INTERVIEW WITH JAN BURNETT 20/9/22

Fresh from playing two special shows in Dundee (Hunter S Thompson last Friday) and in Glasgow (The Hug & Pint), our Kicker sat down with Spare Snare’s main man, Jan Burnett for a spot of breakfast and a chat about what’s going on in his increasingly busy life.

Kicker: The 2 shows you’ve just played were a chance to run through the new songs, although that didn’t quite work out as planned.

Jan: No, it didn’t quite work out as planned*, but the idea was to play them under a bit of pressure because we are recording next month with a finite amount of time to do that…

K: .. with Steve Albini…

J: … yeah,, and he likes you to be rehearsed, so we know that…

K:… so, he’s going to say to you ‘play me your songs’?

J: No, he’ll press record {laughs} and then we’ll play the songs. Last time we worked with him, he hadn’t heard anything that we were going to record until we did it, and likewise, I don’t expect that this time either. We did demo the [new] songs over the weekend just to have them not just as a phone recording of rehearsals. Mainly for us so we could work out actually if there were any bum notes that we didn’t know we were playing, ‘cos in the rehearsal or playing live you can’t really hear them. So, we were doing them direct into an 8-track just to make sure…

K: so, he [Albini] isn’t going to record from that…

J: … no, no, he won’t hear any of that.

K: So, in terms of the ‘prep’ for the recording then, how did you feel about how the shows went?

J: Really well, actually. It’s interesting, starting off with a kind of goth-metal track with two synths talking about wi-fi, I didn’t think that was going to go down quite as well as it did {laughs}…

K: And there’s a lot of pressure on your voice there from the outset… [Jan is currently sounding like I do after a particularly trying afternoon at Elland Road]

J: Yeah, a wee bit croaky. Well, on Saturday and Sunday [between the two gigs], I kind of lost my voice, so last night [the Glasgow gig], I’m glad it all came back. [Jan did swallow a fair bit of honey during the show, tbf!]

K: The audience reaction to the new stuff was good, I thought. [I was at the Glasgow gig.]

J: Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s quite nice because we’re getting some audience who don’t know us anyway already, so at both [gigs], I had people coming up to me saying “I hadn’t heard of you before, to be honest”, and I was like, great, that’s exactly what I want, these new people, and it [the setlist] was all new to them., so that’s fine.

K: Excellent. So, do you think you’re going to change anything as a result of having played the [new] songs live?

J: I don’t think so, it just gives us a confidence that we know we can do it, just walk in and we know the basic arrangements really well, because we’re going to have a few guests on [the new album], we don’t actually have six days of recording, we have maybe three days to record and everything else is around the guest players…

K: .. right, and when you’re talking about guest players, who are you thinking of there?

J: We’ve got, er, my dad {laughs}…

K: Is he going to start the record off again? [see Live At Home] {laughs}

J: Er, I don’t know, no, I don’t really know what the actual running order of the album will be…

K: Oh really, so you don’t know yet?

J: No, not until it’s done ‘cos we’ve got a few ideas for intros and things, that we wouldn’t really play live, but would be quite nice on the record. Well, I suppose the two main guests would be Terry Edwards [The Higsons, Barry Adamson, Gallon Drunk, Tindersticks, etc.] and Gary Barnacle [The Clash, the Ruts, The Damned, Kim Wilde, Soft Cell, etc.], who if I think of brass or woodwind players, are totally two of my era’s heroes. It’s absolutely bizarre that they are both going to be on the record!

K: Do you know what Terry’s going to blow through?

J: {laughs} No, he’s going to be playing a variety of things, as is Gary, who plays clarinet and stuff as well. I’m dead chuffed how it’s just worked out. I met them both separately, for different reasons. Terry knew of us through [John] Peel, which was a lovely surprise and I met him through a mutual friend. Gary didn’t know us at all, fair do’s, but I met him, er, I’ll name drop, I met him at Dave Ball [Soft Cell]’s 60th birthday party {laughs} and got on with him really well, got his address, sent him a CD of Sounds [the album Spare Snare previously made with Steve Albini] and he loved it, which was great. So, he’s totally up for it, they both are. So they’ve never met each other, and they’re both coming up [to Edinburgh] together on the train, so they’ll have the journey to get to know each other before they come and do their thing. So, we’re planning on using them a lot, they’re both up for a day…

K: … so, they’re going to be on more than one track, you think?

J: Oh yeah, so I’m kind of hoping it’s going to be a bit of a crazy jazz angle on top of stuff, which would be different for us, and expands it a wee bit.

K: So, going back to talking about Albini then, you recorded with him on the ‘Sounds’ record in 2018 What does he particularly bring to the recording process, or the ‘capturing’ process, he doesn’t like ‘recording’, does he?

J: He calls himself an engineer.

K: Right, so why were you drawn to him again?

J: I think we were pleasantly surprised that we got on with him so well, and it’s having that confidence knowing that he’s behind the desk and knows what he’s doing.

K: Because you’ve usually done [the recording] yourself, right?

J: Usually, yeah.

K: Have you been produced by anyone else apart from him?

J: There’s been a couple of albums where we’ve been mixed, so Andy Rogers [Senior Producer Live Music at the BBC] did a couple of tracks on Animals And Me, and there’s been a wee bit with Andy Miller and Paul Savage [The Delgados] as well. And they’re all lovely, but I think there’s an element of we want to stretch ourselves, we want to be under a wee bit of pressure, don’t want to be too comfortable, don’t really want to be too local either. I think although we’re meant to be a Scottish band, or a Dundee band maybe more so, we’ve always been not really in a gang. We’ve never really been in the Scottish clique of stuff because of the Dundee thing, we’ve always been a little bit out[side], so I think there’s an element of that as well. So although we can’t afford to go over there, we can afford to bring him here {laughs}

K: And will you be recording in Chem19 again?

J: No, we’re recording at Post Electric in Leith, which is Rod Jones [Idlewild]’s studio.

K: So, is that a deliberate choice [to change]?

J: Yeah, it is. Well, Albini only works with 2″ tape, and there’s not that many studios which have that facility, so we might not be their go-to, what they do normally, but if they have [that] machine, then it’s doable. I also wanted the East Coast for a change, and it also means we are all staying under 10 minutes from the studio, including Albini, in the same hotel. It was quite tiring because we were driving a lot to Chem19 last time. So this will be, I’ll not say a holiday {laughs}, but I won’t need to go home and then deal with [that] {laughs}

K: And this is to start in October? For how long?

J: Six days. You pay for Albini for 8 days because he’s got a day of travelling each way. He’ll arrive on the Sunday, go to the hotel, sleep for a few hours, and then at night go and set up the studio, and then Monday morning, [we’re] straight in.

K: Brilliant. And you reckon something might be out in the middle of next year?

J: Yeah, probably Spring [2023]. As soon as it’s mastered, you press the button, send it to the pressing plant, and that’s like a six month run now.

K: So thinking about what’s actually going to be on the album now then, I had the pleasure last night of hearing seven new songs, and I’ve got the setlist in front of me. Are these fixed titles [Jan nods] or rough ideas? So, you talked about WiFi, which was the opener, and is not really your usual sound, right? As you said, it’s very keyboardy, and you going a bit mental over the top…

J: Keyboardy, but a bit Black Sabbath {laughs}

K: Yeah, yeah, I get that. So, does the album have a name yet?

J; No, not yet.

K: Can I suggest it should be ‘Visions’, so then you’ve got ‘Sounds’ and ‘Visions’?

J: {groans} Nah. {laughs}

K: So, the songs that you played last night, are they all definitely going to be recorded?

J: Yep, [indicates the new songs on the setlist]…

… and there are another three.

K: So, it’s going to be a 10 tracker again, and you’re going to have your ‘pop’ song at number 7?

J: That’s the plan.

K: Because there’s definitely a pop song here, I thought…

J: … which is… [indicates Ring To Me], and that’s probably our second single as well.

K: Oh, singles are coming out, this is excellent news! So, the running order, when and how do you decide that then? Will you play with it a bit?

J: Yeah, I think last time what I did was give a sheet to every band member, and they write what order they think the tracks should be in…

K: Yeah, that’s very democratic.

J: It is. And then I scrub it all out and do my own.

K: {laughs} it’s like modern democracy then…

J: I have the idea of groups of which ones go together, so maybe 2 or 3 together, and then you work them out into which ones are on side 1 or side 2. Now obviously, on a CD you don’t have a side 1 and a side 2, but I quite like the flow of it going in and out…

K: So, you’ll be thinking about not just the opening track, but the closing track of side 1, and so on, and that flow, which I think is quite important.

J: Yeah, yeah, it is important, yeah, I think it comes over better. I quite like the idea, we’ve probably done it too much actually, of doing not what people expect. So, I’m thinking of the album cover not having any words on it, maybe on the back, but not on the front. But then why? It’s gone less and less… or, do we go the other way because this actually might be the album that sells, I don’t know. Do we actually put it on or put a sticker on instead? These are all things to think about. But then that sticker costs 10 pence when you put it on! {laughs}

K: It’s interesting what you have to think about. The last artwork you did, the re-release of Sounds, you used your friend [Graham Anderson]’s art..

J: Yes, he also did Unicorn and also the Smile, It’s Sugar single, and Haircut, the American single. We met when he joined me working in Our Price, and then we’ve been buddies ever since.

K: I guess if there is a theme in terms of your artwork, that would be it, that and the hand painted stuff that you did at the beginning.

J: Yeah, and everything else, that’s me, so it’s whether I’ve got the inspiration or not, but actually having the paintings is quite nice, it make it a little bit more thoughtful or a bit more interesting…

K: Well, are you thinking of a vinyl release? Because it looks really good [on 12″]…

J: It looks amazing, yeah, my (ex) brother-in-law is a medical photographer, so he has a horrible job because he’s photographing horrible things, but he’s got the gear that’s so good for photographing paintings because it’s so detailed. So you can actually see, I thought it was a blemish on the sleeve, but it’s actually the paint. So we’ll probably do that again.

K: Excellent. Just going back to the new songs then, and it terms of how they’re created, can you tell us a little bit about the song-writing process – is it something you do on you own and then take to the band and say what can you add to it or is it a bit more collaborative than that?

J: We made a point of letting everyone know at the start of this that we all got a writing credit, so they’ve all got to go six ways. And that’s partly as a [recognition of] everyone’s putting in so much time and effort, it feels like the right thing to do. But it stops bands splitting up as well. It means they then feel they can actually input as well, and we can try it, which is great, and it gives it a bit of flexibility in that way. In terms of the actual original, kind of seed, one of them actually came from Graeme [Ogston], but the rest tend to come from either myself or Barry [Gibson]. So, I think Ring To Me is the oldest track that I’d had and it’s changed in terms of speedings, but I think it’s just fair that everyone gets a percentage of something or potentially a percentage of nothing {laughs}…

K: So, do the songs change much? You’ve been rehearsing a lot and have the songs changed over time?

J: Yes, absolutely, it could be anything, like a break in the song or different ideas coming about. So it’s been really good, it’s been nine months going up to Dundee once a week [Jan is based in Glasgow]. It was very very ropey at the start. We recorded them all on a phone because we had to listen back to them, so that’s going to be on the 10 year anniversary ten box set {laughs}. In an edition of one.

K: I’ll have it! {laughs}

J: Oh, an edition of two then as I’ll have to have one! So you can actually hear all the songs evolving.

photo by Alan Cormack

K: So you said things are split six ways because the band is now a 6 piece with you, Alan Cormack, Barry Gibson, Adam Lockhart and Graeme Ogston being joined by Michael Lambert*, who wasn’t there last night [or for the Dundee gig] because of Covid, which threw a spanner in the works a little bit. Can you tell me a bit about Michael and what he brings to the band?

J: Well, the main thing is he reduces the average age of the band by about 15 years!

K: Ah, so he’s the looker of the band?!

J: He’s the hairy looker (not the hairy biker)! He was a fan.

K: From Dundee?

J: Yes, he played with Man Without Machines, Adam’s solo thing, and what happened was, 3 years ago, Graeme Ogston had some health issues, so we needed someone to stand in for a gig at Monorail [Glasgow record shop and venue] and we got Michael in to play bass. And that worked out. And when we were doing this, we thought why don’t we have Michael in, it will give us a bit of flexibility, another opinion. He can play, he knows the tunes.

K: So on the record, he’s primarily going to be on bass is he?

J: Yeah

K: It was interesting live, you said from the stage last night that you were quite pleased not to have to play your 2 string guitar, which is the sound of early Spare Snare really, but it isn’t the sound of the current Spare Snare, is it?

J: No, it totally frees me up, but it’s weird [not to be playing guitar] because it’s my song, you know? But there’s partly a practicality to it, there’s no point in bringing in another guitar for one song, and also it gives everyone else a chance to play it properly and concentrate on that… it’s a bit like The Voice, have you seen The Voice?

K: I haven’t.

J: Well, if you watch The Voice, and they just come out without any instrument, that’s good because they’re concentrating on their voice, concentrating on their performance. If you see them come out with a guitar, half the time they’re concentrating on what they’re playing and that’s not want the show’s about!

K: So, it gives you more focus on your voice too then?

J: It does, yeah…

K: If you had one.

J: {laughs} yeah, I can think about words, think about my actual performance, so I’ve definitely changed from a singer-songwriter with a band behind me to being the front man [of a band]. We’re a total gang now.

K: Well, it’s a million miles away in lots of ways from Westfield Lane (1996), which was just you, right?

J: Yeah, it is.

K: And yet you’re still playing songs from that album.

J: Yeah, people still ask for them.

K: Yeah, we want to hear them!

J: Yeah, it’s weird, {laughs}, but lovely.

K: So, what would you say the difference is then between when I saw you playing 5 or 6 years ago and now when you’ve got your 6 piece band? What would I hear that’s different?

J: Confidence.

K: It’s as simple as that is it?

J: I think it is. I think we’ve moved on from always being a bit self-deprecating and… I always quite liked that element of it could always collapse at any moment, but I prefer now because you know where everything is, where it’s all going to sit…

K: From my point of view last night, it struck me that it was so professional. I mean, yes, you were playing songs you didn’t know very well, so there were some false starts, but that’s all done with humour, but the actual delivery of the songs was spot on. I mean, Barry is a one hell of a drummer…

J: … a great drummer… underrated drummer…

K: Totally, I mean, I know you put him right at the back so we can’t see him… {laughs}.. but the stuff he was whacking out yesterday was just superb. It’s funny you should say a lack of confidence because you as a front man exude that, you come into the crowd, which is not something all front men do, would you say that’s bravado or just losing yourself in the moment?

J: It’s all acting, isn’t it? It’s all acting.

K: It’s a version of you.

J: Yeah, but I enjoy it. It’s good fun.

K: Well, you were glad-handing..

J: Yeah, probably gave Covid to everyone…

K: {laughs} so, is there a plan to tour the new album?

J: I’d love to. The biggest problem we have just now is we’ve never had a tour agent, so if you know any tour agents… Covid has really struck that area, so there are no tour agents, a lot just disappeared because they couldn’t afford to [keep going], but those that do exist have reduced their portfolios, they’re not getting anyone new in, and this is not just bands at our level that are struggling in the scheme of things, I was speaking to someone who gets a couple of thousand people a night, and they can’t get an agent. People don’t want to take any risks. So, we’re desperately looking for an agent. It’s the one thing I’m not very good at. I don’t have the time or the energy…

K: I think it is really a professional role that, isn’t it? I put you on in Liverpool a couple of times, and I don’t know what I’m doing, but you get a crowd even with me doing it. If someone who actually knew what they were doing did it, it would be better.

J: It’s someone who could do 20 dates as a one off and have the energy to do that is what we need.

K: And maybe playing festivals. You played one a couple of years ago?

J: Yes, Rockaway Beach we played, yeah, which was great. I’d love to get us on stuff like that. That was Ian who runs it, he was a fan of Westfield Lane. Who knew?

K: Well, him and Billordo [Argentinian lo-fi troubadour]

J: He (Ian)’s from Glasgow actually and was there last night. And so it’s difficult, but we definitely want to play live. Actually, what we’ve been doing over the past couple of months is contacting bands from the past that we’ve played with, who are still around, saying we’d love to play with you. So, Mountain Goats are totally up for it, they’re coming back next year if they’ve got an album out that is, so that would be quite nice if we can get some support slots in that way. So, we will see.

K: You said that you want to put the new album out on vinyl again. Any other formats?

J: Yeah, there’ll be a CD as well.

K: Tape?

J: Possibly.

K: Because that’s the cool format, you know?

J: It is, but no-one really buys them. Well, you do {laughs}. Vinyl is what everyone’s buying, but it’s expensive.

K: No mini-disc this time?

J: Well, you never know. 8-track tape? It’d be good.

K: The vinyl release of Sounds was put out in loads of different colours. Is that something you’d like to do again? And can we have a white one this time?

J: A white one. OK. I’ll make a note. [He didn’t.] I got the contract through and I’ve altered it a wee bit, sent it back, so not had it signed yet, but it’s a contract with Republic of Music, based in Brighton. They’re a pressing and distribution company, so lots of labels sign up with them, they’re ex-V2 people, Stereophonics and stuff, lovely people, had a good chat with them. So they’re up for pressing and distribution and it goes through Universal, so that’s good, it’s pretty major…

K: In America too?

J: Yes, it would be too. My worry as label manager is that they don’t press too many, they don’t press too little, because you pay for the ones that sit in the warehouse. So they have to sell out or there has to be enough to roll over for a year or so. It will happen. They’re totally up for it, which is great. So, I’m paying for all the recording and I’ll still own it, it will still be Chute Records, but they’ll do the pressing.

K: So, Chute will be on it.

J: Yeah, yeah. They’ll do the pressing and distribution and take their money from sales, and when they break even, then we’ll get some money. And that’s fine because it saves me paying for the pressing.

K: Excellent, Well, hopefully, you’ll sell loads.

J: We’re talking about doing a Dinked version. It’s all very cool.

K: Yes, I’ve got a few of those. So, there’ll be an extra flexi-disc or something like that?

J: Yeah, maybe something with it. I asked Rough Trade if they’d like to do an exclusive and they would, but Dinked is like the opposition to that, so we can’t really do both, and Dinked is in a lot more shops. Obviously Rough Trade have got 3 shops, so you’re kind of restricted to what you can do. We might do something different with Rough Trade like a signing or play in Rough Trade East or something and then do a signing there.

K: So, the Dinked thing is definite?

J: It’s being talked about, yeah, they’re quite keen to do it, and you’d sell more Dinked than Rough Trade.

K: Good that you mentioned Chute as it leads me to my next question. You have just published a fanzine looking back on the 30 years of Chute Records, the label that has put out all the Spare Snare albums, well, since Westfield Lane came out on vinyl last year, we can say that now, can’t we?

J: Yeah, although the Chute logo was on Wabana as well. It’s all licensed and I ultimately own it all.

K: But there’s other stuff as well on Chute [Grand Gestures, Muppet Mule, etc.]. So my question is how do you feel about being a 30 year old veteran of the music business?

J: {laughs} It’s funny, you just sort of accumulate knowledge, you know, it’s like anything.. most of it, I still don’t know, but it is weird how the record label model has changed from: get signed, have a hit, tour, get pissed off because you don’t own anything, you’ve been ripped off, well, you think you’ve been ripped off, but you signed the contract, to: now you own everything, it goes through Bandcamp, goes digital, you do a distribution deal, which is exactly what I’ve always been doing. So I never went for the big advance, never got offered the big advance, to be fair, but, thank god! I had a conversation with someone recently who totally disagreed with me, but I still think catalogue is everything. It’s always going to be there, it’s always something you can potentially get revenue from, whether it be something you end up synching with films and adverts in another digital world or whatever else. You must own all that. Why wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you want to own your own stuff? I don’t understand.

K: So, is there anything that you knowing what you know now would advise the you 30 years ago to have done differently or have you basically got it right?

J: It depends what you want. If you want a big enough advance that you can buy a house and not have any major bills and then kick straight on to touring the world…. I think the whole touring thing would be the one thing we missed out on. But, the other side of that is that if we had done that, we would have worn ourselves out and wouldn’t currently exist.

K: Yeah, well you said about bands splitting, and not many bands last as long as you have..

J: No, I noticed De Rosa officially split yesterday. Funny, because we were talking about them yesterday, and I was saying to Alan (Cormack) if we talk about any band, will they split up {laughs}, who do we not like? {laughs} I just think that it has kind of worked out for us, but then ten years ago, no-one was interested in any of the records.

K: Well, you all still work, right?

J: Exactly, it pays for itself, it breaks even quite easily now…

K: Is it more than a hobby?

J: Oh, yeah, totally, because I could not not do it. It’s, it sounds a bit wanky, but it is an art, an art of sorts, you can’t not do it. So even if it wasn’t Spare Snare, it would be something else I’d be doing in that field definitely.

K: And how does your other stuff like releases as Jan The Man and Grand Gestures fit in with Spare Snare? Is that about side projects that are never likely to take over?

J: Well, I kind of killed Grand Gestures off a wee bit because it was just such hard work making it a live thing because there were so many elements to it, so many people involved. It was great doing it, but a wee bit overpowering, a lot of personalities and stuff, it was quite draining. So I killed it off and then Phil Jupitus liked it, and I thought I can’t not ask him, so we did that.

K: Well, in a way, that did round it off because you had that plan of 3 albums and a Greatest Hits, was it?

J: A best of, yeah. I’d maybe go back and do a, not a highlights, but maybe an anthology thing with a couple of unreleased tracks that could go on, a Sanjeev (Kohli) track that’s really good, and maybe do it with different art, radio sessions as well. So there’s maybe another kind of weird compilation thing that’ll happen. But, I wouldn’t want to do anything new. Jan The Man, actually, is really good in that it’s another element of my brain that I don’t really use with Spare Snare, it’s all electronic, it’s all non-computer, so it’s all real and I just join it up with leads, press play and see what happens. And then, chop it all down. I really enjoy that and I was asked to be on a compilation, a cool wee record shop in Edinburgh, just a couple of weeks ago, so OK. People are finding it because it’s tagged as ‘electronica’, people who don’t know Spare Snare, so that’s quite nice.

K: So that’s an ongoing thing?

J: Yeah, yeah, it’s another element, when I’ve got a bit of down time, I can do that without having to deal with anyone else.

K: Well, thank you very much for spending an hour of your time before you fly off to New York.

J: That sounds very showbiz, it’s actually a holiday {laughs}

K: I do have one final question for you though, which is where can I get a copy of the Crazy Sort Of Hum (September 70 Remix) CD single??? It’s on Discogs and I haven’t got it!

J: {laughs} Right. It is on Discogs, now we did CD-Rs and I cut out pictures of celebs from Heat magazine and they got stuck on, and they got a little gold star sticker, and they were numbered 1 to 50 or whatever it was, and I think I kept a couple. Let me see what I can find… but from memory, there’s two that I kept, one was Kylie, love Kylie, one was Jimmy Saville.

K: That’s a shame.

J: {laughs}

K: Well, on that note, thank you very much, and the best of luck with your holiday first, and then the recording, and we’ll all look forward to hearing and seeing Spare Snare over the next 12 moths or so.

J: Thank you, no bother.

A couple more pictures from the fantastic Hug & Pint gig

You can find the Spare Snare back catalogue on Bandcamp.

You should also join the Spare Snare Subscription service to make sure you don’t miss out on any of those rare releases.

About kickerofelves1

Wizard-in-Chief for Trust The Wizards music podcast and blog. Guided By Voices fanatic.

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