YOU HAD A FAIRLY LONG JOURNEY JUST GETTING TO BURMA IN THE FIRST PLACE, RIGHT? Yeah, the first band I was in was Sproton Layer, which was in '69 and '70. It just got reissued by a German label, which is astounding in itself. I knew then that me and my two brothers had written a pretty mature body of work. Being in 12th grade, I thought, "Well, now I've done that and now I have a career." The thing is, at that point the psychedelic expansion was contracting and everything was like boogie and heavy metal. We were a more expansive thing, so it didn't add up. It was a complete flop and it depressed me until Burma formed. That was my vindication. But all the years in between, there was no way. No matter what I did, it couldn't penetrate the world. The time wasn't right.
YOU HAD STUDIED FOR AWHILE AT CALARTS IN LOS ANGELES — NO FOOTHOLDS ANYWHERE FOR YOU THERE? Well, I was a little too schizoid. I'd go to music school, then I'd play free jazz. I was dabbling, but I was acquiring all types of knowledge — despite the fact that all I'd really wanted to do was play in rock bands and put out records. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if I had stayed at CalArts, gotten my degree in composition, and maybe gone on to follow Steve Reich and Philip Glass and become notorious in that world. It's conceivable. But I needed to make rock records. It was everything I'd wanted to do since I was in sixth grade and the Beatles hit. So whatever convoluted path I took, I ended up in the right place and made Vs. finally with Burma. I don't know if it's a masterpiece, but it's pretty damn good. It's something that I'd be very proud of if it was the only rock record I ever made in my life.
ARE YOU STILL WORKING ON YOUR OWN MODERN COMPOSITION WORK? Yeah, I finished one piece in May — a piece for three percussionists, two string trios, and an electric organ. It hasn't been performed yet but I've sent a copy to Steve Drury at the New England Conservatory. And I have a piece that I'm just finishing now, and I'm meeting with an incredible clarinetist Thursday.
YOU'RE DOING A LOT THROUGH NEC NOW? There's a lot of cross-referencing — it's not just classical here, rock here. There's a lot of crossover. There was a Callithumpian Consort concert there in December and, even though I'd been to a lot of them, I started to realize then that, in a way, these kind of performances are the equivalent of like, for me, Cantone's or maybe O'Briens. It's roots-level. It was an interesting way of looking at it. It's not too serious.
THAT WAS KIND OF THE ATTRACTION FROM THE START FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE TO BURMA, RIGHT?YOU GUYS WERE PLAYING WITH THESE PRETTY FAR-OUT ART-SCHOOL IDEAS THAT PEOPLE COULD UNDERSTAND WITH A LITTLE WORK, BUT IT WAS NEVER TOO HIGH-MINDED. The main thing I think of when we play a show is the visceral physicality of it — just the raw sounds. After you're hit by that, then you might think, "Well that structure was really interesting there — no wonder I couldn't follow it." It's more complicated than your average rock song. But the first thing you get is just a physical band. And I agree with you in that sense — it keeps us from being too pompous. I mean we could be pompous if we wanted to be, but none of us seemed to really have it in us.