It takes all kinds of people to make a record

When the members of The Burning Hell put their minds to something, they mean business.

So when the St. John’s-based five-piece band decided to take a crack at the world record for shows played in the most countries in a 24-hour period last summer, they got their marathon on and embarked on their short but epic journey. On July 6-7, Mathias Kom, Ariel Sharratt, Nick Ferrio, Darren “Boobie” Browne and Jake Nicoll packed themselves and their gear into a van and hit the road. Just under 24 hours later they wrapped up a set in Slovenia, their tenth country.

But that’s not all they accomplished overseas last summer. The band also recorded a new studio album, People, which marks a departure from its quirky, ukulele-driven folk-pop style and a move toward, well, rock ‘n’ roll.

The Independent recently spoke with Kom about the new album, which he and his band mates will celebrate the release of this Saturday with an all-ages show at The Rocket Room in St. John’s.

Interview with Mathias Kom

People represents yet another distinct creative turn for The Burning Hell. Tell me a bit about the making of the record – from the songwriting, to the recording, to the mixing and mastering.

We had a long European tour planned last year from early May until the end of July. Early on in the planning stages, our booking agent pointed out that June was Euro Cup month, and that basically everyone on the continent would be spending their time watching attractive young men in shiny shorts chase a ball around a field instead of going to boring old concerts. So we decided to make it work for us, and booked some time in a great studio in the basement of an old factory in Berlin, run by Norman Nitzsche and Ramin Bijan, two producer/engineers who I’d wanted to work with for a while. And then we spent a few weeks of the sunniest month of the year avoiding soccer and staying in our happy little dark basement world, turning the amps and the good times up as much as we could.

Mathias sheds red balloons in the spring of the year. Photo by Angus Rowe MacPherson.
Mathias sheds red balloons in the spring of the year. Photo by Angus Rowe MacPherson.

We had lots of fun with guests dropping in to play instruments we’d never seen before (like the zafzafa!), friends bringing us cake and beer in the middle of the day (how extremely German) and musicians wandering in from other studios to chat. It was a great time all around. In July we went on our record-breaking 10 shows/10 countries/24 hours tour, then drove up past the Arctic Circle to play a few Norwegian & Finnish festivals. When we got back it was time to mix, which happened in a beautiful little spot in Pankow, a leafy northern suburb of Berlin. Then the record got sent to Calyx, a mastering studio that specialized in making dub plates for the clubs back in the techno heyday of the 90s, and it began its long slow journey back to us in plastic and vinyl form.

People’ is both the title and the theme. Each song is titled after a kind of person, so to speak. Why the people theme? And how and why did you come up with nine specific types of people?

I was inspired during RPM 2012 by my friend Gabe Foreman’s collection of poetry called ‘A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People’. I had tried to set some of his older poems to music once many years ago with no success, so I thought I’d try to write a few songs based on types of people I thought he had left out – Barbarians, Wallflowers, Holidaymakers, etc. There were lots more than nine originally, but the ones you hear on this record are my favourite nine.

Musically the album moves more in a rock ‘n’ roll direction, but with some catchy and danceable grooves throughout. How did People wind up with this kind of a ‘feel’ and instrumentation?

I’d been wanting to make a rock album for a while, and right before we went into the studio I fell in love with and bought a beautiful, cheap old electric guitar made in West Germany in the 60s. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my ukulele and everything, and I’m not giving it up, but there was something pretty satisfying about getting back to the guitar. The other thing is that we recorded everything but the vocals 100% live off the floor, and it’s hard not to rock out when you’re all in the same room (more or less, anyway). The energy just kind of naturally swung the songs in that direction. It also doesn’t hurt to have Boobie Browne playing through an amp the size of a stove with a brand new wah-wah pedal that we got him for his birthday.

Opening track Grown-ups ends with the line ,”By the time you get this…” which is a little suspenseful every time you hear it. But given the tone of the song my guess is whatever the story is about, it doesn’t end happy. But that’s just the opening track. There’s seven more songs before Industrialists, which ends with the line: “It takes all kinds of people to make a world”. Is there a chronological narrative taking place on the album?

There is a narrative on the album for sure, but it’s a loose and not-so-chronological one. The different types of people really just represent different perspectives that any one of us moves through in our lives, or even in the course of a day – we’re all Realists, Wallflowers, Sentimentalists and Grown-Ups at some point.

Does Grown-ups end in tragedy? Or is it intended to be a suspense thriller?

I can’t tell you what the end of Grown-Ups is supposed to mean – I know what I think it means, and it isn’t pretty, but I don’t want to make that decision for everyone else!

I recall several observations in the songs that imply similarity in terms of the shared human experience, so to speak. At least that’s how I interpreted some of the songs. So, given the concluding line, “it takes all kinds of people to make a world”, is it safe to assume this seemingly inherent contradiction between both asserting and questioning represents your own exploration of people in general? And would that be the case more so on this album than on past ones?

This album can be listened to in two basic ways: One, it’s a kind of a statement about accepting that the world is full of all kinds of people, and we all have something in common even with the most evil, horrible ones. Remember that Depeche Mode song People Are People? Kind of like that, but less dancey. But the OTHER way to listen to it – the way I like to think of it – is all about Industrialists, the last track. I usually prefer to leave my songs open to interpretation, but that one is 100% a revenge story, where the workers turn the Industrialist’s catch-phrase back on him in a twisted whodunit that ends up with the main character brutally (and creatively) murdered using the very same molten gold he forces his indentured labourers to build his office complex/pyramid with.

There’s even more ambiguous evilness on Realists (a true story, my own method of revenge), Amateur Rappers, Barbarians, and Holidaymakers. Even Travel Writers is a bit mean under the surface. So yeah – People is by far the most upbeat, rockingest record we’ve ever done, but it’s also unquestionably the darkest. Probably because the electric guitar comes from Satan.

The Burning Hell celebrate the release of ‘People’ Saturday at The Rocket Room on Water Street in St. John’s. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door. For more information, visit the band’s website.

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