When I first decided to do a weekly post about up and coming Scottish artists, the first name that came to mind was Burnt Island. With their forthcoming mini-album, ‘Music and Maths’ due out on March 15th, I can now stop sitting on my hands and proclaim my new found love for this band.
It was their single ‘The Moments Before’, that first caught my attention. ‘Wise Blood Industries‘ made it available as a free download and an absolute belter and it is too. The band have certainly set themselves a very high benchmark to live up to.
Burnt Island are based around the songs of Rodge Glass, the acclaimed award-winning author who was also involved in the Ballad of the Books (the man’s talent knows no boundaries) where he wrote the song ‘The Fire’ with folk legend Vashti Bunyan. I saw him perform on his own once in a library on the Southside of Glasgow in the build up to that album’s release. At the time I remember thinking that his songs stood up well to the other artists that played that night – Emma Pollock and Martin Henry formerly of De Rosa. That was back in 2007, so it’s good to see that I can sometimes genuinely pick ’em.
It is actually Martin Henry’s former band that Burnt Island remind me of the most. Their sound is quite understated, dark and emotive; they don’t seem like the kind of band that will stand up and say look at me. But I am not as subtle. So I will stand up and say that this is quite simply stunning music that deserves your time, attention and ultimately your love.
Would you care to introduce yourself?
My name’s Rodge Glass and I’m the singer in Burnt Island. The others are: Andy Campbell (bass, keyboards, vocals), Amber Comerford (flute, vocals), Rik Evans (viola) and Malcolm Jack (electric guitar, vocals)
How would you describe the music you make?
Describing music in words is usually pretty difficult but let me have a go. It’s quite subtle, understated stuff – I like to think of it as 3am music, like someone is sitting on your shoulder whispering sour nothings into your ear…
How did the band come together?
It was born out of the ashes of my last, much noisier band, Single Point of Light – me and the guitarist, Ross McConnell, imagined doing everything 50:50 – songwriting, leading vocals alternately, just doing eveything as a duo. But the live thing soon grew and evolved, Ross got married and moved to Australia, and me and Malcolm then went about putting a new band together starting with my songs from Burnt Island Mk1 and taking it from there. We’ve had a few friends come and go so far, but the line up is settled now and I’m really happy with how things have turned out.
Why name your band after a town in Fife?
It was Ross’s idea – he worked in a call centre, someone called up from there and he pronounced it Burnt Is Land – the lady wasn’t very happy…I like it because there are Burnt Island’s all over the world – one in America, Australia as well I think. Basically wherever the British invaded. Also, a lot of the music sounds quite isolated and bruised so it fits. But maybe that’s me turning into a wordy wanker – ignore that!
What process goes into the way you write songs?
I piece them together pretty slowly….play around a riff a bit, and again, and again, and it slowly changes into something more interesting. Then I’ll get a few lines of vocals, sing them as I’m doing other things, and that way I’ll get new ideas for how to get a basic structure. Once I’ve got that I take the songs to the rest of the band and everyone writes their own parts. Singwriting is a strange, imprecise process. I just think that if I forget an ideas-in-progress, it’s probably not good enough. If I remember it, it’s worth trying with the band.
A few years ago now you were involved in the ‘Ballad of the Books’ project, writing a song for folk singer Vashti Bunyan.How did this experience help you to develop your own music?
That was pretty integral to getting Burnt Island going. At that time I’d given up music as I write books for a living – at the time I was wrtiting a novel and a biography of Alasdair Gray – but doing that song encouraged me to put a band together again, and to try a different kind of music. Paul Savage at Chemikal Underground suggested I try to record a few of my own songs, Ross came in to play some guitar with me, and it went from there. The 50:50 idea, and from there, see answer number 3!
You released your debut single on Glasgow indie label Wise Blood Industries, how did that come about and do you plan to work with them again?
Adam Stafford at Wiseblood kindly agreed to put our single on his website for folks to download, but actually the single came out on Dead Light Records, which is Jenny Reeve’s imprint, she of Strike the Colours, a fine Scottish band whose guitar player, Davey McAulay, produces our songs. We basically needed a way to get started and didn’t quite know how to – so we asked Jenny if we could use her label and asked Adam if he’d allow us to use his site too. Thankfully both agreed. In the early days it’s all about using every avenue you can to get the music heard, as there’s just so much out there. Our new mini-album, ‘Music and Maths’, is coming out on another, slightly bigger Glasgow label called Chaffinch Records. That’ll be out on March 7th. I hope a couple of the songs will be downloadable from Wiseblood again – I think it’s a really good idea as a site, a good opportunity for new bands.
For you personally, would you say that it is more challenging writing a song or writing a novel?
They’re totally different processes – I suppose all the ideas come out of the same brain so they’ll have some elements in common, but even long, complicated songs are really just fragments of ideas when it comes to lyrics – the odd image here and there, leaving gaps for the listener to enjoy working out for themselves what it might be about. In that way it is like writing on the page. I try to cut out the same stuff in both form – you know, cliches, bad imagery, that kind of thing. Aside from that they’re quite different. It’s very freeing to know I can have a different type of fun with both forms.