-pictures and words by Elmore
Cai Burns is focused. He'll tell you he isn't but don't believe him- seldom is there an artist with such a grasp of both the big picture and the tiny details. I met up with him in the hope that I'd get him to slip up in conversation...
You’ve got your first record under your belt. That’s done. It happened.
It was a while ago now but there’s people trickling in still. People still approach me and say “I like the new album” and I say “What? We haven't even recorded it yet!” We recorded Urth about two years ago, released it over a year ago. But it’s still our latest one I guess.
It’s better though than with Nirvana, where people still call Nevermind their first record
There is an EP that no one’s ever heard. We recorded it on an eight track with one of those flats drum kits with no shells, horrible things. We recorded that in my Mum’s living room. It had Made Of Concrete on it though, that was the first time I used a delay pedal
Yeah! You get a delay pedal and there’s a period of “I only ever want to use this pedal.”
Yep. That’s all we’re going to do! I think every new pedal you get inspires a song.
You can tell when the guy got his flanger pedal. One of the songs sounds like bees swallowing an aeroplane.
It’s the best effect.
Ok, so that whole album cycle, you’ve finished the first time round, what has it taught you?
It taught me things I’d change. For this next album I would make sure that every song is as good as the last. If one’s not quite as good I honestly don’t see a point in putting it on there. There’s a couple on the last record, I look back and I wish those tracks weren’t on there. I’d definitely be more strict about what I was putting on it.
I think a record should be sacred. It has to be done right, right?
Yes. But a lot of it was up to the record label in the end. That’s another thing that I would do differently, make sure that we had more say in what’s going on. Even though what came out was pretty much what I had in my head, there’s details that could have gone into it. You only realise looking back at it a year later - this thing does actually live on a lot longer than you think.
And it’s done now. There was a period where you could change anything you wanted. It was fluid but now it’s all complete.
There was also a time pressure for getting it out. One really busy month and then you’ve got the rest of your life to think “I could’ve done more, embossed this little detail on the back”, little things. But obviously I’m really really happy with it and it did loads better than I thought it would.
What did it teach you about how being in a band works? Getting the thing out, was it as you imagined?
What surprised me was that the act of people going into a shop and buying the record was probably what happened the least. I don’t even know how many shops it was in but I don’t think it was that many. We probably had as many sales of the record online as we did on our Europe tour and that was the first time we’d been there. It was like 20 people each show but every single person bought a record on their way out. I think now people know that buying a record at a show is much more beneficial to the band which is who they’re really trying to support. When they go into a shop they’re probably thinking that none of the money is going to the artist. Bands now these days are less godlike figures- people can go to a show, meet the band, get the record and get more out of it than they would have by just picking it off a shelf. Everybody wins I guess.
So when you started to realise that things were picking up steam and you could probably make a real go of it, what did you want to achieve from that point?
It’s happened so slowly over the last few years, there was never a point where we said “Oh wow this has happened now”. And it has grown, we’re doing a second record, but there was no point where we decided we could “do” the band- I spend more time working in a tea shop than I do with the band. With goals we’ve tended to be pretty unambitious. Playing Glastonbury was a goal and then we managed to do that which was a surprise at the time, that was a long time ago. Still on the list is I’d like to go to Japan. I’d probably have never said that two years ago but now it doesn’t seem like too much of a massive deal. It’s really rewarding when you set yourself these little things and they actually happen.
How much have you ticked off already?
Well there’s the record, the festivals we wanted to do, playing with bands like Sebadoh. That was like “What is going on?’ I was sat in a dressing room with my songwriting idols and they were playing me songs they’ve not payed for ten years. They played Shit Soup, that was good.
What was the Koko show like?
With Spring King? A beautiful place. We’d actually played there a few years ago with Dog Is Dead.
I’d forgotten that they even existed.
It was before our first record, we’d been writing the strangest music and we thought we’d try it all out at this huge show. I remember walking on stage and tripping over my guitar lead, wearing a turtle-neck so I was so sweaty, the biggest thing we’d ever played. I was so nervous and I was trying a new guitar and it turned out I didn’t like it, it was a flop. So the second time playing Koko was loads better.
The video you did was wicked.
Oh yeah, I was in one of their videos! They weren’t there when we did that and I didn’t tell them I was doing it, I thought I’d let them figure it out. I played the part that some beautiful instagram model was supposed to play. I think she was too expensive or something. But my mate who was the other guy in the video, the director was going through his profile pictures and found a photo of him shaving my head and thought ‘they obviously get along, we’ll get him’. So I literally got it from having my head shaved. I got a message a week later saying “Is that you in our video? What the hell??”
Good story! So Spring King, Lou Barlow, there’s a bunch more - what’s it like being friendly with all your favourite bands?
I think everyone just realises you’re a dweeb and easy to get on with. When you’re loading in your gear and sound checking, doing the same things you’re both on a level.
Lifting the same black boxes up the same metal stairs.
Exactly. You kind of forget they’re your idols after you speak to them.
Ok, have you got any cool tour stories?
We toured with Magic Gang, and on the second day, I think we were playing in Glasgow, Lucy sprained her ankle. We went to some afterparty, we drank quite a lot and it was my fault, we were play fighting. She went to A&E. We had to cancel a show, everything went real bad. It’s only when someone’s on crutches that you realise how many stairs there are in venues. She’s the one who moves most at shows so I think I had to compensate! But from that experience I think I got better at actually moving on stage.
What you need to do is permanently hobble her.
Yep. “My turn now!” She’d be in the dressing room all day and scuttle out on stage for half an hour in the evenings. It was sad, that’s not what touring’s about! She was a trooper though.
How easy was it for you guys to step into professionalism?
I don’t think we’re very professional really! On the Spring King tour we left all our money at the Portsmouth show so we went back to get the money and only after leaving did we realise Lucy’s bass was still there so we went to Portsmouth three times. We’re awful, we never learn. On that tour I picked up an amp I’d left in Guildford for like three months, my Selmer amp, it just ended up at someone’s house. I picked up some shoes I’d left at the same time, they ended up at a house in hove and I left my watch When I picked up my shoes. We’re awful, I don’t think we’ll ever be different.
Well that’s old stuff, what’s happening now?
Ok, Record two is written. We’re going to record in a couple of weeks with MJ from Hookworms. We’ve already done a few days with him to see if we could work together, at Suburban Homes. It’s lovely there, it really is. He’s got the right Idea- I can reference Crownhate Ruin, any kind of 90’s hardcore band and he’ll just say “Oh yeah, I know how to do that” so it’s great. On the way up I couldn’t fit my guitar amp into the car but we got there and he had literally the same Selmer amp that I use. I think he’s the right guy, I’m really excited to do it and get it out.
Is the new stuff much different?
Will Magnified be on it?
I’d like that to be the opening track if it fits in with the rest of the sound. That recording’s pretty slamming, pretty full and I’d like this record to be more wonky and kind of scratchy. I don’t know the right words but I’m sure MJ can figure it out.
Your guitar playing’s evolved?
From the last record… the playing just makes a lot less sense now I think. My taste has changed. We got the whole grunge comparison at the start and Urth was a pretty rocking album, written years ago when we were trying to be a loud band. Even by the time we’d recorded it our tastes had changed and it was toned down. That what I like about it, it’s not a hardcore record but it’s got elements of that kind of thing in it.
It’s got that 90’s production thing where the guitars and the cymbals both make the same noise.
Yeah! I think this record will be a lot less 90’s, more British and wonky. A lot more post-punk. With Magnifed, the sound is down to the producer who was working on it. The thing that’s made me love working with MJ is that producers love to make us into a heavy band. They think “Ah! Fuzzy guitars!” but I don’t want to be that and MJ’s the first producer who’s not treated us that way.
I have a bugbear about people who assume the title ‘producer’. It’s a really rare thing for somebody to actually stand back and listen. They all say that that’s what they do but it often doesn’t happen.
Totally. I think he could hear what we could be rather than what the other people made us into. Magnified and Pharmacy do sound good but I think the second record, the sound if it will shock some people.
Well that’s how you make good art isn’t it?
Totally. We’ve got time to finish it off and once it’s recorded that’s when we’ll decide what to do with it. Even with booking tours people have said “we’ll wait until we hear the record” and fair enough. It’s not far away. If we wanted to do it with another record label then perhaps. We’re in a position to do it on our own if we want to, which is obviously amazing. I’m not going to be forced to make a decision I’m not super happy with. Independence is a rarity nowadays.