Interview with BURN guitarist Gavin Van Vlack to the return of the New York hardcore band, their new release „From The Ashes“, the BURN European tour in April/May, his exceptional guitar play and his big influences.
Here’s the thing, you play to 5, you play to 500, you play the same. I’ve been around people that have said oh man there’s only 20 people well those 20 people better get a good fucking show and that’s it!
Interview with BURN guitarist Gavin Van Vlack
AFL: Yo what’s up! We are AWAY FROM LIFE. Thanks’ for agreeing to our interview. Today we are here with Gavin from BURN. Would you please introduce yourself?
G: Yes I’m Gavin Van Vlack Lead guitarist and founding member of BURN.
AFL: In 2016 you released your new record “From the Ashes”.
G: Well it’s an EP; we are the masters of the EP. The extended play 7” as it would be as opposed to the long play 7”. We’ve not ventured into the long play world the “LP” (grins) which is what were in the process of doing right now.
AFL: Cool, It’s been a long time since your last release, about 14 years why?
G: Yah we did “Cleanse” 14 years ago. The more and more I look at that record I think it was a good record that wasn’t done correctly. We rushed into it and the Facts are, we thought we write really good songs and that we were way better than we really were. We didn’t give those songs a chance to actually grow into what they could be. That’s one of the reasons that I like EP’s because you can release more material over time. A lot of bands rush to do a record. Thankfully I’ve had a lot of time to write for this album that we’re working on for Death Wish. I’ve had a lot of time to write for that, so it’s been kind of like fermenting and that that’s what kind of makes music good. It gives it a chance to grow. You see that a lot with bands say a band that’s been around for 8 years. They release an album and it’s great. It’s probably because the songs have 8 plus years play time on them. They have been road worked. Then their 2nd. album is usually a little bit of a dud because it doesn’t have that maturity in them and they’ve been rushed. These are all mistakes that we all make, mistakes of the learning verity. Those are the things which you get by in life on.
AFL: What’s the plan for the rest 2016? Just touring to support your latest album or do you already have new music in the works?
G: We’ve been really active the past couple of months touring. When Chaka and I first said we want to do this we said let’s do the Black’n’Blue show. I called Manny to join us, as my first pick and Manny and our drummer come as the rhythm section package. Musically they complete each other’s sentences and have been playing together since 1998. So it was a no brainer. So we did the first show which was great. The people who convinced us to do the first show were like why you don’t just continue. Chaka and I were both adamant, because there are a lot of bands from our era coming out and their doing shows and repetitive, repetitive tours and are expecting admiration and respect. That to me is a two-way street, there has to be reciprocation you can’t expect kids to come out every time if you’re not reloading. We all feel that we need to reload and write new material. Put out a record that I think BURN is worthy of doing.
AFL: Tells us about how the tour has gone so far, what were the highlights and were there any letdowns.
G: Over here so far? No let downs. I think the highlights so far was last night. Scott Vogel of Terror holding court back stage, fucking funny. Scott’s character he’s funny and just great to be around. The show was great. The shows have been awesome. Quite honestly we are playing in front of a lot of people who don’t know who we are. I have no problem with that. I come from the pre internet era. When I was in Absolution, you drove to Ohio and maybe 3 people heard a cassette tape with you on it. So you would have to go out and repeatedly play for people to hear you and understand what your bands about. People are like doesn’t that get you frustrated; I’m like no it doesn’t its all part of development. This band needs Development. That’s what we’re trying to do that’s why we’re doing this. We didn’t come over here with any Ideas of we’re going to selling out halls. We know that this would be a building process. We are working on building this unit up, that’s what it is.
AFL: Were you familiar with all the other bands you got to play with on this tour? And above all what are your thoughts towards them.
G: We have only played a couple of shows so far. Terror we know from state side. A lot of the younger bands like “5 Minute Fall” we played with were really, really good. It’s cool to see young bands that are doing different stuff and aren’t doing typecast HC. I love that stuff and I love HC.
AFL: What bands have influenced you throughout your career?
G: Molly Hatchet; Lynyrd Skynyrd; Bands that influenced me, ok let me be real serious here. I’m going to spit out some names that people don’t know. Ok “Crash Worship” was an art instillation –art performance band from SF, I don’t think that they are together any more but they would just put on these shows that would just suck people in. There is a certain energy, that anybody who’s been on stage knows what it is. When the whole room locks into that energy, that’s my get off right there. That’s what really gets me.
As far as musical influences I listen to a lot of different stuff, when we’re chilling out we listen to a lot of Reggae a lot of Dub and stuff like that. I’m a fan of Electric Dance Music. It’s so weird; the first live show I went to was “Waylon Jennings”. I grew up in the country, I grew up in New Hampshire, and country music was the thing. My Mom is from Brooklyn so there was always jazz and Blues around. Obviously heavy metal in its base form like “Black Sabbath; Iron Maiden” bands like that. From there I expanded into Punk Rock and then Hardcore. I believe in the saying never trust a HC kid who doesn’t listen to Punk Rock because Punk is our roots. Bands that influence me that’s difficult because there are so many things I love, but I can’t say that they come through in my sound. I’m a musician and I’m a hardcore kid at my roots.
I’ve got to hones it wasn’t Vinny Stigma who made me want to play guitar it was more like Ace Freely. It was the fantastic shit and once you get over it comes down to the technical aspect of playing. Like David Gilmore Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck people who pick up guitar have to know who Jeff Beck is. What else influences me any band who gets up on stage and poor’s out 110% to an empty room. That plays because they love to play. Here’s the thing, you play to 5, you play to 500, you play the same. I’ve been around people that have said oh man there’s only 20 people well those 20 people better get a good fucking show and that’s it!
AFL: Gavin your style of guitar playing is?
G: Stolen, all art is theft, can I get a witness (grins chuckles) looks around the room (there several people in the back round) How many notes in the chromatic scale? (Gavin asks to the whole room. someone blurts out 19. Gavin answers no there’s 12 you fucker you just can’t count. (Laughter erupts) Gavin blurts out public school education.
AFL: Ok people who you have stolen from.
G: Wess Montgomery, but he played solely with his thumb, and he played Jazz. If you listen to a lot of stuff I play its Jazz and Blues just really fucking distorted.
AFL: Compared to other HC guitarist you don’t have a typical HC sound can you give us a gear rundown?
G: No I just use colorful stuff, (laugh, Grin). What I use to get my sound, Umm, well I don’t play with as much Gain as compared to a lot of guys. A lot of guys these days play super Gain and super heavy. A guitarist that I kind of like is Doug, who has a little warmer sound.
G: Yes, Doug Holland is the most under rated NYHC guitarist; he brought musicality to HC, from the Punk scene. Doug Holland was like you know such a great player. When I got the deal with Orange, he reached out and was like I got this old Orange head and I love it so much. I’ve been lucky to have some mentors, and recently Doug has become like a mentor to me.
The mentors that I think about and some people might not understand are Bob Quine who played with Lou Reed and Richard Hell and the Voidoids who were friends of mine and mentors. There was also Marc Ribot who I had the pleasure to be around, there used to be an old guitar shop on the Lower East side called Mojo Guitars that Ribot used to hang out there and you’d get like a minute and just talk to this guy and be like, well it was priceless. Billy Gibbons used to hang out there. I have a guitar that I got from Billy Gibbons; I traded him a pair of Dr. Martens for. He’s one of those people. He was Hendrix favorite guitarist. Honestly if you listen to anything he’s done the tones he uses are fucking beautiful. I’m sure I’m losing a lot of HC Kids here because
I`m not talking about Paris from the Cro-Mags or whoever and those guys are all fucking great but, a here’s the thing. Anybody who expanded HC did it by going outside of HC to bring it in to us. You have to bring things inside to push the walls out. For example, there wouldn’t have been Slayer if it wasn’t for DRI. DRI changed the Metal paradigm so much none of these bands, prior to DRI’s Dirty rotten EP and dealing with it, none of those metal bands were doing blasting, none. DRI fucking mastered that shit.
AFL: definitely a forerunner.
G: Yes, definitely. They were the fastest band, then all of a sudden you saw Metallica; Slayer and Anthrax wearing DRI’s T-Shirt pushing the influence, and that was great. HC and Hip Hop have a greater influence on POP Music than they get credit for. On an Influence level you have to look at what we’ve (Hardcore music) done. We’re much bigger that what we give ourselves credit for.
AFL: Back to how you get your sound?
G: I’m a big fan of tube amp’s. I have a bunch of awesome stuff. There are things I can’t name because of endorsements. What I can name, I have an Orange Dual Dark Head, and I love it. The stuff I’m using in Europe, because I haven’t been able to connect with Orange. I’m using a Marshall; they are great standby amps. I’, using a 2000 and a 900. On my pedalboard, I like using chorus because I think, that as a single guitarist it thickens the sound. I’m a big fan of delays there are a couple of different ones that I use. I’m not going to say which ones you have to out and find your own. Fazer, everyone in HC uses one for that big Walter Schreifels sweep, I use it a little differently I use it as a demodulator. To pull back some of my Gain because of the type of pickup I use I use a noise gate suppressor. There’s no secret I’m a big fan of the wah wah. Which I think is a lost art because it requires timing. A lot of HC Kids don’t like to use them. In BURN we use standard Tuning.
AFL: In the 1980’s when BURN first formed there was quite a bit of Political upheaval in the USA is history repeating, and is it a source of inspiration for you?
G: Yup, constantly because we refuse to pay attention, we are easily distracted. You know it’s like they´re dropping bombs in Mogadishu, here‘s a Kardashian ass look at this! THEY, they distract us because American’s are easily distracted; we are sold a bill of faulty goods. Some poor idiot is going to think that someone like Trump is looking out for him because he’s got a gas guzzling truck that he pays more gas per month than for his trailer park rent. That’s America.
We want to make America Great again and that’s not the blueprint. I like Bernie Sanders, but I think he’s too gentle of a man for a very brutal world. On the other hand Trump, a man who made his money off the backs of poor people, and now supposedly he’s looking out for them, oh come on, you know. Then there is Hillary and she’s gangster mad gangster and not in a good way. There is so much upheaval going on right now. If anyone wants to hear about the real deal about politics and what’s going on they should listen to Bill Hicks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYpSbtMgxjQ).
AFL: Being from an older generation of HC are you catering to a certain age group or are you transcending the generations?
G: I’m trying to write songs to stop someone, whether they´re in their 40’s or their teens from eating a bullet. I’m trying to write songs that matter to people. I’m a 48-year-old adult 230Lbs. alfa Male of this species. I don’t care if it’s an 8-year-old and I’ve gotten videos sent of kids listening to our music on FB and it’s fucking awesome. The reaction we get from the 6-year-old demographic is amazing. Music transcends all that shit. I’m not trying to write a song for a 15-year-old kid but if it hits his ear than god bless and the same thing for the 35-year-old woman who comes into the room and has never heard HC Before, hears us playing and is like wow what is this, I want to know what this is, I want this to be part of my life. That’s what I’m trying to do. In my opinion as a musician that’s what any of us are trying to do. I’m not sure if Chopin was writing music to get into 17 year old girls panties but that’s never my thing. I just write music, goggle Chopin.
AFL: Aside from BURN, do you have family? Children? Do they get to accompany you on tour? How do you earn a living aside from BURN?
G: My Daughter comes out to shows; we both work in the fitness industry. We own and we offer classes for Muay Thai Kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Yoga and Strength & Conditioning from our location in Bushwick, Brooklyn it’s called Physical Culture Collective. I work as a strength coach and martial arts instructor.
My son is currently studying evolutionary biology. My son has been in bands, knows tour life and comes to our shows. Touring is, well there are a lot of romantic ideas around touring. Touring not as sexy as people think it is. I would take my son out on tour as a guitar tech in between and that would be great but he has his own designs on music and the things he wants to do.
I wouldn’t inflict touring on people, ok here in Europe we’re not touring at peak level we have days off but it’s still kind of a grind. People have this Idea that’s a non-stop Party and it’s not! It’s nice to get a minute and go see a town but mostly you’re living to get up on stage play and then load the gear back into the van and move on to the next show. We have to get up early in the morning and travel from location to location.
G: Yes, but at 48 years old I don’t pay attention to my age, I need 4sq.ft. And I do 15min of movement in the changing room just to chill out. That’s basically it. Do I need a complete gym to work out No! Actually at Groezrock I have a training Date with Craig from SOIA. We have pads and are going to do some pad work and boxing. We train together Back in N.Y. The main thing that sucks is all the sitting down and driving, that’s what stiffens you up. This tour is kind of nice we have sleeping quarters in the back of the van so I’ve been taking advantage of that.
AFL: Any further long term (future) plans for BURN?
G: Yes, We’re working on a new record and that means a follow up tour. It’s funny because we’ve played these past couple of shows and we have received lots of feedback on FB. People have been like it was so great to see you guys; we didn’t know who you were. And that’s great because we want to bring more people into this. If we can open people up to other styles of music to me that just expands your life in general. With certain exceptions don’t close yourself off to people because there different than you.
AFL: Where should fans go to find further info’s about BURN.
G: www.burnnyhc.com or on our Facebook page!
AFL: Any last words?
G: Be of service!