Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Interview with Chris Colohan


New label, new album, and new producer. What was the reason for working with Kurt Ballou this time around and not Ian Blurton, and what can we expect from the new LP, Rotten Thing To Say?

We just wanted to try something new, and wanted something that sounded sharper than Songs For Burning Lovers came out, but still dirty and low. I've known Kurt and all those guys since the early to mid 90s, we spent some time this past summer on the road with Converge, and decided on God City for Rotten Thing To Say. It was a great call and we got exactly what we were after out of it. Kurt's got his shit together.  

Burning Love is an appropriate name, given the band's playful, yet dark and abrasive rock and roll aesthetic. Or are you just a really big Elvis fan?

Both. It was a song written by an old Jewish guy, sung by a great but under-acknowledged black soul singer, and then popularized by a bloated rich white guy, which is the one part of the story that history records. And that's largely the case for rock and roll and music overall. So it's also about that - the bullshit and idolatry on top and the secret true histories of popular culture underneath it all, that you have to dig for. But it also conjures up images of a diseased crotch. So shit, whichever one works for you.

You guys are doing a split 7” with The Laughing Hyenas on High Anxiety this Spring. Is the split 7” with Fight Amp still going to see a winter release?

No no, I wish! Laughing Hyenas are a non-entity for a long time, and their guitarist passed away in 2006. We're doing a 7" single of one of the LP songs with a Laughing Hyenas cover (Love's My Only Crime) as a b-side. Yes, the Fight Amp split is still on its way out. It's part of a whole split 7" series on an Irish label (Hell Comes Home) with tons of great bands involved (Thou, Great Falls and tons more). Look that shit up.

Musically and vocally, Burning Love is somewhat of a departure for you. Songs like Alien vs. Creditor display a catchy sense of melody not previously heard in your work. Was this a conscious decision and do you see Burning Love ever intentionally writing material aimed at appealing to a wider audience?

Yeah, I wanted to try something out of my comfort zone, trying to approach writing, singing and playing from another perspective, regardless of the audience or who takes to it. It's only a coincidence if it's more accessible to anybody.

Cursed was highly praised throughout the metal, hardcore, and punk scenes and continues to have a loyal fan base. The name Chris Colohan is also pretty much synonymous with Cursed. Have you found this to be an obstacle in the pursuit of new musical endeavors?

I definitely hate seeing or hearing the words "Chris Colohan" together. I'm currently writing some things I want to publish as books and I feel cheesy putting my own name on the cover. I've been trying to find some way around that. I don't mind being associated with Cursed, or anything I've done. It varies stylistically from band to band but there isn't anything idealistically or politically that I don't still identify with. Cursed was a big part of my life for a long time, I don't ever mind the association as long as people listen to every different band and allow them all their own context, in fairness to the fact that every band is a collaboration between a different group of people who have all paid their own dues too.

A lot of your artwork is heavily influenced by old, cult horror films. Did you have a hand in creating the new album art and do you think the rise of digital music has diminished its relevance?

I love records, and record covers. So far, I've done all the BL art. Just like with the writing, I wanted to take the opportunity to try something new with the aesthetic of it. The new LP is going to be a photograph too (as with SFBL and Don't Ever Change). It's gross, what I have planned for it. I don't like it but I have an idea in my head and I have to do it. It's gonna smell bad in my house.

And in terms of digital music and art, I don't think a tiny square image in your Itunes window could ever compare to holding something in your hands, reading it, owning it and taking it in 3-dimensionally. Beyond just art, I think the digital age has us all just barely skimming across the top of any one thing, reducing it to one of 1,000 other options that you only absorb anecdotally and in between all the others.

The Cursed “he goat” is easily one of the most distinct and iconic images to be associated with a band in recent years. Where the hell did it come from?

A British horror movie called The Devil Rides Out, from a novel by occultist Dennis Wheatley. It's the incarnation of Satan, obviously, but way creepier for the fact that it's just a straight up dude with a crude goat head, and it only appears in the movie for maybe 5 seconds.

I grew up in a dogmatic Catholic home. The imagery and lyrics of songs like Magic Fingers and Curse Breaker really resonate with my disaffected and skeptical adult self. Do you come from a religious background as well, and if not, where do these sentiments come from?

Yeah, I also grew up in a Catholic home, but with some other bizarre shit thrown in there too. It's funny, the only thing separating what we embrace from what we demonize is familiarity. I grew up in rooms full of people led by men in robes, lighting incense, performing rituals, drinking "blood", chanting memorized incantations to keep in the good graces of a hidden power - that's pretty much the textbook definition of occult as described by Christianity. All religions inherently expect to monopolize context (reality) itself, but in the end they are all just so many cults competing for business. Their degree of success or obscurity never changes that. It takes a long time to pull your head away from a whole socialization's worth of that kind of systematic brainwashing, and even more so when the bulk of your world still enables it as if it's normal and healthy.

You have a reputation for your energy and charisma as a front man, constantly engaging the audience and often times leaving the stage to sing right in the middle of the crowd. I saw a live video of a show you played last year that must have taken place at some big festival, given the diverse crowd, in which you, shirtless and roaming the stage as usual, squat down next to a couple of little girls nearby, shouting lyrics and even offering them the mic at one point. Is playing outside of the band's usual setting and comfort zone something you guys enjoy doing?

Hah! Yeah, there is a story to that. We were asked to play the final year of this outdoor festival outside of Toronto by our friend Bushra who organizes it. But it was going on at the same time as this Indian/Pakistani cultural festival, which made for a really funny mix of people wandering towards the noise of the show (cops and little kids included). I don't know if it's in the video, I lost my shirt when I went in the fountain. I was getting mad shocks. There were some little kids hanging out, so I took it to the people as they say. I think kids react pretty naturally to the energy of music, I always dig that. I did get to scream at some cops and old folks, who weren't as into it.

Did you ever end up filming that music video in an old porn theater for the song Money Shots?

Goddamn, no. We submitted it with a proper storyboard and everything and couldn't get the funding for it. It's a bummer, that theatre The Metro is just hanging on, it's one of the last vestiges of the real Toronto.

What are your thoughts on music piracy? Can it help promote or does it hurt a band like Burning Love? Some people say it doesn't really matter if you steal a band's music because they only really make money off their merch anyways. Is stealing music justifiable if that person attends a show?

As someone that puts out records and as a musician who's records go around online 10 times more than they do in print, it doesn't bother me at all from the money angle, only the impersonal nature of digital music bothers me. If it were drastic enough that you couldn't afford to make the record because of downloading, maybe then, but it's still a far cry from that. There's enough of a base of real record nerds around it who still want to hold it, read it and take it in to at least cover that. And in our world, people do interact with their culture, they go to shows and support it firsthand, and most of them make music themselves. So it's actually give and take. The people that make the biggest stink over the lost money are either the Lars Ulriches who have made their millions already, or the industry middle men that grew fat off other peoples' passion by inserting themselves between artists, their ideas and their audience, which has been happening for almost a century since the advent of phonograph records, and never should have happened anyway. Like a lot of people, I do both - I download lots of things to have them on the go, but I also have over 2000 LPs in my living room, which I prefer in every way. Take any one of those whining SOPA assholes and show me their actual record collection.

You don't drink or smoke and you've talked about how polarizing and narrow the mindset of SXE can be. As a vegan, do you find some of the the same criticisms to hold true for some of the preachier, militant vegans? Do you feel like both of those subcultures, specifically within the punk/hardcore scene, tend to be more about homogeny and mass identity than individual choice?

I saw a gnarly slaughterhouse video I didn't like when I was 15 or 16. Immediately the ultimatum was "if you don't like that, don't make it happen". I went vegetarian and then vegan and stayed that way, because the industry stayed that way, end of story. I never liked militant types, they turn more people off good causes than bring them to it. And in hardcore, those cartoonish extremists - you can set your watch to not seeing them around much longer than the month when all their peers fall off. Sadly that's always been the way, and I think preachy SXE/vegan culture sets them up for that. I'm SXE but half my life is spent playing in bars, which is fine by me, I just don't like smoke. Obviously I think both SXE and veganism are great things, but they're both about something you don't do for a good reason, so you don't have to be a martyr about it. It's only about supply and demand, you remove yourself from that chain of events once and that's it - just mean it and do it.

You have a new tattoo of Leonard Cohen's face to your arm. Is there a story behind that?

Wow, good eye! Yeah, I just love and respect the man a lot and didn't want to wait till he dies to get a stick & poke portrait of him. My friend Alexandra Snelgrove (an incredible illustrator and now tattooist) did it by hand. Cohen is one of the few things my mother imparted on me musically and literarily that I grew up to love for real. You're a huge record collector and you're also losing your hearing, doesn't that pose some problems? Yeah dude, I've been thinking about that! One time I had this car, a 1986 Toyota Tercel. I was driving down the highway at night to a girlfriends' house and the music started getting dimmer. The alternator had ate it but I didn't know that. I kept turning the music up and up until it was cranked on full blast but had died out when I realized my lights had gone out too. So because the engine was still running, I could haul ass (in the total dark) but only until I stopped the car, at which point it died. That's pretty much my approach to music, hearing, and the rest of my life. I just have to keep turning it up and not ever stop.

The older I get, an increasing number of my peers are having children, though I couldn't personally be less interested in the idea of procreation... You're married without children and have a vasectomy. Didn't everyone tell you you'd change your mind?

Yeah, they did. But it's been 10 years, I'm 37 and it has never occurred to me that it was a bad choice.

Were there any records from last year that blew your mind, or for that, any major disappointments? Is there anything in particular that you're looking forward to in 2012?

  I know it's from 2010 but Watain's "Lawless Darkness" killed it. More recently I've been loving The Men "Leave Home", the new Mark Lanegan, Rotten Sound's new LP "Cursed", and for 2012 I'm looking forward to The Pallbearer LP "Sorrow and Extinction" and whatever Swans LP is gonna follow up their last new one, which floored me live and as an LP. And letdowns? I hate to say it because I love them dearly but that new Boris that sounds like real-deal Asian radio pop really bummed me out.

Thanks for your time. Is there anything else you'd like to say?

Thanks a lot, Trevor.

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