Friday, May 27, 2011

From The Vaults: Interview With Jake Burns From Stiff Little Fingers

                                                                   Photo by Julie Loebbaka
Critical Mass: Thanks for taking the time to talk with Critical Mass, Jake. Being from Belfast and coming up in the early days of the punk revolution, who inspired you to play punk rock and get Stiff Little Fingers going?

Jake Burns: "The Clash were the band’s first and main influence, pretty obviously. But, we listened to everything we could get our hands on. When we started, there weren’t many records available so we gobbled them up as soon as they came out; the first Ramones records, The Damned, Pistols. Even wider stuff like Blondie, The Stranglers and Elvis Costello. I guess we were all sick of the prog rock and guitar noodling crap we’d been listening to before."

CM: How do you feel the punk scene in Belfast was different compared to the American or the English scene?

JB: "It’s difficult to compare it because we didn’t have first-hand experience of those places at the time. Northern Ireland was very insular because of the violence that was happening there. Bands didn’t even want to come over and play. But later on, we realized that certainly the English scene was very similar. No one really knew what they were doing so there were no rules."

CM: I read that before S.L.F. got its name, you were in a band called Highway Star doing rock 'n' roll covers. Obviously the band name is taken from the Deep Purple song. So besides Purple, who were your musical influences early on as well as punk influences later on?

JB: "That band was more a school band kind of thing while it’s true that three of the players did eventually form S.L.F. My first musical influence was undoubtedly Rory Gallagher, who was an amazing blues guitarist from Ballyshannon, Ireland. He gets kinda overlooked these days, but he was every bit as good as the Claptons, Becks and Pages of this world. In fact, there’s a famous story of Jimi Hendrix being asked, 'What’s it like being the best guitarist in the world?' and he replied, 'I don’t know. Why don’t you ask Rory Gallagher.' The next phase of bands I got into would have been what was referred to in Britain as 'pub rock' bands, because they (surprise, surprise) played in bars! Bands like Dr. Feelgood, Eddie & the Hot Rods, then Graham Parker & the Rumour. Guys who played it a bit 'closer to the bone.' Not so much showing off and more emphasis on the song and the attitude."

CM: There's a legend that when you originally released "Suspect Device" on cassette, it was packaged to look like a cassette bomb and that when you sent them out for label consideration one label exec thought it was a real bomb and tossed the tape into a bucket of water. Is there any truth to that? Or was it just a rumor? Truth be told, that's funny as hell if it did happen.

JB: "Yeah, that did happen. Although our manager of the time now isn’t so sure. We had to send them a replacement copy. They never signed us though."

CM: When the band packed up and moved to England in the late '70s, were you well-received upon your arrival? Was there any tension between your band and the British punks of that era?

JB: "Not really. Everyone was very welcoming. We found that we had a lot in common with those guys, even heroes like The Clash were nice guys to us. (Although, I do remember having to listen to a very drunk Rat Scabies once saying to me, 'We did all the fucking work then you swan over the Irish Sea and take all the fucking money!' He & I became very good friends later!!)"

CM: S.L.F. songs have been covered by so many bands over the years from Naked Raygun and Screeching Weasel to Dropkick Murphys and The Swingin' Utters. Do you feel your band's influence has grown broader over the years with these covers?

JB: "It’s always flattering if someone cites you as an influence, although to be honest, there are a lot of bands who say it and I can’t hear us at all in what they do. We’ve been name-checked by everyone from those bands you mentioned to folks like U2, Green Day and even artists like Manu Chao."

CM: Of all the bands who have covered your songs, who do you think did a better version?

JB: "My favorite version of any of our songs was done by an Argentinian band called Attaque 77. They did a fantastic flamenco-esque cover of 'Listen.'"

CM: I know you were part of the recent Black Sheep sessions. How did you get involved in the recording of the upcoming single?

JB: "I was asked by Eric Spicer if I could get involved and as he’s a friend and it was for a good cause, I said, 'sure.' When I later found out that Herb Rosen was doing it as well, that was a bonus. It was great to meet the other guys as well and I enjoy playing on other people’s material so it was cool to contribute a guitar part to Dan Schafer's song."

CM: I had the privilege of interviewing Eric Spicer, Dan Schafer and Mike Byrne, all of whom contributed to the Black Sheep sessions, and all three have said what an honor it was to be able to work with you. How does it make you feel knowing you inspired so many bands who, in return, inspired bands themselves?

JB: "It’s not something I, or the rest of S.L.F. think about that much. You don’t want to come across as 'Old Father Rock,' y’know? But, as I said, it’s always flattering when someone says not only that they like what you do, but that it inspired them to get off their ass and do something for themselves."

CM: After moving to Chicago, what do you think of our local music scene? Are there any bands from the area that get you excited?

JB: "I wasn’t as aware of the Chicago scene as I was of, say, New York or L.A. Those cities just got more coverage outside the U.S. and also, we’d played there a lot more and my wife is from D.C., so I’ve been made aware of the whole D.C. hardcore thing, although that’s not really much to my taste. So, I’ve found out about Chicago bands since I’ve been here and obviously, I’ve been working with Mark DeRosa from Dummy and Joey & John Haggerty from Pegboy in the Nefarious Fat Cats fun/side project. John is a phenomenal guitarist; one of the best I’ve heard. His sound could take your face off. It’s so powerful and yet, his playing is so accurate. Also, another friend, Sean Joyce, who toured with Ministry and The Revolting Cocks has been filling me in on the whole Wax Trax history. He used to work in that store back in the day and has been very generous with his time and expertise. I went along to the first night of the Wax Trax Retrospectacle at Metro and was just blown away by Rights of the Accused. I wish I could have seen them back in the day. And obviously, I’ve guested a couple of times with Raygun, who are just fantastic live as well."

CM: Are there any plans for a new S.L.F. album or possible tour?

JB: "Yep. I’m writing at the moment and we’re just about to head out on a little 'both coasts' kind of tour. Sadly, no Chicago date, although we did try, but maybe have something later in the year."

CM: How can fans get in touch with you and the band? Is there a website where we can get info on new releases, tour dates and merch?

JB: The easiest way to keep up with what we’re doing is to visit: HERE Or you can find us on Facebook, either as S.L.F. or just as myself.

CM: I want to thank you for talking with Critical Mass. It's not every day I get to interview someone who's done so much and influenced so many. I hope we get to see S.L.F. live in Chicago again real soon! Thank you so much Jake.

JB: "You’re welcome. All the best."

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