Mission of Burma


by Eric Baylies

Any serious discussion of Boston rock music begins and ends with Mission of Burma. The band was started in 1979 by Roger Miller, Peter Prescott, and Clint Conley, and rounded out by soundman-tape manipulator Martin Swope. The original incarnation lasted about four years. The legend grew well beyond New England and in 2002 Burma reformed, with Bob Weston of Shellac replacing Swope. Since then the band has released more music than the first time around and has played to far larger audiences all around the globe. On Saturday, July 18 the band will be playing its biggest Boston show ever at Fenway Park opening for The Foo Fighters. I briefly spoke to Roger, Clint, and Peter about the upcoming Fenway gig and much more.

Noise: What are your thoughts on being asked to play Fenway? Is this the biggest non-festival show you have done around here?

Roger: I do believe it is (the biggest show). Our biggest non-festival shows before were around a thousand people or so. Fenway holds more than a thousand, right? [editor: try 37,673]

Peter: Obviously it was a very nice gesture to be asked and it will be an unusual experience, but I will know after we played what I thought about it.

Clint: It was pretty shocking to be asked to play a weird, giant gig, no question.

Noise: So how did this show come about?

Clint: We’d heard that David Grohl (Foo Fighters frontman) was a fan through Mark Kates (Mission of Burma’s manager), but we have yet to meet him.
Noise: This is a large venue to play. Because Fenway only recently starting having concerts and with all the history at the ballpark, I want to know: do you guys even like baseball, or the Red Sox?

Clint: I am a Red Sox fan and go to the park a couple of times a year, but I don’t think Roger’s ever been to “Fenway Stadium,” as he calls it.

Roger: It will be my first time there and I’ll be playing in centerfield. I find that quite amusing! I have some problems with organized sports, as follows. My brother Gifford is the head of the Geology Department at the University of Colorado. He says there are seven Nobel Prize winning scientists there. The  salaries of all seven combined does not equal the salary of the football coach. Doesn’t that seemed fukt? It sure does to me.

Noise: Will you be playing any new stuff? Are you working on any new recordings?

Clint: There are no recording plans at the moment.

Peter: We’ll probably play one new song.

Noise: One new song is better than none! Hope to hear more soon. You guys have been known for many years to huddle together and come up with a set list just before you go on. Do you still do this, even for such a big gig?

Peter: We still do the set list just before the set.

Noise: After all these years, do you approach how you write or record any differently? Any concessions to age or hearing loss? You guys have now played about three times as long in this incarnation of the band as the first go round. Any big long term plans for the group?

Clint: There are no real big changes in how we rehearse or approach the Burma thing. We just work around the realities of having otherwise full lives. We have no grand plan to re-lifespan, either.

Peter: We still manage to be pretty childish in spite of our advanced ages!

Roger: Mission of Burma is not the kind of band that makes plans.

Noise: Peter has another band called Minibeast that is a sort of no wave retro futurist neo noir psychedelic experience. What else are you up to, Roger?

Roger: Sproton Layer has another album recorded 1969-1971 coming out on the German label World In Sound. I’m pretty excited about it, though it will be more raw and less polished than With Magnetic Fields Disrupted, which was a planned recording. The album will be titled Press Your Hand and The Whole Room Fluctuates.

Noise: What about the Trinary System?

Roger: The Trinary System is my new trio with drummer Larry Dersch from the Binary System and bassist Andrew Willis, who hadn’t played bass in a band before. I’m on guitar and vocals. Despite being a trio like Burma, it’s really quite different. It ain’t post punk. It touches on more layers of history, and we’re here now. We’re hoping to have a release by mid fall and play some gigs in November. Also, the Alloy Orchestra is an ongoing band, accompanying silent films and playing all of the United States and Europe as well. Quite different from either Burma or Trinary! Roger Ebert has said that “the Alloy Orchestra is the best in the world at accompanying silent film.” Doesn’t get much better than that!

Noise: Don’t forget to see Mission of Burma at Fenway Park, and any other opportunity you might have in the future. They are one of the best live bands in the world. Don’t just take my word how great they are. I spoke briefly with Brian Ritchie, bassist of The Violent Femmes and some local luminaries as well.

Brian Ritchie: I did some co-bill gigs with Roger Miller solo. He said he had to quit the band because of tinnitus. He was going around as a solo prepared Yamaha cp-70 artist, which was amazing. He was far ahead of his time with that – very creative and original.

Noise: Richard Brown of early Boston punk band The Proletariat also had some kind words.

Richard Brown: Burma was always my favorite Boston band. I remember our original goals as a band was to play The Rat, record anything, and open for Burma – something we did about a dozen times. When Burma put us on second in their last show ever (at the time) at The Bradford Ballroom it was an honor and a privilege I will never forget.

Noise:  Singer Mike Mountain of the band Mike Mountain has been navigating the treacherous waters of the Boston and Amherst noise rock scenes for over a decade. He had some thoughts on one of his biggest influences.

Mike Mountain: I heard Mission of Burma for the first time in the late ’80s listening to college radio WSMU (now WUMD). They were one of the first bands that opened up a world of music I was unaware of. Everyone that knows about post punk or whatever agrees that members of Burma were pioneers. I really love their other bands too, like Minibeast and Binary System.

Noise: Sonic Nova, the singer for Mothor, is part of a new generation of modern rock bands in Providence. I’ll let him take us out of this story with his enthusiastic praise.

Sonic Nova: Mission of Burma is a major influence on generation after generation of East Coast rock ’n’ roll. Long Live Burma!



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