Jaira Burns on Her New EP 'Burn Slow' & Why Janet Jackson Serves as a Major Inspiration

Cameron Postforoosh
Jaira Burns

Two years ago, Jaira Burns booked her first meeting with a major record label with no official music out, just a prolific YouTube channel of covers -- a story and a tactic similar to those used by many other resourceful up-and-comers. That initial meeting was only a month after she had made a risky pilgrimage from her hometown of rural Pittsburgh to Los Angeles, all in the pursuit of a career in music.

“I was like, ‘I need to be there, I’m done with this. There’s no one left here for me to work with' -- like 'I need to go now,'” she said of the instinctual pull she felt that year.

At the end of last month, around the two-year anniversary of that journey, she dropped Burn Slow, the infectious eight-track introductory EP that spans pop, reggae and hip-hop.  

She’s described that specific sound as “more than the fluffy stuff” of most pop music, and her personality encompasses a similar energy. Recently, she nearly had her first rock-star experience, smoking in her hotel bathroom -- “ended up hot-boxing the whole first and second floor, actually” -- and was almost kicked out by staff.

“I think being signed has helped me calm down some of that energy a little bit because it gave me more of a balance and a structure,” she explains. “Not to say that I can’t do whatever I want tomorrow when I’m at home by myself, but when it’s work, it’s work.”

It’s that independence that she sings about often on Burn Slow: “I’m reckless and wild, been this way for a while,” she explains on the bridge of “This Time Around.”

But even without label pressure, Burns’ inherent free spirit has never been something that sacrifices, or even curbs, her natural work ethic. She’s developed a study routine of scrutinizing YouTube videos -- a ritual that involves watching Janet Jackson performances and Rihanna interviews, choosing bits and pieces of the energy and aura that she wants to encompass in her own performances, and even some of the more PR-related aspects of her career.

“I’ll watch and be like, ‘okay how does this person get comfortable on stage,’ and maybe I can get some inspo from that,” she explains. “I even watch interviews to see what people will and won’t say. I think I look up to Rihanna in that sense because she’s calm and composed and real when she’s doing these things.”

This fall, Jaira will put all of her music research to the test as she goes on her first nationwide tour, hitting one major city almost every night for a month. She says she’ll joke and dance on stage once she’s there, but as for now, that doesn’t mean she isn’t nervous.

“As an artist you’re coming out to the stage, and giving them every piece of you,” she said. “I’m nervous, but nerves are a sign of excitement and a sign that you care.”

As for an impending debut album, Jaira promises something potentially more personal than the EP -- and like most of her music-related decisions, this was more thought out than she may put on. “It’s gonna take some time to show everybody everything,” she says.  

However, some of the more personal aspects of her upcoming work may not be as obvious to some listeners, as Jaira looks to open up through her instrument choice, rather than just telling lyrics.  As a teenager, she learned to break down guitars -- leading her to understand the literal framework of the instrument -- making acoustic sounds something she feels deeply connected to.

“I want to show people my diversity, so the guitar is gonna come. People are gonna hear a full guitar album at some point,” she says. “But that’s something that’s going to come when I’m ready because it’s very, very personal for me.”

As Jaira thinks about her growing career and catalog, she cites filling Wembley Stadium and smoking on the Red Rocks Amphitheater stage as goals. As for the more broad projections, she just hopes music “continues to build her happiness.”

“I hope it takes me where ever it’s supposed to take me. I’m not sure where that is, but I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”