In his Bandcamp artist bio, Andy Burns writes that he “lives at his work office, sleeping in the company provided nap pods and using their musical equipment for his recordings.” That backstory alone makes him intriguing enough, but the music of this Australian-born artist, is able to mix rhythmic, chamber pop instrumentation (which my car’s music system identifies as “dance music”) with a unique, ambient sound that feels both catchy and ethereal. We spoke with Andy Burns over Skype while he was at the gym to find out more about his music, his life in Australia and Japan, as well as his upcoming album.
By Ethan Abelar
Rare Candy: What brought you from Australia to Japan?
Andy Burns: I graduated from uni in philosophy. I had done this degree in three years and I came out of it much quicker than all of my friends whose degrees took twice as long, so I ended up having all this free time. I did some work in a retirement home and I delivered pizza. But one day, when I was delivering pizza, I knocked on the door of this house. Unbeknownst to me, it was the house of my ex-headmaster from high school. And the principal, the headmaster, he’s standing there at the door. I’m standing there in this dough-crusted apron, looking disheveled, and he looks at me, concerned. We stood there for what felt like five painful minutes for both of us, and he ended up tipping me twenty cents. At that moment I decided to abandon ship, abandon country. I thought I’d go somewhere where I can learn the language, where there’s not much English around. Japan just seemed like the place to be for that.
RC: How was it learning Japanese?
AB: The first year and a half of it was very difficult, but it got much easier afterwards.
RC: I’m definitely not an expert on Japanese music, but I can tell when I listen to your music that there is some influence there. Would that be accurate?
AB: Yeah, I think so. There’s a lot of great 80s new wave music that’s now making a resurgence with YouTube and whatnot, and I just come across these real treasures, these real hidden diamonds that have a couple thousand listeners or so on YouTube. You have a really dedicated small group of fans listening to them. In particular, there is this one artist named Miharu Koshi, who put this one really cool album in the mid-80s which I can’t pronounce [Parallelisme]. It’s just got a couple of real bangers on it from the 80s and they are just so amazing and sound so fantastic. That kind of stuff I really listen to quite frequently I think plays a large part in my own music for sure. But for some strange reason, before coming here and deciding to live in Asia for a long period of time, my music definitely did sound a bit… I wish I had a better word for this… oriental. People always describe it like that, and I don’t really understand.
RC: Have you always had a fascination with that area that’s influenced your music or do you think it’s more subconscious?
AB: I think it’s a bit of both. When you listen to something so much, like with those albums I mentioned from the 80s, it’ll subtly play in your own music. I think if you’re constantly listening to that stuff it definitely does inform the way you write and produce music.
RC: Have you always been recording and writing and you’ve only been able to release it now that you are signed to a label?
AB: Well I’ve been writing music since I was eighteen, so it’s been about nine years. But I never knew how to record or produce it until about two years ago, and I taught myself how to do that. Primarily because it’s such a pain to dish out all that cash on a recording for something that you can learn how to do yourself. So in terms of actual production and mixing and whatnot, that’s been a pretty recent thing.
RC: How’s that been going for you?
AB: I love it. It’s my main thing that I do every night and in the morning as well. I spend about five hours a day on average mixing and trying to get better at it. And it’s a weird thing, because you… it sounds really pretentious… you know when you stare at a screen for so long where you’re focused on one thing that you can sort of meditate to it? It’s like this weird quasi-nirvana state, like going into the cave.
RC: You mentioned recording at night. Do you still have a full-time job? I remember reading on your Bandcamp page that you sleep and record in your office.
AB: I was in an apartment, but then it got demolished. It was built prior to the early 80s, and what that meant was that the building went really unprotected whenever there was an earthquake. It was such a risk that the rent was super cheap, and it got to the point where it was so dangerous that they literally let me live there for free. I lived in that building for eight months with no rent in this shoddy, terribly insulated apartment. Whenever there was an earthquake, you felt the whole thing rocking very violently. You’d wake up about once a month to your house shaking, and so eventually it got demolished. I moved into my workplace, which is the office of a large American company. On the top floor of the building, they have this room called the nap room, and you can live there. You’re not supposed to live there, but so far I’ve evaded security. I have my clothes there and the food is free, so I just eat dinner there and live in a small nap pod, like one of the capsule hotels they have here in Japan. And they have a recording studio in there for some ridiculous reason, so I use that. This gym [where we were doing our interview] is just across the road, and so I work out here and live there. But it’s a really ideal environment for recording.
RC: I saw on Instagram that you had posted some demos for your most recent album. How is the recording process of that going?
AB: It’s great! I’m twenty-seven at the moment, so I’m a little late on releasing stuff in terms of volume of music. Because of that, I’m trying to put out two albums per year. This new one’s about halfway done. It sounds a bit tropical, if that makes any sense. It’s kind of like this weird, croony tropical album. It’s got a song that I think sounds a little Neil Young-y and it’s got another one that sounds a bit Chris Issak-y. I showed it to my ex; she’s a brutally honest lady. When we were going out, I’d send her my songs before I’d release them to gauge a maybe too-honest response about what she thought of them. She’s a good person to bounce stuff off of, so I showed her the first album and she was like “Mehhh”, but she really liked the second one. The third one, I had a stack of demos for, and there was one song that I was really excited to show to her. I thought “Yes, this one’s the banger! This is the one!” I showed it to her and I was watching her facial reaction, and at first she was getting into it. Then I saw her face sort of contort, like she had eaten something rotten… something rotten and foul. And then her face starts to twist a little more, looking like she was getting physically sick. And so she takes off the headphones and says “Throw it in the bin.”
RC: That is pretty honest. I guess there are a lot of good things to expect from the new album then!
AB: I mean yeah, you’re gonna have some haters and they’ll always be there. She comes to my shows and heckles me between songs.
RC: On the topic of shows, how is the tour life going?
AB: I’ve really just started, and the reason I’m just getting into it now is because I never really had savings for life on the road. But it got to the point where I thought “I have to do this, I can’t just be writing and releasing stuff.” With that in mind, I started saving with this tangible goal of going on a small tour. So I went to the EU last month, and it was a very solid experience. I only did six shows but I learned a lot within that. Over the course of the tour, I noticed some of my on-stage stories weren’t getting the best responses, so I learned to shut up, talk less, and play more. People were a lot more receptive and a lot more positive. In the kind of more isolated places in Eastern Europe where I toured, the reception was strong enough to warrant me coming back. So it was really fun. It was very tame, and the only negative experience I had healthwise was that I devoured an entire pizza very quickly and had terrible indigestion all day. But that was really it as far as the touring debauchery goes. It was very family friendly.
RC: I’m not sure how much you want to divulge the content of your songs, but one song that I found rather interesting from your new album was “Kokono sensei”. Could you tell me a little about that?
AB: It’s about salaryman indoctrination processes in the 1980s in Japan. Essentially you would have these companies with all this money flying around, and in order to get new employees on board they would offer them these huge guarantees. Say that you did very well in university, like you were a B student or above, you would get all sorts of Ferraris and Lamborghinis and world trips, all at the company’s expense. This was their way of you getting sort of locked into the company. But say that you were less of a good student, you’d come out of university and rather than receiving a Ferrari, you’d have to spend some time in these military camp-esque “holiday retreats” in order to work for these companies. You’d go out with your future boss-for-life for about two weeks or so and undergo these borderline masochistic activities in the name of “teamwork” and “team-building” where you’d be forced to stand in, say, a frozen lake in a jock strap. It’s a song about a guy who gets put into that because he’s not that sharp, and it just destroys his life. The song sounds really chirpy, but it’s not. It’s meant to be funny in a sardonic or tragic way.
RC: Is there a specific sound that you go for when going in to record an album, or does that aesthetic come about more naturally?
AB: I really like the approach that artists like King Krule and (Sandy) Alex G have where they throw a bunch of different genres together on one album, and I think it works really well a lot of the time. I really like Smog and Bill Callahan. A lot of Bill’s albums are really folky but then every couple of albums he’ll put out something with a very strange mix of songs, and I find that really exciting. I think having an eclectic mix of songs work well together really comes down to simple things like volume level and how audible the vocals are. If you get it sounding the same production-wise, even if the genres aren’t the same, it can really work. So I never really go into a project either thinking that it’s going to sound like anything specific.
RC: Are there any other interests you have outside of the music you make that you’d like to share. Any plugs you’d like to give?
AB: Well as a plug, I’m going to have vinyl soon for both of my albums. I’m very curious to see how that production translates to vinyl.
As far as other interests go, my best friend makes these videos about cars in Japan, and I know nothing about them. But I appeared in one of his videos in YouTube recently, and in the past week I’ve become victim to this sort of trolling where I’ve been getting this sort of vitriolic, very enraged commenting. One guy wrote this morning “You elongated bell-end. You’ve never been to the hood or a trailer park”. I’m still reeling from that.
RC: Are you still doing those videos?
AB: Yeah! We both find it really funny, the comments he’s been getting. I guess the reason people are getting mad is because of a scene in which I called an air freshener a “Christmas tree smell emitter” and it’s become this sort of weird meme.
RC: Do you have any early-Beach Boys-esque songs written about Japanese racing?
AB: No, but I kind of want to do that! I mean the subject matter is really interesting. It’s kind of sad, because you have these guys who were the stars of the racing circuit in the late 80s and their abilities to maneuver these cars around have gone down. They had a good time back in the day and now they can’t really do it anymore.