The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world



mainman Jake Burns from iconic Punk band SLF talks about coming to Australia, where it all started and the first new album in ten years ...



STIFF LITTLE FINGERS was always head and shoulders above every other Punk band for me, and these days it's hard to imagine bands like Green Day, Bad Religion or Therapy existing sounding like they do without SLF. A band that sounded like no other, a band that proved that you could sing about real life rather than cliche and make it vital. For me at least a band like no other, and one which has both a visit downunder set for SOUNDWAVE 2014 and a new album - the first in ten years about to drop off the back of an insanely successful Pledge Music campaign. Jake Burns is a guy I have laways wanted to speak to since first time I saw the band at a show that has perhaps stayed with me more than any other...

Mark: Hi, Jake, how are you?

Jake: I’m fine thanks, how’s yourself?

Mark: Not too bad mate. It’s great to see you guys coming over for this years SOUNDWAVE, for me Stiff Little Fingers coming over is the highlight of the whole festival; it’s been a while between drinks!

Jake: That’s very kind of you, it’s been a while since we’ve been there, and we are very much looking forward to it.

Mark: When was the last time you were in Australia?

Jake: 2008, I believe, that’s been our only trip there, which is kind of shameful out of a 37 year career! But, to be honest with you, it was the first time anybody had asked us! We said “we’d love to go!”

Mark: My earliest memory of you guys, was when I was a kid, I had a ticket to see you at Nottingham, Rock City, it was 1987, The Reformation Tour, I wasn’t a fan of punk, I was strictly rock, but I was blown away and it opened up my eyes to a lot more music, and showed that a band can sing about real life and make it interesting. So, many years later, I just wanted to take the opportunity to say thanks you for that!!

Jake: Thank you for being there!

Mark: While you’re over for Soundwave, any chance of some solo shows, or are you just playing the festivals?

Jake: We’re supposed to be playing shows on our own in Sydney and Melbourne, but we haven’t actually been told the venues yet, we’ve been told the dates, but not the venues! It’s kind of embarrassing because we have people writing to us and saying where are you playing, because we really want to come! It’s leaving it a little bit late to announce this, but that’s down to the promoters, not us! So, hopefully, yes, is the short answer to that long winded answer!

Mark: SOUNDWAVE so tend to promote very well though, and I’m sure you’ll get a great crowd. There’s a big buzz here, as we have a lot of English and Irish ex pats over here in the west. After Australia, you are going over to Japan, and the UK tour kicks off, is this all part of the ‘Up a Gear’ Tour?

Jake: No, at the moment, we’re actually in the recording studio, so we are hoping to have the album finished, before we head out. We are heading out to New Zealand, before we head out to you, so we’re hoping to have the album finished, and so I’m guessing whatever the album’s title, which is “No Going Back”, rather inappropriate, since we are going back to Australia, for the first time in 6 years!! But, you get the idea, so the tour will be themed on that, it is a long tour, at the moment we’ve only announced the dates, up to Portsmouth, which is April 1st, but then the tour goes over to Europe, and doesn’t actually finish until the last day of April, or something like that, so we are pretty much on the road up until May.

Mark: The new album was launched by Pledge, and I believe you hit the target within a few hours, which is amazing!

Jake: That was absolutely astonishing! We allowed the thing to run, for I forget how many months, because we wanted to make sure we hit out target, and yeah, it reached that target in about 12 hours! Pledge kept the lines open, until all the pledges were sold, or, until it’s released, so I think today, our manger came in and said you’ve now realised 300% of your budget, you always get some twit, who rings up and says, does that mean it will be a triple album, and we’re like, NO!! It doesn’t mean we write more songs, it just means we can actually take a little more time, and a little more care over it, we are not constantly watching the clock, and thinking we’re going to run out of money. But, that was a hugely humbling thing, to have happen, we’ve always known there was a lot of affection for the band, but to see it demonstrated that practically, and that quickly, was very touching.

Mark: I think it’s a great thing that bands of a certain age, shall we say, are able to utilise the technology, but also it shows there’s still a market out there for you.

Jake: Absolutely. Also, you know, with the rise of the internet, traditional record companies are pretty much dead and buried. I was talking to someone the other day, and they said what do you mean by that, and I said, well, even like U2 and Madonna can’t be bothered with record companies, they sign deals based on touring and merchandise options, so if U2 aren’t worried about selling records, what chance have the rest of us got? So, it’s great that you’re given your own independence back, and that’s really valuable to us. We started out as an independent band, but we never had any bad experiences with major record labels, we were always treated very fairly, and a lot of people who worked for EMI and Chrysalis records are friends of mine today. But, it’s really nice to know that the only people you are responsible to are ultimately, yourselves, and your audience. Obviously, that comes with the tour responsibility, and not that we go in to the studio to make a bad record, but we really feel we have to get this right, because these people have pre bought our record, and so we’d better make sure they like it, or there’ll be a lot of disappointed people!!

Mark: I’m one of them!!

Jake: Thank you very much, Mark, that’s very kind of ya!!

Mark: No worries at all! It’s been a while since the last album, “Guitar and Drum”, in retrospect, and because of what’s happened with the Pledge campaign, are you sad you left it so long, in a way?

Jake: Not really, I hit my 50th birthday, about 5 years ago, and at that point I’d written about 9 or 10 songs that were going to form the basis of the next album, and in that 5 year gap, I got divorced, moved out and met somebody else, fell in love, and then moved to America, so that kind of took a bit of my time up! When I hit 50, my wife decided to throw me a big party, and make a big fuss about it, but I really didn’t want the fuss making, I’m not the sort of person that pays much attention to birthdays. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I had to leave almost the day after this party that she had thrown. A lot of friends turned up, and it was great, some of them were people I’d known all my life, and so through the next tour, because of seeing all these guys, some of them I hadn’t seen in years, I was kind of taking stock of my life up until that point, does that make sense? I came back after the tour, and sat down and listened to the songs that I had, and thought it’s not really very good! It felt like I was writing by numbers, that’s the obvious middle section to put there, and the lyrics were a bit tired, and it felt like I was writing a Stiff Little Fingers record, because I had to, not because I wanted to. So, I phoned the band and said you know all those songs, I’m scrapping them, and so I wasn’t very popular! But, we kept the bones of a couple of them, and re wrote them, went back and I definitely think it was time well spent, because now, as I said, we are in the studio, and it’s shaping up to be a very good record, I don’t want to speak before we finish it, but we’re all getting very excited about it, it sounds a lot better than it really has any right to, at this stage in our career.

Mark: It sounds great, you’ve actually got the title now, “No Going Back”, you have the art work, and the full track listing, all the songs, and it’s just putting the finishing touches to them?

Jake: You’ve caught me half an hour after I’ve played my last guitar note. I’ve finished recording all my guitars, Ian’s in doing some of his at the moment, and we’ve recorded 5 of the lead vocals, and I’m hoping to get another lead vocal done tonight. So, we’re left with 4 or 5 vocals to do, put the backing vocals on, and so we should have a finished record by the end of next week! It’s starting to take shape now, so it is exciting.

Mark: We have seen some great songs over the last few years, with the benefit of the internet, like “Liars Club” which I think you played back in 2007, and “Full Stream Backwards” which sounded great, is that one that’s made the album?

Jake: Yeah, that one’s on there. It’s funny you mentioned those two, as the previous guy mentioned those two as well, we’ll have to make sure they’re in the set before we come to Australia! They’re both on the album, but they are both slightly amended from the versions that are on You Tube. That’s also another thing that’s been very useful in, what’s taken us so long to record, because, we worry about playing a lot of these songs live, and you can gauge audience reaction, and you can learn how to balance all the parts, you discover which sections work and which don’t. It takes on a life of its own, and it grows, and it’s a lot better preparation for coming into the studio, than spending two weeks, locked in a rehearsal room, all staring at the walls, and not sure if something works or not. You see played in front of an audience and you see them moving towards the bar, then it definitely doesn’t work!!

Mark: It’s a wonderful way of doing market research really!

Jake: Absolutely!! I never thought of it like that!! That’s exactly what it is!

Mark; Another song, that personally touches a lot of people is “My Dark Places”, hopefully that’s going to be on the record as well.

Jake: That was one I actually wanted to throw out, I didn’t want to do it, because it was so personal, and amazingly it affected Ali so much, he lives in New York, and I live in Chicago, that’s like a two hour flight away from each other. Anyway he called me up, and said I’m going to be in Chicago next Friday night, do you fancy going out for a drink? He does a lot of tour managing for other acts, so I assumed that’s what he was doing. We met up, and half way through the evening I said, who are you here with? And he said, nobody, I’ve come to see you, and the alarm bells started ringing, I thought, God, he’s going to quit the band or something!! It was something he felt he couldn’t really tell me over the phone. He said, yes, we need to talk, why are you thinking of throwing that song out, that’s one of the best songs you’ve written in years!! I said you could have told me that on the phone, and he said, no, I wanted to make sure that we play that song, so, I said ok, we’ll play the damn song then!! I’m glad we did, because, you’re right, a lot of people have come up to me and said that they’re glad somebody’s talking about it, but I don’t want to become the poster boy for depression, but I think talking about something like that immediately starts to alleviate it for you. That’s why I wrote the song, it was sort of a catharsis for me, but obviously it’s touched a nerve for an awful lot of people. And, if it helps, then great, I’m glad I did it.

Mark: That’s an interesting point you make, and I think you’re right, just the fact that songs like that are out there, does help an awful lot of people.  It seems to me that you are a person who always writes, and forgive me if I’m wrong, about things that really annoy you, or about things that are incredibly important to you?

Jake: Yes, you’re right. I’ve never been able to write a love song, for example, and it’s to my detriment, because every time I try, it’s like a 16 year old writing bad poetry, so it’s just awful!! I think there are people who can do that much better than me, so just let them get on with it! I’ve said before, when I write things, I write about things that offend my sense of justice, and things that have turned my world upside down, and made me stop and think. But, I think also, through all that we’ve been through, we’ve had a long career, we’ve never been so divorced from our audience, I think we have a lot of the same core values as a lot of the people that come to see us. I’m not being arrogant here, but I think that if something annoys me, the chances are pretty high that it’s going to annoy some of our audience in Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, whatever, and so far that seems to be the case. The depression thing I didn’t see, I didn’t realise so many people suffered with it, and other things we sing about, it gets people’s attention, and that’s what I kind of see our job as, really, it’s bringing these things to people’s attention.

Mark: And the fact that’s it’s a really amazing song as well!

Jake: You can thank Mr McMordie for that, or it would have ended up in the bin!! What the hell do I know!! Nothing!!

Mark: Sadly our time is just about up, so here’s our standard questions to finish. If you could have been a fly on the wall for the recording of any album, at any point in time, what would it have been for you, and why?

Jake: “Pet Sounds”, it’s my favourite Beach Boys album. It’s probably not my favourite album of all time that would probably be a Bob Dylan record, but, just what was going on, what was going on in Brian Wilson’s mind when he came up with all that stuff? He did come up with it, effectively, all on his own, the band were off on the road, because at that stage Brian was terrified of touring, this was at his sound box desk, to have that vision in your head, for one person to bring it all out, at that stage in recording history, because the equipment they were using was really basic, compared to what we are using today, is just astonishing! Just to see how he went about it, I just find that record mind blowing, every time I hear it. Plus the songs are drop dead gorgeous!

Mark: Finally, what is the meaning of life?

Jake: Oh, Lord, how do I know?!! I live my life by a couple of riddles and they are, I don’t want to be on my death bed and use the words, “if only”, I’d rather go ahead and make a mistake, and discover. Try to be as happy as humanly possible, and get out the other end having hurt as few people as possible. That’s about as much as I’ve learned so far!

Mark: That sounds like a great way to live your life! My only regret at this moment in time is that we haven’t got another two hours to talk!! It’s been absolutely wonderful, talking to you, Jake, and as soon as you announce those dates, I think I’ll be flying over East to see you!! Thank you.

Jake: Well, if you do, please come and say hello, and we’ll have a beer or something.

Mark: I will, take care and enjoy yourself in Australia. Bye.



Jake Burns spoke to Mark Diggins January 2014


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