by Nick Laugher
The amorphous and everchanging bundle of party that are Newfoundland indie-folk troupe the Burning Hell have been trudging around Canada and Europe for what seems like an eternity, promoting their newest album, the populous toasting People.
Loveable bearded frontman Mathias Kom recently took some time with Quip to wax poetically about the album, the intricacies of the human spirit, Newfoundland’s Lawnya Vawnya festival and why it’s such a pain in the ass to tour in this ehxaustingly massive country of ours.
Nick Laugher: So, Mathias, tell me a bit about your new album, People.
Mathias Kom: I wrote a lot of these songs in a cabin around the bay in February 2012 for the RPM Challenge. I was all by myself and I just decided to try and write as many people-songs as possible in the shortest possible time. The general theme of ‘people’ came sort of subtly from a big influence of mine – Gabe Foreman, the fellow who does all our album artwork, is better known as a poet, and his collection ‘A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People’ was a reading-staple of our 2011 tour. I was pretty inspired by his work, and it seeped through into these songs.
We had more time in the studio for this one. During June of last year while the rest of Europe was watching the Euro Cup, we sequestered ourselves in the basement of an old factory in Berlin, and had a great time arranging the songs, before recording everything but the vocals live off the floor. We had a lot of help from our engineers/producers Norman Nitsche and Ramin Bijan, who were accommodating to all our silly ideas (ie. “let’s put zafzafa on this reggae song!”) without letting us make any really serious errors in judgement. The main band was me, Ariel Sharratt, Darren Browne, Jake Nicoll, and Nick Ferrio. We also had some help from guests Clemence Freschard and Stanley Brinks.
NL: What inspired you to start the Lawnya Vawnya Festival?
MK: As I mentioned, I was inspired to move to St. John’s because of the music scene, and I wanted to get involved somehow. Then Dave Lander, Ariel Sharratt, Andrea Vincent and I were talking about how there were so many great festivals in Newfoundland but none that focused on ‘indie’ (for the lack of a better word) music. We’re happy to announce that after a good three-year run the reins are being taken over by the eminently capable Bryan Power, local musician and organizational wizard, for Lawnya Vawnya IV.
NL: This year you invited one of my favorite performers and good chums Shotgun Jimmie to play. I know you two have collaborated in some respects in the past, what’s your relationship with Jim, how’d you meet?
MK: I think we met in Sackville for the first time, ages back. We went on one epic Canadian-European tour together back in 2010 along with Construction & Destruction, and since then we’ve kept in touch. We keep kicking around the idea of going to Los Angeles together, hopefully one day we’ll make it happen.
NL: What are your thoughts on the 1974 film “The Burning Hell”?
MK: An inspiring masterpiece of Christian propaganda. Estus Pirkle made some really crazy films – “If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do”, for example, makes “The Burning Hell” look like a Disney movie. They’re so over the top, it amazes me that these films worked – and still do – but it’s true. On a semi-regular basis I actually get emails through my website from church groups asking me for permission to screen the film. I always say yes, of course, you have my blessing.
NL: In 2012 you played like 10 shows in 24 hours, what can you say about that experience? Would you do it again?
MK: It was incredible, exhilarating, and exhausting. Once was enough, I think.
NL: You’ve got quite a following in Europe, what do you think of the European approach to concerts vs. the North American one?
MK: With some exceptions, our shows in Europe are much better than those in Canada. In general, venue owners in Canada think about beer sales first and musicians last, while the opposite is often true across the pond (in Germany especially). We’ve been so fortunate in Europe to meet dozens – hundreds actually – of promoters who really give a shit about music, and about presenting concerts professionally even with a shoestring budget. By contrast, touring in Canada sometimes feels like punching yourself in the face over and over again, and then wondering why your face hurts.
I’d much prefer to spend my time playing for people who actually listen and might even like it rather than scramble desperately to showcase at bullshit industry events or slog endlessly across the second-largest country on earth, losing thousands of dollars a year and struggling to justify my choice of profession every day, hoping against hope that this time here will finally be some people at our show in Regina or wherever.
NL: How’s your Doctoral Thesis coming along?
MK: Swimmingly, thanks for asking! I just finished my courses and passed my comprehensive exams, so now it’s onto my research year in Berlin, where I’m looking at the alternative political economy of a little music scene that has connections to the antifolk scene in New York. After that, I hope to find a nice quiet library to write my dissertation in. Preferably with beachfront access.