Introducing: Burr Oak’s “Trying”

A track premiere, plus an essay by frontwoman Savanna Dickhut.

A few weeks ago I was scrolling through my Instagram feed while sipping on my morning cup of coffee, and it was brought to my attention that it was the late Amy Winehouse’s birthday. It was a Monday, September 14 and I didn’t have to go in to work until later that afternoon, so I decided to pay homage to Amy by putting on her record “Back to Black.” 

Back to Black is one of my favorite records in my collection actually, and it had been a while since I had spun it. As I listened, I was reminded of her incredible talent as a vocalist but also the power of her lyrics. Almost 10 years after she died, I was reminded of her constant battle with addiction and the poor state of mental health she was in for most of her adult life.

This made me not only sad but also angry she didn’t get the help she desperately needed. Where were the people who were supposed to love her and give her the support she needed? Maybe if the people around her would have given her more support, she would still be alive today. Maybe instead of paying homage to her on that Monday morning by listening to her song “Rehab,” I might have been instead listening to her new record had her people supported her in going to rehab.

I relate to Amy in a lot of ways. Some of her music’s themes — such as depression, substance abuse, and loving someone who doesn’t love you back — resonate with me. They’re subjects I actually touch on as well in my new song “Trying,” which is the first single off of my forthcoming debut album, Late Bloomer.

While I can’t speak for anyone but myself, making music has been therapeutic for me. Songwriting can be a therapy session, in a sense, and without an outlet like music, I honestly think I would self-destruct.

I say this because it has happened to me before. Instead of using my ability to put a pen to paper, I have turned to self-medication and suppressing things, which is never the answer. In “Trying,” I sing in the first person about a rough patch I went through a while ago. I reflect to myself in the last verse of the song:

Wish I could tell you everything that has been going on now/
It’s been hard to stay away 
From the things I long for 
That are wrong for me.

I find myself in this moment of wishing I could call my ex to tell her everything going on and how I am struggling with my mental health, but I cannot call her because she does not want to hear from me.

I’m talking to myself in the song saying how it is hard to stay away from “the things I long for that are wrong for me.” When I originally wrote the song I intended to be referring to me self-medicating here because I was sad and “the things” I longed for were beer and wine to drink and forget.

Looking back, I could also be referring to longing for her — so it can have a double meaning, which touches on both themes. I talk about how I miss her and would like to call her but I know it is the Wrong Thing To Do because she is not good for me and we should not get back together. I have the urge to drink but know it is also the Wrong Thing To Do when I would be abusing alcohol and using it excessively as an unhealthy form of self-medication.

Thankfully, I am past all of this now. I was not only able to work through my issues by writing them out in song form but also going to therapy for months to get the help and support I needed.

During a pandemic and these still so uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to normalize conversations about mental health, to bring these topics to the forefront, and to share our own stories instead of keeping them tucked away. Listening to Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black again struck me in a way that it hadn’t before: given her early passing, I want to be an artist in the industry today who speaks to mental health issues such as substance abuse, anxiety, or depression, because it might help someone else.

— Savanna Dickhut

(Photo Credit: Carl Solether)

Burr Oak is the new project of Chicago-based singer-songwriter Savanna Dickhut who merges together brutally honest, story-driven lyrics with raw, dreamy vocals. Breaking away from her duo-fronted band Elk Walking, Burr Oak is Dickhut’s first-ever venture as a solo artist.

With just two singles out this past year, The Chicago Tribune wrote her songs “show the promise of a songwriter sure of her voice and sound, one that is piercing and deeply relatable and authentic.” To put it simply, Burr Oak resonates by bridging voice with story.

Before the stay-at-home order, Burr Oak played the annual Chicago winter festival Tomorrow Never Knows (they opened for Twain and Buck Meek of Big Thief) and Savanna performed a solo set for Panache Booking’s “Village of Love” Planned Parenthood benefit concert this past Valentine’s Day.

(Photo Credit: Carl Solether)