Tag Archives: Mission of Burma

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Mercury Lounge Gets Psychedelic Tonight with Sproton Layer

July 26th, 2013

Prior to starting the influential punk group Mission of Burma in Boston, 17-year-old singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Roger Miller formed Sproton Layer, along with his 15-year-old twin brothers, Ben (guitar) and Larry (drums), in their hometown, Ann Arbor, Mich., in the late ’60s. And while they found some local success, their lone album, With Magnetic Fields Disrupted—recorded in their parents’ basement—came out in 1992, some 22 years after the band had called it quits. But it still made an impression: In Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad wrote that it was “an amazing band that sounded like Syd Barrett fronting Cream.” And while the brothers Miller went on to perform with other bands, something about Sproton Layer (above, doing “In the Sun”) stuck with them. And now that their psychedelic gem has been remastered, they’re again playing a few shows together (with Steve Smith on trumpet), including tonight at Mercury Lounge.

 

 

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Five Questions with … Roger Miller of Mission of Burma

January 16th, 2013

All Boston’s Mission of Burma did in their original early-’80s incarnation was put out two albums, Signals, Calls, and Marches and the seminal Vs., and essentially give birth to the post-punk movement. The quartet—Roger Miller (vocals and guitar), Clint Conley (bass), Peter Prescott (drums) and Martin Swope (tape manipulations and sound engineer)— quickly became known for solid songwriting, a unique punk-tinged sound and extremely loud live shows. But after Miller developed tinnitus, Mission of Burma (above, playing “1, 2, 3, Party!!” for KEXP FM) broke up in 1983. However the band’s legacy carried on, influencing the likes of Fugazi, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and Pearl Jam (who even named their second LP Vs.). And that’s where this story would end, but, seemingly out of nowhere, Mission of Burma reunited in 2002—with Bob Weston replacing Swope—and went on to release four more critically acclaimed albums, including last year’s Unsound. Now they’re back in town to play The Bowery Ballroom on Friday, and last week Roger Miller answered Five Questions for The House List.

What’s the last band you paid to see live?
Do DJs count? DJ Jonathan Toubin was spinning amazing unknown soul and R&B in Boston for a dance-party vibe a few days ago. Went dancing there with my gal. As far as non-DJs, Boston’s Callithumpian Consort performing a John Cage piece (and pieces by some of his cohorts) just before New Year’s Eve.

Where do you like to hang out in NYC? And do you ever feel like you could live here?
I hang near the clubs (The Bowery Ballroom; Lincoln Center) I play, or else at friends’ places I stay, in Tribeca, the East Village and Williamsburg. When I first went to NYC with Burma in 1979, I thought I’d live there eventually. Gradually this wore off as I get to visit NYC all the time (mostly playing shows) and hence have no need for the intense compression of NYC life.

Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much?
I’ve been told I write about water too much, and that I use the word forget too often. I believe this critique is accurate. If I’m having no inspiration for lyrics, I go to my dream journal. While this is definitely a form of a crutch, it’s not negative in my opinion. It’s always surprising and refreshing.

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
All my songs are, to some degree, first person—even the ones that don’t make sense (or especially those).

After all these years on the road, what have you learned to make touring easier?
In the last five years I started using my laptop (with headphones) for composing scores, and the scoring program plays the scores (rather crassly) to the score I’m writing. This takes me away from my immediate environment, putting me in more of a “head” space than a “van” space. Books are good, too. —R. Zizmor

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A Highly Influential Band Returns

January 20th, 2012

Mission of Burma – Music Hall of Williamsburg – January 19, 2012


It’s sometimes interesting to imagine how today’s musical scene would be different if you removed just a few hugely influential bands from the equation. What would music look like today without Mission of Burma? From a short-lived stint in the early ’80s, Mission of Burma found a way to contort punk rock beyond the limitations of the genre, creating an entirely new one that became known as post-punk. Much like that of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges before them, Mission of Burma’s unique sound went on to forever alter the trajectory of rock. Without them, there likely would be no Sonic Youth, Pixies or Fugazi. Put simply, music would probably suck a lot more.

But to state that Mission of Burma’s best days are in the past couldn’t be further from the truth. After reuniting in 2002 the band has put out three critically acclaimed albums (with another one on the way), and they still put on one hell of a live show, bringing their relentless cerebral art-punk to wildly enthusiastic Music Hall of Williamsburg crowd last night. The post-punk veterans featured songs both old and new, powering through the noise-heavy guitar jams of “Fun World,” the punk rock sing-along friendly “This Is Not a Photograph” and the distorted wall of sound of “2wice.”

They returned for a three-song encore ending with a cover of the Dils’ “Class War” before coming back to the stage once more at the request of the hungry-for-more audience. They finished off things with “Red” and the wildly popular “Academy Fight Song.” As energetic, loud, dynamic, innovative and still (likely) as influential as ever, perhaps in 30 years we’ll be trying to imagine a world when Mission of Burma never reunited. We’re fortunate we don’t have to live in such a place. —Dan Rickershauser

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Don’t Miss Mission of Burma Tonight

January 19th, 2012


Mission of Burma began in Boston in 1979 when a group Clint Conley (bass) and Roger Miller (guitar) had been in disbanded. So they started practicing together, and soon after adding Peter Prescott (drums) the trio played its first show. Weeks later Martin Swope (tape manipulations and sound engineer), who had previously worked with Miller, filled out the band’s roster. Mission of Burma became known for solid songwriting, a unique punk-tinged sound and extremely loud live shows. The quartet’s first album, Vs., came out in 1982, and with the positive reviews it seemed like nothing could stop the band. But alas those loud shows paid a toll: Miller developed tinnitus, and after one more tour, Mission of Burma broke up in 1983. Despite only lasting four years, the band went on to deeply influence others for decades. And that would have been where this story ends, but, seemingly out of nowhere, Mission of Burma reunited in 2002—with Bob Weston replacing Swope—and went on to release several more albums (including 2009’s well-received The Sound the Speed the Light). Find out for yourself why this band has been so influential tonight at Music Hall of Williamsburg.

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Two Nights of Mission of Burma at The Bowery Ballroom

January 29th, 2010

Mission of Burma began in 1979, but existed for just four years before intense hearing damage to lead guitarist Roger Miller gave them no choice but to call it quits. They left behind a few singles, an EP and their seminal album—Vs., a legacy of visceral guitar—to secure their legendary status, with bands like Sonic Youth to Nirvana citing them as an important influence on their own sound. Mission of Burma eluded a lot of rock and punk classifications in their early incarnation, taking an abrasive and extremely loud approach to experimental post-punk rock. They had no allegiances to any scene, and they were considered too punk for the New Wavers but too experimental for the faster hardcore set.

The most surprising and distinctive element of Mission of Burma’s sound was Martin Swope’s tape manipulations. It’s hard to imagine the physical effort it took in the early ’80s to sample the band’s own sound as it was being played live to a reel-to-reel recorder and then fed back into amps. He was the wizard behind the curtain who literally never appeared onstage, which was unheard of for a rock band. But Mission of Burma was this kind of amazing contradiction of esoteric arty garage rock. They were at the post-punk frontier. Fast forward to 2010: It’s not news that Burma has reunited to perform their groundbreaking material again, but rather that this reunion has resulted in three new albums, ONoffON (2004), The Obliterati (2006) and The Sound the Speed the Light (2009), proving that the band’s early brilliance was no accident.

With the help of Bob Weston, indie-rock engineer extraordinaire, in Swope’s role, Mission of Burma’s new material has shown that rock life after 40 can be more than greatest-hits compilations and benefit shows—experience and wisdom can bring innovation. It’s why October 4th was recently declared Mission of Burma day in Boston. This unlikely feat of endurance is on display at The Bowery Ballroom this Friday and Saturday. It’s more than a comeback, and please don’t forget to bring your own firing-range ear protection. —Jason Dean

(“1,2,3, Party!!” is the first single off The Sound the Speed the Light.)