Mission of Burma's sonic fury still burns

Evolver
By MATT PARISH  |  January 18, 2012

main_mission-Burma_480
BACK ON AGAIN “We came back with a vengeance trying to punch ourselves in the face to snap out of it,” says Roger Miller (second from left on the couch, with Bob Weston, Clint Conley and, in the foreground, Peter Prescott).


It already seems like ages ago when Mission of Burma announced their reunion. The scrappy Boston band that flew under the radar during their original run between 1979 and 1983 were suddenly selling out shows in places like Irving Plaza. We were in the midst of a post-punk revival — Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life was making the rounds and new bands were catching fire using old Gang of Four and Wire tricks for kindling. Everything was so angular. It was 2002.

>> INTERVIEW: Talking with Mission of Burma's Roger Miller by Matt Parish <<

A whole lot of great bands — local and otherwise — have come and gone in the years since. But the reunited Burma, who'd originally burned fast and bright through a few recordings (and just one full-length, Vs.) have caught a sustained second wind and rewritten the book on how a cult band can age gracefully, whipping up three fresh albums in the years since. And they've just finished another that will be coming to us this year.

It's the same three guys — guitarist Roger Miller, bassist Clint Conley, and drummer Peter Prescott, with dedicated soundman/tape loops specialist Bob Weston (from fellow indie-geezers Shellac). They're playing Friday and Saturday night at Brighton Music Hall.

Mission of Burma are a true oddity in the indie-rock world — a band who blasted through the initial spotlight and overblown welcome-back reviews for comeback album On Off On to humbly chip away at a whole new career, effectively leaving well-worn classics like "That's When I Reach for My Revolver" and "Academy Fight Song" behind. They're not that different from most bands kicking around in town — rocking out on practice nights in Allston and playing a few shows here and there when they feel like it.

"There could be a tier of bands that Bob likes to call 'hobby rock,' " says Miller, relaxing on the couch at his home in Somerville recently. "It's not a hobby for me, really, but the thing is that there's not this quantum difference." It's a clean, sparsely decorated home with miniature ceramic horses arranged on the coffee table and a swath of grass out front, rare in Somerville, that reminds Miller of growing up in Ann Arbor.

main2_mission-Burma_220
Miller's first band was a psych-rock outfit in high school with his brothers called Sproton Layer (their 1969 record was just reissued by the German label World in Sound). He'd go on to be a composition major whose other projects include the Stravinsky-quoting group Birdsongs of the Mesozoic and the renowned film-soundtrack ensemble Alloy Orchestra. But you never get the feeling Burma are thinking in academic terms. Maybe that's what's enables them to churn it out. There were no artistic pretensions and no role models — either for upstart punk bands in the '70s or the extended workhorse careers that followed.

"We never had anyone like that to look up to as kids," Miller says. DIY had barely taken root before they had broken up, and by then fledgling bands like Sonic Youth were already looking up to them. "It wasn't that you put out a hit and you kept putting hits out so you're huge, as it was," he continues. "The model now was that if you could keep playing and you could make a living, that's good. I think that's the main part of it."

1  |  2  |   next >
  Topics: Music Features , Roger Miller, Mission of Burma, Mission of Burma,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY MATT PARISH
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   INTERVIEW: TALKING WITH MISSION OF BURMA'S ROGER MILLER  |  January 18, 2012
    This weekend (January 20-21) brings a two-night stand at Brighton Music Hall for post-punk godfathers Mission of Burma, who have somehow morphed into a band that's equal parts internationally renowned throwbacks and prolific local underdogs.
  •   MISSION OF BURMA'S SONIC FURY STILL BURNS  |  January 18, 2012
    It already seems like ages ago when Mission of Burma announced their reunion.
  •   TRYING TO FIND NOW  |  January 04, 2012
    William Gibson — the writer who famously coined the term "cyberpunk" and whose classic tech-punk novels like Neuromancer and The Difference Engine helped spawn a couple generations' worth of bleak, busted fantasies — is now on tour promoting his first collection of nonfiction.
  •   HAVE BILL SIMMONS AND GRANTLAND MADE IT COOL FOR GEEKS TO LIKE SPORTS?  |  December 14, 2011
    "The paper quickly began its operations, grabbing all of the talent money could buy."
  •   DENGUE FEVER ADD ECCENTRICITY TO PSYCH POP  |  June 01, 2011
    For all the kitsch and B-movie flair of Dengue Fever, there are still a few aspects of their obsession with Cambodian pop that they haven't put on record.  

 See all articles by: MATT PARISH