Features Interviews Douglas Burns

Interviews: Douglas Burns

The Observers released the best punk full length of the 00's (so far at least) with So What's Left Now? Then The Observers broke up, leaving us with a final 7" that was just as good as their full length. Some years later it only makes sense to ask Douglas Burns (vocalist and song writer of The Observers) what in the hell he's up to. We found that out among many other things.

Scene Point Blank: Why did The Revisions cover "Where I Stay" and "Lead Pill"? Will The Revisions cover other songs by The Observers, and if so, which ones?

Douglas Burns: Well the band basically started earlier this summer when Justin Maurer of the Clorox Girls asked me if I could do an acoustic set at one of the readings for his book "Don't You Take Your Life." Derek, Hajji, and I had been playing music together already so we put together a set of Observers, Speds, and other songs I wrote that we felt would cross over to an acoustic sound.

It was really interesting seeing what songs crossed over and which ones did not. I always planned to do an acoustic recording of "Lead Pill" so that came out close to what I expected, but I was surprised by the way "Where I Stay" turned out because of its time signature and aggressive nature. Equally as surprising was how certain songs like "Expiration" didn't cross over. "Walk Alone" is the other song by The Observers that we do, and the Speds songs we play are "Vagabond," "Out of Reach," "Breathe Again," and "Things I Never Said." I don't think we plan on covering any more songs by The Observers, but who knows.

Scene Point Blank: Are The Revisions going to start off where The Observers ended or is this band a totally different entity? How will The Revisions, lyrically and musically, be different than The Observers?

Douglas Burns: The Red Dons is a group that Derek, Hajji, and I are also doing featuring Justin Maurer on guitar. That project is a punk band that one would say is picking up where The Observers left off. Our debut 7" entitled "Escaping Amman" will be out on Deranged Records in the spring.

The Revisions however, are very different from The Observers. If for nothing else, it is because of our acoustic instrumentation. But, we may not always play acoustically so I guess the primary difference is our mindset. The Revisions operate under an "anything goes" mentality, which artistically is very exciting because it frees us up to do a lot of different things. Many things we have planned for the future will be quite a departure from The Observers even when the instrumentation is the same. It just doesn't feel like punk because we are taking much bigger risks.

Lyrically, the songs will probably be very similar to The Observers, although there might be some more upbeat material here and there. I find it hard to escape from the melancholy mood that all my bands seem to have, so I image that will still carry over to The Revisions.

Scene Point Blank: What are you going to do with The Observers songs that you wrote that were never recorded?

Douglas Burns: I'm still trying to sort that out. The material will either be recorded as an Observers album like it was originally intended, or be modified to become the Red Dons first full-length. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what I should do regarding this issue. A large number of people have said they would love to see me continue on with The Observers even though that means a complete line-up change, but others have been ardent in expressing a view contrary to that. This has made making a final decision about The Observers very tough.

For me, the bands and music I do are project based. I start with an initial idea and vision of how the songs will sound, what the art will look like, and how the records will progress along. My plan was to have The Observers do no more than three albums over about a six-year span. The albums would progress in different ways but all tie into one another. I started mapping out and writing songs for the second Observers album even before the first album was recorded. "Walk Alone" is suppose to be the first song on the album, thus the "Walk Alone EP" was meant to act like the single preceding the full-length. The second album plays so much off the first that it's hard for me to think about recording it under a different name with different artwork. But, if playing out the remainder of that vision under the name "Observers" is actually going to cause all this drama, I don't want to do it. Punk rock drama is stupid. That's been the biggest hold up on those songs being recorded and released.

Scene Point Blank: The three songs that you have up on your website are acoustic. Is that how The Revisions are going continue to write/record songs? Why did you choose to not go the electric route for The Revisions?

Douglas Burns: It just started out acoustic because we just wanted to play Justin's book reading. We didn't think we would play any shows after that but then Justin asked us back for an all ages reading. Actually, we didn't even have a name for our first three shows because we figured it was all just a one-time thing. After that we went into the studio just to document the songs and the whole thing just evolved into an album and then The Revisions materialized. I don't think we will always stay completely acoustic though. Derek and I recorded a demo last year of what will probably evolve into the next album and it is about half-acoustic and half-electric, so yes, in the future there will be electric stuff but I'm sure it will still sound more like pop than punk.

Scene Point Blank: Because you write the music, vocals and lyrics, what's your process of putting everything together? For The Revisions, do you feel like you have more control of how the songs turn out than in The Observers?

Douglas Burns: The Revisions operate very similar to how both The Observers and Speds worked. The only difference is that I feel Hajji and Derek are much more involved with the arrangement of songs. I wouldn't say it's a matter of losing control of how the songs turn out as much as it has become just more of a collaborative effort. Derek and Hajji are much more vocal in practice about how they would like see songs put together and about their personal visions for the band. In many ways I'm just following their lead. It's refreshing and a very good working environment.

Scene Point Blank: Can we expect a Revisions tour anytime soon?

Douglas Burns: Hopefully we will be doing shows on an upcoming Clorox Girls, Red Dons tour of the U.S. and Canada this spring, and we might be touring Europe in the summer.

Scene Point Blank: For the final Observers 7" there was comic book artwork used in the liner notes. Why did you decide to use this medium to display your lyrics?

Douglas Burns: I always wanted The Observers to be like a collective were everyone contributed to the band and came and went at their own convenience. One way I tried to make that a reality was by having other people work with me on the artwork for the records. It hadn't happened much until that record, but it was my intention to continue with more collaboration in the future. Unfortunately, the group fell apart too soon.

The inserts seemed like a good place to start working with other artists because each person could have their own page inside the record to do with it what they wanted. I thought it would be cool to see the way each artist interpreted the music and lyrics separately, as well as how the inserts would interact when juxtaposed to one another.

We had toured with Ben Snakepit and so I wanted him to do something with the band. Lydia Crumbley and I took printmaking classes together, and I've always admired the work she does. She was also a friend of the band so it seemed like the perfect combination of artists. Ben does a comic strip so I figured he would do something along those lines and so Lydia used that as her format to keep the project cohesive. I was really happy with the way everything turned out.

Scene Point Blank: What and why did you teach in Thailand?

Douglas Burns: Well I wasn't only teaching over there. That was just one of the many things I did. Actually, I was going to school most of the time. Basically, what I doing over there was social work through Khon Kaen University to fulfill the remaining requirements of my Bachelor Degree back here in the States. It was pretty crazy. I took Thai language classes at the university and worked with villagers and NGO's to help rectify some of the negative effects globalization has had on the people and the environment there.

I helped to educate villagers about organic farming, worked to stop the damming of the Moon River, and attempted to act as a liaison between villagers effected by Potash mining, the companies involved, and the government. I worked with issues in the city like slum rights and prostitution, which meant I even slept in the city garbage dump one night. I slept there because we were working with a community living inside the landfill. Part of this work I was doing would include going to schools to educate the children about globalization. The teaching part was pretty fun, and the kids took to me pretty fast because they thought I looked like Michael Owen (a British soccer player) and because I played guitar. I also had a chance to record some music while I was there.

I really was less of a teacher and more of a student in all these situations. Being over there took me to some pretty amazing places and introduced me to some really remarkable people. It opened my eyes to a lot of issues I was just ignorant about. If you have never lived in a third world country, I would recommend doing so at some point. People live in such abject poverty, and it makes you realize that there is so much that we take for granted here in the western world. It makes the drama and politics of the hardcore punk world, and record collecting, and band line-ups and names seem so small and irrelevant.

Scene Point Blank: You've said that you liked it when The Observers played untraditional locations (like parks or even a bridge). With The Revisions being acoustic, do you see yourself playing more of these untraditional locations?

Douglas Burns: Yes, I hate big rock clubs. They are so lame. I'd much rather play art spaces, house parties, and anywhere else. If any group I'm in plays a lame rock venue it's probably because there was no other option we knew of. I don't see that changing anytime soon, no matter what the act is. Actually, because this group is acoustic I think it gives us a greater ability to play untraditional locations. We have even recently talked about trying to play shows in subways.

Scene Point Blank: Are the two unreleased Observers songs still going to be released onto CD with the songs from the 7"s?

Douglas Burns: Yes, one of those songs entitled "What a Let Down" is on the "Public Safety" compilation that Maximum Rocknroll just released. The other unreleased material might be on a CD compilation that is going to be put out by Deranged Records. Hopefully, I'll get that CD put together soon, life has just been so hectic lately that I haven't been able to work on it. So if anyone is wondering why that has taken forever to come out, just know that I'm the hold up and I'm sorry.

Scene Point Blank: In a previous interview I detected some tension about the breakup between of The Observers. Why did you guys breakup? Is there awkwardness between you and Defect Defect?

Douglas Burns: To say those guys quit the band on bad terms is a bit of an understatement. It really bums me out and has been the primary reason I haven't been playing live music since. You'd have to ask them about their reasons, but I feel in a lot of ways that poor communication did us in. Bottom line, we were all very unhappy.

Despite all that, I like Defect Defect. I think they are one of the better bands in Portland and I wish them all the best. If Colin and Mike are happier now, then I'm happy for them. I try to have a "live and let live" outlook on the whole thing that unfortunately I don't always feel is shared by everyone. This is the kind of punk drama stuff that I was talking about earlier that I think is just a waste of time and energy.

Scene Point Blank: Are there any bands from Portland, Oregon that you'd suggest people check out?

Douglas Burns: Well I feel that I've been pretty detached for the local punk scene this last year, so I can't think of any notable new bands. I have been listening to the new album by Pat Kearns' band Blue Skies for Black Hearts entitled "Love is Not Enough." It's not punk, it's pop, and it's really good. The Clorox Girls new album is going to turn some heads though. If you're looking for good punk music in general, just listen to Gorilla Angreb from Copenhagen. They're rad!

Scene Point Blank: For future projects, do you think you'll start drifting away from the punk sound?

Douglas Burns: No, not entirely. It's in my blood. I imagine that I'll have future projects that are very detached from my punk roots but I'll hopefully always have a punk outlet like the Red Dons or Observers to play around with. I really miss playing and performing punk music. I learned after the Speds broke up that it makes me pretty depressed not to have that punk outlet. I want to be able to perform "Symbols, Slogans, Lies" and "Lead Pill" as they were originally recorded for the rest of my life.

Scene Point Blank: Do you think The Revisions will ever reach the peak in which people from the Czech Republic will dance naked for your shows?

Douglas Burns: Hopefully people everywhere will dance naked at all our shows. People are just too uptight these days!

Scene Point Blank: Any last words?

Douglas Burns: Death to Idealism! Death to the Fascists!

Interview: Zed

Graphics/Layout: Matt


Words by Zed on Oct. 16, 2010, 11:05 a.m.

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Posted by Zed on Oct. 16, 2010, 11:05 a.m.

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