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. I sat down with guitarist Roger Miller to talk about the evolution of the band in both worlds, and the unorthodox path his career has taken since he first landed a record deal in 1969.
>> READ: Mission of Burma's sonic fury still burns by Matt Parish <<
YOU GUYS ARE DEEPER INTO THIS REVIVAL THAN MOST BANDS GET WITH A WHOLE CAREER — WHAT'S THE MODUS OPERANDI OF THE BAND AT THIS POINT? We make a record, we play for a while, then we wonder if it'll grind to a halt or we'll make another record. If enough of us write songs, then the scales kind of tip. If we have enough that we should make a record — that's a matter of us all agreeing to do it. It's a very vague process, but it always gets done, apparently. This will be our fourth since the "reformation," as it were, and I think we're all kind of pepped on this one.
WAS EVERYBODY DOWN ON THE LAST ONE? No, no, it just varies. With the The Sound the Speed the Light — it's a pretty record and has some good songs on it. But it doesn't have the grip 'em-by-the-throat-energy of The Obliterati, so we were thinking, "How can we ramp it up a bit?" It felt like there was a bit of a coasting, I suppose. And Pete [Prescott] especially was like, "We get comfortable and just write Burma songs, then we're not really doing the right job." When someone tells me to do that, I just take it and do it. So I wrote a few songs on acoustic guitar (rather than electric guitar), and some on bass guitar. They're like bass riffs, so that got me out of my typical just sitting down thinking, "Oh yeah, Roger's got a cool guitar style." It makes me think differently, so I'm fucking with myself. Pete was trying to work more melodic stuff and Clint too — each of his songs has something different from what he normally does. So that what would make a good record if, indeed, it turns out to be any good.
ISN'T PETER THE ONE WHO'S BEEN QUOTED AS SAYING THE BAND CAN'T POSSIBLY DO MORE THAN A FEW MORE SHOWS? Yeah, well, words are cheap [laughs]. But when he said that, we really were deciding whether we'd make another record or not, so they weren't really cheap words. They sunk in deeply.
The last one, we recorded at a really nice studio [Squid Hell in JP]. This time, the economy's really funky and there are all these questions like, "What is a record? What's a label? How do you sell records?" Everybody sells fewer records, which means you're going to get paid less for your work and your time. If you work a month on a record and you don't make any money, then you've got to make that money from somewhere else, you know. So we didn't use a big studio — we used Analog Divide, where we rehearse, which is Black Helicopter's space. We brought in Bob [Weston], as we always do — the "loop guy" in the band who's engineered all the records. So since it's where we rehearse anyway, it was completely natural. We were just ripping it out. When I hear the rough mixes for the next record, the energy level is much closer to The Obliterati, which I consider to be a good thing.