Mya Byrne’s new song “Autumn Sun” was written as soon as the smoke cleared, literally. The California singer-songwriter was on the porch at home in Berkeley with her friends in the aftermath of the destructive and deadly California wildfires in 2018, sipping coffee and enjoying nature.
“It was the first day we could be out,” Byrne says. “We all noticed a shift in the light and talked about it; I wrote the first few lines in my phone.”
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“Different shade of morning, autumn sun/Sky quilted ocean with the clouds hung,” she sings, setting the scene. A riff-driven slice of country-rock, “Autumn Sun” marks Byrne’s debut for the new imprint Kill Rock Stars Nashville. The shifting morning light and changing seasons brought a sense of hope, of new possibilities, out of the preceding period of despair. Byrne sees it as a time for allowing one’s preparations to come to fruition.
“I have to reflect on, I’ve come so far and planted so many seeds, and now is the time, not just to watch them grow, but enjoy what they become,” she says.
Produced by Aaron Lee Tasjan, the song’s muscular groove ramps up for a big, blissful ending that’s rooted in Sixties psychedelia.
“I wanted to have this emotional feeling that I’d heard in so many of the songs I loved from the sixties,” Byrne says. “It brings me back to this joyous place. There’s this point in late September, early October, when the world feels full of possibility, but also calm, because you know you’ve put in all this work. It’s sort of like the rainbow after the flood, that’s what this song is to me.”
“Autumn Sun” also marks the launch of Kill Rock Stars Nashville, the Music City wing of the Portland, Oregon, indie and punk stalwart whose roster has boasted Elliott Smith, the Decemberists, Sleater-Kinney, and Bikini Kill at different times. For label founder Slim Moon, who now calls Nashville home, Byrne fits perfectly into the label’s plans to expand into the country and Americana space.
“I’ve always been a fan of great songwriters and she’s a real craftswoman when it comes to writing a terrific song,” Moon says. “She structures her songs so tightly, it’s like a pro songwriter writing for a country artist, even though she’s writing for herself.”
Byrne, who is trans, also appreciated the pedigree of Kill Rock Stars along with its queer-friendly stance. In country and Americana, queer artists have steadily been growing in visibility but still often have trouble finding institutional support from record labels.
“Here was a situation where I would be embraced both as a queer, trans person and as a person who is definitely in the realm of country and Americana,” Byrne says.
“I want to be a home to somebody like Mya, who may not get the love and understanding at some of the other Americana labels because it’s still a transphobic world,” Moon adds. “We want to prove that people who like Americana will like records from queer artists.”
Byrne’s signing and new music comes at a moment when the conversation about trans and queer lives is front and center in country music. Last week, Jason Aldean’s wife Brittany made a transphobic Instagram post that was quickly condemned by Maren Morris and Cassadee Pope before conservative political figures like Candace Owens and Tucker Carson jumped in. Eventually, Aldean’s longtime publicity firm parted ways with the singer. For Byrne, whose mere existence has been politicized, these knee-jerk reactions by conservatives usually ignore the lived experiences and realities of being trans.
“It feels a lot like these folks are buying into something that doesn’t exist and claiming to protect children when they’re just causing them more harm,” Byrne says. “I’m a firm believer in bodily autonomy. That’s not just trans kids having the right to self-determination, that’s freedom for everyone. That’s abortion rights, gay rights, civil rights — it all comes down to autonomy. If you claim to be a country artist and you’re not fighting for the rights of people to have their own sense of self-determination, you’re failing.”
To that end, Byrne expresses her admiration for the queer country and Americana community and the way it is regularly “pulling this abundance from trauma and pain and turning it into joy that people can really understand and embrace,” she says. That’s a feature of Byrne’s music as well — “Autumn Sun” is hopeful and joyful, despite the trauma of the past and the uncertain present.
“I try really hard to write sad songs!” Byrne says. “But the truth is, I do I have hope. In the midst of all this hard that we see around us, between the pandemic and the global hurt, and all of the things that are coming up against queer and trans people right now, I can still see the good. I want to see the good.”
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