Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Interview: Clint Conley (Mission of Burma, Consonant)

Clint Conley with Mission of Burma at Maxwell's. More here.
"What happens when the most influential band you never heard reunites after 19 years?"

That's the question the excellent documentary Not A Photograph: The Mission of Burma Story asked five years ago in 2006. It's safe to say we now know the answer to that question. Since reforming, Boston's Mission of Burma have released ONoffON (2004), The Obliterati (2006), and The Sound, The Speed, The Light (2009)--all to critical acclaim--paving the way for bands like Polvo, The Feelies and Dinosaur Jr. to make similar comebacks. All the while proving that reunions, and more specifically reunion albums, do not have to be embarrassing cash-ins.

Roger Miller (guitars/vocals), Pete Prescott (drums/vocals), Bob Weston (tape loops/producer) and Clint Conley (bass/vocals) make up one of the greatest success stories in the world of independent music. Fans in New York City will have the chance to catch Mission of Burma for FREE at the Beekman Beer Garden on August 7. As the band prepares for their upcoming fifth full length album, I had the chance to catch up with Clint on the phone to discuss the progress they've made so far on the new record, the status of his other band Consonant, and what it's like envisioning an end to Mission of Burma.

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So I know you guys are working on, or have at least begun working on the new Mission of Burma album. What’s the progress so far?

Basically we’ve laid basic tracks down and a few overdubs. Roger has a very busy year this year with Alloy [Orchestra] due in part to the release of a new version of Metropolis. Which has been in high demand at festivals and what not, so they have the good fortune of being in great demand these days. So anyhow, Roger’s more or less booked up through December with Alloy stuff . And you know, we were pretty up to speed with some of these new songs so we thought we’d better get in the studio and capture them while we're semi-confident. So we did that and that’s where it stands right now. It was a pretty simple recording, Weston came out and we spent three of four days, maybe more…

That’s what I wanted to ask you, if Bob was producing this one too.

Yeah, he was at the board. We’ve done overdubs—on our last record—at this studio where we rehearse, which is a combination of a recording studio and a rehearsal space. So we just decided to lay the basics down there and see how that sounded, so you know... it sounds great.

I wanted to ask you about Bob’s tape looping actually. In the studio is it done kind of on the fly like he does it live or is it a little more musically calculated?

It’s a post-production effect. I mean, he’s not doing it while we’re laying the basics. It’s something that’s after the fact. But that’s a good question because I mean, certainly live it’s all on the fly as we’re going. And as far as I know we’ve never done it that way [in the studio]. Basically because he has his hands full with all the other crap. You know, he’s trying to make sure that everything’s right. He can’t be paying attention to things to too many things at once… he’s already overloaded.

There is a bit of a distinction between your earlier records and the post-reunion albums, but I feel like most of that lies in the production. How is the recording process different today than it was back then?

You know what… it’s not that different. We’re slowly shifting over into—I mean, the first couple of Burma… Burma 2.0 recordings were all tape. I think. With a little bit of additional recording onto ProTools. The last record probably a little more ProTools. And this one too. But other than that, it’s all pretty old bastard punk rock recording for the most part. We’re still very old school in our approach and how we do it. Perfection of sound is really never what we’ve been about anyway.

But the early, the very early recordings at least, like “Academy Fight Song” and “Revolver,” I’ve read that there was a lot of work that went into those recordings.

Yeah, I mean if anything we were a little more insecure back then and so we worked hard at getting really good takes. And really… I think they sound overly-worked… when I heard those recordings now they sound too pristine and blemish-free. Whereas now it’s kind of… I don’t know, I hear… ugliness more.

That’s a good way to put it I guess.

Yeah. Of course, that’s no good, right?

I wanted to talk about your lyrics as well, because one aspect I really admire about yours specifically is that they can be very socially and politically conscious but they often have this playful sense of humor to them like in “Nancy Reagan’s Head.” Is there any conscious decision to not be too preachy about your politics or your beliefs?

Yeah. I mean, but--it’s hardly… you know… lyrics are sensitive. I don’t like talking about them much, but yeah, I certainly never want to come off as preachy, that’s true. But there’s not that much overtly political aspect in my songs other than just the whole mentality.

I was just thinking that a song like “New Nails,” I think I’ve only seen you guys play that song once.

Yeah, I know, that one… we did play it when we did our Vs. show. But you know, it’s a ripping song, I’m not sure why we haven’t played it more. It’s sort of random what songs end up getting played in terms of the old stuff. We kind of fall into a little bit of a habitual kind of thing at times. But yeah, that’s certainly one we could revisit. Revisit with pleasure.



I saw that Vs. show. Well, I don’t know how many you did but you did one in New York City, where you played Signals, Calls and Marches one night and then Vs. the next. How do you feel about those kinds of shows?

Basically I look at it as kind of a novelty, and a novelty that’s worn a little tired at this point, but you know, as a fan… as a fan of other people’s music, I kind of get a thrill if I think of one of my favorite artists doing one of their albums start to finish. It doesn’t have quite the novelty that it once did, but as a one off kind of thing I think it’s fine.

Do you think you’ll ever do one for one of the newer albums?

Maybe in twenty of thirty years [laughs.] Hailed as the masterworks which they are, of course. But, um, I don’t foresee that happening. Then again, we’d never foreseen the other records ever being played in their entirety. That would’ve been the height of ludicrosity. Life is full of surprises, that’s one thing Mission of Burma has learned.



In Burma’s original phase, it’s been said that not a whole lot of people really caught on to what you guys were doing. Since then, a lot more people have caught on. Do you ever feel there’s a struggle to gain more recognition or are you just sort of content with what you’ve achieved since reforming?

Well… let’s see. How do I answer that. I could come at that from a couple of different angles I think. I’d say there’s not a lot of ambition or expectation in the band right now. In a lot of ways, we look around the musical landscape now and we’re just as puzzled as we’ve ever been. About how things get popular, at the kind of herd-mentality of the majority of people and what they like in music, flocking to bands, you know, who are flavor of the moment, that kind of thing. Just leave us completely befuddled. That’s exactly the same, it’s not like the revolution has happened and it’s all rainbows and unicorns now and that kind of thing.

So you guys don’t feel like you need to break new ground in terms of gaining more fans?

That would be great if it happened, but I guess that’s just never been our number one priority or focus. It’s certainly not now, I mean... in terms of building a career or trying to get bigger or anything like that, it’s sort of very abstract and doesn’t feel very much apart of what we do. I think we feel very grateful to be in the position we’re in and very grateful that so many more people are aware of us now than back then. You know, coming back and playing in front of big audiences and getting attention, it’s really a mindblow for us. It’s kind of gone on, and a little bit of the frost has blown off the beverage as it were… and things are a more reasonable level now. You know the whole time we were selling these big halls we were just kind of looking at each other and we just weren’t buying it [laughs.]. Because it was just too easy, this obscure band coming back from the past. And at the time there hadn’t been many reformations of older bands.

Yeah, that was kind of at the beginning of all that.

It really was. The only band I can think of that had done it before us was Wire, but they had never really ceased playing, they were just sporadic. So we understood that this was sort of a novelty, but we didn’t look at ourselves and say, “At last! We are being hailed as the kings we always knew we were!” you know? We were always just like kind of skeptical... this is great, this is fantastic, but take it with a grain of salt. And I think our music now is just as out of place as it ever was. It’s certainly not at the height of fashion or anything, but we’re very lucky, we don’t lose sight of that for a second. We’re in a very kind of…. I mean, I can’t imagine a better place to be. We make music, people will pay attention to a certain extent and certainly a greater extent than we’d ever expected. We seem to have respect from other musicians, we’ve just always kind of occupied an odd space in the indie-sphere, but it’s, you know for a bunch of fifty-year olds it’s not bad.

I actually saw Chris Brokaw solo open for Bob Mould last year. I wanted to ask you what the status of Consonant is. Do you guys plan on doing anything else together?

There’s no plans. I would love at some point to revisit that music, that’s some of the best music I think I’ve ever written and I love playing with Chris and Winston [Braman] and Matt [Kadane]. Just had a ball doing it. Everybody’s sort of far and wide. That’s not a complete deal breaker, but you know Matt’s up in New York State teaching. Chris is located in Seattle, I think? So yeah, the answer is: there’s no plan, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Every once in a while I hear one of those songs, it’ll pop up on my iPod and you know… shit holds up!

It does. And you started that before the Burma reunion.

Yeah, that was my grand reawakening. And really just a startling amount of music just poured, just burst forth from the band, and it was really just exciting for me. That music just has a very special kind of place for me. I loved collaborating with Holly [Anderson].



Do you have anything else going on outside of Burma right now?

[Sighs.] A ton of stuff. But it involves hiking, doing fun things with my girls, and that sort of stuff. Yeah, no, life is very full but there’s only so much room for music. And music is about right where I like it to be at this point. I have no desire to be a full time rocker, or rock-life person. I’m thrilled to get home. I’m so very un-punk.

Do you ever envision an end to Mission of Burma?

Oh I certainly do… it’s not impossible to envision, it’s not like an unthinkable notion. But we’re in a very comfortable place, we make music, we enjoy each other’s company. We have sort of a collective appreciation that I think is on the same level of where we are and what’s happened to us. In a lot of ways it’s an enviable place to be and we kind of make music when we want to and see what comes over the transom in terms of playing and gigs and stuff. Like this past weekend we were doing Austin.

That’s right, how was that?

Yeah it was just kind of an offer that came out of the blue and we took the Austin gig and then Dallas got wind that we were playing. So we made a weekend out of it, and it was terrific. Austin’s just an amazing place. We hadn’t played in Dallas since 1982, or ’83, something like that. So that was sort of new territory for us and it was fun. You go to a place like Dallas, which is not really a Mission of Burma town, per se, like some of the other college towns. But you know, it really is sort of very touching, people are so grateful! You know like, “I’d never thought I’d get to see you!” And it just makes us feel awesome, it’s great. It’s not like we’re packing 3,000 people into some concert hall or something, but it’s an amazing experience being able to do this. It just really feels like a privelage.

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If you're unfamiliar with Mission of Burma, check out a special playlist we made up on Spotify that highlights Clint's contributions to the band. Again, Mission of Burma play Beekman Beer Garden on August 7, and it is 100% FREE. Doors at 11:30am, show starts at 3:00pm.

12 comments:

  1. "But other than that, it’s all pretty old bastard punk rock recording for the most part."

    Awesome. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ohh,
    Mission Of Burma, I was so lucky while being in NY this January they did a show and I could catch them live. That's not so easy to get them here in Europe...

    ReplyDelete
  3. The first time I heard MOB was in 1980 at the Inman Square Men's bar in Cambridge, Mass. After their first set my wife and I bought Clint a beer at the bar. He was an affable, unassuming, bassist that was very approachable--not much ego. I was attending Berklee in Boston, at that time; we bonded as fellow bassist. After joining the extended entourage of MOB, we got to know the whole crew as well. The last time we heard MOB was on their 1981 tour that landed them upstairs at the famous Fab-Mab; Mabuhay gardens on Broadway-North Beach-San Francisco. After the show a good time was had for all; a back stage party.

    ReplyDelete
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