American deathrock band Burning Image’s recent LP Oleander, following 2009 release Fantasma and 2004 compilation 1983-1987, described as “15 tracks of corruption, mystery and despair”, is certainly their most impressive output to date. To call Oleander ‘edgy’ would be putting it mildly, especially when considering the background of how this album got started. I got a chance to talk with Moe Adame recently about the release, his composition style, and some future plans – our conversation is below, along with an mp3 of the most well-received track from the album thus far, the brooding, crunchy “All of Those Vampires”.
—-A Future in Noise: What was the band’s inspiration – musical and otherwise – for the recording of Oleander?
Moe Adame: Well, the way that the album came about was…I got invited to a play in San Francisco by Jello and we got to talking, it was a play that my wife and I went to. Jello [Biafra] asked me if we were going to write another album and I told him I hadn’t really thought about it. So, he happened to ask my wife, “Do you know anything about the Lords of Bakersfield?” Are you familiar with the Lords of Bakersfield?
Adame: Okay – let me see if I can try to tell you this sordid tale. It’s like a local thing I’ve known about since I was a teenager. What it is is apparently, allegedly, higher-ups in Bakersfield, we’re talking like, judges and cops and business owners, apparently they used to, allegedly, have this secret society, called the Lords of Bakersfield, and before that it was called the White Orchid Society. Basically what they would do is have parties and have young guys come to the parties and have them “service” these higher-ups, you know what I mean?
To me it was always this local folklore kind of deal, so what happened was that Sean Penn had made a documentary called Witch Hunt based on the early ‘80s molestation charges upon dozens of people in town and that was led by the local prosecutor of the time. Sean Penn apparently asked Jello if he knew about what was happening in Bakersfield, so that’s why Jello asked my wife, “Hey, do you know anything about the Lords of Bakersfield?” and she said, “Yeah, I’m real familiar with it, especially Moe, he’s been around here a lot longer, so he knows about what allegedly happened.” So after we told Jello, his jaw dropped to the floor and we told him these fantastic stories and stuff. And that’s when he asked me again, “Moe, so are you guys going to write a new album?” I said, “Oh, well, we’re thinking about it.” He says, “That sounds like some intense subject matter, maybe you should write about that.” I really didn’t give it a second thought that night, but the more I thought about it, I thought wow…the possibilities.
AFIN: That seems to explain now the dark content of the album…
Adame: Yeah, if you listen to the album, there are a lot of local references in it, a lot of the content is definitely, if you listen to “Wickerman” and “Witch Hunt” and “The Money is Nice”, it all ties together pretty well, I think. But Oleander is a house on Oleander Street where they would meet, in the Oleander District. That’s why I chose that title. A lot of people look at that, oleander is a plant, a flower, but to me it has a totally different meaning.
AFIN: What was the difference in composing and recording this album as compared to Burning Images’ last, Fantasma?
Adame: Well, I think Fantasma was a lot more heavy-handed, a lot dirgier. This one, because I was really thinking of a time and place that a lot had happened, for some reason it really led me to a more stripped-down, old-school kind of approach to the music. I really think that it had more of a post-punk feel, a lot of the tunes I was listening to at the time inspired me, not purposefully, but like old Killing Joke, old Siouxsie & the Banshees, and Gang of Four, stuff like that. That just kind of got me pushed in the right direction, whereas Fantasma was a lot murkier, the sound was a lot more dense. This one is definitely cleaner and more stripped down, not so, you know, thick.
AFIN: When I had listened to Oleander, one of the things I thought of, recording-wise it reminded me of the Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible, which has kind of an interesting quality, crisp-sounding, very post-punk influenced too.
Adame: I’m glad you see that kind of similarity. That’s what I like about the Manic Street Preachers, they’re not technically polished, it’s not glossy, and that’s really what I wanted to put forth on this one. The subject matter…I didn’t think it needed to sound like Fantasma 2. It needed to have a totally different sound, everything…the vocal style, the guitar style…We really tried to go all-out on this one, tried to push the boundaries, for ourselves.
AFIN: I think a lot of your band’s music, one can discern the context by listening in to the lyrics closer, but the music does a good job of establishing a specific mood first and foremost, from what I’ve gathered.
Adame: I like to use a lot of metaphor, a lot of imagery…If you listen to Fantasma, Fantasma’s the same way. A lot of Fantasma was based on this local, financial meltdown, people losing their jobs, their homes, this country going to hell, fighting unnecessary wars…without being too ABC News about it, I really tried to use a lot of imagery and spoke of it that way, rather than being so obvious.
You know, it makes me really happy to hear that because people have asked me before, “How do you write the music? What do you do? Do you come up with the lyrics and then write music to it?” And the way I’ve always written, this is from the very first song I’ve ever wrote…to me, the music is what’s most important. A lot of people say the lyrics tell the story and I say, not necessarily, not all the time. You can say a lot with the music, and that to me, when I write a song, I write the music first, and then the song dictates to me what I’m going to write about. It’s the mood-setter, the song is what says to me, okay this is the type of song it is, let that be your guide.
AFIN: I think that the instrumentation part that establishes the mood pulls the listener in, and in a way, the writer of the lyrics in too, to set more details about the scene. I think that what you’re saying makes sense.
Adame: To me it makes sense, everyone has different ways of doing this, but that to me has always worked, it’s the mood-setter. I can’t even imagine doing it the other way around. The lyrics for me, don’t inspire me to write a song, it’s the song that inspires me to write the lyrics.
AFIN: As far as the future of the band with this album, have you got certain things in mind in the way of promoting it and gigs?
Adame: Well, the only gig we have planned is this Saturday, we’re playing in LA (referring to April 2nd gig at The Airliner). Other than that, I really honestly don’t have an angle, and I haven’t really thought of how to approach this, because we’re not doing this on Alternative Tentacles this time, we’re just doing it, it’s our own deal through CDBaby, and they’re distributing it through iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody and all this other stuff. So, as far as the promotion part of it, I’m still kind of …seeing what kind of angle I could take.
To be honest with you, everything is just so different now, this is kind of a new approach for me. It’s so different a lot of people just aren’t buying CDs and now, for the meantime, we’re doing strictly internet-based. We are going to probably, in the future, make some actual physical copies of the album, but it’s a new time and place and approaching it is so different, I honestly can’t tell you how we’re going to go about this. Before we relied so much on Alternative to send it to magazines and do their own one-sheets on how to describe the album and let the reviewers kind of take care of that.
AFIN: I think, as an aside, the internet has obviously changed certain things for better and for worse because it seems like an artist has to be more inventive about promoting and selling and/or giving away content in order to garner new listeners for sure
Adame: I think that’s the cool thing about this release is we can be a little freer when it comes to, How do we get this out?, How do we promote this to the people without being typical, however a regular company would do this?, What kind of approach to take? This is all kind of new and exciting actually because now we, we as a group, or myself, we actually have to come up with something inventive or exciting to promote the album.
AFIN: You’re in control so that’s both invigorating and…kind of a large task.
Adame: Daunting! It really is.
AFIN: Is there going to be any kind of music video or live footage accompanying this release?
Adame: Well, we do have plans on making a conceptual video for “All Of Those Vampires”, that should be happening in a couple of weeks.
AFIN: Is that going to be considered a single release too?
Adame: It seems to have gotten the most feedback, the most positive feedback and it just seems to be the song that a lot of people gravitated towards. That’s the one that we kind of picked too, to push a little.—-