We recently caught up with Burning Love vocalist Chris Colohan, as the band has just dropped new album, Rotten Thing to Say, on Southern Lord Recordings on June 19th. Having built a cult-like following with Canadian mainstay’s Cursed, Colohan has forged a new chapter in his musical career with with the dirty hardcore-laced, punk ‘n’ roll practitioners, Burning Love. With the underground success of the band’s debut LP, Songs For Burning Lovers, Burning Love has built a steady following of fans throughout the world, having toured with the likes of Converge, Trap Them, and Dropdead, to name just a few.
Colohan takes Blow The Scene readers inside the making of the new record, as he touches on recording at God City with Kurt Ballou, lyrical focuses, and shares insight and current happenings with his label imprint, High Anxiety Records. Colohan even reflects on his days with Cursed and brings us all the way up to speed on future plans for Burning Love.
Joshua BTS: Greetings! Thank you for taking time to answer a few questions for Blow The Scene readers around the World! Let’s begin by having you introduce yourself and declare your on-stage weapon of choice with Ontario’s infectious, punk-induced rock ‘n’ rollers, Burning Love.
Hi! Nice to meet you. I’m Chris and I sing in Burning Love. And my weapon of choice is Bo Staff or traditional Nunchaku.
Joshua BTS: Burning Love just dropped a new full-length via Southern Lord entitled, Rotten Thing To Say, which we reviewed in detail last week. Give us the skinny on this new record. What did the writing process look like and when did you start compiling material for this release?
Chris Colohan: We’re really stoked on the LP and doing it with Southern Lord. Some of the songs go back up to 2 years now, since the first LP, and some came together right up to the point of recording in November.
Joshua BTS: You recorded with friend and renowned engineer Kurt Ballou at his God City Studios. What is it like recording with Kurt? How does that fact that you are friends affect the recording process? Are you more inclined to try new things? And is it harder to keep focus?
Chris Colohan: No, it was easy to focus because we were all the way there for a week with only that to do and think about day and night, compared to recording at home when everyone drops in and out and you string all the pieces together. Knowing Kurt for a long time was good in this case because we grew up in the same generation and mindset so he understood which aspects needed to be polished and which parts just needed to be taken raw and noisy as they were. In the end we got exactly what we wanted out of recording with him.
Joshua BTS: One of the aspects of Burning Love that I notice right off the bat and noted in my review, is that the vocals “offer a much more deliberate approach, complimented with a deeper, guttural appeal that is often enunciated with precision and tells stories..” Was this a conscious decision to approach this project in this manner? Any aspects of Rotten Thing To Say that saw you step out of your comfort zone?
Chris Colohan: Thank you. I think that’s just the way I write, and all the classic kinds of songs that always hit me hardest, from blues to punk, are ones that tell a compelling story or weave a good argument on top of the musical part of it. Singing and writing, you’re doing both those things at once. And yes, for sure, with this band period I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, which for me is just to fall back on simple nihilistic cynicism, which can get to be quite a crutch and copout in hardcore, and covers up for a lot of people faking having anything useful to say – and take on the challenge of just singing a purposeful song with a straight face. Does that make sense?
Joshua BTS: How did you come up with the art-theme for Rotten Thing To Say? Simple but inviting. Did you have this in mind before you approached an artist?
Chris Colohan: I wanted to continue the theme of using set up color photographs for the cover art. I had the image of the title written out in guts in my head for the last year, and wanted to make it so you couldn’t really tell what the front was until you saw the back. And again, it was pretty far out of my comfort zone as a vegan to be elbow deep in entrails and assorted gore, but it was the picture I had in my head. My friend Robin Nishio who’s a proper graphic and storyboard artist helped me do it, and encouraged me to go all out with the guts when I was getting cold feet. I’m glad he did. Setting it up and shooting it was a morbid all night affair but we got the right result. Just like with the recording, I’m really not used to something coming out so much like you picture it beforehand.
Joshua BTS: As we mentioned above, the lyrical contexts on Rotten Thing to Say tell stories and paint visual landscapes. Some focusing on torture, some personal, and some have political undertones. Can you expand on some of these motifs and what your head-space looked like at the time you were crafting these compositions?
Chris Colohan: The songs span a lot of different subject matter, from the pitfalls of unhealthy nostalgia and attempting to re-experience your own youth by seeking out these fleeting, decaying objects that you retrieve from memories (The Body) to a story about an aging actress (Damage Case), to a real account of a mental breakdown as I experienced it (Tremors). The overarching theme of the LP and point of the guts in fancy script is that as much as we dress it up in flattery, we’re all only so much meat in the end. Literally (as in Karla), economically, politically, sexually, as consumers, as voters, et cetera – a target for something to hunt down and force their will on – and the resulting mess after that conquest is achieved, is our own problem.
Joshua BTS: How did you come to link up with Southern Lord Records?
Chris Colohan: Greg got in touch with us and proposed it, and it was as simple a decision as that. We all love the label and the idea. It cut out the inevitable dread of thinking about and deciding on labels to have such a perfect option come to us. They put out great records by real bands.
Joshua BTS: I’ve caught Burning Love on the road a couple of times over the past few years and am happy to see you don’t appear gun shy about tour given the infamous end to your Cursed tour and subsequent disbandment in Europe where you were robbed of everything but your life. How did that “shady” experience affect the way you book tours and the accommodations you are willing to take on in Burning Love?
Chris Colohan: It didn’t stop or change anything, but I was robbed of a huge part of my life that day which ran deeper than the money or anything else someone could steal, and I had to take some serious alone time in the wake of that. A huge stretch of my life was wrapped up in the relationships that went down with the Cursed ship, it marked the closing of a chapter that went all the way back to high school for me. On tour, you always take that chance. It could happen to anyone all the time or in any place, however prudent you are or how many locks you invest in. With Cursed it just happened to go down then and there and for where we were at with each other as people, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
But that was that and this is this. Every band is a different bunch of people with its own story and we already have a lot of our own history from the events of the last five years. We’ve been robbed a few times ourselves now. We actually got our van broken into in Prague while at our friend Tomasz’ place, who was at the helm driving on that last Cursed tour. So we kind of had to laugh about the randomness of it. The last song on the new LP, “Broken Glass”, is about this in particular – that it’s just stuff, of illusory importance. The realness is in the fact that you even have friends this close on the opposite end of the world, so despite any terrible shit that happens, it’s still a pretty charmed life. So you either accept the inherent vulnerability that comes with it or just stop the ride and get off.
Chris Colohan: By actually trying to make something not tough or dark that anyone who wants to follow will have to take for what it is and isn’t right off the top and put aside their comparisons and expectations based on a band that we never were. Also doubles as an STD joke. Also triples as a statement about the populist history of music being written about the overblown white man-made gods that people still invest in (the ones who popularized things rather than created the history) and about all the people and stories you don’t ever hear about.
Joshua BTS: Given your roots in punk and the DIY community, I know you don’t shy away from politics or religion, while at the same time are not an overtly “political band.” Are there any current political happenings that really have your attention? And did any of these politics inspire any of your current lyrics on Rotten Thing to Say?
Chris Colohan: Sure. “Pig City I” and “II” are specifically about Toronto’s current ruling regime and a joke of a mayor that gets away with everything from racial slurs to lewd gestures to DUIs to just not showing up for stuff. And “Hateful Comforts” is about post 9-11 xenophobia showing what people are really made of, and the retroactive cowardice reversal that people attempt to pull off and manage to convince themselves of. So it’s about the mob mentality vs the individual mind. Most people want to reserve the right to deny they were ever so irrational or shitty, but in the uncertainty of a moment they never fail to have their strings pulled in the most clockwork ways and turn into ugly mobs. I lived in a Hasidic Jewish part of Montreal at the time and even there where people are pretty integrated and well-informed, mosques immediately were getting set on fire and people were looking sideways at the same neighbors they walked by every other day. Being Canadian and spending a lot of time on tour in the US I got to see the bigger picture from an arms length, and you could see the whole setup and all the strings, they hardly even had to hide it. And then the tide shifts and those same people that were repeating stupid, subtly bigoted shit like “Freedom Fries” become the millions in the streets crying with joy on the news about how historic it was when Obama got elected, and now they are the same people swinging back the other way now. It’s the same population, that’s the point. Bread and circuses. People tend to go with the tide and stick close to the mob rather than assess things for themselves, not just in the US but everywhere. So most of what relates to “politics” for me, is more about the human condition than it is about specific events or figures. Those things are ultimately interchangeable faces for the same underlying questions.
Joshua BTS: For our readers that may not be aware- You founded and run High Anxiety Records, which we were made aware of as we’ve featured a couple of bands on your roster recently. Apart from releasing music, I understand you also have the intention of publishing written works. What inspired you to start a this label and what kinds of music and written works are you looking forward to releasing? With the inundation of start-up labels in recent years- Do you find it you have to employ innovative techniques to mark a mark? Or do you simply allow for the artistic integrity of the artists carry the releases?
Chris Colohan: I never had any intention of making any mark with the label. I grew up playing, doing shows, zines, bands and art but putting out records was the one thing I had never done and I wanted to do it for the sake of the pile of good younger or just unknown bands in my area that could use the help of getting records out beyond our immediate area. That idea ended up expanding to include friends’ bands and just whatever I liked, or my bands’ records as well. I am still planning to publish my own books, it just keeps getting sidelined with the more immediate demands of band life and records coming out. But stay tuned for it, I have something 90% done that I’m going to try and do after the Purity Control 7”, which is next up.
Working with No Idea is great too. I’ve known and dealt with them since LFD and the Swarm days and they’re a great bunch of people to work with. It’s a P&D style thing, so to be honest I get to do the fun stuff like art and deciding what I want to put out, but don’t have to worry about the production headaches that most labels do, or getting records back over the US border to distros since they’re already there to begin with. So as a label I have it pretty cushy, but I really enjoy doing it. The City Limits comp in particular felt like a big accomplishment.
Joshua BTS: What is in store for Burning Love as we head into 2013?
Chris Colohan: We’re driving across Canada as I write this. This whole summer tour that we just started is looking great, we’re gonna meet up with Black Breath, Martyrdod and Enabler in Seattle and do the whole US. We go to Australia in August, back through the US in October, and it tends to just unfold as it goes. We just lost a guitarist to the rigors of the road, so we had to reconfigure as a four piece, with our guitarist Pat digging in to cover twice the amps, pedals and riffs at once, which he’s pulling off really well. He’s in school part of the year so we work around that. It works well to bookend tour with his school year and do whatever we can pull off in between, it keeps a good balance of home and away time. We’re trying to go back to the UK next February and are overdue to go east across Canada the next chance we get, but we never really know more than 3 months ahead of time what’s next. It just rolls out ahead of you as you go.
Chris Colohan: Any that are naturally occurring, which is increasingly rare. If I had to recommend one great current record people might not know, our friends Teenanger from Toronto just put out a new LP called Frights that I can’t wear out. They from the more indie/garage side of the tracks but they put their own records out and seem to capture more of the real punk spirit of playing and writing songs than most hardcore bands I know. They have moments that remind me of Radio Birdman or something coming out of Australia in 1976 that was vibing on Detroit in 1971, but in Toronto, in 2012. They’re a really simple, really snotty, insanely catchy band and a nice bunch of young men and women. Check that LP out if you have 21 minutes to kill.
Joshua BTS: When you are not busy writing and performing with Burning Love and running a record label- What does your daily life look like?
Chris Colohan: Job wise, I work in the last good independent video and bookstore in Toronto, for 12 years now, which just like record stores is having a hell of a time trying to survive the digital age and facing an uncertain future. And I work in live production for club shows, doing everything from loading or driving to security to stage managing. So basically my time away from driving and hauling amps on the road is spent doing the same thing at home. But day to day, life is pretty low key when I’m home. I run a lot, skateboard, hang out with my wife in what little time we’re both in the same place, go to shows, play with old motorcycles, grow food, cook food, BBQ a lot, own a hammock and fall asleep reading in it regularly, hang out in quarries and go to flea markets looking for culturally insensitive ceramics. Basically it’s totally not tough or dark at all, where I can help it anyway. There’ll be lots of time for that but I’m over going looking for it.
Joshua BTS: Thank you kindly for taking a few moments with Blow The Scene readers from around the world, as we look forward to keeping up with your future endeavors. Any final thoughts?
Chris Colohan: Thanks man. I’m glad you like the record. I mean, people will or they won’t, they’re welcome to either. People have to figure out for themselves if something is for them or not. But regardless, we’re happy with it and what we’re doing, and we’re having a lot more fun with it, so it’s been nice seeing people start to connect with it, especially as of the last few tours. So as much as we can afford to we’ll keep it up, try to cover as much ground touring as we can and just keep going forward. Thanks to you and to all our friends out there that make all the shit worth it.
Interview by Joshua T. Cohen
Top Live Pictures taken from our Burning Love Gallery with Converge, Trap Them, Dropdead.