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The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
Jake Burns Stiff Little Fingers - Interview
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JAKE BURNS

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS


Stiff Little Fingers

Stiff Little Fingers are one of those bands that have influenced countless bands that came after them, you can hear it in modern punk and ska bands to this day. A legendary band who were at the forefront of the punk movement in the late 70's, Stiff Little Fingers continue to write and perform music at a level that most can only dream of. We spoke to frontman Jake Burns ahead of their upcoming Australia tour to discuss their most recent album "No Going Back" as well as a little politics.

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Andrew: Our editor had a chat with you last time a couple of years ago, I think just after your album had dropped and you had just come over to Australia for Soundwave in 2014?

Jake: That's right that was 2014, almost exactly 2 years ago.

Andrew: Yeah how was your experience in Australia last time?

Jake: It was great! It was a bit hectic just because the nature of Soundwave where it's one of those huge touring circus kind of things. But what was great from our point of view was we'd only been once before to Australia and we only managed to play Sydney and Melbourne so to get the chance to get to Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth as well was much appreciated and the fact that we're able to go back to all of those cities this next time around is very gratifying. You do those festivals and you're not sure if you've made any sort of impact at all simply because there are so many bands on, it's such a huge excercise that you just get caught up in the whole thing. So you're thinking well, we were there, we played for 30-45 minutes or whatever and we left. I'm not sure if anybody even noticed but obviously they did! So actually we're overjoyed to be able to come back and play the full set this time.

Andrew: Yeah absolutely. I guess it's one of the good things and the bad things about festivals is yeah, you get lost in the crowd so to speak but at the same time, it gives a lot of people a chance to check you out where they normally wouldn't of checked you out in the first place.

Jake: Absolutely yeah! You're not playing to the converted which is a great thing, obviously there are some of the converted already there, if you know what I mean. But we actually get to play, like you said, to a bunch of people who wouldn't normally bother to check you out. From our point of view, that sort of exposure is invaluable.

Andrew: With that being said, do you prefer playing the club shows as opposed to the festival type gigs?

Jake: They're different animals basically. Even festivals where we're further up the bill or even headlining, you don't get to play your full set, you get to play at most usually an hour unless you're U2 or whatever where you can play whatever you want. Even with an hour, that's still only two thirds of what we would normally play so I guess from a point of view, you get to make more of an an intimate connection with the audience and a more harder connection with the audience in a club. It works better, or in a theater. At a festival, you're competing with a bunch of other stuff so it is a case of, OK go out and play the...I hestitate to use the word because we're not really a band that have had greatest hits...but you go out and play the most familiar material I suppose. So from that point of view it can be fun, it can be a real celebration. The other thing as well is it all depends on who you are following, we've stood at the side of the stage and watch bands go on before us and think, 'We can't possibly follow them, they're killing the audience! They're going down a storm! How on earth can we go on after that?' [laughs]. Festival crowds, they come out, it's a sunny day, they want to have fun. One show I remember in particular, it was a festival show in Britain and we were due to follow the band Bad Manners and the audience were just loving them! They finished their set playing the Can Can, they did a ska version of that while their singer who is this 14-15 stone skinhead bounced around in a ballet tutu and I'm like, 'How can we follow that?' Meanwhile we are all dressed in black and go, 'Good evening!' and our kind of thing is doom, despair, economic depression and it's like for fucks sake! We don't have a chance here! [laughs].

Andrew: [laughs] Yeah it's a hit and miss kind of thing but it's one of those things that you have to go through as you go along I suppose.

Jake: Yeah they're all fun though. In general we don't always have to follow somebody whose a blockbuster like that.




Andrew: Well this time around you are headlining across the country so what can we expect this time around?

Jake: Well again like I said, this time we get to play the full show so we do get to play the material that people expect. There are a number of songs that we can't not play on that list so stuff like "Suspect Device" and "Alternative Ulster" will be there but along with some stuff from the new record and hopefully a couple of slightly more obscure songs from other records that people may not..Hopefully there's always one point where somebody goes, 'Wow I didn't think they would play that!' To me that's always fun, especially when I go see bands that I really like. For example a couple of years back the last time we played here, I went to see Elvis Costello and he started with Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding" and wow I didn't know he was going to do that! Then he played "Less Than Zero" and I really didn't think he was going to play that!

Andrew: [laughs] I'm the same as well, I love to see a band that brings out the more rarer songs. I guess for you guys because you have such a number of albums now, I mean is it hard to pick a setlist now?

Jake: Yeah we've reached the stage now where it's harder to know what to leave out. Because if we played everything that people want us to play, then we would be doing shows as the same length as Bruce Springsteen and sadly that's not feasible. We would have to start on stage at 4 in the afternoon or something to get it all in. So yeah it's what we leave out is what makes the setlist hard because we'll sit there and write what we think is a really good set and it's exactly at this time of stage of planning that this happens to tell you the truth because I'll write out a setlist, our drummer will write out a setlist, the guitar player, bass player, and we'll all look at them and go, 'Yeah that's a really good setlist but you left out...' [laughs] And that's when the arguments start like, 'Damn you're right, we gotta play that one!', or 'Now we gotta pick something from this list'.

Andrew: Do you try to change it up from show to show or is there a setlist that you keep the same on a tour?

Jake: At the start of a tour we do, mainly because you judge an audience's reaction. I mean it's not just about playing the songs that people want to hear, you also got to think about in terms of what order you play them in because people's attention will drift, even if you think these are all songs they want to hear. It's a strange thing, if you play them in the wrong order, people will sort of wander off to the bar or whatever so it's a case of making sure that they all flow correctly. Even stupid things like don't play too many that are in the same key because then they start to all sound the same, there's more to it than you think, you know! [laughs]




Andrew: [laughs] Yeah absolutely. You're still touring on the last album "No Going Back", it's been out a couple of years now so how is the feeling within the band for those songs still and the reception from the fans and all that kind of stuff?

Jake: Well a couple of those have already reached the 'well we can't not play that' stage. A song like "My Dark Places" for example has kinda taken a life of it's own. I actually wrote it for myself, I never really intended it to be on the album. I had basically gone through a divorce, I had moved countries. I was living in a new town and basically went through a bad period of depression, I also remarried as well which, that wasn't part of the reason for depression, that was actually the one bright spot on the horizon! But I find myself going through this period of depression and I went to see a therapist and stuff and it didn't really do a lot for me I've got to be honest but I actually found writing this stuff all down did make me feel better because I worked on coping mechanisms for it so it was just writing it all down made me feel better. So I never really intended that song to go on the album but it was actually Ali (McMordie, bass) who basically said to me, 'We've gotta put that out' and I said 'Well who really wants to hear me moaning about feeling miserable?' And he said, 'Look it's part of life, do you think you're the only person that's gotten to this stage in their life without going through a bout of depression? You'd be surprised.' And he's right because once we put it on the record and put it out, I've had more people come up to me after shows and thanked us for writing the song and putting it out there because they've gone through it and just didn't know how to deal with it. They didn't know how to articulate it, they didn't want to articulate it. I think because there's this strange stigma around anything that's perceived as mental illness, like 'Oh best to keep that to myself, I don't want people to think that I'm crazy'. So people don't talk about it, in fact talking about a problem like that is usually - well I find - the first step to getting well. So I'm very pleased that we did put that one out. I haven't written anything or the other guys don't write anything that they don't feel they can stand behind so I always write about things that have affected me. Generally things that have made me angry and the situations that we were writing about on that record , none of them have resolved themselves and in fact in some case have even gotten worse. People are still losing their homes, still looking at the foreclosure hand over fist and that's almost directly attributable to the banks being effectively run by a bunch of criminals and cheaters who sold them the wrong mortgages in the first place and then defaulted on the loans and leave people high and dry. Unemployment is still pretty rampant worldwide and back then there are still the other themes in there that we always come back to , racism is still a huge problem. I was talking to the previous interviewer I was speaking to and I was saying that living in America and seeing someone like Donald Trump basically stand up and effectively just spout xenophobic nonesense and see himself as a frontrunner in the Republican race for the White House. This is a man who could feasibly take the highest office in the land and he's basically just spouting racist, devisive nonsense. While that doesn't surprise me in itself that he stands up and says that, what does surprise me is the number of people who seem to fucking agree with him!

Andrew: Yeah he is unbelievable and it's one of those things. I mean that brings me to the point that there still seems to be so much to sing about and still so much to write about as much as there was back in the 70's I suppose.

Jake: Sadly, yeah [laughs]. I always hoped that one day I would be able to almost look at the entire catalogue and go, 'Well those are all like old folk songs about the bad old days', but sadly their all still pretty fucking relevant.

Andrew: Yeah it's one of those questions that was thrown at us to ask you, was if there was still stuff that makes you angry today and obviously there probably is.

Jake: I just answered that thing [laughs]. I was about to apologise for going on such a rant! [laughs]

Andrew: [laughs] But yeah I know what you mean, it's scary to think that someone like Donald Trump could be leader of the free world so to speak.

Jake: Yeah I don't even want to think about that!

Andrew: [laughs] Exactly! Well we are looking forward to seeing you guys come over to Australia so thanks for your time today it's been an absolute pleasure.

Jake: Thank you very much for your call, I really appreciate it and we're very much looking forward to getting there as well.


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STIFF LITTLE FINGERS AUSTRALIAN TOUR 2016:

Tuesday March 29 - Perth - Capitol
Wednesday March 30 - Adelaide - The Gov
Thursday March 31 - Melbourne - 170 Russell
Friday April 1 - Sydney - Metro
Saturday April 2 - Brisbane - Triffid

Tickets and tour details can be found at Tombowler.com.au.


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Interview by Andrew "Schizodeluxe" Massie on January 14th 2016