that’s good.
Jess: So I’ve held onto these songs for so long — it feels good to finally be putting out this album. I’m excited to start working in the music. The recording process was a learning experience.
Molly: Was it your first recording experience?
Jess: Yeah, it was our first, I would say, real experience where we were like, “Let’s go in and record this full length album.” Whereas before, we would record two songs here and there, but now we set up the intention of like, “OK, we’re going to make this whole album and release it finally.” So that was exciting.
Molly: Yeah. I remember hearing your music for the first time, playing those shows, and just being like, I can’t wait until they have an album and put these songs out.
Jess: Yeah, it was hard touring because we only had two songs out, like, forever, so there was not much to latch on to afterwards. Fans would be like, “Where’s the rest of your music?” We’re like, “Oh, it’s coming!”
Molly: Yay! I’m so excited for you.
Jess: OK, my next question for you: Obviously quarantine was difficult — we were just talking about it, because you’re a touring musician and now you’re home a lot. But what was one good part about quarantine?
Molly: I mean, I do love being home. I feel like my quarantine lifestyle isn’t far off from what I’m like when I’m not on tour. I think that’s also changed since I’ve been touring so much — I used to be a lot more social, but now when I’m off tour I’m, like, in my house binge-watching TV, I don’t like to see people. I like to just be alone. So, yeah, I love doing nothing and being lazy. I do love that.
I think one of my favorite parts was after the initial shock and depression subsided, I just really kind of enjoyed having a break from touring. Now I’m so desperate to get back and ready to do that. But at the beginning, it was fun to just watch movies and TV be cozy.
Jess: I feel like for most musicians, at first it was this traumatic experience at the initial shock, and then they were like, Oh, wow, I’ve been in this cycle of touring for years and it’s the first time I’m home for a month or two at a time. And then and then they kind of embraced being at home. And now everybody’s ready to get back.
Molly: Yeah, definitely. I feel really productive on tour. It just feels like I have this purpose or something, and I like the schedule of it. I’m just so ready to do that. It’s been such a weird experience releasing an album and not having that.
Jess: Yeah, it must be weird because you’re so used to interacting with a live audience, and people responding to your music in a live setting. Now it’s like, Well, I think people are liking my Instagram post, or something.
Molly: It’s all stuff I don’t like. I really, really hate the months leading up to an album release — it’s like my least favorite part of everything that I do. And so it’s weird to also have that be mixed with the pandemic and the anxiety of just everything.
Jess: Why do you hate the months leading up to the release?
Molly: I don’t know. I mean, I love writing music, I love recording it, I love touring it. I hate just having to sell the album. All of the things I don’t want to think about — [it’s all] almost like the business side of it, the non-creative stuff. Or then this is, just being home and having too much time to think and obsess. I don’t know, do you like it?
Jess: Well, this is my first time, so it’s exciting. Like I was excited to make music videos and stuff, but very quickly becomes this thing where you’re kind of like — social media is so soul-crushing, and it’s just part of the job. I guess it doesn’t have to be. But like I feel like as a new musician, you have to use that element.
Molly: Oh, no, same! It’s hard. But also, I feel like [with] my first album, I don’t remember feeling too much anxiety because everything was new. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be negative. [Laughs.]
Jess: No, totally. It’s not an easy industry.
But I’m really grateful that I’m able to even do this.
Molly: No absolutely. I retract!
Jess: [Laughs.] I think everything is amazing.
Molly: [Laughs.] Everything sucks actually.
Jess: Some days I’m like, This is awesome, music is amazing. And then the next day I’m like, I wanna live in a hole.
Molly: Yeah, I totally agree. OK, so my next question is: one, I love your voice so much and find it so unique. But also — I’m sure you get this a lot, but it. It feels very nostalgic and has a very Mazzy Star, ‘90s vibe. But it’s also so classic. I love it so much. Who are your top vocal influences?
Jess: I really love Joan Baez. Her voice is so angelic and so beautiful, and I always try to sing like her but I just can’t. But I aspire to sing like her. I don’t think that really comes through in my music, but whenever I’m singing along to music in my room, I’m always singing to Joan Baez. And then I really like Soko, who’s this French artist.
Molly: OK, I’ve never heard.
Jess: She’s really cool. She sings in this really cool way, where it’s forceful at times, and she has this really dark voice, and then other times it’s really light and airy and soft. It’s a really interesting dynamic, listening to her.
Molly: Cool. I feel that about yours. And sorry to compare you to another artist — I know sometimes that can be annoying. But yeah, I feel like your voice is so soft but also so powerful. It has such a nice mix. Very sexy. [Laughs.]
Do you have any pet peeves?Do you hate being compared to people?
Jess: I have been seeing the Mazzy Star thing a lot! I don’t really consider them an influence, but I know a few of their songs and I can see that it’s really stripped back and reverb-y. And [Hope Sandoval] is a really soft singer. And it’s like, Well, I guess that’s Bnny!
Molly: [Laughs.] It’s funny with certain comparisons. I feel like when I first started out — and I this could be totally in my head, but when I wasn’t blonde, I would get compared to Angel Olsen all the time, and now that I’m blonde, I don’t.
Jess: That’s so funny.
Molly: Yeah, who knows. Or maybe just all women get compared to Angel Olsen.
Jess: Well, she’s like an iconic figure. She’s amazing.
Molly: Oh, yeah.
Jess: So on your song “Games,” you say that everything you learned about love, you learned from watching movies —I wanted to ask what your favorite romantic comedy was?
Molly: My favorite all-time romantic comedy is When Harry Met Sally.
Jess: Oh, nice.
Molly: It’s the perfect cozy [setting] — it’s in New York in the fall… I love it. I think that’s my most watched movie ever. I love Meg Ryan, I love her style. I love the time period — I think it’s either the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. It just ticks all the boxes for me.
Jess: What happened to Meg Ryan?
Molly: I don’t know! I feel like she’s directing? I don’t know, but I love all her movies — Sleepless in Seattle, everything she did in that time period.
Jess: She was the star for a while! You’ve Got Mail.
Molly: I love it.
Jess: It’s like a time warp, [hearing] the sounds of an email coming through. It’s really nostalgic.
Molly: I feel like my pajama style is based off her. She has great grandma night gowns, two-piece pajamas, robes. I feel like my style has changed in quarantine where even if I go out to get groceries or something, it’s like nightgown type dresses.
So my next question is a three parter: What’s your favorite fast food place? What do you order at this place? And to piggyback off, that Coke or Pepsi? And if you answer wrong, the interview is over.
Jess: Well, my go-to used to be two double cheeseburgers from McDonalds.
Molly: Oh, my god!
Jess: I love it because it was like, you eat one double cheeseburger and then you have another one.
Molly: But no fries?
Jess: No, I don’t really like fries.
Molly: OK. But Coke or Pepsi?
Jess: Definitely Coke.
Molly: OK, obviously.
Jess: I mean, what kind of question is that?
Molly: I know. I feel like mine is McDonalds too. I just love a cheeseburger.
Jess: A burger hits all the food groups!
Molly: I just got slammed in a text thread this morning for saying I like Baked Lays chips more than original Lays.
Jess: Those are awful!
Molly: [Laughs.] I’m sorry!
Jess: Whenever you open the bag, they’re already crumbled and sitting at the bottom of the bag.
Molly: I know, I was called a sociopath. But it’s because Britney Spears just posted this weird video where she said that she liked Baked Lays, and I said I like them too.
Jess: Aw, I’m praying for Britney.
Molly: I know, for real.
Jess: OK, next Q for you: on your latest album, Romantic Images, you work with several collaborators. How do you go about finding collaborators? Are they friends, does it happen naturally, or are you reaching out to people you admire?
Molly: This was the first time I ever collaborated with anyone, or did a co-writing session. I’d never done that before. Both happened pretty naturally. The first was with Wild Nothing, with Jack [Tatum] because he’s on my label.
That was before I decided to collaborate with Tennis. It was early on — I was starting to write my new album in 2019, and we just thought it would be a fun idea to try writing with somebody. It kind of felt like this natural choice since he was on the label, and I just love his production style and wanted to go into a poppier direction. And we’d met before, so I was happy that was someone that I already knew a little bit. We started the song before quarantine, and then we finished in quarantine. I recorded my vocals in my closet. [Laughs.]
And then with Tennis, that was a product of our tour being canceled — we were on tour with them for a couple weeks, and then it got postponed. I was trying to figure out how to record the album, and I thought, Oh, I guess we’ll have to do it in Austin — my initial idea was we were going to go to LA or New York, do something different — so I reached out to Alaina [Moore] and was like, “I need advice, I don’t know what to do!” And she was like, “Drive to Denver, we want to produce it.” And it just felt so meant to be, so perfect, because it was not only COVID-safe logistically, but I just love their music so much.
Jess: That’s so cool.
Molly: I think going forward, just with everything, I like people who I’m comfortable with an are nice, like you guys. I just like to follow that.
Jess: Yeah. When we were mixing our album, I had reached out to a few people and had phone calls, and some people you just don’t vibe with. You just exist on different wavelengths. It’s really nice when you meet somebody and you’re like, OK, yes, we have the same understanding of things.