Burn The Negative interview
The bass player in Camel apart, the northern city of Carlisle has produced few artists whose ouvre has ever motored down the motorway of pop we call popular. That may be all about to change with the imminent rise of Burn The Negative, a band who have only played a handful of gigs but have already been snapped up by industry heavyweights ITB and parachuted onto the bill at Rock Ness, Glastonbury and Creamfields.
The band's zeitgeist-defining sound (think Interpol if they'd spent less time listening to Joy Division and more to New Order) may be very 2009, but this is no overnight sensation. Founder members Mark Baker (vocals, synths) and Gary Little (synths) have been in and around the dance and electronic scenes for a significant time, even giving a young Calvin Harris a leg up when the uber-producer was still in short trousers.
We spoke to Mark and Gary along with Gareth Milburn (bass) and Lee Smith (guitar) at their rehearsal space on the eve of their album release.
Tell us a little bit about how you all came together.
Lee: I've been playing in bands since I was 17, 18 and I've toured around, put stuff out on a label, that kind of thing. Maybe about a year ago Gareth told me that Mark and Gary were wanting to put a project together and did I want to give it a go?
Gary: We'd talked about doing something on and off for two, three years and we decided to give it a proper bash.
It's hard to deny that electronic music is what's currently hot.
Gary: That's where our roots are. This is the kind of thing we've been doing before all the interest in electronic bands picked up again. So it's co-incidental but it's nice.
Mark: Music's always going to be dictated by fashions. One of the most exciting things about the current situation is that its not a big parody on the 80s. There's a real blend with a rock influence working alongside synthetics. The crossover is extremely credible. If it's a parody of something from the 80s then ultimately it will just fade away.
If people want nostalgia they can always go to 80s nights.
Mark: Right. There's a chance we might get to work alongside some bands who we'd never thought it might be possible to work with, but when we discussed it it made sense. Someone like Kasabian: they fuse the rock elements with electronica in a way that's not immediately obvious.
Are you surprised how quickly things have come together for you?
Lee: We've only really done a handful of gigs. Maybe 8 or 9 and to look over our schedule it's amazing. To go from King Tut's in Glasgow to Glastonbury in a few months ...
Mark: We were very cautious about the gigs we took. The Tut's gig was probably an instance where it wasn't the best time for us to play. We were still working on the live aspect. But our album was written to take it on the road. We were thinking about how certain lines would work through a massive system and it paid off. We just played the O2 and it was madness! We've been very lucky to find a booking agent that's really into us. They have people like Dylan and Pearl Jam on their books. We spoke to them in January and next thing we know we're down for Glastonbury.
It's strange, but already you're at a level other bands from the city have never achieved.
Mark: We didn't get that much support from local promoters.
Gareth: There's a bit of a clique and we just tried to stay away from it. Apart from maybe one guy who gave us a chance, nobody makes it easy to play here so we had to look further afield.
Being so isolated means you immediately have to look towards Glasgow or Newcastle or Manchester.
Gary: Playing home gigs is a boost. Once you go away you have to prove what you're made of.
Is that remoteness offset by interest from further afield?
Mark: So many people have access to your music but the downside is that there's a million, trillion other people doing it. Back when were doing our House music projects in the early and mid 90s it was quite an exclusive thing. It was hard to find labels. Now anyone can do it but promoting it in the right places is still hard. That's where our experience helps. We used to have to fight to get a track on DAT or CD, send it off and then six weeks later you might get a fax from Japan to say someone had played it. That said, the immediacy of today's scene is a real buzz.
What can people expect from the album?
Mark: The proof's in the listening. Some people will try and tag it but it's not necessarily about the musical influences. It's a package with artwork and a certain production. We didn't want it to be over-produced. It's still got an atmosphere. We mixed it in the same place as 'Scary Monsters' and it was mastered by the same person who did 'Blue Monday'! There's a club arrangement to some of it. Working as DJs there's an understanding of the need to build up. Anticipation. But it's also exciting trying to squeeze what you used to do in eight or nine minutes into three and a half.
There's a certain discipline to the pop format.
Mark: And definitely doing it credibly! Sometimes just throwing a vocal on a dance track can be toe-curlingly horrendous!
Is there a story behind the track 'Camden'?
Mark: It was just about a visit there. Some guy in a shop was convinced I was in Towers of London! After that I started to look around around and thought 'You could be in a band. So could you!' It's just about how looks can be deceiving.
Gary: The majority of the album is Mark's but his ideas were where the band started to take form. Then Lee putting his edge on stuff, Gareth's bass ...
Mark: It's crazy but we've already been told to start thinking about the second album. We want it to feel connected to this one. It'll be different because we'll all have more input but it'll be like branches on the same tree.
The album In The Atmosphere is out now via Gung-Ho!
Burn The Negative on MySpace