Burnt Ones, “Spell Breakers”

Sjimon Gompers

Burnt Ones

Burnt Ones's Mark Tester, Amy Crouch, & Brian Allen. (courtesy of the band)

In the recent years that have seen breakthroughs and breakdowns from artists throughout a changing Bay Area, the underground's indefatigable spirit continues to grow like the scrappy greenery rising between the gentrified asphalt cracks. Burnt Ones have become an integral part of this creative patchwork quilt, turning our heads last year with You'll Never Walk Alone for Burger Records, and also a few years back with the Roaring Colonel album Black Teeth, Golden Tongue, and an appearance on the Castle Face Records comp Flex II: Son of Flex with “Strawberry Tomb“. These telling series of smoke signals from days of futures past bring us to the event of their upcoming album Gift slated for late March from Castle Face that is already promising some of Burnt Ones' best presents yet. The sonic gifts from Mark Tester, Amy Crouch, Brian Allen, with the latest addition of Creeping Pink's Landon Caldwell, could all tell thousands of stories of lore from the DIY circuits of the Bay. Having seen the rise and fall of contemporaries like The Mallard, to the current and controversial hiatus of Thee Oh Sees (that finds frontman and chief Castle Face operator John Dwyer relocating from SF to LA, and starting new side project, Damaged Bug); these Burnt but bright warriors of light are bolstering the fortress walls of their current residing indie imprint home to an unbreakable strength of fortitude.

Which brings us to the premiere of “Spell Breakers” off the forthcoming album Gift that casts spells and summons as quick as they are broken. The result is less Dungeons & Dragons, and more of a plugged-in and switched-on alchemy audio erosion that explodes the time stamps and signifiers to somewhere perhaps akin to Mark's double entendre refrain of, “out of time, out of time”. Cosmic occurrences happen everywhere with a free associated ease in Burnt Ones' sound mix that plays about in San Francisco's hovering fog-hungover skies with a host of Mark's star struck utterances like, “planets in my hair, you know I don't care…” Combined with a volatile mix of squelched and howling guitar, organ rides, occasional piano punctuation; Amy, Brian, and Landon engage in a mystique understood best as a kind of bewitched brew of sound sorcery richer than the chemistry of methodological Merlin wizardry. Like the line on “Breakers” where the Indianapolis expat Tester muses over thoughts on time, place and belonging, it begins to feel that Burnt Ones, now more than ever before, are genuinely creative their own worlds strictly on their own terms. “And if I ever find my proper place, will I know?” More on this subject in our discussion with the band, after the debut.

Burnt Ones' Mark and Amy joined us earlier for a round of 2014 advice and toasts, notes on the hype and myth of Bay Area music histories, glimpses and hints from behind the scenes on the making of Gift.

From a barrage of life performances, singles, last year's Burger Release You'll Never Walk Alone, I had always thought you all really pegged this kind of underbelly reinterpretation/reinvention of junkshop glam 70s. Then with your recent contribution of the Velvets' “Heroin” on the Castle Face and Friends, and the ambitious album Gift you got me thinking of some lost freakbeat 60s to unknown era cassette experiments. What has been happening with your sound directions as of late?

Mark: We try not to spread ourselves too thin, sonically, or really think about our own music in relation to past decades. It can be really easy to get stuck in just doing a set thing when you look at things that way, which can be really limiting. Our sound spreads all around and in every direction.

I have always been amazed both live and recorded with what you all do with distortion and dissonance. It's like you all wield it to bow and bend it to make any sound you like. What sort of mental projections were you all brainstorming or marinating on when doing the vision work of recording and writing Gift?

M: We wrote most of the songs and started recording the record right after touring and traveling through most of the summer. We decided to stop playing shows and to stop thinking about playing music from a live perspective. That was immensely informative as far as the development of the record. Between our tour, and traveling with/bootlegging Mike Donovan & Band for a couple weeks after, I started thinking a lot about space and distance, the time it takes to get to places and everything that gets passed and looked over in between.

Then we have “Spell Breakers” which rocks some harpsichord organ against a drum machine, live drums and then disappears into those timeless voids that maybe our friends Presley or Dwyer might understand in more psychic or sonic terms. So in short, how was “Spell Breakers” made?

M: I played the beginning of the song on a wonderful, secret, junk instrument we discovered in Knoxville, TN that's part guitar, part keyboard-but not a keytar. I wrote the whole song on it, based off the intro, and it just poured out and made itself.

SF has had the mix blessing of being christened with the whole psych tag. Being that you, and many of your Castle Face labelmates are vastly acknowledged as the next gen of this phenomenon, how do you all react or respond to living amid those overblown histories, and have they informed your own work perhaps in any psychic manners?

M: I think overblown histories is exactly what they are. The tendency to put current music under the microscope in a way that tries to put together the puzzle, via music or familiar reference points from the past, is personally lost on me. It's hard to contextualize being a part of anything while it's happening. Is it happening?

2014 masterplan? Goals? Resolutions? Statements? Any other forwards the world needs to know about the upcoming album, Gift?

M: LIFE IS A GIFT, OPEN IT UP AND TAKE A BITE.

Amy: My 2014 statement is, 'If you believe it, you can achieve it!' Another good one I'm carrying over from 2013 is 'UNLEASH YOUR CREATIVE BEAST!' Feel free to use them yourself.

Burnt Ones' new album Gift will be available March 25 from Castle Face Records.

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