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Interview: Gavin Van Vlack on Deathwish Inc, BURN, hardcore spirit and wellness

Posted by Morgan Ywain Evans on Thursday, December 15, 2016 at 2:08 PM (PST)

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Progressive hardcore band BURN have been working on a sure to kick major tires new full length for fan favorite label Deathwish Inc (Oathbreaker, Frameworks, Cold World, etc). Long a respected underground outfit who get major props from true hardcore heads, Burn are poised to hit it hard in 2017 with a God City Studios Kurt Ballou tracked effort. Really stoked to hear what sounds Ballou gets out of the pioneering group of hardcore lifers. Vocalist Chaka Malik was tracking vocals the day of this very interview, so the record is freshly coming together.

In January Burn will be playing the UK and Europe on the “EMP Resistance Tour” alongside Suicidal Tendencies, Agnostic Front, Municipal Waste, Walls Of Jericho, Down To Nothing, and Mizery. They have a lot on the table and it is a treat for fans as well as a healthy thing for the whole heavy music community to have such a quality band of veterans still firing on all cylinders.

It was a pleasure to speak with founder and guitarist Gavin Van Vlack about the new album and general thoughts on hardcore. I listened to Frank Sinatra on the conference line before Gavin and I were connected and then teased him to tell the Deathwish guys to sneak some Burn and Converge in alongside Ol’ Blue Eyes.

“You never know who is loading these things up,” Gavin said, chuckling. And then we were underway.

Read More BELOW.

.From following your Instagram feed it looks like your live shows have been as hyper active as ever!

 

Gavin: That’s always been a big part of what made us what we are. Our live show, the energy and the crowd as well. That’s a huge part of it and we kind of think it is important when you go out to see a live band like us, H20 or Terror…it’s that experience you are there for. There are elements to each band you are there for, but the experience of a “hardcore” or even just a “rock show” that people gather around. Our fans get that and the live shows have been amazing so far.

.With different characteristic bands who all bring something cool to the table, speaking of which…you’ve got the EMP Resistance Tour coming up. One of my favorite recent interviews was Walls Of Jericho and they are on it. You’ve also got Suicidal, Agnostic Front, Municipal Waste. Are you looking forward to that stretch of shows?

G: I’m really, really excited about that. We’ve been friends with the guys from AF for, God, like 25 years. I’ve heard tons about WoJ. I grew up a Suicidal Tendencies fan from their first album! There’s a lot of people excited about that tour or reaching out and saying it is the best bill they have seen in a long time. Yeah, I’m super excited.

. I didn’t know you were in the process of recording until I saw a press release the other day. How long have you been already working with Kurt?

G: We’ve been in process at GodCity. They’ve got the full dormitory and compound. We’ve been embedded in the studio for the past two weeks. It’s been amazing to work with Kurt. The guys at Deathwish have been super supportive with everything. Kurt’s, for lack of a better word, a friggin’ genius when it comes to frequencies, sounds and song structure. It’s a cool situation to work with one of the best producers for heavy music in the world.

.He’s great at capturing live energy but there is still a production element without so many bells and whistles that something gets lost, it seems to me.

G: Absolutely. I think a lot of it comes from Kurt being a super honest guy. He likes the honesty of music. We all came around that in hardcore, the integrity to it. (dog barks) I’m at Deathwish’s Headquarters right now and Jake’s dog has some really solid opinions about all this (laughs). But yeah…Kurt’s honesty shows through in his production. He’s a no bullshit guy. He is really good at bringing what is best in a song to the forefront. It has been an education to work with him.

.You know some of what you want and have already accomplished a lot of great material over the years. So, like…you can maybe relax a bit and it feels ok to collaborate with someone a bit more like that on arrangements?

G: I think that comes with maturity and age. At a point in my career I realized after I release a song it belongs to a listener. It took a long time to be able to write with Chaka and understand how we each explain things. Same thing with Kurt. Kurt and I kind of explain things in the same way, which is interesting. He would explain some pattern in a song and say ,”Why don’t we extend it a little longer and THEN have it transition into this” and I would sit there and listen to it and it would make sense. It is good to have that as not everyone views a picture the same way. So it is good to be able to sit back and say ,”Ok, I want to try and visualize this through YOUR eyes.” It has come across on this record and is really interesting. Um, I’m kind of a habitual songwriter. I tend to play every day and try to write something whether I use it or not. Burn is Burn and we have certain characteristics, things that we do. One thing though is we have never stuck to a mold. I’m really excited because some of the heavier stuff we are doing now is new for us.

.How many songs so far?

G: Ten out on this record. I wrote close to 25 songs for this new record. We decided we were gonna seal the deal with Deathwish and I made time to write every day. “Ok, I need to have X amount of material”. We picked 8 songs from that we figured would fit for this point in time, and then we are releasing two old songs that are on the 2nd EP that we wanted to re-record. They sound so much different now than the rough demo recordings we did years ago at Don Fury’s. “New Morality” and “Last Great Sea”.

 

.Clutch have a song “One Eyed Dollar” and they played it so much it evolved so they recorded a different version of it later. That can be cool.

 

G: I like when bands do that. When they aren’t afraid. You have to let people complain it isn’t as good as the old way. If that is where your heart is, that’s fine. But we have to give musicians a chance to grow and change. We get very married to the moment and concept that things will always be the same and they are not.

 

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.What is it about hardcore, which has a tremendous power for unity between different backgrounds…not to throw a softball question, haha…but is that one of the reasons you come back to it or that it is fun rocking out? Or both?

 

G: You answered right there! Both! I own a Muay Thai movement studio in Brooklyn where a large amount of clients are from the hardcore scene. Our membership, there is something we know that others not in hardcore don’t know about and it shapes our view in the community. Stuff the average joe doesn’t know about because they aren’t in hardcore. There is something about the nature of the music in general and the visceral nature of it that is really, really important. One of the great things is it DOES get you out of your head and that internal dialogue that drives you insane. People talk about the amazing release of shows. That to me is a form of play. Play at a really high level. And that is something that we don’t do enough.

.That’s an interesting way to look at it. A connective type of play. Not as competitive as much, other than every band trying to get a little shine (laughs).

G: Yeah, but when people sharpen up that makes band’s get better. If bands didn’t try to get better, I don’t think it would last. If it wasn’t for musicians like Daryl Jenifer, Matt Henderson, Mackie, Doug Holland from Cro-Mags and Kraut…people in hardcore who showed it was also ok to have musicality, I don’t think you would have people like Kurt Ballou.

 

.Yeah, and now you have bands like Mutoid Man or someone like that who are so technical but raw. Or your band’s more progressive side. Or like when Quicksand first came out.

G: Absolutely. I was just having a conversation with Jacob about I love how we can bring up a band like Mutoid Man or Primitive Weapons who aren’t totally a hardcore band but we can relate it to what we do. I wouldn’t say Burn is only a hardcore band. We come from the background and our basic nature is from that, but it is not the only thing that influences us. It’s a larger world view in general. Bands like Converge, a lot of the heavier bands reach out to a larger audience. People get weird about that. “This is about us, not them”. We want to increase the community, though. Increase the us. It isn’t one person’s property.

 

.And you never watered down the hardcore element and sensibility even when expanding horizons.

 

G: Well, no. My whole moral compass is based on hardcore! Communal family. I didn’t have family at home really I could look up to. I came from a household with a single mom and didn’t have strong male figures. The people I hung out with like Sergio Vega, Chaka, Craig Sitari…these were people I had in a way as brother figures. John Joseph, people like that. We learned from each other.

. It’s interesting how it spills over into other areas of life. I don’t know if I would have defeated some demons or a bad drug problem without discovering One King Down, Bad Brains or Candiria years ago.

G: Very seldom do you find a really good drug problem.

.(laughing) Exactly. But, like I remember hearing Trial and they were so straight edge but so positive also and inclusive. It made me want to fucking get out of the mess I was in and improve.

G: There is an old saying that drugs and alcohol are a low level spiritual search. Yknow? This is coming from myself where I am vocal for my love but no longer use of them. If it wasn’t for drugs and alcohol there is a good chance I would have probably eaten a bullet. But after awhile they stopped working. I went through a long time where the drugs and booze took the music AWAY from me. To get it back was one of the greatest things.

.If you are hitting a wall there is probably a reason and you need to listen to that and fuckin’…change.

G: Well, another favorite thing is it is very seldom the truth comes back to bite you in the ass. Being dishonest with yourself has diminishing returns in the long run.

.You’ve been doing this for a long time now. Sick of it All and other bands are having anniversaries. How
does it feel still having a cool bond with Chaka or something you can still do with Burn that benefits
others?

G: It’s funny. I talk about it with Chaka and it is weird because…we weren’t doing it as a legacy act. We want to continue to grow the band and wer adamant about that. We had problems working together at the inception of Burn because we are both bordering on absolutely stubborn jackasses. You put childish things aside in hopes of expanding a broader picture. The Black & Blue show was the first sober Burn show I ever played. Someone said something about trying to regain former glory. That’s the kind of thing that people who remember their past try to do. I’m just trying to see how this works.

.Was it crazy feeling a different kind of vulnerability on stage without that kind of buffer?

G: Even when I was messed up, I knew I was nervous. There’s always nerves. I’d be honestly nervous if I wasn’t! That’d mean a certain passion was missing. And passion is important to me.

.Sometimes if you are over confident that is when disaster strikes ! (laughing)

G: Oh absolutely! It makes for some great YouTube reels. Nobody wants to be that guy.

.I’m glad to hear about your Muay Thai. I do way less shows than you guys do and I am almost 40. You have people flying around you all the time and I’m like looking at Burn footage like ,”Damn, I hope those boys are all good out there” (laughs).

G: (laughs) Well, it is a matter of staying active. If you look at some of the people… even as at war as they are. I’m 48 and Harley and John Joseph are older than me. There are guys in their twenties who aren’t in their shape. A friend of mine Jason who used to roadie for 108, he is in amazing shape. It is like brushing your teeth. One of those things you need to do on a daily basis. Once you forget how to move everything falls downhill really quick.

.I write a lot and sometimes you get really stationary but even stretching every morning helps so much. I try and always be mindful and make myself do it, to varying degrees of success. I talked to John Joseph a few years ago and I think he said he runs like ten miles a day!

G: That’s a light day for double J! That’s not even adding in his swim and biking. Or look at Harley, he is a Jiu Jitsu instructor. If you are one, you are involved with the class. In my opinion, there is no reason at twenty years old people need to be falling apart.

.Any parting words?

G: Get out and meet people. Get out to local shows. We need an inclusive dialogue that makes people want to understand what hardcore is about. No matter what side you are standing on, we all have the desire to be happy. We need to strengthen what we have.

XXX

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