To quote Michael Azzerad, "Mission of Burma's only sin was bad timing". Despite their combination of bracing post-punk ire and a deft approach to songwriting, Mission of Burma went largely unnoticed outwith their native Boston - releasing an EP and full-length record before calling it a day in 1983. Since reforming in 2002, the band have released another four albums to great critical acclaim and will be delivering an pre-festive aural treat at the Steve Albini curated 'Nightmare Before Christmas' event in December.
Robin Wallace tests the patience of bassist/vocalist Clint Conley.
Beard Rock: How did the idea for Mission of Burma came about?
Clint Conley: Mission of Burma was the result of an unstoppable passion to be part of the revolution taking place in late 70's. Our aim was to be progressive without being wonky about it, smart without being obnoxious about it, and visceral as all holy fuck
BR: Can you tell us who your influences were growing up?
CC: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and The Animals, then over time Hendrix, Cream, Soft Machine; moving into The Velvet Underground, Iggy & The Stooges, Flamin’ Groovies and David Bowie. Then onto The Ramones, Television, Sex Pistols before Wire, Buzzcocks, Gun Club, and on and on...
BR: When you started out, you were renowned for your live show; did you find it difficult to seek to capture that within your recordings, or was it a completely separate process?
CC: Of course it was difficult. Cool recordings were purely accidental at the time. And we didn't quite know how to make that accident happen.
BR: ‘Signals, Calls, and Marches’ has such an enduring appeal and continues to hold up today, with many artists citing it as an influence – why do you think that is?
CC: That's very nice of you to say. It is, of course, a great thing that our music is sometimes cited by others as an influence.
BR: Mission of Burma initially split up in 1983, with Roger’s tinnitus an ongoing concern. Did the split come about acrimoniously, or was it simply a case of moving onto new projects?
CC: It was his ears what done it! There was no acrimony. Just an impossibly high-pitched F#.
BR: Mission of Burma have always been closely associated with the punk scene, yet have such an enduring influence over many indie rock bands. Do you feel that you have transcended the punk associations, or is it something that you are comfortable with?
CC:It is a fact that we started during the punk explosion, and it derived enormous energies from that scene. But I don't think the music we make is particularly 'punk.' What we play is sorta proggy, sorta psyche, sorta aggro, sorta bruised n’ confused!
BR: I was 15 when I started listening to Mission of Burma (after hearing you name-checked by Thurston Moore), and at that age I was obsessed with genre classification and initially found your music difficult to grasp. Have you always strived for a ‘Mission of Burma’ sound or is that something that you found occurred naturally over the years?
CC: It is simply what comes out. Sometimes I think that we have about as much control over that as we do our foot size.
BR: What prompted the reunion, and how did this come about?
CC: The other guys have their reasons; this is mine. I started playing music again after more than a 15 year hiatus. I was deeply involved in my band, Consonant, when the idea of a Mission of Burma show came up and I said yes. Michael Azerrad's book (Our Band Could Be Your Life) was also out at the time and that got us jazzed up a bit - very flattered that our comparatively obscure efforts from yesteryear were included with some of our heroes.
BR: Was Bob Weston a key motivator for Mission of Burma to give it another shot?
CC: Bob Weston was not a motivator, per se but he has been a key component ever since the re-lapse. When he agreed to fill the Swopean void, that was certainly an immense relief [Sound engineer Martin Swope left in 1983 – ed].
BR: Can you take us through the recording process of ‘Unsound’, and how this has differed from the recording of ‘Signals, Calls, and Marches’ or ‘Vs.’?
CC: It was more or less the same as it ever was. We'd been hashing through new material the previous year before recording in our rehearsal space, which is also a great studio called Analogue Divide. Overdubs an mixing took place in a different studio, Woolly Mammoth. Another great studio, with fewer smells.
BR: Are there any future plans to continue with Consonant, or perhaps resurrect Volcano Suns?
CC: I can't speak for Peter [Prescott, Mission of Burma drummer – ed] and the Volcano Suns. As for Consonant, that music means the world to me, as do my colleagues. But life is complex, people move to different parts of the country, time becomes scarcer, energy to sing every last, damn song seems to wane…..
BR: To me, and the manner in which it was introduced to my life, music has always, and will always be an immersive experience. And it was not simply about lyric sheets and gatefold sleeves. Having enough money in your pocket for one album, spending an entire day in the record shop, weighing up the pros and cons until finally a purchase was made. When you are stacking shelves for pocket change – there is no such thing as disposable music. Do you feel that this kind of immersive experience in danger of being lost forever?
CC: It is long gone. We are the last to remember. Then we too will be gone soon.
BR: Websites such as Bandcamp and Soundcloud allow bands and labels quick and direct communication with their immediate and prospective fan base; in addition to providing instant access to music through a ‘pay what they want’ or providing a free direct download link.
Do you believe that the cost implications of producing vinyl and even cd are still a viable option for bands in the current climate?
CC:Probably not. But we are grateful there are still record companies around, like Fire Records and Matador, who feel these objects are important.
BR: Kim Gordon and Robert Smith (amongst other artists) were both highly critical of the model of ‘pay what they want’ employed by Radiohead – implying that it set a precedent for all bands regardless of size of fan base, ambition, etc.
What are your thoughts on this model – and do you think it is a positive move forward?
CC: I don't think there is any stopping the digital tide. We've never really made any money on our recordings, and it looks like we never will. Now even popular bands will join us
BR: Alternatively, do you think that it is simply a further example of larger organization’s continued monopoly on every other aspect of the music industry – from radio airplay and MTV to manufacturing and distribution – perhaps that artists and bands have now been backed so far into a corner that they have resorted to giving their music away?
CC: Dude, I am on page three here and fading fast…………[Get on with it! – ed]
BR: Which artists are impressing you most this year? Is there anyone who really stands out from the crowd?
CC: It hasn't been a very good year in my opinion - a couple of things by Wye Oak, OFF!, and PJ Harvey's record was interesting yet troubling, I think the new dB's is strong, as is The Feelies and the Codeine reissue; also a couple of poppish things from Metric were nice but I don’t know if theyre old.
BR: With whom would you love to collaborate with musically?
CC: I'm sort of private, not much of a collaborator.
BR: Beard Rock are planning on catching your set at All Tomorrows Parties: The Nightmare Before Christmas; can you describe a typical Mission of Burma live show?
CC: It's pretty relentless. If it's good, we go in and lose ourselves and forget you're there
BR: Are there any bands you’re looking forward to seeing at ATP? Or will it be a case of playing then heading off to continue with the tour?
CC: Always looking for surprises - I hope we get to hang around. I am looking forward to seeing Scrawl who I last saw in the 90s. The Shellac Theatrical Players are always a grand time.
BR: Is there anything more you would like to add?
CC: That's all I got, Beard Rock.
Posted: Wed 5 September 2012