Innovators of the Revolution
CoC chats with Burnt by the Sun's vocalist Mike Olender
by: Jackie Smit
There are very few acts that can lay claim to having produced such a devastating debut as New Jersey's Burnt by the Sun. _Soundtrack to a Personal Revolution_ was one of the undoubted highlights of 2002 -- a perfectly executed, uber-violent assault on both the mainstream and the underground, proving that there are still a few bands who can manage to avoid metal's clichés with suitable aplomb while retaining the unhinged viciousness of a thousand rabid Rottweilers. With their forthcoming _The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good_ effort looming on the horizon, who better to discuss the band's past, present, future and quite a bit in between, than their intelligent and affable frontman Mike Olender?

CoC: _Soundtrack to a Personal Revolution_ was surrounded by a lot of hype, received outstanding reviews, and quite a few zines and magazines referred to BbtS as "the future of metal". How has that impacted on the band?

Mike Olender: To be honest, most of that stuff just passes over us. I mean, obviously we're happy to be well-received, and we hope that people will get enjoyment out of what we do, but it's not something that myself or any of the guys in the band ever really think about too much. I personally don't read too many reviews, and to be honest I don't really know what a phrase like "future of metal" means, so I never pay things like that too much mind.

CoC: For _Soundtrack to a Personal Revolution_ you used Matt Bayles (Pearl Jam, etc.) to produce the record and you've chosen to work with him again on _The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good_. What was the reasoning behind choosing an arguably more commercial producer to work on what is some pretty extreme stuff?

MO: We recorded the new album in May and basically the thinking was that we appreciate his talent and his taste and we want to sound different to other bands, and certainly want that to come through on the record as well. There's so many metal records out right now that halfway into a song, you can immediately tell who produced it, and that's creating a lot of really tired sounds in the scene. At the same time, a lot of those records are really good, but in choosing Matt Bayles we just felt like he would help us take things a step up, which we definitely feel he did.

CoC: The lyrics to _Soundtrack..._ seem to maintain a balance between extremely personal and well-informed socio-political topics, yet the song titles all seem as though they'd be more suited to a Dead Milkmen album. What was the reason for doing this?

MO: I wouldn't really call them political as such, but they're definitely very personal and very serious -- and probably a lot more so than the majority of bands out there right now. By giving the songs more humorous names like "Shooter McGavin" and "Dracula With Glasses", we felt like we'd be able to balance things out a bit. And obviously, like everyone we appreciate and enjoy things like films and other elements of popular culture and we wanted to show that. When you think about it, a lot of those song titles still are relevant in a way to the song, like for instance "Dow Jones & the Temple Doom".

CoC: With the political content of your music in mind, would BbtS ever get involved in something like Serj's (System of a Down) Axis of Justice movement?

MO: Well, despite the political stuff that's contained in our music, I still see us as more of a personal project, and the political topics in our music were more a reflection on things that I had been dealing with at the time that the first album was recorded. I was working with four different social justice organizations and that's actually still my job -- I'm a public speaker for a social justice organization. So, in that sense there is some activity, but we don't want to limit ourselves to one certain thing and say "this is what we're about -- deal with that". We didn't want people to put us into a mould and say things like "there's a war going on, what does BbtS think about that". We just wanted to offer people lyrics that made them think about things, but we didn't want to tell people what to think or say that this is wrong or this is wrong. If you look at the lyrics to _Soundtrack..._ carefully, they're all kind of turning around and looking inside and seeing things that bother you in terms of yourself and for instance your relationship and attitude toward materialism. So, of course, there's a message to it which is personal, but there's a bit more to it than that.

CoC: Okay, so in light of that, how would you define the concept of having a "personal revolution"?

MO: I think that a "personal revolution" is something that people should go through sometime in their life, and obviously there are moments in life where we go through big changes or make important decisions for ourselves, whether it be about religion or whether it be about life or getting married or starting a family or getting off drugs -- it could be any number of things. It's actually something that you do throughout your life, and it can be any number of things, but change and progress is certainly a part of life. And in that sense, I really liked _Soundtrack..._, because I thought that it really made things kind of more open in way. I actually gave a copy of the album to my brother, who is a very, very devout born-again Christian, and is somewhat of a scholar and actually studied at Oxford and Yale. And he really listened to the album and looked into it, and I'm not sure if he got anything out of it musically, but certainly he said that it had gotten him to think about things, which was really the point of the record -- to not be something that's limited to a certain age group or whatever. I mean, he generally doesn't even like this type of music, but he admitted that he would certainly be open to other things after that.

CoC: You mentioned your brother being a Christian and I saw in the _Soundtrack..._ booklet that John Adubato (guitars) thanks Jesus. Obviously not in reference to your music, but are the band members personally very religious at all?

MO: No, no, not really. I mean John isn't what you'd call a born-again Christian, although he does have some deep-seeded beliefs. I myself have actually last year grown a lot due to the certain experiences that I have had, but it's certainly not a band issue or anything like that. John has his own personal feelings about certain things, but it's definitely something that he keeps very quiet about and would only talk to you about it if you actually asked him.

CoC: Metallica and Sepultura have both made returned to the fray this year and by all accounts nu-metal is on the way out, so what do you think of the state of metal and extreme music in 2003?

MO: Well, I definitely see certain bands becoming a lot bigger and getting more accessible and appealing to a wider variety of people. Thinking purely of acts on Relapse -- I definitely see a band like Dillinger Escape Plan getting even bigger than they already are, branching off into an even wider audience. And the same with Mastadon -- I can definitely see them moving on to bigger and better things. We've known them since the late eighties and they're great guys, great musicians and a great band. And then of course there's other, not necessarily metal, but more hardcore bands -- I know Hatebreed is just getting bigger and bigger. One of my best friends works at Ferret Records and he gave me a bunch of stuff that's very good, and with all the touring their bands are going to be doing I can definitely see them becoming big names soon. A lot of bands aim to do what they do for a living, as opposed to just playing on the weekends, and they're definitely being accepted more easily by the mainstream. You know, probably within the next three years, we'll be seeing more extreme music getting a higher profile and pretty soon the kids who listen to stuff like Korn and think it's dangerous will all of a sudden not be so rebellious anymore. And it's a good thing, I think, except if it gets watered down and commercialised -- but I don't see that happening with the really good bands.

CoC: You're about to get married, and you've mentioned that you have a job -- how do you juggle your domestic life, career and band successfully?

MO: Well, it keeps things very busy. I mean, my fiancé and I lived together for quite a long time and I supported her financially for some time as well, so I don't see us getting married as really changing things the way they are right now all that much. Certainly if we were to have a kid, then that would be a problem. Our guitar player, John, is actually married and his kid is going on two years, and our bass player, Dave, he's married and his wife is expecting in September. So, I think that after that, things will definitely have to be reassessed a little bit, but even now, we aren't able to tour nearly as much as we would like or probably need to.

CoC: Your forthcoming record _The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good_ is probably on a lot of people's most-wanted lists for 2003, so what can we expect from the album?

MO: Well, that record I will say is definitely going to be a lot different from what a lot of people are going to be expecting. And we think that in a good way, because it's reflective of how we allowed things to develop. The _Soundtrack..._ record was recorded as a five-piece, and on this one we had to adapt to doing things as a four-piece. But we're actually very pleased with how it came out. The production -- how it came out is much better than _Soundtrack..._. It's tighter and it has a lot more flow than the last album. On _Soundtrack..._ we tended to change things too quickly, whereas on this one we let things breathe a little more and let the different parts ride out more. Lyrically, it's also definitely very different. This time round, we all sat down and we decided to make the lyrics reflect on various discussions that we had had while we were on the road, and it deals with a lot of stuff that people don't ever really talk about that much. _Soundtrack..._ was more about looking inside oneself, whereas this is more about looking around at what's going on outside and thinking about what's happening around you. I think that people may get the wrong idea and say that BbtS is now a 100% political band, because this is a very harsh record. However, at the same time I would argue that the album is actually very A-political, because what we believe is that what we see on the news, and the people we see who supposedly control the economy or determine various world affairs is actually a far cry from the truth and so all this stuff we see and argue about actually means nothing. I mean, why does the Mayan calendar end on 2012? Why do the majority of religions point to this time right now as being sort of the final chapter in human history? It's things like that and we're sure it'll intrigue a lot of people and certainly it's quite a lyrical departure for us as well, to the extent that we've changed our logo to have a pyramid behind the name instead of a star and the album artwork is actually a 2000-year old blueprint for a flying saucer.

CoC: So, it isn't your standard "my parents hate me, life is awful, I want to die" crap then?

MO: <laughs> No, it's ten songs and then people are going to be hit by a shitload of stuff at the end and we think that they're going to be really intrigued by what we have to offer. We hope so, anyway.

CoC: Where would you like to ultimately see BbtS go?

MO: I have no idea. There was a time, when we started out, where we felt that if we pushed a little harder, got the right tours or whatever, that we could get somewhere in terms of market recognition; but really that doesn't matter. One has to be realistic as well, because in our present situations we can't really afford to go touring every other week or every other month and we can't let BbtS become our sole source of income, if I can put it that way. We have to keep turning down touring opportunities constantly, because our private lives simply don't allow us the time to do it that often. At the same time, we certainly hope that the new record is going to open some doors for us and generally I just feel that if the band stays creative and keeps making good records, then that would be good enough for me and that would be something I'd be comfortable with.

CoC: Any last words, then?

MO: Look out for the new record -- it should hit the stores at around September. We're really happy with it and so is the label, so we hope that you guys are going to enjoy it. And, while we can't promise anything, we will try our best to maybe do a couple of shows in areas where we haven't been, so keep checking the website (www.burntbythesun.com) and we hope to see you guys soon.

(article submitted 17/6/2003)


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