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Chinese Burns interview with Xavier Prosciutto and “Lucky” Ben

I don’t know when the dust is going to settle in Australia again, god knows I hadn’t heard anyone besides dedicated Aussie freaks talk about the scene for almost a decade.  These days it seems like Australia is just pouring out amazing punk bands though, super-star cross-collaborations and more than enough lo-fi rock than you can shake a stick at.  And the thing really crazy thing about it is that most of the music is rally damned good!  While there’s the often discussed Eddy Current Suppression Ring and The UV Race, I don’t hear a lot of people talking too much about a lot of my personal favorite projects going on in Australia.  Chinese Burns were together for a while, long enough to release a single and play a couple of shows.  Then they broke up.  After the single sold out, people were clamoring for more material and wanting to see a show, the band reformed.  Loud, crude, lo-fi, primal as all hell, most definitely punk and stinking of The Cramps and The Gories, Chinese Burns are just what the doctor ordered if you haven’t had a night out on the town in a while.  Their music is like a cloud of alcohol induced amnesia, two-minutes of your life you’ll never get back you know kicked ass but for the life of you, you will never remember.  Brilliant statements like “Calculator”, “Steal Your Prayers” and “Not My Girl” are crude and minimalistic to say the least and not everyone will be able to align themselves behind the, at times, manic sound of Chinese Burns.  If however you’re like me and you enjoy riding the waves of these deliciously distorted and spastic singles, you’ll find yourself transported off to another time and place where shit doesn’t seem to be quite so serious or matter so fucking much!  I’m of the firm belief that everyone needs some face-melting two-minute in and out, jab to the brainstem type music from time to time and this is the real deal here.  In short Chinese Burns are loud, they’re crude, they’re brilliant, disturbed, catchy and at times almost unintelligible.  If you like real punk music this is the ticket for you my friend!  Take two singles and call me in the morning cause you’re gonna have a hell of a hangover, it’s been a while since you partied like this…
Listen while you read:

What is Chinese Burns’ lineup these days?  Has this always been your lineup or have you all made any changes since the band started?

X:  Still the original lineup, although on occasion Brad goes walkabout so we've had a few fill-ins on bass from time to time.

Are any of you in any other active bands at this point?  I know most scenes often have a lot of cross-pollination but the Aussie scene seems extraordinarily prone to it.  Have you all released any music with any other bands?  If so can you tell us about it?

Ben:  My previous bands with proper releases are Feelin' Lucky and R.A.D..  Bands with demos only were Leftwaffe and The Seventeens.

X:  Bands with releases are Fancy Boys and more recently Happy Times.  I played drums on a Nobunny German release earlier last year too.  Some other bands I've been in are Filth Dimension, Halfheads, Eat Laser Scumbag and Borkum Riff that have put out tapes/CDs.

Where are all you originally from?

X:  We formed in Melbourne around 2008 but all knew each other from previous bands in Brisbane (Queensland) where we lived previously.  Now we're all back living in Queensland albeit in different towns.

How would you describe the local music scene where you grew up?  Was it very influential or did it play a very large role in your life and formation of musical tastes growing up?

Ben:  My older brother used to go see the Onyas and Big Bongin' Baby in the mid-90s.  I was too young but he'd come home with these crudely recorded records and hilarious, obnoxious flyers which made me think, "Anyone can do this!"

Were your homes very musical when you were growing up?  Were either your parents or any of your parents musicians or extremely interested or involved in music?

X:  Not musicians but definitely into music, they used to go see the Easybeats, Billy Thorpe, AC/DC, Masters Apprentices, The Coloured Balls…  Aaaaarrgh!

Ben:  Music was mainly from older brothers on car trips; The Cult, Guns n Roses, Beastie Boys, anything with swearing really ha-ha.  Then came Nirvana...

What was your first real exposure to music?

X:  Saw AC/DC at the Melbourne tennis centre on their 'Hells Bells' tour when I was five or six, the giant bell above stage is forever etched in my brain, ROCKIN’!

Ben:  Watching Rage (an Australian music TV show) religiously and taping stuff off the radio.

X:  Yeah, getting a dual-cassette deck did wonders.

If you had to pick one defining moment of music; a moment that changed everything and opened all of the infinite doors of possibilities to you, what would it be?

X:  Well I played drums when I was really young but stopped.  One night when I was probably about fourteen I heard a band rehearsing down the street, went outside for a better listen and it was a Led Zeppelin cover band, from that moment on I decided to persist with drums again.  Does anyone remember laughter?

Ben:  Listening to Minor Threat at fourteen and going, "Shit, imagine how good it would be to play guitar in this band."

When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music and what brought that decision about?

Ben:  My mate Norm and I were already fed up with Brisbane music around 2000.  We liked the Toilet Rock bands but they didn't play much and we wanted to start a snotty Rip-Off style punk band.  It was almost impossible to find a drummer.  We actually had a demo of KBD covers, like that would've helped!

Where’s Chinese Burns located at these days?

X:  Ben's moving back to Brisbane next week, we're nearly a functioning band again.

Ben:  We've been lucky enough to keep putting out records despite the disconnection.

How would you describe the local music scene there?

X:  Venues: After being spoiled in Melbourne it's pretty depressing coming back to the handful of “pay to play” style venues up here and they get away with bullshit; I have attached a graph explaining this. Bands: Enough interesting bands but stunted.

Are you very involved with the local music scene?  Do you book or attend a lot of local shows?  Do you help record and or release any local music?

X:  I help out the Hobos (Swashbuckling Hobo) and we put on the occasional show at Club Sandwich.

Do you feel like the local music scene has been very influential on Chinese Burns or do you think you could have accomplished what you have regardless of your location and surroundings?  Did the local scene play a large role in the sound of Chinese Burns?

Ben:  We were new to Melbourne at the time so not really.  We probably would've sounded the same in Brisbane.

How and when did you all originally meet?

Ben:  I met Brad by begging for a Feelin' Lucky show with the Hymies in 2001.  Would've met X at an Eat Laser show.

What led to the formation of Chinese Burns?  When was that?

X:  All ended up in Melbourne.

Is there a shared creed or mantra that the band lives by?

Ben:  Chicken salt on all chips.

X:  Worm juice.

I laugh every time I hear your name, what does Chinese Burns mean in the context of the band name?  Who came up with it and how did you go about choosing it as the band name?

X:  It's a Kung fu move where you grab someone and twist their arm skin in different directions, a friction burn.

Chinese Burns seems kind of obvious when you first listen to it as far as influences but the farther you dig the more you hear, can you tell us who some of your major musical influences are?  What about the band as a whole rather than just individually?

Ben:  I think The Gories were the band we all subconsciously brought to Chinese Burns to begin with.  As lame as it may sound, I think we definitely wanted to keep it on the punk end of things as opposed to the pseudo-psychedelic crap that was/is doing the rounds.  A sense of humour is important too.

I am pretty good at picking out good bands and I’d like to think I’m fairly good at talking to them.  What I am not good at though is describing what they sound like.  I’ve never subscribed to labels as I was always one of the losers that ends up on the short end of the stick when that happens.  As a result though I have a difficult time describing music to people who might not have been exposed to it before.  Rather than me taking some awkward stab at describing what Chinese Burns sounds like how would you describe your sound in your own words to your readers who might not have heard you before?

X:  'The Wire' recently described us as being chased by a hive of angry bees.  That sums up one of us at least.

Ben:  "Unlearned" is another good descriptor used recently.

Can we take a little bit of time and talk about Chinese Burns’ songwriting process?  Is there someone who approaches the rest of the band with a riff or more finished idea to compose and work out with the rest of the band or is there a lot of jamming and exchange of ideas when the band gets together to play that evolves into a song with a lot of cooperative work?

X:  Most songs are structured around a bass line which we mutate off.  If we don't get it quickly our attention spans reject it and we go get something to eat.

What about recording?  How do you all handle recording?  Does Chinese Burns go into the studio to record or is it more of a DIY thing on your own time, turf and terms?

X:  We've recorded a few different ways but the common factors are that it's with someone we know, trust and that it's cheap.  We recorded some stuff early on with Nick Pratt from Deaf Wish and Mikey Young from Eddy Current Suppression Ring in Melbourne which became the first two 7 inches.  And the last two 7 inches have been done at Swashbuckling Hobo HQ in Brisbane with Dr. Rock.  I also personally recorded some stuff which made it onto the Windian 7”.

Do you all enjoy recording?  As a musician myself I think that most of us can really appreciate that final product, there’s not a whole lot in the world that beats holding an album your hands knowing that it’s yours and that you made it.  Getting there though, getting all of those tracks laid down.  That recording can be extremely stressful on a band to say the least.  How is it in the recording for you all?

Ben:  I always look forward to recording.  Then hate it while it's happening.  Then love the finished product.

X:  The last few times we've done it we've had like three hours to get in and get out.  That seems to work for us.

Does Chines Burns do a lot of preparatory work before you record?  Do you spend a lot of time working out compositions and arrangements getting things sounding exactly the way that you want them to be?  Or is it more of an organic experience when it comes to recording where you have room to change things around and play when you’re recording?

X:  The structure and the magic tricks are discussed, and when we have the opportunity we try to demo songs.  But when it comes to hitting [REC], basically, it's anything time.

Ben:  I think it's cool when it comes out sounding differently than you had imagined.

Speaking of recording let’s take some time and talk a little bit about your back catalog.  You’re first release that I know of is the Can Dig 7” on Must Destroy Mankind Records in 2009, which was originally a pressing of 200 copies although I know there has been a second pressing of that single with an alternate cover.  Can you talk a little bit about the recording of the material for Can Dig?  Was it a fun, pleasurable experience for you all?  When and where was it recorded?  Who recorded it? What kind of equipment was used?  Do you know how many copies the second pressing of that single was limited to?

X:  Yep, Can Dig was our first 7" recorded by Mikey Tjhung at Brad's house in Northcote.  It was an afternoon thing and we seemed to bust it out A-Okay.  It was recorded onto an 8-track 1/2" tape reel-to-reel which we sent to Mr. Owen from Straight Arrows to apply his tactics, with the end result as the Can Dig 7".  200 original pressing that went quick, second pressing with inverted black cover was only 150, even rarer!  Probably should've done more.

A year later in 2010 you were back in action with the Rohypnol 7” this time for Leather Bar Records.  Was the recording of the material for this single very different than your previous single?  When and where was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?  I know the Rohypnol 7” was originally released as a singles club edition of 100 copies but I also know there was a second pressing.  Do you know how many copies that second pressing was limited to?

X:  Same session as Can Dig where we put down about eight songs.  For Rohypnol we used Mikey's mix to 'vary it up'.  This pressing was around 300, I think, of single-sided Rip-Off Records style record with two different versions of the artwork.

You followed up the Rohypnol single with Calculator 7” on Windian Records in 2011.  I know Windian releases are usually pretty strictly limited edition releases but they did two pressings of the Calculator single each with different covers.  Do you know how many copies the Calculator single was limited to?  Where and when was that material recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

X:  I think the stats were 500 pressed with two covers again.  The shorter lot had the colour covers which everyone wanted.  This was sort of thrown together from spare tracks we had, “Caluclator” and “Kiss Fist” recorded by Nick Pratt, “Struggle” recorded by myself onto the trusty 'tascam 488', and “Steal Your Prayers” was another Mikey spare from the Can Dig session.  I fucked up when sending the masters and sent the unmastered file for “Oh How I Struggle” which is on the pressing and it sounds kinda weak compared to the others, whoops!  Stoked to be on Windian with our fellow Brisbane chums The Saints.

You put out the Not My Girl 7” single on Swashbuckling Hobo Records in 2013 which had a relatively large pressing number of 500 copies.  Was the recording of the material for the Not My Girl single very different than your sessions for your earlier singles?  Who recorded that material and where was that?  When was it recorded?  What kind of equipment was used?

X:  Yep this was the first Brisbane recordings we've done they were with Dr. Rock on a Tascam 688 cassette, everything prior was done in Melbourne.

Does Chinese Burns have any music that we haven’t talked about?

X:  We did a split 7" with Mad Macka (The Onyas / Boondall Boys) that came out in June via MereNoise Records, another Brisbane label as part of a singles club deal.  Brad made a video of it which you can see here.  That’s the most recent thing we've recorded to date.

With the fairly recent release of the Not My Girl single are there any other releases in the works or on the horizon at this point?

X:  Watch this space.

With these completely insane postage rate increases this last year I always try to provide people with as many possibilities when it comes to buying imports as possible!  Where’s the best place for our US readers to pick up copies of your singles at?

X:  Great question!  Hit up USA - Easter BilbyDistro / Goner Records.  They'll cover all your spectacular Australiana needs.

What about our international and overseas readers?

X:  For Europe I know Bachelor Records now stock the latest 7” and NAT in Japan.

And where’s the best place for our readers to keep up with the latest news like upcoming album releases and shows at?

X:  We have a website or just facey.

Are there any major goals that Chinese Burns’ are looking to accomplish in 2014?

Ben:  I'd be happy to keep churning out the singles.  Maybe even an LP (gasp) one of these days.

X:  Yeah and play some long overdue shows south of the border.

Do you remember what the first song that Chinese Burns ever played live was?  If so, do you remember where and or when that was?

X:  No idea on the song, but our first show was at the Birmingham Hotel in Fitzroy in 2008.

Ben:  We used to open with “Babba Diddy Baby”, so possibly that.

Do you all enjoy touring?  Do you spend a lot of time on the road?  How is it on the road for Chinese Burns?

Ben:  We've never done a proper tour but our Sydney show was definitely our worst show, closely followed by Toowoomba.  Both with Straight Arrows, so maybe it's their fault.

What do you all have planned as far as touring goes for 2014 so far?

Ben:  Playing in Brisbane sort of counts as touring now, so the Sulphur Lights LP launch show in February is about it.

You all have played with some seriously awesome bands over the years!  Who are some of your personal favorites that you’ve had a chance to share a bill with?

X:  Deaf Wish, Ooga Boogas, Straight Arrows, James Arthur, Nobunny, 10k Cheese Block, The Stabs, quality!

Ben:  For sure.  We've had to knock back a few shows with great bands too, thanks to the tyranny of distance.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?

Ben:  Doesn't matter as long as it's in one of ‘dem big busses.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows or performances that you’d like to share here with our readers?

X:  Probably one of the best things I’ve seen at a show was from my brother in-laws band Turnpike who were playing this dilapidated venue.  There were stairs leading up to the toilets behind the band and one of the steps had fallen through, so people were walking back down the stairs and falling through the gap landing on the drummer.  About three people fell through like Lemmings, it was hilarious!  No one was seriously injured, I think.

With all of the various methods of release available to artists today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the particular mediums that they do.  Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music?  What about when you’re listening to and or purchasing music?  If so, why?

Ben:  All vinyl for physical releases because the people who listen to vinyl buy it.  Records are fun, expensive and less disposable.  MP3s are for sale on Bandcamp but you don't really expect people to buy them.

Do you have a music collection at all?  If so can you tell us a little bit about it?

Ben:  Hundreds of LPs and 7"s but I keep it pretty streamlined these days.  Sold almost half my collection when I moved to Melbourne and haven't regretted it.

X:  Ugly enough, with something fruity every now and then.

I grew up around what I considered a pretty sizable collection of music and learned to really appreciate physical releases from an early age.  There was an undeniable magic about being able to go over to the shelf and randomly pull off an album, read the liner notes and stare at the artwork while the music transported me away to another world.  There’s always been a connection in my mind between music and a physical album, something to hold and experience that makes for a more complete listening experience; at least for me.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

Ben:  I mainly started buying records in the mid-90s because they were cheaper than CDs and am now loving Spotify.  The rising cost of vinyl has me only buying "must haves" and local stuff.

X:  Yeah for sure, buying records off bands at shows is another way to establish this connection, basically helps you remember the gig.  I tried to understand Spotify but couldn't deal with it, now I don't know how to uninstall it.

As much as I love my music collection, and I do love it!  Ask my girlfriend and she will tell you about the growing stacks and piles of stuff that consume her living space on a daily basis ha-ha!  But as much as I love my music collection there’s always been a few fundamental problems with it, namely portability.  Digital music has taken care of that problem, it still blows my mind that I can essentially carry my entire music collection around on a phone!  With the good comes the bad though and while digital music, especially when teamed with the internet, has exposed people to a whole universe of music that they otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to, it’s also destroying decades of work and infrastructure and rapidly changing the face of the music industry as we know it.  As a musician during the reign of the digital age what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

Ben:  People who want to make a living from music must adapt or die.  Having everything at your fingertips is fantastic.  People making music for fun don't need to worry about it.

X:  If they want to take the relationship further they can buy your record and “take you home”.

I try to keep up with as much good music as is humanly possible and while the internet helps and I spend more time than I would like to admit talking to the local record shop employees, poring over bins there and listening to random links online, but a lot of the best tips that I get come from other musicians.  Is there someone that I should be listening to from your local scene or area that I might not have heard of before?

Ben:  Lovely Legs, Flying Sorcerer, Thee Hugs.

X:  Stink Bugs, Future Shocks, Arbuckle

What about nationally and internationally?

Ben:  Native Cats, Ausmuteants, Cuntz.

X:  Leather Towel, TV Colours, Pronto, The Salivation Army

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this and humor all my inane questioning!  I know it can’t have been a short process but I hope you at least enjoyed looking back at what you’ve done and accomplished!  Is there anything that I might have missed or that you’d just like to take the opportunity to talk about?

Ben:  I answered these on a fucking iPad so top marks to me for patience.

X:  That's everything, cheers!

(2009) Chinese Burns – Can Dig – 7” – Must Destroy Mankind Records (1st pressing of 200 copies with original cover, 2nd pressing with alternate black cover)
(2010) Chinese Burns – Rohypnol – single-sided 7” – Leather Bar Records (Singles club edition limited to 100 copies, regular black pressing limited to 200 copies)
(2011) Chinese Burns – Calculator – 7” – Windian Records (1st pressing limited to 400 copies, alternate pressing with different cover limited to 100 copies)
(2013) Chinese Burns – Not My Girl – 7” – Swashbuckling Hobo Records (Limited to 500 copies)
(2013) Chinese Burns / Mad Macka – Chinese Burns/Mad Macka Split – 7” - Mere Noise Records (150 copies available as part of Mail-Order Club only)

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
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