Ahead of the release of their debut album In Sequence on August 4th, Alt Dialogue had the chance to have a frank chat to John Biggs from Burning Alms. You can read our introduction to the band here and pre order the album here.
You’ve got the pedigree of Distophia and Calories behind you, what situation gave rise to Burning Alms? Although the sound is quite different to the other two, it’s not 100 miles removed, what made you pursue Burning Alms as a new project?
JOHN: Tom and I have always been writing together as a two piece as far back as Distophia. We always recorded on my old Yamaha MT-50 4 track recorder and still do to this day. In fact, I still have the tracking sheet for Zoological Frontrunners – the first track that we ever did on the 22-05-04!
We’ve known each other for over twenty years and he’s my best friend so we have a good connection when it comes to writing music. I really wanted Burning Alms to be different from anything that we’d tried doing before in previous bands. We didn’t have any preconceived ideas and we just went back to the drawing board. We did the same thing when Calories started; just simplify everything and start from scratch. “In Sequence” doesn’t have any obvious ‘hits’ on it but I feel that it works well as an album and it has an atmosphere. We ended up having a break after the last Calories album and Pete had started to play in Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam so I guess it was just a chance to start something new together.
Congratulations on In Sequence, it’s a great album, it sounds like you’ve got a lot of freedom to do what you want, how did the recording go?
JOHN: Thank you! It was a fun and relaxed atmosphere. We recorded at OMstart with Dom James who played and recorded on Calories III. We ended up tracking everything as a two piece and then we got Dom to overdub bass parts towards the end. He’s a really talented musician and a great guy who we love dearly.
There’s a wide spectrum of topics covered lyrically on In Sequence, what gave rise to the subjects? Was it a natural evolution or is there a predefined purpose to the lyrics?
JOHN: I was in a pretty weird place back then when I started writing those words. My mother had recently died from motor neurone disease and I was about to start the second year of my English degree. I almost dropped out but managed to stick through it in the end. I guess it was a distraction from everything going on around me.
It really changed my perspective on life when my mother died. I’d always been interested in the human condition and I read a huge amount of books that explored existentialism and took an avid interest in stream of consciousness writing. It was a cathartic experience having an album to write alongside the academic essays I had to produce. I’ve always felt like an outsider so I just wanted to channel my thoughts on this album. They might sound a bit abstract at times but I have a connection to them.
I guess the topics covered all relate to a disconnection from the world I was in at the time. In the past I was bullied at school which is something that always remains with you throughout life and those feelings, although subdued, can re-emerge at any moment. I became really interested in William Burroughs Jr. so I wrote about him. I loved the imagery of South American Magic Realism so I tried to get a bit of that into the words.
Jean Toomer’s novel Cane inspired a section of the album. We didn’t have any predefined ideas musically or lyrically for this album; it just naturally happened that way. I guess that I was also trying to find calmness and serenity in my life finding an escape from the unnecessary pressures that I felt were being put on me. There’s just too much expectation and superficial drudgery that seem to cloud out what matters. I think that love, kindness and being happy are the most important things. Being able to express your feelings and being close to the people that you care for is really important.
I’m just trying to find a simple path to follow in life. I guess this album serves as a platform on which to build from. I don’t want the next album that we write to be the same as ‘In Sequence’ and I’m glad to say it’s already shaping up that way!
Naturally a lot of Calories and Distophia fans are going to be interested in Burning Alms….how would you prepare them for the sound of Burning Alms?
JOHN: I’m not really sure! Don’t expect many catchy choruses or sing-alongs on this record. There are noise sections and improvisation moments like we had in Distophia and some more melodic songs that are closer to Calories but this album is more experimental I guess.
Maybe take loads of drugs and put your headphones on and see what happens. I don’t take drugs anymore and I’ve reduced my headphone usage due to the tinnitus in my left ear so that’s just a suggestion!
What influences did you have during the recording of In Sequence? Are there any bands in particular that inspired the sound?
JOHN: The last record that I really enjoyed listening to was Dust & Mirrors by Belfi/Grubbs/Pilia. I’m a huge David Grubbs fan and he still manages to push the boundaries. I’ve been re-listening to a lot of the early Cat Power records too and the new Sun Kil Moon record is great.
2013 saw the Calories release their third album, Distophia made a live return, Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam popped up with a brilliant debut. What’s the current state of play with each band?
JOHN: Calories are on hiatus at the moment but we could easily go back to that at any time in the near future. The Distophia re-union was a one off but we have recently been approached to play one more ‘one off’ again! SFL are recording a new album soon I think. They’ve just recently released a great 7” EP that you should totes go and buy!
What’s the plan for Burning Alms?
JOHN: We’ve already started recording some new material. Seb (of Distophia) is now a full-time member of the band. We are sounding better than ever and these new songs are some of the best we’ve ever done! I’d really like for us to tour across Europe at some point. You don’t make a lot of money from music but the reward of being able to travel with your best friends doing something you love beats anything else!
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