Staff writer Craig Roxburgh recently had the chance to chat with Friday, the frontman of alt-electro newcomers This Burning Age. They discuss the history of the band, the influence behind the alt-electro sound, the future of music and the debate around the legitimacy of electronic artists.
MEB: Hey guys, so how did This Burning Age come into inception? What is the history behind the band?
Friday: I originally started the band as a solo project about five years ago. I’ve been writing songs since I was 16 (I’ve got tape after tape after tape of recordings made on a crappy 80’s boombox I’d had since I was a kid) and been involved with school and then Uni projects that amounted to a whole lot of nothing so I felt it was time to do something for myself. I posted up an ad in the Music Press looking for a producer to work with (so painfully naive!) and amazingly someone spotted it and passed it on to a would-be producer in the making over in Wolverhampton. We were both learning about the process of recording so, over the course of the year, I made the long journey over to his house once or twice a week. Those sessions would eventually become the first ten-track album I put out, A Muzzle for the Masses, with me writing, co-producing and playing everything – from guitar to bass to drums and every synth in between.
It was really the prototype for the way I do things now, keeping everything “in-house”, doing all the artwork and design, sitting in on the Mastering down at SRT (the studio founded by members of Jethro Tull. Strange but true.) and releasing it myself under what was then my fledgling label, 5th Day Records. It’s slightly different than what we’re doing now but you can still hear what I hope is the formative The Burning Age sound running through it. By the time the album was released I was looking to take it live so I started putting out musician wanted ads to assemble a group around me. The first iteration of the band included old school friends but, as ever, life got in the way and other commitments meant I had to scout for a new lineup. Eventually I came to the lineup you see today and I’m very lucky to be with some very talented musicians.
Why’d you pick the name This Burning Age?
I originally went with a completely different name: Kyoto Underground. I even put out a very rough and ready three-track EP under that name with early versions of the songs that would eventually be on A Muzzle for the Masses. I remember taking a load of them to Glastonbury Festival and handing them out to random people. I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with the name though, it felt a bit too “Electro” if that makes any sense? That summer I started putting together a list of names – I think I’ve still got the piece of paper I scribbled them down on somewhere – and I found pretty early on that I really liked “This Burning…” for the first part. It was on the coach to the Godiva Festival in Coventry with my best mate Rich that it all fell into place. He’d been throwing some names around himself and gave me a list with them on – one of them had “Age” at the end. The rest, as they say, is history.
You guys play into the genre of electro rock – and I love it. What influenced you guys to branch into the electronic rock sound?
It wasn’t a conscious decision to choose the electro-rock as the “sound” as it’s something I’ve always listened to and that my writing naturally gravitated towards. I’m a massive Smashing Pumpkins fan (I used to be borderline obsessive, collecting obscure imports and white labels, the whole fan-boy shebang) and fell in love with their earlier alt-rock roots (Billy [Corgan]’s melodic , riff-infused guitar lines and Jimmy [Chamberlain]’s jazz-influenced drumming style were, and still are, a huge influence on me). Around the time of Adore, moving into Machina, they really started pushing their electro side (check out “Eye” on the David Lynch Lost Highways soundtrack. He’s another big influence) and that resonated with me. I’ve always listened to a lot of David Bowie, Sonic Youth, Pixies, The Wedding Present, Rammstein – big, multi-layered guitar-centric acts, but at the same time I was hooked on Nine Inch Nails from the word go as well as more electronic acts such as Depeche Mode, Fischerspooner, Daft Punk, DJ Shadow, The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy. Hearing bands like the Pumpkins and NIN fuse guitars with electronica really struck a chord early on. So, when I started writing for what was to become “This Burning Age”, going down the alt-electro-rock route was the most natural thing in the world to me and I realised that I might have my own “take” on that sound.
Do you think that the future of music is going to be rooted in an electronic sound as we begin to realise what can actually be achieved with the correct manipulation of electronic equipment? I mean, look at what Bring Me The Horizon, Linkin Park and 30 Seconds To Mars did – and now what you’re doing.
As time goes on, sure, I think we’re going to see a lot more artists embrace the technology that’s out there, finding new ways to incorporate it into their music. But at the same time, I don’t necessarily think that that’s the “future” of music per se. The great thing about where we’re at now, with the industry having completely changed from the old models in the face of digital tech and distribution, is that it’s easier for an artist to get their stuff out there (whether they actually get heard is another matter entirely and the subject of a whole other interview!) which means that there’s the potential for an audience, i.e. the public at home, to discover so many different genres and styles, not just what’s dictated as the “in-thing” by music industry higher-ups. I think in the future we’ll see an upsurge of “niche” bands – artists mining their own little corner of the soundscape, be it with electronic equipment or without.
What are your thoughts on how people so easily rip off bands or artists with electronic influence as they’re deemed to not be playing “real instruments” when it is painstakingly obvious that there are instruments present in the music?
To my mind it’s a non-argument. To dredge up my old Art History background for a moment, take the camera obscura – the predecessor to the modern photographic process but without film or plate – instead it cast an image onto the wall or canvas of a darkened room. It’s strongly believed that Vermeer used it in his paintings to achieve his famous “photographic perspective”. In essence this is an example of an artist using a machine to create art. Does his use of camera obscura in any way make his paintings less beautiful or him any less of an artist? It’s still a product of his technique, his brushwork, his eye for composition. Without his “presence” the “machine” would be incapable of creating anything, it’s his “presence” that brings the vital spark. Some people still think that, as a musician that uses electronic systems in their work, they sit down, press a button and the song magically appears. I imagine these are the very same people that have trouble walking and chewing at the same time.
What inspired you guys to write a series of four EPs that deal with the dark and twisted side of human nature, with specific regard to love, or at least as it has been in the case of the first two EPs?
Scary as it is to admit, it’s what my writing is naturally drawn to. I wouldn’t say that’s the sum total of the EPs, but it’s hard to get away from the big three – love, sex and death (said somewhat, but not quite, tongue-in-cheek). Back in my art school days I drew heavily on the Symbolist and Occult movements of the 19th century and to this day a lot of my writing still references that.
Where do you draw a lot of your lyrical themes from?
If I’m being crass enough to reduce it down to a list I’d say: Symbolism, Occultism, Transhumanism, David Lynch, T.S.Eliot, Larkin, Orwell, Michael Moorcock, Will Self, Aleister Crowley, William Blake, Spike Milligan, Francis Bacon, Dali, Anselm Kiefer, Warren Ellis and Alan Moore. Then again, if I’m being painfully honest I’d say I also draw a lot of my themes regarding death and the human condition from my severe Crohn’s disease and coming to terms with my own mortality at a very early age.
Music always has purpose, whether it is intentional or unintentional. What do you hope the purpose of the music that you’re creating will be?
If the music I write affects just one person, changes how they think or feel about themselves or the world they live in – whether it’s as simple as a rush of blood to the head and the feeling of wanting to turn it up to 10 and scream out loud or a quieter, more introspective assembly of thoughts and emotions – then I’ve succeeded.
What is it like doing everything in-house and without the help of a record label?
Is there anything you regret about not approaching a record label for help, or is it better this way?
I love the creative freedom it gives me. I hate being constantly skint.
Finally, who do you prefer? Nine Inch Nails or Sonic Youth?
Ha! Sonic Youth have my head but Trent will always have my heart.