The men from Mission of Burma are halfway through a hectic couple of weeks, as they've just returned from a short European tour with Shellac to treat Boston and New York fans to some very special performances. Over two nights in each city, the seminal Boston band will perform the entirety of their 1981 debut EP, "Signals, Calls, and Marches", along with their 1982 full-lengther, "vs.". Each set will be fleshed out with some rarities, and guitarist Roger Miller provides more details on that in the interview responses below, which he and bassist Clint Conley were kind enough to provide during a long drive through Spain a few days back.
Thanks to Fenway Recordings, I've got a pair of tickets for each Boston show (Thursday and Friday at the Paradise) to give away. Details after the interview...
Q: So how did the idea of running through each album over two nights come about? Obviously the recent Matador reissues played a part, but were you all into the idea initially, or was anyone resistant?
Clint Conley: The idea first arose when we were asked to do "vs" at the Pitchfork Fest. That seemed quite an honor, and an idea totally worth stealing and repeating. Seemed to me we were of like-mind on the matter.
Roger Miller: I can't recall exactly, but I think (MoB manager and Fenway Recordings head honcho) Mark Kates suggested it. It's that "Don't Look Back" idea that the ATP festival started, where bands perform their classic albums. It just kind of made sense given the reissues. We certainly would not have done this except that the reissues are coming out. Last fall we hardly performed any of the old stuff, because we were focusing on the new ideas.
Q: If you've had time to run through the seldom-played songs already, are there any that have surprised you (either in a 'Why weren't we playing this one all along?' sort of way, or a 'Uh oh, we're in trouble with this one' kind of way, or anywhere in between)?
CC: There were several songs that required some skullwork to reconstruct, and there are still some transitions, and odd corners, that I am not totally convinced we've got "right." Overall, the recall of songs from almost 30 years ago (!) has been eerily easy. And yes, some of the songs we haven't been playing seem pretty decent, if I say so myself.
RM: Mostly they fell into place pretty quickly. Some were surprising to find how they were structured - they were pretty much all fun to revisit. The most surprising one for me was "Train of Thought", which didn't do much for me "back in the day" but I find quite bracing now. We've run through twelve "resuscitates" (songs we haven't played since 1983), and we're hoping we'll have them together by the time of the shows! We're in Spain right now, and we go over them in soundchecks and incorporate a couple in every show, so we should be OK by the Paradise shows. We just listened to these songs in the van, and found that there were quite a number of little sections we didn't realize were there.
Q: With the albums being relatively short compared to the usual length of your live sets (and one actually being an EP), how are you planning to fill out the rest of each night? And do you plan on sticking to the original "Signals..." track order, or the remastered sequence with the two additional songs? (no worries if you're hoping to keep any of that a surprise, of course).
CC: We are still working out the details of how to present the records/shows. Suffice to say we will be expanding beyond , say, the 6 song "Signals," doing other songs from that period that may or may not have shown up on other releases, such on Taang or Horrible Truth. Same with 'vs'.
RM (from notes he wrote earlier): For the 'Signals...' show, we will play some songs from early on that are not on 'Signals...', but were of that era. We will then play the 4 songs from the Acad/Max session (including the 2 that were just released), then play 'Signals...' start to finish, then play encores, and make sure everyone is happy.
For the 'vs.' Show: We will play the 4 "bonus tracks", 'vs.' start to finish, then play encores, and make sure everyone is happy.
Q: You guys have been playing some new stuff recently, so what does the future hold for MoB? Back to the studio for a follow-up to "The Obliterati"? Any other special plans ahead?
CC: We almost never know what we are going to do. If there is a plan, no one's told me.
RM: We're not so good at planning. We do have new material, and once this reissues thing has passed, I'm sure we'll work on more new songs. The only truth to be told is that so far, whenever we've had enough new songs to make an album, we've made one. That may or may not hold true in the future.
Q: I believe you're answering these questions while driving around Europe on a short tour. So what exactly is helping pass the time while on the road? (what music, books, games, etc.?)
CC: We are at this moment following the luxurious Shellac tour van across the high, dry plains of Spain, on our way north to Gijon, a beach town on the Gulf of Vizcaya (Atlantic Ocean). Spain is beautiful to the point of flabbergasm. I was reading Oliver Sacks' "Musicophilia" until it got stolen yesterday along with my laptop in Madrid.
RM: Gazing at the scenery is quite nice. I was in Barcelona with Alloy Orchestra some years ago, but otherwise, this trip is all new stuff to me. Babbling to each other, occasionally listening to music. Listening to Public Enemy (who MoB will play with at P4K in July - ed) coming into Madrid was kind of interesting. I have my laptop with me and writing the Tour Blog for the Burma MySpace site is my little "side project" on this trip. It's hard to say what we do to keep amused - it just happens.
One thing's for sure: Roger's road blogging kept me amused (especially the Burma vs. Shellac scores). Damn shame about Clint's laptop, huh? Add MoB to the long list of victimized touring bands, but hey, at least it wasn't their instruments. Much thanks to Roger and Clint for taking the time to answer those questions.
As I said, I'm glad to be able to give away a pair of tickets to each show, so if you're game, send me an email at giveaways -at- bradleysalmanac -dot- com titled "MoB Thursday" or "MoB Friday", depending on which one you want to try for (no double-dippin'). Make sure I get it before 10AM on Wednesday, and I'll randomly pick one winner for each show who will end up on the guest list with a +1 spot for a friend.
And to get yourself in the mood, I should mention that I uploaded my January recording of MoB's amazing appearance at Great Scott to the Live Music Archive. Have at it.