Detroit Social Club interview - part two - The David Burn interview - part two
It's hard to keep up with David Burn when he's on a flow. Words, phrases and ideas rush out of him like a bubbling spring as he endeavors to get his point across. Explanations are peppered with stories and anecdotes and he is not shy about revealing deeply personal things about himself. The overall effect is one of great generosity and total honesty. And it is this openness, this big heartedness, that permeates the labour of love that is Existence, released on Fiction Records on the 31st of May. Songs like the powerful 'Kiss The Sun' or the beautiful 'Universe' which explores the contradictions that reside within each of us, reach out and take hold of you in away in which very few albums do. In part two of our two part interview he talks about the inspirations behind the songs and how to live the rock and roll dream while still remaining true to yourself.
With a lot of the bands I hear it's all about keeping their music close to their chests, whereas this record is quite unabashedly wearing your heart on your sleeve. Were you worried about doing that?
Not really, I’ve always been ... I am bipolar so all the way through my life I’ve kind of had to deal with my own feelings and how I feel inside and I’ve had to be very open about that otherwise I wouldn’t have any friends, basically! (Laughs) So it’s not something I’m ashamed of at all. I’m not frightened to stand in front of someone and say anything about myself at all. Whether it shows weakness or not, I personally think it shows strength. I’m not frightened of exposing myself. There are some songs on the album which are very very personal, like ‘Chemistry’ for example is like obviously about my little girl and missing her, and I wrote that song originally just for her. I wasn’t going to put it on the album and I showed up drunk one night to the rest of the band and they all sort of said we need to put it on because it’s an amazing song. It’s not because they’re too personal or I’m ashamed to be open, it’s just you kind of feel like you’re betraying the subject matter sometimes. I struggled a little bit with coming to grips with recording that song because I was kind of like, well, this is for me and my little girl, it’s not for anyone else. I didn’t write it for 10,000 to buy the album. But the rest of the band said, 'Look, this is a great song and it’s actually a way of making your daughter realise in twenty year's time, ten year's time that the time you’re not spending with her, which is obviously hard for her, she’ll be able to hear that song on the album and realise that actually you were thinking about her and it wasn’t just a case of you running of and chasing your dream and not thinking about her.' I think it’s a positive thing.
Are any of the songs hard to sing live because of the strong emotional content?
Certain ones, yeah. Like I said 'Chemistry', especially when I’m away. If I’ve been away for a long time so at the end of a tour it gets quite hard because obviously my thoughts are with her. But now it’s really enjoyable because it’s kind of like now I remember when I wrote it. I had the recording of it and she sat in my car and she’s old enough now, she loves JLS (puts his head in is hands) which is shocking, but uh…
She’ll grow out of it.
Hopefully, hopefully. I showed her the song, and I bought her a chain when I bought my chain and gave it to her and said whenever I’m away and you’re missing us kind of thing you can wear this and this is a song you can listen to. And her Mam tells us she listens to it all the time so it’s always quite emotional singing that song.
Let’s talk a bit about the new single ‘Prophecy’ which will be released on the 24th. For me this song really encapsulates the overall feeling of the album. I am intrigued by the lyrics. Can you tell me a bit of what inspired this song?
It was kind of like a bit of a tongue in cheek look at the innocence of youth, the naivety of youth . When you’re young, when you’re 20 years old kind of thing you feel as though what you’ve got to say is the most important thing in the world and you are the most important thing in the world, and everything you say and everything you think is correct. And that song was kind of written after, like recently… OK, my little girl, sorry to go on about her, but like my little girl and kind of what’s happened with the band I learned a lot about myself. When you look back at yourself when you hit your late 20’s, when I reached 28 you look back and think about yourself as a youngster, and that’s kind of a retrospective look at how you were, it’s almost like you were looking at another person. The belief in the way I kind of chose to do it was like a metaphor kind of thing, … it’s probably the one where I’ve sort of been talking about a character but it’s talking about first person, so it’s talking about me. “See this man, take his hand…it’s just the preacher in me.” But I don’t use the word “I”. I’m talking about myself in a different context. That was important, and it’s that context that I kind of get away with it because if I had said “I am this and I am that” people would have took the liberty because people do that. I was talking about myself, thinking I was as this great preacher man, but I’m not. It’s tongue in cheek and it’s kind of talking about myself, how other people would perceive themselves as a younger person.
Because I heard it and I thought it sounded like someone that maybe you were influenced by. Do you think we have it in ourselves to be preachers? I mean obviously people are going to listen to your music and be inspired by it and maybe like as you say pass it on to someone else they meet, do you think we have it in ourselves to have that…
Well if you’ve ever had - and I’m sure you have, I think everyone has - a friend who’s in trouble or anyone if you sit and talk to your friend about something that they’re going through…what’s always interesting is the butterfly effect, if you’ve ever said something to someone, even not in a serious way, and it might effect them so much inside or made them think in a certain way that you don’t even realise. There’s been a couple of times that I’ve been lucky enough that people have come up to us and said “You talked about this and two years after it’s happened” and I’m like “Did I ?” “Yeah, yeah, and it made us realise that I could do this or I could go on and do that.” And I’m like “Bloody hell!” I think that’s a really powerful thing that we’re not even conscious of and I think it’s best that we’re not conscious of it because if suddenly we were, we’d start trying to go around changing everybody’s life, trying to give our advice. The little things you do have a massive effect on someone else’s life. So I think you’ve got it, I’ve got it, your man on the street, the tramp on the street’s got it.
I met this person in New York, this woman whose husband had died about ten years previously, and he used to be this big promoter in New York and she showed us photos of him at parties with Queen and Freddy Mercury and David Bowie and all this sort of stuff, and she always wore black every day and the way she talks about her husband who had been gone for ten years was very inspiring. Yet I’ve never told her that she was and it wasn’t her actual words that she said that was inspiring but the whole story and attitude and love for life and love for her husband that she talked about so fondly was really inspiring. It’s kind of that. It’s like passing the baton on, you’ll help someone, and when you’ve helped them they’ll be in a position that they can help someone else. It’s that kind of relay of life I suppose. It’s quite a good topic for another song.
Do you think music can still have a healing power? Do you think it can instigate change?
Absolutely. 100 percent. More than that I think eighty percent of people whether they know it or not have been changed by music. Not even directly. I think music is such an important thing in particularly Western culture that politics, life, everyday life has been changed by it. The whole punk movement in the 70s, or the explosion of music in the 60s resulted in the young generation having a belief in themselves and their voice and their attitude and their desires and their ambition and their sort of thoughts and ideology. The black movement, everything. It gives people a voice. It gave the punks a voice, it gave the New Romantics a voice in the 80s. I mean look at how that changed. I mean in the 80s being gay was frowned upon Then there was people like Boy George that all of a sudden gave gay people a lot more of a voice, [made it] more comfortable to come out. So music’s changed everyone.
I think on a personal level, which is maybe what you’re kind of asking about now, I think definitely, if you hear a song that reminds you of when you were young it can either bring out the tears in an instant or make you feel really happy.
One of my friends recently, I haven’t seen him a lot recently, he’s just found out he’s having a baby. Well his baby’s due in two weeks time but he’s kind of struggling with it a little bit. I done him a mix CD of songs that me and him have listened to since we were 16 from when we first used to go out drinking, and the first song on it is ‘The Boys Are Back In Town,’ (sings) “The boys are back in town!”, because we used to always get ready to it before we went out I’d go over to his or he’d come to mine and we’d get ready and spray on the aftershave and (sings)“the boys are back in town!” pretending the song was about us. And that was the first song I put on the CD and when he listened to it he burst out crying and I was crying and the pair of us was sort of hugging, crying!
I bet the people who wrote that song never realised it would create so much emotion!
Exactly, so many years after.
Is it easier to write dark, angry songs then it is to write positive, uplifting songs?
It depends if you’re being genuine or not. I think it’s easy to write uplifting songs in a sense that you can grab a hold of any cliché …
Easy I mean in that still retaining some sense of cool, not being a kind of happy ‘We Are The World’ type thing. Something edgy and cool but at the same time very powerful and inspirational?
I think (pauses) it’s completely dependent on the person. I think for me it’s easier to write…erm…..(pauses) that’s a good question actually! That’s the first question for a while that’s had us stumped. Erm…(pauses). Oh, that’s a good question! I think it’s probably easier writing uplifting songs in the sense that it’s easier for people, you know more people who will relate to that because [if] you speak to ten people seven of them will have gone through life without a care in the world or worry in their life, three you’ll speak to and they’ll have probably been through a hell of a lot. And if you play a dark song, if you write a dark song about a struggle or a position that you’ve been in, then there‘s only going to be three out of ten people, for example, who are going to relate to that. Whereas if you write an uplifting number seven people are going to be like “Yes, I get what he’s talking about, he’s talking about this and I think he’s talking about that." But in terms of writing I mean the whole is as difficult as each other I suppose. It’s maybe easier to grab onto the lyrics of a more uplifting song.
I found a parallel with the songs ‘Prophecy’ and ‘Universe.’ In ‘Universe’ you’re saying “I’m a volcano, I’m an inferno I want to climb a mountain…" It’s like something inside of you to want to instigate change. It’s quite a dynamic song. The person speaking, it’s almost like he’s ready to explode with so much that he wants to do.
Yeah, yeah, definitely. That was kind of written as an explanation to living on the road with me kind of thing. It would be hard because obviously [what] I was saying about being bipolar, and with that you kind of get angry, you take huffs, there’s all them idiosyncrasies that come with me as a person. And after spending so much time on the road with eight other people they kind of deserve an explanation, like “Look, this is who I am, this is what I am.” Not just in a “This is me, I’m this and I’m that” but also what’s in there (points to his head) kind of thing. Some days I just want to play with fire til I’m an inferno, do you know what I mean? That’s my favourite line out of it. Some days I just want to.
That line “Build a wall around your castle”, there’s almost a contradiction, one line you’re on the mountain spouting wisdom, the next the walls go up. But I guess we’re all like that.
That’s one of the lines obviously “I am contradiction,” but I kind of try to tie it round with sort of saying, like on the chorus where it’s comes in eventually “We are all the same, floating round this universe.” We are all the same, we’ve all got our idiosyncrasies, some more than others, and some of us are more in touch with them, and I’ve kind of, for all my faults it’s listed through the song, I’m kind of happy with it because I’m in touch with…I know all of this, I admit that this is who I am, that’s who I am, that’s how I am, so I’m allowed to say all them things where as someone who may not have all them idiosyncrasies I think maybe is a bit worse off because they don’t know what idiosyncrasies they’ve got. I think it’s important that you know who you are, and if you know exactly what’s in your mind, whether it be bad or good, I think you need to search for that or look for that and it’s only then when you - not to sound cheesy or be clichéd - but kind of 'know yourself', you can truly find what it is you want.
We are all searching for something. I think everyone always is. I’ve got my granddad who’s 85 and still searching for something because otherwise they’ll go jump off a bridge. I think a lot of people try and do it but they don’t know who they are, they just go through life doing a 9 to 5, doing their job, and there’s nothing wring with that but I think it’s fortunate to be able to turn around “this is me, hands up” sort of thing.
Another song that really stands out is ‘Northern Man’. It has a really big orchestral feel, it just jumps out of the record. Was that a song that evolved through time or did you know from the start what you wanted it to sound like?
It was actually the orchestral sound kind of came first. I had the hook, and I had it on the piano, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. It was one of them things you know you’ve written something good. I would sit, I would try to go to sleep and all I’d have in me head was (sings) “doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo.” At first I wanted it to be like a kid’s toy, you know when you open a jewellery box and it’s got a little ballerina going round, it’s got that (sings) “ding ding ding ding ding” that was originally what it actually was going to be, like that kind of sound. I think I was just messing about one day and I had the string synth on and I thought that could be an amazing kind of big orchestral piece, and it sat in the computer for six months, I didn’t have a song to go with it, I just had this big…the drums, the guitars and all that just doing that bit. And then I sat and wrote a song and I said “Ah, it matches up” and I got the song from that.
The music is quite uplifting but the lyrics seem to speak of uncertainty, of living with fear, but at the same time there’s the line “Someday we’ll find the answers.” Why is it called ‘Northern Man?’ Are you speaking about yourself, being a northern man, or is it a feeling of that area?
No it’s actually just a metaphor. It’s actually quite anti-northern, the song. It’s about someone I know who’s…you know when you’ll meet someone who’s got a lot of ability or potential, just as a person, to do whatever they want to do but they’re not fulfilling that, they’re just happy doing their 9 to 5 or they’re happy sitting on the dole even. And they kind of don’t want to do anything else outside of that. It’s very frustrating for me, do you know what I mean, because I think everyone should go for it. There’s nothing worse than wasted talent. There’s this person I know, and he’s kind of always using the excuse “Oh, that’s just me, just me, I’m not gonna go and do this cos it’s just me.” And I kind of used the northern thing as a bit of a metaphor to the excuses that he uses, that’s what he’s saying, “One day we’ll have the answers but for now I’m trying to understand, what I have will just last us, what I’ve got that’s enough for us just because I am a northern man”. It’s kind of that, kind of the excuses that he uses. That’s what it is really. It’s nothing actually about region or regionalist or anything like that. It’s probably the opposite.
The songs really transfer well live. Is that something you keep in mind when you are writing and recording the songs?
Probably the opposite. We’re struggling sometimes. The live show that you see is just the result of a lot of hard work. It’s not easy. It’s not because of the way the songs are written or anything like that, or how they’re produced. It’s literally just spending a lot a lot of time in the rehearsal room going over the stuff until it sounds right. Going over it again, and going over it again. That’s just a lot of hard work.
You’ll be performing at some pretty big festivals this summer, including Glastonbury amongst others. You must be thrilled about that. You’ve done a few I think, didn’t you do Leeds and Reading?
Yeah, Leeds, Reading, Rockness last year. Yeah, it’s going to be a good summer. I’ve never been to Glastonbury yet, so it’s good that the first time will be when I’m at it which is amazing.
And it’s the big 40 year anniversary…
40th anniversary, right. And we’re doing Fuji Rocks over in Japan, doing Isle of Wight, doing T in the Park. Possibly doing V Festival but we’re not officially confirmed yet. I think it’s going to be good.
What’s next for DSC?
It’ll either go like that (points hand upwards), or go like that (points hand downwards), whichever way it goes it’s been a good ride. That’s all it ever was, all it ever will be because the day you start planning your whole life on music is the day you kind of …the other things that are more important than music kind of drift off. You’ve always got to keep perspective. And the perspective is that I’ve got more important things than music which is obviously my little girl and my family and friends and me as a person is a lot more important than music. So hopefully it will go like that (points hand upwards) and I can still be like that and still do that but if it doesn’t it won’t be the end of the world.
'Prophecy' is out on 24 May. Existence is released on 31 May on Fiction Records.