Catch Me If You Can: Burnham and their race to the top
Forrest, Andre, and Alex Burnham may seem like typical teenagers. They enjoy golf, hockey, and even extreme croquet, a sport invented in their own backyard. But unlike typical teenagers, the Burnham brothers are on top of the world, quickly making their mark on the nation’s music scene. Starting out by playing in their living room in Arlington, Forrest (14), Andre (16), and Alex (18) put their heads together to form a band known simply by their surname: Burnham. Little did they know that their talent, hard work, and passion would lead them to unimaginable places in the matter of a few short years.
From a record deal with Island/DefJam to opening on Justin Bieber’s world tour, Burnham have achieved what many artists can only dream of. They have made a name for themselves with their hit singles “Catch Me If You Can” and “Don’t Be Shy,” having chartered on billboards around the country. Highly gifted and talented, the boys are now ready to take their music to the next level. The musical world is at their fingertips and one step at a time they will continue to do what they love, while never forgetting their roots in Vermont.
So how did it all start and come together for Burnham?
(Forrest) We were living in Vermont. I was about 6, Alex was 10, and Andre was 9. I took piano, Andre took piano, and Alex took guitar. I didn’t like piano or didn’t practice it too much. Alex and Andre liked their instruments and they practiced a lot. They were moving forward and I stopped and switched to guitar. But I didn’t practice that either.
(Alex) So after about four years of these music lessons, we eventually got into a guitar ensemble at school. Forrest didn’t because he didn’t practice anything. Andre and I were playing classic rock covers, stuff like Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. But we didn’t have a singer.
(Forrest) One day, the ensemble had been rehearsing for a concert that was a week away. And I just so happened to be at the end of the rehearsal, just sitting there. So finally the director of the ensemble looks at everyone and asked “so…who’s going to sing?” Everyone’s like, what?
(Andre) So I volunteered Forrest. The funny thing is that we didn’t have a mic or anything. So we just wrote lyrics on a napkin, but he sounded awesome!
(Alex) We were just so excited to not have to sing (laughs). And we thought, “wow, he really can sing!”
After these steps, everything started to come together for Burnham. Playing gigs in Southern Vermont in Manchester and Bennington quickly projected them into the limelight on the local scene. Soon after, their ensemble turned into the three boys on their own. And after many local gigs and production, their growing popularity took them further around the region.
(Alex) After that, we had a friend of a friend of a friend who knew a music producer in New York City, so we auditioned for him. They signed us for production and we started writing music for them. And for two years we worked on songs and played shows. The whole point was to try and write songs to get a label interested.
(Andre) What got us to be really big was playing at LarkFEST, a concert in Albany. There were about 80,000 people there that showed up. There was a large street blocked off with all these people. That was a big point for us.
After two years of production and touring, Burnham was ready to take their talents to a music label in the hopes of finally making it big. There was no question in their minds that it would happen. Going in with only acoustic guitars, Burnham performed for a handful of labels. Right from the start they received three major offers, one of them being Island/DefJam.
(Forrest) The audition at Island was funny because we had already been offered two deals. It had been rescheduled about 10 times and we were ready to walk out of there. So finally we actually get there and we’re waiting about two hours. Right when we were about to leave, someone comes in and says, “Okay, he’s gonna see you now.”
(Andre) It was like from the Wizard of Oz or something.
(Alex) “You’re gonna meet the wizard and then you’re going to leave!” (laughs)
(Forrest) So we get there and start playing in front of all of them.
(Andre) All of a sudden after our first song, it was like a party in there! All we heard was, “Oh my god, you guys are stars!”
(Alex) We realized the excitement there so we decided it’s a no-brainer, let’s go with Island/DefJam.
Joining a label with household names like Mariah Carey, Kanye West, and the Killers was huge for the band. But that was just the beginning of the band’s success. During the fall of 2010, Burnham opened for Justin Bieber on his “My World Tour 2.0”. For 20 shows, Burnham played to crowds of tens of thousands, soaking in every second of the experience as their name and music took off. The experience would change them on personal and musical levels.
(Alex) The first time opening for Justin was in Vancouver. It was just so surreal. I was nervous. I don’t normally get nervous for shows, but for this one I was just sitting and pacing backstage in our green room. Just freaking out. But about 5 seconds before you get on you realize it’s finally happening so you better get your stuff straight. You just go out there and you come to life.
(Forrest) Just the magnitude of it was amazing. You see the venues going in, but when you actually get there you see how big they actually are. I was the most nervous I’d ever been for a show. But when we were being introduced, I think the only word to describe it is “zombie.”
(Andre) I think there were about 20,000 people in that stadium. But once we knew how it was going to go down, the rest of the shows were just great. We got in a groove. The cool thing was we had done a tour the summer before actually opening up outside of where Justin Bieber was playing. We set up a big stage before his show with about 4,000 people. So it was a good warm-up touring and playing.
Being on tour with one of the world’s biggest stars, Justin Bieber, was an amazing and fun experience for the band.
(Alex) It was crazy. We would actually play street hockey in the arena with Justin. We are all huge hockey fans. His tour is also very prank-heavy.
(Andre) He actually trashed our dressing room one day. There was even cheese in the shower. So we decided to get him back.
(Forrest) So we pulled the best prank in the history of the world on him. We bought 4,000 playpen balls and loaded them all into Justin’s bedroom on his tour bus. So when he opened up the bedroom they came down all over him.
(Andre) He didn’t get us back since it was our last show but he actually started throwing the balls at us when we were on stage.
What was your favorite part of being on tour?
(Forrest) Being on stage was the best part. Catering took a very close second. Montreal at the Bell Centre was also fantastic. The crowd was crazy. We use inner monitors and earplugs when we play. But still I felt like covering my ears with all that screaming.
(Andre) One of my favorite parts was before and after each show we’d have a meet and greet with all of the VIP fans. When we got on stage, they went to the front and it was great being able to connect with them during shows. My favorite arena to play in was the Boston Garden. I watch all of the hockey games there from my couch and I was thinking, “Oh yeah, I know this place.”
(Alex) My favorite thing had to be the whole family vibe of the crew backstage. Hanging out, jamming with guitars, and talking to other artists who had been on other shows. It was really cool meeting everybody. Also getting a tour of the Bruins and Celtics locker room was really cool.
With the tour and label deal, the band was now a part of a global music phenomenon. But Burnham is always thankful of their roots growing up in Arlington, Vermont. They appreciate all of the opportunities Vermont has to offer aspiring musicians, even at a small scale. They say it’s an attribute to the state’s talent and passion for music.
(Alex) We played so many shows locally. When the school ensemble closed down, our dad was able to talk to Orvis and did some Orvis tent sales. At that point, anywhere we could play we were happy. We’ve even played two gigs in a day. So the fan base started in Vermont. Now when we look at our Twitter we see people from all over the world.
(Andre) We played in mostly Southern Vermont. We did a battle of the bands in Arlington High School one year, which we won. That was held by EQX, the local radio station out of Manchester.
(Forrest) And that’s how we got the LarkFEST show.
(Alex) EQX was just an amazing help. They played our songs really early on, which was amazing. The first time we heard our song “Goddess” on the radio was on EQX. And our first radio interview was EQX. It was really something.
(Andre) That’s what’s cool. People sometimes say, “Oh, there’s nothing in Vermont.” But I just think there’s so much in Vermont. There is so much young talent and great ideas that come from Vermont and they’re just building right now and they are going to explode.
(Forrest) Already, there’s some amazing stuff coming out from here, like maple syrup. It’s proven that Vermont makes the best. And let’s not even talk about Ben and Jerry’s.
What methods do you use for songwriting?
(Andre) We all contribute a lot. There’s not one specific writer. We also do a lot of collaborations, like on our EP. “Catch Me If You Can” and “Don’t Be Shy” were both collaborations with other writers.
(Andre) Probably the most collaborations we’ve done were with these producers in New York called Espionage. They actually wrote “Soul Sister” with Pat Monahan from Train. On the EP “Don’t Be Shy” when you hear the Ukulele, that was actually the same Ukulele that was in Soul Sister.
(Forrest) We saw the Ukulele and we knew right away we had to seriously write a song with it.
(Alex) But overall, there’s always that right balance where you’re throwing things off of another person, and they’re throwing stuff back. And you get the perfect song. That’s what a musician lives for.
The band continues to write songs in the hopes of soon creating a studio album. Outside of recording, the band is on tour around the country. The tour stops at 25 venues all over the US. Concerts close to Vermont include Montreal, Boston, Pennsylvania, and New York. They hope Vermonters will come out and support them during their tour, just as they encourage aspiring musicians to keep at their dreams and aspirations.
(Andre) I would say that for us, we always loved playing music so we didn’t even think about it being a career like it’s turning out to be. If you love doing it and if it makes you happy, nothing bad comes from it. Never be discouraged either. There were a lot of times in our early years when we questioned what we were doing. But just keep going and pushing through and it always turns out great.
(Forrest) Always have fun. If you’re not having fun, there’s no point in doing it. Really music is all about the feeling and the passion. It’s the universal language. You need to put 100 percent into it.
(Alex) There are times in this business where you can fall into the same routine, sleeping in the same room, eating Subway everyday, waiting for that break. But when it happens, it’s all worth it. You push through and that’s what it’s all about.