Music from alumni folk duo Beth//James has made it on the big screen

Music from alumni folk duo Beth//James has made it on the big screen

Music from alumni folk duo Beth//James has made it on the big screen
November 08
10:00 2018

The power duo Beth//James may have a song called “I Miss the Music in Austin,” but their musical journey began at UNT, where members Mikaela Beth Kahn (the “Beth”) and Jordan James Burchill (the “James”) met in 2008 during their freshman year.

Though the two were friends in college, they did not start writing music together until 2015. With influences ranging from artists like Jeff Buckley, Chris Whitely and Kacey Musgraves, Burchill and Kahn released an EP called “All in Life” in 2017 and kept the momentum going when their song “Lion Eyes” was played during a scene in Spike Lee’s newest movie “BlacKkKlansman.”

The song is one of the first that Burchill and Kahn wrote together in the days before Beth//James had officially formed.

“I remember writing [‘Lion Eyes,’]” Burchill said. “I was living in Austin. It was this really dingy attic apartment that was so cheap, and I was just trying to make ends meet. [Khan] would come up and write songs with me up there.”

The inclusion of the song in the movie came as a surprise to them because quite a bit of time had passed since they submitted it on a whim.

“We actually submitted the song to Spike Lee’s Instagram,” Kahn said. “[There was] an open call for independent music submissions for a project he was working on for Netflix, the TV version of ‘She’s Gotta Have It.’ Maybe like six months to a year later we got a phone call and it said, ‘Spike Lee didn’t want to use that song for ‘She’s Gotta Have It,’ but he has a new movie coming out this summer called ‘Blakkklansman’ and we’d really like to use that song in the movie.’”

It turned out that the song, which is about a girl (the lioness) preying on men, was the perfect fit for a particular scene.

“In the scene we’re in, there’s a guy who’s talking and his eyes are going crazy,” Burchill said. “They zoom in to his eyes, and that’s when our chorus hits and the chorus is ‘lion eyes.’”

The fact that “BlacKkKlansman” is one of the many films directed by Spike Lee makes this all more meaningful for Beth//James because his films are known to feature excellent music.

“It kind of shows how much of a genius Spike Lee is,” Burchill said. “His big thing about picking music for his movies is that he picks it, not his music supervisor. He listens to everything he wants to use, and it’s cool to think he listened to our song and was like, ‘This song is perfect for this scene of this movie,’ which is crazy.”

Khan said music and movies compliment each other and elevate the experience of both art forms.

“It just touches you in a special way and can make you feel so many different things, so I think when you pair that with a visual then it can just create a scene,” Khan said. “You can sort of pull people into whatever scene you are trying to create, and I think music helps build the emotions within the scene that you’re watching.”

Denton beginnings

In addition to meeting each other, Burchill and Kahn met several other music students while attending UNT.

One of the people they met was singer Katrina Cain, who recently appeared on “The Voice.” Cain is proud her close friend’s song was featured in “BlacKkKlansman” and is excited to see what is next for them.

“I really think this placement will help their career take off, and I see a lot more film placement and even more movie scoring in their future,” Cain said. “I think the more placements in film and television they achieve, the more their gorgeous music will explode into the general public.”

Burchill noticed the abundance of talent on campus and in Denton and can see similarities with Austin.

“Denton’s music community is really creative, and there’s people trying different things: people [who] are just really good musicians and those good musicians are also trying to write songs and trying to be creative,” Burchill said.

What songs are made of

Songwriting is part of Beth//James’ identity, so much so that they have been recognized by their lyrics in songwriting competitions.

“We have the exact same taste in music, it’s pretty crazy,” Khan said. “We can really trust each other, and I know that even if we disagree on a certain thing — a certain line or whatever — we’re working toward the same thing together.”

Burchill and Khan each contribute to writing their songs, bouncing ideas off one another and refining lyrics together.

“Sometimes one of us will have already come up with an idea for a song or a melody or a chord progression or something, and then we’ll bring it to the other person and then we’ll finish it together,” Khan said. “Sometimes we just sit down and start it all at the same time, so we kind of do it all sorts of different ways, but we definitely always write together.”

Cain believes Burchill and Kahn’s bond , paired with the fact that they write together, is part of what makes their music special.

“So many other bands in their genre are based on one person’s writing, but to have two separate voices really brings depth to their music,” Cain said. “I think it’s really special that they are in a relationship writing together, and being of different genders helps bring something unique to the table, too.”

Inspiration is not always present, though. There are times when they write a lot and times when they are not writing much.

“When we are on a really good season, we wake up in the morning, get together and do writing exercises,” Burchill said. “That is when things really start happening.”

Of all the songs they have written together, they are especially proud of “Bring Your Fire to Me,” which was on their last EP, and “Falling,” an unreleased song.

“They just make me really proud when I hear and I play them, [and] that is a hard place to get to as a songwriter sometimes,” Khan said. “When you have those songs you are really proud of, it’s really special — it’s a good feeling.”

You can find Beth//James’ music, including “Lion Eyes,” on Spotify.

Featured Image: Courtesy Facebook

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Nikki Johnson-Bolden

Nikki Johnson-Bolden

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