NYC'S Burn made their vinyl debut back in 1990 with the release of a 4 song EP on Revelation Records. The bands history is a little on again, off again as they were only together a few years before separating only to get back as a unit to release the "Cleanse" EP in 2001 on Equal Vision Records. 2002 saw the release of "Last Great Sea", another EP of older, unreleased material. In early 2015 it was announced that Burn would be headlining day 2 of the Black N Blue Bowl in NYC as the pieces of this band were put back together once more. The rest of 2015 was somewhat quiet for Burn but things have picked up so far in 2016. New music in the form of a 3 song EP titled "From The Ashes" is on the way as well as Europe dates that kick off at the end of April. We caught up with Burn's frontman Chaka on Friday March 25th via phone as he and his band were getting ready to travel to Richmond, VA the following day to play at the United Blood Fest. Chaka has also been busy of late with Ghost Decibels, a band he started which showcases his love of the synthesizer and couldn't be more different than his Burn gig. Look for the new Burn EP to be out July 15th on Bridge Nine Records as well as alternate versions through Revelation Records. Burn 2016 is: Chaka Malik - Vocals, Gavin Van Vlack - Guitar, Manny Carrero - Bass, and Durijah Lang – Drums
IE: Hey Chaka. Where are you right now and what do you think you would be doing if we weren’t bothering you?
Chaka: Well first of all you are not bothering me. Right now I am at home, I just finished my work day and we have this show tomorrow in Virginia… United Blood, so I will probably be getting myself ready for the show, maybe playing some acoustic guitar, playing some synthesizers, or watching videos on You Tube or something like that. Pretty much just relaxing.
IE: What kinds of videos do you usually look into?
Chaka: I like Oi! And punk so sometimes I try and find some weird live stuff or albums. I like The Partisans, and I am a huge Vice Squad fan. I also look at what some of the newer bands are doing and I look at some of the bands that we have toured with and also with some of the bands we will be playing shows with.
IE: It has been about a year now since it was announced that Burn would be coming back to play at last year’s Black ‘N Blue Bowl. Outside of work related stuff or family related stuff what were you doing with your spare time say about a year ago before you and the rest of Burn decided to get back together?
Chaka: I was focused on my job which I put a lot of effort into and I was also focused on Ghost Decibels. I had stopped being involved with music outside of anything that I was just doing by myself for like a few years. I started getting back into playing acoustic guitar and writing songs. I would start recording myself and then started getting into things like using reverb and putting reverbs and delays on my stuff and that kind of led me to get into synthesizers. So by the time the whole Burn thing kind of like popped back up with any kind of reality potential I was already doing this Ghost Decibels thing that I am doing which allows me to use synthesizers which I really like. So I was back into making music and I realized music was something that I wanted to deal with on a daily basis and put a lot of effort and energy into. My friend Sasha who was playing the Black ‘N Blue Bowl with his band The Wilding Incident was like “Yo man, you guys should get back and just play, what’s the deal?” At the time I hadn’t even talked to Gavin or even seen him in a while. Sasha basically got back to me like 10 minutes later and tells me Gavin is with him in his office and said “Let’s set up a meeting to talk about it”. When me, Gavin and Sasha sat down I looked at Gavin and said “When was the last time I saw you?” I then realized I hadn’t seen him in something like 8 years which to me didn’t even make sense. But then we talked and decided to do the show and see if it works. We had invested a lot into Burn and I really enjoyed working with Gavin. I think he is a really good guitar player and an incredible person. I was excited to partner back up with him on music.
BURN @ BLACK 'N BLUE BOWL 2015. PHOTO BY: AGA HAIRESIS
IE: Yourself and Gavin have always been the face of Burn from the start and we have also seen Manny Carrero on bass with the band in the past as well. Please give us a little background on your current bass and drum spots and their musical ties as well.
Chaka: Manny had done the “Cleanse” record with us and has played with Gavin in the past as well. I think he played with Gavin in Big Collapse and maybe in Die 116. Manny was also in Glassjaw where he played with Durijah Lang who now plays drums with Burn. They are good friends and are tight, and are tight when they play. Having them come in as a cohesive unit was a big help. They have some of that subconscious stuff that is really integral between a rhythm section.
IE: I really like that Burn will soon be releasing new material and the fact that you guys are not just sitting back and playing songs from the bands past. Where are you guys right now in the recording process and what can we expect out of this new release?
Chaka: We are done recording and it is 3 songs. It is done. I think it sounds like it should. It is one new song that nobody has heard and it’s two other songs that we have been playing live but they weren’t finished. One new song was tentatively titled “Drums Of War” because it has this drum intro although I don’t think that will be the real title, I think it will be called “Novelist”. I wouldn’t be surprised if some band had a song called “Novelist”. The others are called “We Don’t Stand A Chance” and “You Can’t Stop Me”.
IE: It is no secret that you come from a musically rich background which I think you attributed to your father. What kind of stuff were you listening to when you were growing up and how did hardcore music come into play for yourself?
Chaka: As a young kid my parents had a 60’s or Woodstock era record collection on the rock side. Stuff like The Who, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Santana. What they didn’t really have was Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Rush. That kind of stuff I got into on my own. There was a ton of blues around and jazz which I still love and we really kind of gravitate towards. Me and Gavin and a bunch of others like Mark Ryan, Alan Cage, and others who were around at the time gravitated towards jazz just because it was out there… and when I say we listened to jazz we listened to some aggressive jazz. Lesser known artists, indi-jazz stuff, rare jazz records that my dad had where at some points it basically sounds like noise. We were into that and I don’t even really know why, we just loved it, it is real… and it’s got some of that same stuff that makes you want to do a stage dive. Explosive stuff. To me it is the same kind of physicality that Gavin brings but they are just doing it using saxophones, drums etc. A lot of it is the same energy that you find in hardcore.
As far as me getting into hardcore I got into it by mistake at an emergency room because my little sister had sprayed oven cleaner in her eyes. I was sitting outside while her and my mom were in there and I had this portable radio with me with headphones, passing the time trying to find something to listen to and I stumbled across WNYU radio. It was the new afternoon show and they were playing like Minor Threat and some other stuff and I heard an advertisement for Spermacide’s and Johnny Stiff’s show. I used to love Spermacide’s voice. (Chaka pauses for a moment and then yells out the show’s name) Crucial Chaos! Yeah, so I started listening to Crucial Chaos. Before that from ages like 13 to 16 I was strictly into hip hop and jam. Like jam records with just white labels. I would get these jams that took place in the boroughs and I started getting into cutting records and learning DJ tricks. Then I got into hardcore. I didn’t put the hip-hop away really but hardcore became another kind of place that I could go to musically.
BURN @ UNDERGROUND ARTS, PHILADELPHIA, PA MARCH, 2016. PHOTO BY: JC PHOTO MEDIA
CLICK ABOVE PHOTO TO STREAM THE NEW BURN EP "FROM THE ASHES"
IE: What are some of the things that you miss from that time period in your life? Say like 1988, 1989. If you could go back and have a weekend of your teen years back what could you see yourself going back and doing?
Chaka: Getting lost in the Village on a Saturday afternoon when it was hot out. I mean, that was probably some of the most amazing times for me because I didn’t know anybody. ANYBODY! Not a soul… and I would walk from 42nd Street where the Record Factory was and just walk downtown. I would basically have the day to kill and like my 5 dollars allowance. I would go get a record and when you are in the city why bother going back home early? I would walk around and just get lost. I remember one time I walked down to Avenue A and I was really lost. To me that newness of just wandering around the city in the heat was a lot of fun.
IE: Some out there may not know this but in 1989 you along with Freddy Alva were the people behind the now famed “New Breed Cassette Compilation”. Again, thinking back to that time period what were some of the things you recall about putting that compilation together?
Chaka: When I think back to it we were just contributing really. Absolution was on that comp and they were pretty much everything musically to me and Freddy at that time. They were my favorite band. The crucial part for me with that comp was getting the artwork together. I hand drew some of the pages that made up the booklet. I think the booklet looked really good. My art skills have devolved somehow, it is kind of depressing. I also compiled the music. We had these demos from the bands and at the time me and my dad had a lot of audio equipment. I had double cassette decks and equalizers in my house so basically I would take the demo from one band and try to equalize all the different recordings to try and make the whole thing sound like a record as opposed to having everything at different sound levels. We had to add bass here and take away bass there, bring out the guitars on certain ones more. Then I had to run off the duplicates. We ordered blank masters and stickers. We put the stickers on the cassette and the tape in the cassette deck and tried to record some in live time to try and get a better sound quality. The double decks then would have put out reduced quality if you recorded in high speed. Then we went out and sold them. I remember we went to the Anthrax in Connecticut and we were just selling them like “Yo, we have this compilation”. I think it was 5 bucks, I don’t remember. We would just go out and sell them.
IE: You were also the guy sitting on the stairs on the cover of that New Breed cassette. How did that photo come about to be the cover? Was it planned that way or did you just have the shot and like it enough to use?
Chaka: I did plan that. I liked the early Dischord Records artwork and it was supposed to be like a Teen Idles/Minor Threat type of vibe. I had that jacket which I borrowed from my parents. It kind of became my jacket. I didn’t have the money for a real flight jacket and it kind of looked army or weird or punk enough. That was the jacket I rocked forever. I had that jacket and I was lucky enough to find this Crucifix 1984 record which I think had the patch in it. I think I had that patch on the jacket in that shot. The stoop that it was on looked dope. In my mind I could see the shot and doing that thing with my hand on the ground. I could see the shot in my mind and we just went and grabbed it.
IE: The New Breed compilation along with many of the bands in that time period used graffiti style logos mostly because a lot of the people in the scene were into graffiti which was a big part of growing up in NYC in the 1980’s and into the 1990’s. What did you write back then and how involved were you into that scene as well?
Chaka: I used to write XPO and then I became EXPO. We would go to 36th Avenue in Queens and do our thing. There was a train layup there and another on Grant Avenue where they had A’s and C’s and H trains. I don’t even know if they still have the H, I think it was the Rockaway Shuttle. I maybe went like 10 times. I am not trying to claim I was king of some yard or something like that but it was definitely something that was interesting to me and worth investigating at the time.
IE: Do you have any EXPO photos you can share with us?
Chaka: I had one EXPO floater awhile back and one day I was sitting around in my apartment and one of my dad’s friends who was kind of a rapper and producer came by and he was talking about graffiti and I was there like “I write graffiti” and my father was like “no you don’t” and I pulled out a photo of this EXPO floater on a ridgie which is a type of train and my father just didn’t say anything, he kind of just left it at that. I was really just trying to prove to my father’s friend that it was cool. My father didn’t bring it up afterwards either. I think he was more surprised or maybe even intrigued. At the time it was really bubbling up and you had stuff like the Style Wars documentary which was what got me into it. Style Wars made it all seem possible, made it all seem fun, and the thing to do like a gateway drug almost.
BURN @ UNITED BLOOD FEST 2016. PHOTO BY: KEN PENN
IE: Getting back to Burn stuff to me it almost seems like Burn’s popularity has never been at a higher level starting at the time it was announced you guys would be headlining the 2015 BNB Bowl. I don’t know if it is because of the internet where everyone can share their ideas/thoughts and “likes” so easily but do you see this as well?
Chaka: I don’t know. I would say not in NY. In NY, Boston, Philadelphia I wouldn’t say that. I think we are still regaining some relevance at this point. Those places I mentioned are places where we are well known. Burn never toured so you are absolutely right if you bring in the San Francisco’s of the world, places like Los Angeles as well. Burn simply never toured. The furthest we ever went was we went to Detroit, Cleveland and Columbus once but other than that it was just NY, Philadelphia, Connecticut, Boston, Jersey, Virginia, and DC.
IE: Back in your younger years you had a reputation for being one of the most intense dudes in some of the sickest and roughest mosh pits in NYC and that intensity carried over with your stage presence with Burn. All these years later (and nobody here is getting any younger) when you are about to hit the stage what is going through your head? Is it something more where you are still going to go all out or are you holding back at all? What is your mindset?
Chaka: I do a lot less stagedives. I did a couple of dives in Philly but overall I really don’t think about it and I don’t think that I thought about it back then either. I have watched some of the videos and it’s obvious that I am not as limber as I used to be, you have to admit some things. I think I still feel the intensity coming off of me that I would want to feel for it to be right. I don’t know how to answer that honestly because I am not really thinking about it.
IE: What does the future of Burn hold right now? Is there a plan or a direction you guys talk about or is it more of a thing where you are just taking it a day at a time and see where things go?
Chaka: With anything you want to ask yourself is it fun? Is it sustainable? When I say fun… to me I don’t know if I actually have fun as much with anything really but I enjoy things. I enjoy performing, I enjoy the feeling after a show, I enjoy going to a show. I don’t know if I have fun at a show. I have fun playing basketball. That may be the only time where I really have fun. Maybe hanging out with a group of friends or something like that as well. I spend pretty much 99% of my time by myself working on music or just working. I don’t get out much. As for plans we are going to Europe, and after there are hopes to record more music. That’s what the intention is. The Europe shows start in the last week of April. We have been rehearsing, we have a bunch of new material which I am excited for as well.
BURN @ BLACK N BLUE BOWL 2015. PHOTO BY: AGA HAIRESIS
BURN STUDIO TIME, 2015. PHOTO BY: JAMMI YORK