Todd Burge brings his Odd Urges to town Friday

Reposted from The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There are few more accomplished, respected musicians in West Virginia than Todd Burge, who Larry Groce dubbed the “dean of West Virginia singer-songwriters.” The 46-year-old “Mountain Stage” staple and West Virginia Music Hall of Fame board member, is much loved for his irreverent, witty -- and sometimes dark -- version of Americana and folk.

Burge was first known for his role in Morgantown rock band 63 Eyes and more recently for his solo work that’s taken him to CBGB’s and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Last year, he formed a new folk-flavored alt-country band, the Odd Urges.

The band -- Burge, Billy Matheny, Rodney Crihfield and Joseph Hale -- released the 10-song CD “Distraction Packed” in March. They play The Boulevard Tavern with Jeff Ellis Friday.

Burge, a Vienna, W.Va. native, has a story not unlike many other West Virginia residents; he and his wife moved away for a while, living in Austin and Pittsburgh, before coming back home to settle down.

On the phone, Burge is honest, thoughtful, open and funny, just like he is on his songs. For someone so highly praised, he dispenses a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor, trying to avoid referring to himself as an old hippie, taking praise in stride and maintaining that he works hard at his craft.

“Working my a-- off until I hit a zone,” is how he summarizes his songwriting process. And while it is work, Burge says it's not something he over thinks.

“I think of songwriting as just an improvised, off the top of your head kind of thing,” he said. “I try not to edit myself. I try to write about anything and everything and just be free with what comes out.”

And what comes out, generally, is a lot.

“When I sit down, I think, ‘I’m just going to write something.’ For me, bulk is the answer. If I write enough bad songs, I’m eventually going to write a good one.”

Being in a band has allowed Burge the freedom to write lyrics from a darker character perspective, he says.

“In 63 Eyes, I wrote from this other person’s point of view, and it allowed me to be wicked and not me. [On ‘Distraction Packed’] I had this character in mind, and I was taking him through these phases; he lost his family because he was wrapped up in songwriting. Then he starts dating online, and that doesn’t work out, so he turns to drinking and drugs, then he has an intervention.”

Burge says the change from a solo career is welcome. “It’s enabled me to do songs that wouldn’t work solo. We’re creating new sounds.”

In addition to making his own music, Burge showcases the talents of others with his Songwriter Night series that records live concerts, primarily from regional acts, for podcasts.

It was at a Songwriter Night in Morgantown where Burge first met a young Billy Matheny. “He was like 16 years old at the time, I think,” Burge recalled. “I thought, ‘This guy’s a force to be reckoned with; I need to play with him.’

“I’ve played with some real professionals, and there’s nobody more professional than Billy. He can take my songs and arrange them in ways that are just great. He’s just brilliant in every way.”

Burge gets his own share of high praise, and while he’s appreciative, he doesn’t let it go to his head. His grounded approach to writing, he says, is what keeps things fresh.

“I’m happy that people dig what I do. I’m humbled by it, and blown away by stuff that people like Larry Groce have said.

“I’m never really comfortable, though, and that keeps me motivated. I’m always working hard to do something different, something that is more interesting to myself.”

Known for his “offbeat” lyrics, Burge said his most welcome praise recently came from his wife, Lisa.

“I wrote a new song the other day called,” he paused, clearing his throat, “‘Looking For My Nuts.’ I wrote it after watching a squirrel in my backyard.

“My wife asked, ‘Would you play that in front of your kids?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I think I would.’ It suggests something else, maybe, but it’s about a squirrel.

“And then my wife listened to it again, and she said, ‘You know what? Nobody is singing this song, anywhere. There’s nobody that's ever written a song like this. And that’s why it’s a good song, and why you should do it.’

“That pleased me, because if I can keep doing that, doing different things, for me and for others, I’m content with that. Doing that is a constant struggle that I enjoy.”

--- photo: Andi Roberts

Todd Burge & the Odd Urges
With the Jeff Ellis Band
WHERE: The Boulevard Tavern, 806 Kanawha Blvd. E.
WHEN: 10 p.m. Friday
COST: $5
INFO: www.toddburge.com or 304-205-7951

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