On Sunday, January 25th, Boston punk legends Mission Of Burma headlined a sold out show at SPACE Gallery, with local openers The Rattlesnakes and Huak.
More photos and an interview with Mission Of Burma, after the jump...
Though Mission Of Burma were clearly the big draw of the night, the capacity crowd definitely had its share of fans of both openers. Sharing a drummer (Mike Cunnane), The Rattlesnakes and Huak tore through their sets - both showing clear post-punk influences, including that of the band they were opening for - leaving both the crowd and the last act of the night impressed.
Before the show, we sat down with Roger Miller, Clint Conley, Peter Prescott (and for a minute, Bob Weston) to ask them a few questions about Mission Of Burma.
Interview by: Andrew Lyman and Bryan Bruchman
Mission Of Burma: Roger Miller, Clint Conley, Peter Prescott, Bob Weston
AL: Thanks for coming. I know I speak for a lot of people in saying we're very happy to have you here.
MOB: Thanks for having us.
AL: I'm fascinated by the history you have, that in some regards you have more activity as a band reunited than you did in the initial wave.
PP: I would say we definitely do.
RM: Well just when we were driving up we were noticing that on April Fool's Day 2009 it will be 30 years from our first show.
PP: If you lop out that 22 years in between.
RM: It's weird. But April Fool's Day is appropriate is all. (laughs) That's the ticket.
CC: 30 years, that's just too much to comprehend.
PP: 9 times out of 10 when bands reunite they suck. Let's say it, they suck. And to even do it once. we've all agreed, it was terror. We don't want to suck. So we can't do this, unless we do it right. And you can still suck, and think you're doing it right, but at least we sort of went into it that way. And since then we can't see an end to it so it keeps going, and when we see an end it'll stop.
AL: At what point did that terror fade where you were thought, "alright, maybe we have a chance at not sucking."
CC: I guess after the first round of gigs. They went really well.
PP: And also after a year or two when we got a concentrated batch of shows, at the end of it, it was actually like a machine, and like you're supposed to feel in a band.
RM: Strange how that is.
PP: So then it had it's own energy I think.
RM: For our first show as a reunited band we each brought in one song that was new, that was the premise, that we're all gonna bring in a new song, and so that kinda started the ball rolling, that we weren't just a band hauling out the old warhorses, they were mostly old warhorses but...
The interview pauses to welcome a gigantic plate of lasagna to the backstage area.
PP: I think we're still kind of critical of music and stuff we don't like in general. You don't want to do what you find "not cool" in other music and bands.
AL: You were saying it "feels like a band is supposed to be" is that a different experience then you had the first go?
CC: No we felt like a band, but I do think that when we're up and running and rehearsed, we're playing better these days than we did back then for any number of reasons. ...We definitely felt like a band back then, but it seemed like it was always a struggle, and now it seems like the rewards are coming easier in terms of recognition. I mean, the last time we played in Maine, it was ugly. It was always ugly in Portland.
PP: Well it was ugly back in the day.
RM: Everything was ugly back in the day,
RM: It was at the Downtown Lounge [note: This is a completely different, long-gone Downtown Lounge at 21 Preble St. from the one we know now] is where we played a lot, we played Geno's once, but the Downtown Lounge is where we would usually play. There was a band The Stains that were out of Portland, they may or may not be legendary at this point.
CC: Yeah were shocked to find them up here. They were kindred souls at the time.
CC: At least we were entertained by them. We told ourselves we weren't exactly like them just to soothe ourselves, but back then there wasn't a pre...
PP: There wasn't a support system.
CC: There wasn't a scene. You know you'd come into a town like Portland Maine and there wasn't a scene there was just freaks and oddballs.
PP: Yeah two people straggle in.
CC: Genuinely strange people.
PP: You had to love that then.
CC: And they were the ones who were attracted to clubs like the Downtown Lounge and if some band came from out of town they would come. But they didn't really know how to dress or what they should look like.
PP: Yeah we did (laughs).
CC: We did (laughs).
RM: But that was Boston also. Those days, twice a week there would be bands coming from the UK or New York, or from Boston, or from Portland that you'd think, "I should check this out because it's possible something could be happening."
CC: It was a small primitive scene. It was just a small group of people really, even down in Boston, that was going to those clubs all the time.
PP: And we recognized even within that scene in Boston a lot of people that liked punk rock hated us. Seriously.
CC: Yeah we were too this or that.
PP: Punk rock is supposed to be joyous and anthemic, and we had aspects of that, but just as often it was like putting a dentists drill to their head.
RM: We were too complex and too visceral. So, too brainy and too physical without the gooey, "let's make you feel good" shit in the middle. I think of that as one of our biggest problems.
PP: Or not.
AL: That's the selling point! Well it's interesting, you take out this 22 year gap.
CC: I think it was 19.
AL: 19 year gap, and it's a really coherent band. It's a really coherent sound, and it seems absolutely vital and of the times and listening to those old records it seems vital then and seems vital now.
RM: Part of it is that we died in a really weird way. It was because my ears were really screwed up so I didn't want to play anymore, but we died without the natural trajectory of: you make a couple good records and then you start to peter off...
PP: Heroin addiction.
RM: Yeah and no one wants to talk to you again. We died just before we became bigger than whatever the fuck we could have done. So we were able to pick up from that because we never peaked.
Bob Weston enters, shows off his cell phone cozy, talks about Yarmouth, grabs Peter to go off and do sound check
AL: So, oh you were talking about the trajectory.
RM: Yeah I think that is why is that we died really oddly, so that made it when we picked up there wasn't any bad shit. None of us got in a fight, none of us were drug addicts, our records didn't start to suck, we barely made any records, and we'll probably stop when our records suck, hopefully we'll stop before they suck.
AL: Do you trust yourselves to have that awareness?
CC: Well I also think that what comes naturally to us in terms of what we write just never was particularly, you know we were ridiculously energized by the punk revolution, but I think particularly Roger comes from a different background and our music wasn't just firmly rooted in that scene or that style. It could have been in the 60's the way we make music, I mean it's obviously infused with a lot of punk energy, but I just see it less rooted in any time than most of the music around, so that the music we wrote back then kinda plays well now, and the music we're writing now is just more of the same.
RM: Yeah and I guess like you're saying, punk coalesced, you know I went to music school, one of my first original bands was in '69, so I did a lot of free improv in my roots, but punk kinda coalesced this thing but it wasn't just punk rock for any of us.
CC: So that's our curse and our blessing.
RM: We don't fit anywhere so we're still here.
AL: You've always been categorized, admittedly in the outskirts as say a "post punk band" and now you are looked at as kind of the flag bearers of kind of this new vein of post punk, and that's externally put on you, but it just sounds like this really coherent thing that sounds like what you've been doing all along.
CC: Post punk is just a really broad term that's the bottom line, so that's where people put us because that's sort of the time when we appeared, but most post punk is kinda beat driven and spiky dance music and that's not particularly us either. And certainly the new wave of post punkers that came pouring out of Brooklyn a few years ago they were all sort of that dancy kind of stuff, and we had nothing to do with that.
RM: It's like some bands from that time period, you can remake their style very easily, like the Clash spawned any number of bands.
CC: Gang of Four.
RM: But nobody can really copy us because it's too fucked up. So that allows us to keep doing stuff. If everybody could copy us then there would be enough of us and...
AL: It seems, externally, as a very natural sound for you guys, and that comes from this cohesiveness that we've been talking about, and do you have kind of a conscious "Burma sound" as it were? Do you ever write stuff that's like "wow that's not at all what we're doing"?
RM: Well we've all had different bands, Clint's had Consonant, I've had stuff, Pete's had stuff, but once you put something in Burma it either works in Burma or it doesn't. IT's pretty much, once it's gone through the three of us filtering it, I don't think there's been any song we've just dropped since we've come back.
CC: Yeah. There's songs we don't do live, but that's always been the case.
RM: Like back in the day, the first time I brought in Trem 2 we all said "this is totally not a Mission of Burma song," and we were all right at the time, and then about three months later I said "let's try it again," and we all thought "this is appropriate." So even back then we didn't know what we were doing. That's one of our fortes.
CC: It's hard to have a governing principle when you have three people writing songs. We just kind of move along like some amoebic blob, somehow there's a center in between the three of us at all times, and it just kind of progresses.
RM: I do think that's why, if there's something that's valuable about us, that makes us unique, is that there's three heads, and the is no leader in the band. There's always moments where anybody could solo, and we all sing at the same time.
BB: I assume that Bob isn't around for rehearsals...
RM: Nor was Martin Swope.
BB: So has that [tape loops] always been a purely live, spontaneous kind of situation.
RM: Yeah. Sometimes we'll conceive of some of that stuff, loops and stuff before hand, and then say "well this is what we would like," but both Bob and Martin have found stuff on the fly.
AL: I guess my last question, everyone is always asking "what was it like back then in this scene?" I want to ask what is it like now? Your current reaction to the state of affairs, these things you said you're still pissed off about that still keep you writing music.
RM: About musical aspects of things?
AL: About the existential aspects of things. (laughs)
RM: Those haven't changed very much as far as I can tell!
CC: We're still waiting to see weather Obama means the end of punk rock.
CC: Now that we're all happy, it's unicorns and rainbows from here out.
AL: Well then we'll have to get pissed about unicorns and rainbows.
CC: That could be. You know, it's fun for us to play spaces like this. This is, if we could do it, if we weren't so lazy we would create interesting places to play, not have to play in clubs all the time, but we are lazy. But it's always a kick for us to play in places like this, run by people who are into it for the right reasons, there's no weird mafia types counting money in the background.
AL: You didn't show em the back room?
BB: You'll see that on the tour don't worry.
RM: To some point we're even amazed that it's going as well as it has. There was another club in town that's bigger, and we figured we'd play here because we were afraid we'd bomb at the other place, and this place, if we got it half full, that'd be great, and now we've sold it out, and it's like we are not capable of expecting that. And maybe it's just a fluke. Maybe the next time we play somewhere it'll be a disaster, so far it hasn't.
CC: Yeah we actually made a right decision for once.
CC: We got an offer from the big new club in town, but it's just too big, and we thought, Sunday night? We're gonna play this big club, it's gonna be a bummer, it'll be a big club, there will be nobody there. Let's play the art gallery. And we actually made a good decision for once didn't we?
We'll definitely have to agree with you on this one, Clint!