Tag Archives: soundwave festival

Interview: Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers

FORMED in 1977 at a time of deep political and social turmoil in their hometown of Belfast, Stiff Little Fingers are the original punk-rock mainstays. Known for their energetic live shows and angry lyrics tackling subjects from sectarian violence to teenage boredom, the band will make only their second ever trip to Australia to play Soundwave Festival. I spoke to singer-guitarist and chief songwriter Jake Burns.

Tell me about the recording of your new album, No Going Back. How does it sound so far?

At the moment we’re only getting started; the drum tracks are down and Ali is working on the bass tracks at the moment, and that’s kind of how it works, we build these things up in layers, you know? We all go in together, play all the songs through once and they get recorded, so Steve has a basic skeleton track to work with, and then he does the drums for real. Then Ali goes in and replaces his skeleton bass-lines with the real ones, and so it keeps going. Starting tomorrow, we’ll begin on the guitars. We’re actually slightly ahead of the game, which is always a good place to be, as you can never be sure when there’s a nasty little hiccup just around the corner; something which will take a day out of your schedule.

When are you expecting to have it finished?

February 5th is the last day in the studio. Then I get to fly home to Chicago on the 6th. I’ll have about six days to unpack, do my laundry, re-pack, then fly to Auckland. Then, we’re on tour until May. It’s a long time away from home, but it’s what we’ve signed up for.

In terms of lyrical content, could it be called a classic Stiff Little Fingers album?

I’m not going to say it’s a classic; that’s for the audience to decide. There aren’t any “I love her and she loves me” songs on there, because it’s not what I write, you know? I’ve never been able to do that; every time I’ve tried it sounds like bad schoolboy poetry or something. They’re all songs about things that have made me angry. Steve and Ian have both written a song, and they’re all songs about things that have fired us up in one way or another over the last few weeks and months.

You went down the crowd-funding route for this album. Are you surprised at how well it turned out?

I think everybody was. We allowed two months for it, and we reached the target in under twelve hours; it was incredible. I was sitting at home and I knew it had been launched, when my wife came running down into the studio in the basement and asked me if I was watching the pledge figures, and I said no, as it had only been launched that morning. She told me to stop what I was doing and come look, and we sat and watched it. The best description was made by her; she said it’s like election night, and nobody goes to bed until this thing reaches a hundred. Literally, within an hour of saying that, it reached a hundred percent. It was astonishing; I don’t think any of us realised the regard the audience has for us. We always knew we have an incredibly loyal audience, but that was truly – without wanting to sound fake – humbling. And they’re still pledging!

Do you see that as the future for bands making records now? Would you do it again, for example?

I’m sure we would. When the Internet took off in all it’s glory, it was basically the end for traditional record labels. The writing was on the wall when even the likes of Madonna and U2 were doing deals based on touring and merchandise rather than record sales. At that point you think if U2 can’t sell bloody records, what chance has anybody got? When it came up we were hesitant, but then we realised this would make us a proper, independent band again. This takes us right back to where we started, but with thirty-six, thirty-seven years experience behind us. It can only be a good thing, and it’s turned out to be an astonishing thing. It seems like we’re masters of our own destiny, whereas in the past, when you’d go in to make a record you’d have it in your mind that you’re spending EMI’s money. Not that you’d be slapdash and throw it around – at the end of the day it’s your money anyway – but we’d just give the record to EMI and it’d be up to them to go and sell it. Now, it’s the audience’s money, and they’ve already bought the record; that’s effectively what this is. They’re putting a huge amount of trust in us, and what if they all hate it? They’ve all already bought it, pretty much. We feel a huge amount of responsibility – much more so than any record before – because this is our audience we’re genuinely playing for; they’re our bosses this time around. We don’t want to let them down.

You’ll be playing Soundwave Festival very soon. What can fans expect from the show?

We’ve only played in Australia once before, and even then it was only in Sydney and Melbourne. It’s a festival setting, and I don’t even know how long of a set we’ll be given. So what we’ll basically try to do is keep the chat to a minimum, play as many songs as possible, and try to cram as much of our career into whatever time we’re given. We’re doing two sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne, so we can stretch out a bit, but we’ll work on getting the balance of the set right. Sometimes it’s harder to work out what to leave out, rather than put in, you know?

Do you still feel that songs like ‘Alternative Ulster’ are relevant today?

That song was never specifically written about Northern Ireland. Yes, there are R.U.C. references in there, but it was basically a song about being young and having nothing to do. It was set in Northern Ireland, which of course just meant having even fucking less to do than if you’d been somewhere else. But, it’s just a fairly universal song about being a teenager, which I was when I wrote it. Sadly, that’s still the case with teenagers today. Those who were living in what was basically a war-zone in Belfast at the time; I could see why they were bored. It always used to annoy me when bands from London would say they were bored and had nothing to do. Are you kidding me? Hadn’t they seen the back page of the NME? There were always about ten gigs I’d kill to go and see and they were all on that night!

Can you tell me a little bit about how Ali (McMordie, founding bass guitarist) came back into the band?

When Bruce (Foxton, bass guitarist 1991-2006) said he wanted to go, we had a long talk about it. Those were a big pair of boots to fill. Bruce was a big name, and he is a fantastic bass player and singer. We tossed a few names around, and realised that auditioning people probably wasn’t going to work. After a while we thought about asking Ali if he was interested in coming back. I’d kept in touch with Ali over the years; if he ever passed through Chicago we’d go for a beer or whatever, and he’d come to see the band and stuff. But I hadn’t really spoken to him for a while, and I wasn’t even sure if he still had a guitar and was still playing, but eventually I gave him a call and left a message saying that he might be able to do me a favour. He returned the call, and as luck would have it he was due to come through Chicago in a few days time, so we met up and discussed it. Initially I asked him to only do the one tour to see how it went. He’d been doing tour managing very successfully, but he came back, seemed to have a ball and I don’t think we ever asked him to stay, but he’s still here (laughs).

And finally, I told my brother I was interviewing you and he wanted to ask you a question, so here it is. Why did Jim Reilly (drummer, 1979-81) leave the band? Was it because he’s a complete tit?

(Laughs). Umm… no! Jim just didn’t like the new songs I was writing and I think by that stage we had toured America a couple of times, and Jim had one eye on wanting to try his luck there, and that’s exactly what he did. He jumped ship and moved to San Francisco, and ended up in a band called Red Rockers, who got themselves signed to C.B.S.. They had a little bit of success with a top-forty hit and toured with the likes of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, so he had a half decent run. Last I heard, he was back in Belfast.

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS PLAY SOUNDWAVE FESTIVAL BEGINNING SATURDAY 22nd FEBRUARY IN BRISBANE. TICKETS FROM http://soundwavefestival.com/tickets

Interview: Vinnie Fiorello of Less Than Jake

Less Than Jake. Vinnie Fiorello, second right.
Less Than Jake. Vinnie Fiorello, second right.

SKA-PUNK legends Less Than Jake will head to Australia in 2014 to play Soundwave Festival, bringing with them over twenty years of finely-honed gigging experience. Drummer and lyricist Vinnie Fiorello tells me why the Gainesville, Florida band’s hunger for making music and performing is stronger than ever.

Hi Vinnie, what’s been happening in the Less Than Jake camp of late?

We were just on the Fat Wreck Chords tour around the United States; that was a five-week tour with Anti-Flag and a few other bands. A few weeks back we released our ninth studio record called See The Light, and that was on Fat Wreck Chords. Generally speaking reviews have been good, and we had a great time writing and recording it, and there you go; you’re caught up, man.

Tell me a bit about See The Light. How does it sound compared to your previous material?

Well, I think it’s most definitely the sum of all its parts. We took our time in writing and crafting the songs, and it progressed naturally as we let it kind of percolate at its own pace. We wrote and recorded it at our bass player’s studio in Gainesville, and from that point we had friends of ours mix it, and frankly, because of those parts it sounds like Less Than Jake, or a very refined version of the band that people have come to know for the last twenty years. There’s parts of very gruff point rock, there’s some minor punk in there, there’s classic ska-punk, and there’s some third wave ska. It’s very much influenced by ourselves and only by ourselves. It’s a very weird and crazy thing to be able to say that, but it’s true.

How much do you enjoy the recording process? Some bands find it a chore.

Not to fuck around, but there’s been times in the studio when it’s been a chore, and times when it’s been way too dramatic or silly. This time around we did it in Gainesville, and it was a very relaxed atmosphere and fun. It was cool to do it where I could go home at night as well.

I saw an interview you did a couple of years ago in which you said the album format is dead. Why change your mind now?

For the last five years we’ve mainly been doing EPs, and firmly I think that the album format is limping along. In the case of our album, when we started writing songs, we wanted a collection of songs that were similar thematically, and not only musically but lyrically too. You can’t really get that with EPs, so we went back to the full-length format. When we started to write it it fell together naturally and it was cool.

Do you still think albums have a future?

I guess it depends on the genre. I mean, the album format for pop music is already dead. If you take Katy Perry; she can sell one million singles, but only 100,000 copies of her album, and while those numbers are nothing to sneeze at, they are definitely not what they were three, five, eight, ten years ago. It’s insane how much it’s down. Punk rock has never been about the single, it’s been much more about the album format, and I think that might be the last stand, so to speak, for the album format. I had a great time doing the EPs, and I think it’s good for fans to be able to get music every eight or nine months instead of waiting three years.

What have you got planned for Soundwave Festival?

I think we’re prepared to have a good time like we always are. We’re going to show up, we’re going to play some songs, take some requests, rile the crowd, and have fun playing. It’s twenty-one years in, man, and if you’re not having fun being in a band and playing live there’s a serious issue, so we’re going to do what we do best; have fun and make the crowd have fun with us.

An outdoor gig in Australian summer. How do you deal with the heat?

Dude, I’m from Florida, and Australian summer has nothing on Florida. So to answer your question, I’m going to feel exactly like I feel when I’m at home, so therefore it’s going to feel good. It’s funny that you should mention it, because every time we’ve been in Australia prior to this, it’s always been Australia summer, it’s always been a great time, and it always feels like Florida to me. When I’m there it always feels like home, so it’s a great place to be. The crowds always love music and are always there to have a good time. They’re always passionate about the music they’re paying to see, and that’s exciting for anyone in a band, and certainly exciting to me.

Is there ever any trepidation playing new material live?

There’s always nerves. We sort of had a trial by fire this tour just finished. We would come straight out and do a new song, and people would look at us like they had no idea what it was. Later, when the record came out, you could see the slow surge of people knowing the songs.

What are your plans for 2014?

We’re just back from tour four days ago, so we’re off for a few weeks. Starting next year, we have an eighteen-date tour in the U.K.. Then we have three days off, then we come over for Soundwave Festival, then we come home. I can’t say what tour it is, but we just confirmed a summer tour for the United States, so we’re just working for the rest of the year. I’m sure there’ll be Europe in there for late 2014, and there’ll be South America in there somewhere. We have a new record out, so we have to put our feet as many places as possible.

SOUNDWAVE FESTIVAL DATES & VENUES – FEBRUARY/MARCH 2014

SATURDAY 22 FEBRUARY – BRISBANE, RNA SHOWGROUNDS
SUNDAY 23 FEBRUARY – SYDNEY, OLYMPIC PARK
FRIDAY 28 FEBRUARY – MELBOURNE, FLEMINGTON RACECOURSE
SATURDAY 1 MARCH – ADELAIDE, BONYTHON PARK
MONDAY 3 MARCH – PERTH, CLAREMONT SHOWGROUNDS

TICKETS ON SALE NOW: http://soundwavefestival.com/