And introducing Neptune on tambourine

TBH Grotto PhotoIn this photograph, taken by Claire Goldthorp at End of the Road Festival only a few weeks ago, you can see us posing with Neptune, Roman God of the sea and Protector of Tambourine Players. Neptune—so the legends say—rose from the Adriatic to play the tambourine at every new dawn, and his jingle-jangle morning routine called the sun from the horizon. One terrible day, the sun would not rise, no matter how he jingled and jangled, but steadfast Neptune continued to play, eventually beating the tambourine so hard that his left hand came off at the wrist. Thus he is always memorialized without his left hand, as he is here in the grotto at Larmer Tree Gardens.

Cue awkward segue: the tambourine player is often overlooked, always in the background, but often brings the whole song to life. Same goes—and it’s not really much of a stretch—for the labour and love poured into music by the folks that don’t clamber up on stage and yap and yelp and bang and jangle. There are lots of them, fortunately for the rest of us, from indie record label owners, to promoters, to college radio DJs, to fans who go the extra mile for the bands that they love.

At this point, three weeks into our 101 nights of Revival Beach touring, I’m feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for the work of all of these kinds of kind people. We’ve experienced such incredible help and support over the years, and it would be a gargantuan and probably impossible task to list everyone I feel particularly indebted to or fond of. In the last few weeks, the enthusiastic volunteer work of Lloyd from Olive Grove Records in Glasgow and Jamie from Netsounds in Inverness (two dudes I’ve never even met in person) sent us on a fantastic journey through the Scottish hinterlands with Jeffrey Lewis; Ro Cemm, Claire of Kent, the Tipi Stage crew, and Brave Jack at End of the Road made an already-great festival unforgettable; Alex and Mike of Black Isle Brewery and Alison of Wildwood Bushcraft reached out to us out of the blue and achieved new heights in the Kindness of Strangers International Rankings. I’m writing this, right this minute, from the home of Donal McConnon, a visionary musician and songwriter who has given up his own bed so that I can write blog entries in comfort and safety while he seeks shelter under the Spanish Arch, or more accurately at his friend Richard’s house.

I could go on and on. The point is that music is a collective effort, and we wouldn’t be doing any of the things we’re doing otherwise. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who do a lot of work behind the scenes and never get any credit. I am ashamed to admit how slack I’ve often been myself in attributing props where props are due, but believe me, we really appreciate everyone that has ever helped us on our sometimes difficult, often ridiculous journey into whatever dimension we find ourselves inhabiting now. We like it here, and you all deserve our thanks and our hugs and high fives.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Neptune, God of the Sea, and master of the tambourine!

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Armies of Friends and Beach Revivals

While we were on tour this past spring, we made this video for “Friend Army,” the first song on our new record Revival Beach. It was shot by our frequent sonic collaborator and friend Captain Al Harle, and edited by our very own Ariel Sharratt. In the video, you can see what inevitably happens when the members of The Burning Hell attempt a race to the death on some islands in the north Atlantic (no spoilers):

As for Revival Beach, it comes out on September 29 on BB*Island and you can pre-order the album on LP, CD, or wax cylinder here. We’ll be releasing more videos, songs, and details about the record and our tour as the summer goes on, but for now, here’s the cover—a painting called “Revival Beach” by the extraordinary Shary Boyle. We remain honoured and thankful to Shary for allowing us to use her work for our record. She’s the best!

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Scotland with Jeffrey Lewis, summer gardening plans, and a few other bits and bobs.

Scotland.poster.COLORw.NO.datesOh, Scotland, we will be all over you this September, spending two weeks traversing your lochs and glens, exploring your back alleys, tree forts, and chippies. Ariel and Mathias will be supporting the outstanding Jeffrey Lewis, and these three amigos will be starting in Leith, ending in Stirling, and would love to see you and your extended family and friends at any or all of these gigs along the way.

But first, we will be spending the summer months at home on the farm alternately tending our young apple trees, fending off the chipmunks, and getting our new album “Revival Beach” all ready for its release in late September.

We’re also playing a nice handful of festivals, like this one, this one, this one and this one, but not this one.

More news coming extremely soon. Winking heart emoji.

Whitehorse to Faroe Islands Tour Express!

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As promised, we have some spring tour dates for you! They’re listed HERE, with more info and ticket links added as we get them.

In Western Canada, Ariel and Mathias will be playing songs from their record Don’t Believe The Hyperreal and touring with the amazing Shotgun Jimmie.

In Europe, Ariel, Mathias, and Darren will be road-testing new songs and playing some ol’ chestnuts in the Burning Hell’s 2017 power trio form, alongside stalwart comrades Shotgun Jimmie and Steven Lambke. At some point between stops in London and the Faroe Islands, The Burning Hell will head to the wilds of Kent to record a new album.

Adventures await!

Hell(o), 2017.

Hi, it’s Mathias here. I just got back from Sackville, New Brunswick, where Ariel and I spent the evening of the New Year with good friends and good cheer. It was nice. I had my hair braided by one of the quadruplets that stood outside George’s Roadhouse almost 10 years ago, watching The Burning Hell play from the deck because they were too young to get in. It’s nice to reconnect with people and have them braid your hair. We also formed a baseball team, because there were exactly nine of us around the table at the stroke of midnight. The name of our baseball team is One Thousand Cats.

ariel-xmas-2016New years always feel somewhat arbitrary to me, partly because I grew up with a different but simultaneous calendar system. Yet back in the 1500s Pope Greg the 13th said we should all adopt this Gregorian calendar of his, and a lot of us have, and again the year has ticked over and it’s a new one now and apparently this means we all need to reflect and look backward and forward and suchlike. So:

Top ten things of 2016: Dogs, rain, wizardry, etc.

Top ten things of 2017: the future, the past, immortality, the greatest baseball team One Thousand Cats.

In all seriousness, I hope that 2017 brings some real old-timey grassroots political action, and all the folks that haven’t lost their marbles yet can get together and chase the emerging global order of fascist slimeballs back under their rocks.

I would also like a pony.

In the meantime, we have some news:

  1. Nick is having a baby. What! Yes. Congratulations Nick! He’ll be taking some paternity leave this year to focus on nappies and naps and raps.
  2. In the meantime: Ariel, Darren and I will be doing some touring in May (stay tuned for a more specific announcement soon) and then recording a new album, which Magic 8 Ball predicts will come out sometime in the fall.
  3.  2017 will see The Burning Hell head to corners of the world we have not yet explored, including several islands in warm seas and a few islands in very cold ones, at least one mountaintop, and a country filled with men in sweater-vests playing backgammon in the afternoon sun. If you want us to come to your corner of the world, just send us a message and ask. We love getting invitations.

For now, stay safe and stay sane and get your bat all shined up. Game on!

 

 

 

Tour recap: one and a half lawyers and the hardest gig I’ve ever played.

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I’m not one for year-end recaps and lists of bests and worsts, but it’s always nice to spend a bit of time reflecting on a tour once it’s over, and by coincidence, it’s the year-end. So…

This tour was a great one in many objectively measurable ways—full houses, good cheer, limited instances of the usual road-woes. Our bass player Nick Ferrio (who will be taking 2017 off from his Burning Hell duties to focus on his new dad-ness) opened most of the gigs and it was great to hear his songs every night. Brandon Munro joined us on the drums on this outing and he brought some amazing energy and ideas to the songs. Captain Al Harle was patient and wizardlike as ever behind the desk. Darren Boobie Browne braved eating a bowl of olives just to be allowed to share his passion for the prog-rock anthems of Rush with the rest of the band. And Ariel Sharratt taught audiences everywhere about the true meaning of Christmas.

A personal highlight for me came early on in the tour in Düsseldorf, when I met R. and V., one and a half lawyers who approached me before the show to ask me some questions about songwriting and lyrics. I chatted with them for most of the night when I wasn’t on stage, and though they continually apologized for bothering me, I tried to persuade them that they weren’t. It means so much when people are curious about some aspect of what I / we do, and even though the moments before and after a gig can be a stressful and overwhelming time, I really appreciate actually getting to talk to people. Getting on and off stages and playing music every night, it’s unfortunately somewhat easy to start to feel like a circus monkey at times…why am I doing this? Why do I have to ride this tiny bicycle? Do I even like bananas?  Talking to R. and V. was a wonderful reminder of how fortunate I am to get to open my mouth and sing words that my dumb brain made up for real live human beings, some of whom even listen and respond to and think about them. It’s a crazy feeling, actually, and one I don’t ever want to take for granted. So thanks, one and a half lawyers, you made my night and set my head on right for the rest of the tour.

London, as usual, was a blur, but this time we carved out an extra hour after sound check and Al took Ariel and I to see one of the last Allo Darlin’ shows, which was a sweaty and beautiful treat. That night the people in our London audience almost knocked me over with their kindness and enthusiasm, and I don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed a set more. In Glasgow, the people of O Street threw us a party before our gig, complete with Burning Hell song-themed paintings on the wall and a special “Grown-Up Beer” brewed for the occasion. We were fortunate to share the stage with the incredible band The Wave Pictures in both Ramsgate and Cologne, and at our first Berlin show my mind was blown by the songs of Milan-based Any Other.

Actually, that first night in Berlin nearly rivalled London for its awesomeness, which only added to the strangeness of our second Berlin show. We added it because the first one sold out pretty quickly, and we had one free night before flying home. Why not play one last gig? Everything was going fine, and a nice crowd had assembled to see us off at the end of our tour. Three minutes before stage time, someone told me the news that a truck had just driven into a crowd of people at a Christmas market across town. I assumed we would cancel the show, but the promoter told me it would be best to just play and not say anything about it, because there were a lot of people in the audience not glued to smartphones who clearly still hadn’t heard the news. A few others agreed: it would be best to just play the set. And so we did, and it was hard. Probably the hardest gig I’ve ever played. I felt weird, and the audience felt weird, and it was impossible not to think about the people a few kilometres away who did not have the luxury of temporarily feigning ignorance. After every song I wanted to acknowledge the situation—both the attack and the fact that it was so strange to be part of a room full of people, all collectively pretending that for this one hour at least, the events of the world outside didn’t exist. But I kept mum and tried to stay focused on the songs. Though my mouth somehow continued singing the words, robot-like, my mind was turning over and over the simultaneous absurdity and necessity of music: it may be fundamentally silly to jump around with a guitar and sing on a raised platform under coloured lights, or to be excited by someone else doing that. But it is also a vital part of life, and it is imperative for us as musicians and music fans to not allow the madness of extremism and hatred to stop us from singing and singing along. The moment we become too afraid—of each other, of public spaces, of making ourselves heard—is the moment we lose ourselves irreparably.

I got off stage that night feeling the worst I’ve ever felt after a gig. Most of the audience were quietly getting their jackets from the coat-check and slipping out the door, and despite the music coming through the speakers there was a noticeable hush in the room. A few people came over and thanked us for playing the show despite the situation. We packed up and drove through a deserted Berlin on our way to the airport and home.

It was a strange end to a wonderful tour. And I hope there will be many more shows and albums and tours to come in 2017, despite the ominous social, political, and economic clouds on most horizons. Maybe, somehow, making music can make some kind of difference. According to an oft-paraphrased bit of wisdom usually misattributed to Einstein, the definition of insanity is repeating the same behaviour over and over and expecting different results. But we will go on living and playing and singing, insane or not. I hope you’ll join us.

 

 

Paying rent in The Tower of Song; or: art and responsibility in the new age of fascism

I have the near simultaneity of Donald Trump’s election and Leonard Cohen’s death to thank for connecting some of the dots in the basic black and white drawing of a brain that passes for my actual brain.

Look: I don’t even really know who I’m talking to here. Hello, are you there, Internet? It’s me, Mathias. Normally this space is reserved for me telling the plural you—yous guys; vosotros—about what I’m up to with the band. Hey, it’s a new video, hey, it’s a tour, hey, it’s a t-shirt. But today I need to write something different down, and I need it to not just be for me, because it isn’t, really. It’s also for yous guys.

Because we are all part of this, whether we like it or not (and I do not, emphatically). Leonard Cohen had the good sense and great timing he always displayed to leave this plane of existence just as the ultimate symbol of the coming Dark Age was elected to what is still the most powerful public office on the planet. But as much as Donald Trump is a walking disease of a human being, he is really just an unusually gross symptom of something deeper and more disgusting and harder to get rid of. There will (hopefully) be another American election in four years, but the pus he represents is oozing everywhere, and the infection is hard to cure.

And, like gonorrhea, this infection does not respect borders or walls or the Internet or the law.

To all the people out there who are bravely and hopefully thinking and posting and writing about how maybe it won’t be so bad after all, and give him a chance, and maybe democracy and nice things et cetera: your optimism is so wonderful and sweet!

But you are wrong. Trump is only the latest and most grotesque part of a worldwide and well-documented turn towards fascism and hatred. Perhaps it is the last gasp of assorted old empires, but that gasp will swallow us if we let it.

Brexit, Trump, refugees, Syria, religious fundamentalism, Gamergate, the rise of the so-called ‘alt right,’ transphobia, environmental apocalypse, a new/old Europe of borders and reactionary nationalism… it’s all a little much at the same time, a little much to dismiss as a phase, something people will get over. On all continents, in every country, there is the same festering infection. What are we going to do about it?

I don’t know about you, but I am going to get to work.

Leonard Cohen wrote this, halfway through ‘Anthem’:

I can’t run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
a thundercloud
and they’re going to hear from me.

Leonard Cohen was many things, as people are noting eloquently throughout the glowing ones and zeroes of our collective thoughtscape. But in addition to being a great poet, a gentle soul, and my favourite songwriter of all time, Leonard Cohen was not afraid to take things seriously. And we need to take things very seriously right now.

No matter who we are, where we live, or what we do, taking things seriously means that we need to be honest with ourselves and our loved ones about the vileness happening in the world—we need find a way to talk to our kids about hatred, even if it’s not as fun or as easy as talking to them about The Wiggles—and we must never let hopeful optimism be a shield against reality.

Because there is no longer any possibility of doubt that we are sliding toward another of these vicious, repetitive cycles of hate and destruction that we human beings seem to be prone to. Most likely, as usual, it can all probably be traced back to a fundamental refusal of a tiny number of the world’s most rich and powerful people to give even one of their tiny shits about anyone else. Since this tiny number of people has such disproportionate power, they also have a tremendous influence on the messages that get out there to the rest of us. As Leonard Cohen sang nearly three decades ago in ‘Democracy,’ you can say that I’ve grown bitter, but of this you may be sure: the rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor. The more we hide behind ignorance, consumption, and distraction, the more we surrender our freedom of thought and our agency and our power.

To those of us who spend a great deal of time making things for other people to hear, taste, touch, read, and look at, I’d like to suggest that maybe we have an extra responsibility. Maybe it’s time to stop focusing quite so much on ourselves and our work and our supposed ‘careers’ and start trying harder to make art that can—in whatever small way—rattle the chains, shake the walls, and make the racists and bigots and homophobes and the endlessly rich inescapably afraid and aware of our anger and our refusal and our immortality. Leonard Cohen put it this way, beautifully:

I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
That time cannot decay
I’m junk, but I’m still holding up this little wild bouquet.

I’m as guilty as anyone: I’m often more concerned about whether or not I’m going to sell enough records to pay for the records I keep making than whether the records I’m making really mean or say anything worth saying. Art is hard and confusing.

But you know what isn’t hard or confusing? Fascism. That’s a big part of its horrible charm.

The only thing less hard and less confusing than fascism is the absolute necessity to fight it.

So for me, at least, this week has been tragic, but also a wake-up slap to the brain. What can I possibly do, the singer and songwriter for a dramatically unsuccessful and admittedly commercially non-viable Canadian folk band with a terrible name?

I can do any fucking thing I want. And so can you.

And most of all, even though we know that the dice are loaded, we must—as Leonard always did—roll them with our fingers crossed. We will win.