Interview with Dec Burke
DPRP’s John O’Boyle
Well what can I say? Presented here is an interview with the very talented musician Dec Burke a true gentleman of the music world, who took time out to discuss his past, present and exciting future projects. Dec has worked with some of the leading lights in the British Prog world, he is a Tour de Force live, (miss him at your own peril), and in all honesty was a real pleasure to interview. So without further adieu my friends…………..
John: Hi Dec, It’s nice to catch up with you and have a chat about all the musical things going on with you at the moment.
Dec: My pleasure John, nice to catch up with you again.
John: Quite a varied career so far, Darwin’s Radio, Jupiter Society, Frost* and two Dec Burke albums. If that wasn’t enough at the moment, I believe you are working on two other projects, one with John Jowitt, Collin Leijenaar and Mark Westworth and the other with Simon Andersson ex Pain of Salvation. Not one to be idle then?
Dec: Yeah I suppose, I’ve never been one to sit still, it’s good to keep busy. I turned 40 in May, so I guess I’m trying to cram in as much stuff as I can. (Laughs)
John: How did you become involved in Carl Westholm’ (Carptree), 2006 concept album First Contact / Last Warning?
Dec: He asked me if I’d be interested to sing/or play guitar, to be honest I forget now, we’ve been good friends since our respective bands played at Rosfest some years back. We just always kept in touch, plus he played on my last solo album too. He’s a bit of a genius that guy.
John: Whilst with Frost* you were involved in one studio album, Experiments In Mass Appeal, and the fantastic live album The Philadelphia Experiment, which might I add has one of the best intro’s ever, what was it like performing at the RoSfest?
Dec: yeah the intro is a belter isn’t it (laughs). That was my second time performing at Rosfest, bearing in mind we were recording a live album and we had Nick D’virgilio playing drums with us, it was quite possibly the best laxative I’ve ever known. It was a great experience though, the whole buzz at Rosfest is amazing, we had a lot of laughs, and met a lot of really lovely people, yeah good times mate.
John: What can you tell us about these two projects you are working on, without giving too much of the game away?
Dec: Sure, well it’s 3 projects really as I’m currently writing for my third solo CD too. But the other 2 are really interesting prospects. With Mark, Collin and John it’s a full on Prog-Rock assault it’s very technical stuff, tricky rhythms and odd time signatures. It’s certainly the most challenging stuff I’ve played on guitar for a long time, perhaps since ‘Template’ which is fine as I want to pull out all the stops on this album from a guitar stand point, not mindless shred, but thought out, melodic and challenging. We hope to have the writing finished by the end of the summer. Then stand back and look at it all and maybe review arrangements etc. At the moment with Collin being in Holland we’re sharing the ideas over the internet. We have 3 really strong songs now all roughly sketched out in Pro-tools, no lyrics or song titles yet, or a band name come to think of it. But it’s sounding really big.
John: The first project with the ubiquitous John Jowitt, Collin Leijenaar, (Affector, Neal Morse) and Mark Westworth (IQ, Darwin’s Radio) certainly seems an interesting proposition and I guess will be like working with old mates again. Does this make the writing process any easier?
Dec: it’s a little tricky with Collin being in Holland, but that’s OK as we talk through it all over the phone and internet. It’s great to be working with John and Mark again, super guys and great musicians. Although Mark, John and I have played together in different measures in different groups, the chemistry now that we’re all together in one band is different and very cool. Mark has brought in some stunning ideas, one almost complete song, a big 15 minute epic, it’s fab – and it’s great how much John looks to bring the best things out of a song, and Collin of course is just a monster behind the drum kit, so hopefully all the elements are there for a great prog album. It’s a real collective approach, I’m very excited about getting this album done, but right now it’s great fun writing it.
John: The collaboration with bassist Simon Andersson seems a bit unusual. I have built up a mental image that it is going to be something slightly heavier?
Dec: No actually this one is the polar opposite of the band project. This is a more straightforward pop-rock album. The songs here are shorter and more concise, it may turn out that I’m just singing on this one, with perhaps just a little bit of keyboard playing and some guitar. It’s great to explore another musical avenue. Simon’s a super nice guy and really good song writer, yeah looking forward to this one very much.
John: How did this come about collaboration come about?
Dec: We just got chatting through Facebook I think, Simon said he had been working on some stuff and I said I’d love to hear it. When I did I thought it was great, and offered to sing and away we went. I had the live DVD he did with PoS and he really stood out as a great player.
John: How do you approach the writing process differently for each project?
Dec: Well on my solo stuff, it’s just me writing the music, so that’s basically just whatever comes out. If left to my own devices I write more of a straightforward song which works fine in a solo context. Writing with the guys in the band is different as there are 4 points of view, different suggestions, ideas etc and so an initial idea can end up taking a different direction, and in the band context is perhaps a little less pressure, I can concentrate on just the guitar/vox without worrying about the rhythms, how all the other parts of the song should go, as the guys have that covered. With Simon, he’s taking the lead in the song writing, which is great, as my plate is very full at the moment (laughs) but I’ll contribute vocal melodies, lyrics and additional writing. It is certainly a different mindset for each project. What’s cool is there is no deadline, so we’ll work on it until it sounds great.
John: How easy do you find it to keep your train of thought without wandering off musically?
Dec: (laughs) My mind is always wondering off, short sharp bursts with me. Only joking, once I’m working on a particular piece I generally just crack on with it and work reasonably fast. I often demo the idea, then get out of the studio and listen to it in the car or go for a walk and listen to it on my iPod. Sometimes then other themes or ideas come to mind……
John: Who else would you love to work with?
Dec: I don’t know really, we’ll have to see what transpires, there are a lot of great musicians out there, we might have to catch up on that point again (laughs)
John: Who musically inspires you?
Dec: A great melody is what always grabs me, you know you can have all the flash and chops worked out, but if the essence of the song and melody are absent, then you’ve lost me. But people like Mike Portnoy, Devin Townsend, Chris Cornell are inspiring people to see how the forge ahead and work hard at their craft.
Dec: Yeah, Mark Westworth suggested that as the name, it was better than my suggestion of…..
John: Back to your solo albums per se. How do you feel that each album was received?
Dec: I’m not sure, I kind of operate under the radar of what people go for. ‘Monsters’ could have been so much better had it not been for a less than stellar mix, and I think I bounced back from with ‘Paradigms’ and so far the reaction there has been positive generally. I don’t know, it’s hard to quantify that one. But I’ll continue to write and release stuff, and hopefully it will be something that people enjoy.
John: I think it goes without saying that you definitely put a lot of thought into your creations, musically and lyrically, lyrics which are always interesting. One thing that has really struck me though is the album artwork. I especially love the cover of Destroy All Monsters which appears to be very dark in subject matter. What are your thoughts on this?
Dec: Oh thank you, yeah I work hard at having meaning in the songs, I don’t necessarily always achieve that, but that’s the goal (laughs) As far as the artwork goes, that’s the genius of Mr Paul Tippett, and his covers do somehow compliment the songs really well. The DAM album cover is amazing.
John: When I reviewed the DPRP recommended Paradigm And Storylines album, I stated that the album, “maybe a clever metaphor for an illustrative parable or fable referring to a class of elements with similarities, metaphors that are dark being punctuated with stunning musicality”. What are your thoughts on the album?
Dec: Thank you, yeah I wanted to have a series of story songs that then all got bound up in the closing song, like what Dream Theater did with Octavarium. But I do struggle with the lyrics, it takes me ages to do them, I know what I what to say but getting that out in a way that’s concise and doesn’t jar against the music is a challenge. From the music side, the songs came about really quickly all the demo ideas were there in a couple of weeks. But Stefan and I took months to mesh it all together. Still we turned a new album around in a year which was reasonably quick all things considered.
John: One thing that has struck me as I look at both the album covers is that there are some similarities. They both feature a lone figure, a figure you don’t see the face of, the use of the colour green, the clever use of light that create very strong visual atmospherics within the painting. Is this coincidence or am I being anally retentive (lol)?
Dec: Yeah you’re absolutely right, a happy coincidence I think there were a couple of other options on the table for the follow up cover, but this one grabbed Paul and I the most – it’s a cool cover.
John: What would you consider your favourite track on each of your albums and why?
Dec: from ‘Monsters’ it would probably be the title track, or maybe ‘Signs of Life’, and from ‘Paradigms’ it would be ‘Yesterdays Fool’ or ‘December Sun’
John: If I was to press play on your I-Pod what would be the first three songs that we would hear?
Dec: Right now it would be perhaps something from, Anathema, Devin Townsend, North Atlantic Oscillation, Brittney Spears….Oh dear, I’ve shared too much haven’t I (laughs)
John: What would your 5 Desert Island discs be?
Dec: Blimey, ammmmm. ‘Wind & Wuthering’ Genesis, ‘Scenes from a Memory’ Dream Theater, ‘Songs of Faith & Devotion’ Depeche Mode, ‘All things to all People’ Carpark North, ‘Moving Pictures’ Rush
John: Who at the moment is musically is doing it for you?
Dec: I bought the new Anathema album which is getting a few spins when I get a few minutes, but I’ve been so busy with all that’s going on, I’ve not have a chance really to look about and see what’s going on. You’ll have to give me your recommendations John?
John: What are your plans for the future in respect to playing live?
Dec: Good question. I don’t know really. I would love to think that we could put a tour together for the new band project that would be great, we’ll have to see what happens there. But if I know John like I think I do we’ll be out there rockin’ out soon enough (laughs)
John: Are you planning anything special for the audience at Celebr8 festival?
Dec: Yes, hopefully a few surprises in store. Our aim is to put on a great show and kick off the proceedings for Sunday in a big way
John: Given a free reign, where in the world would you like to play live and why?
Dec: I’d like to get back to the States again. The reaction to my solo music from the American audience has been staggering. But it’s a big country so we might have to try one of the prog festivals and few lower-key gigs. (laughs) But the band project might be a more viable option to touring.
John: What are your feelings on today’s music?
Dec: A lot of the mainstream music leaves me cold, but there is some amazing stuff going on out there if you dig around and look for it. Lots of great talent and long may that continue!
08.07.12 – The Hippodrome, Kingston (CELEBR8 FESTIVAL)
01.10.12- Robin 2