Mission of Burma
|Mission of Burma|
|Origin||Boston, Massachusetts, United States|
|Genres||Post-punk, indie rock|
|Years active||1979–1983, 2002–2016|
|Labels||Ace of Hearts, Taang! Records, Matador, Fire|
|Associated acts||Moving Parts, Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic, Volcano Suns, Kustomized, Peer Group, Consonant, Shellac, Trinary System|
|Past members||Martin Swope|
Miller, Conley and Prescott share singing and songwriting duties.
In early years the band's recordings were all released on the small Boston-based record label Ace of Hearts.
Despite initial success, Mission of Burma disbanded in 1983 due to Miller's development of tinnitus caused by the volume of the band's live performances.
In its original lineup, the band released only two singles, an EP, and one LP, Vs.
Formation and early history
Mission of Burma's history began with a short-lived Boston rock group called Moving Parts.
When Moving Parts broke up amicably in December 1978, Miller and Conley began practicing.
They eventually recruited ex-Molls drummer Peter Prescott, who had admired the music of Moving Parts.
Mission of Burma made their debut on April 1, 1979 as a trio, performing at The Modern Theater.
Later that month Miller wrote a song, "Nu Disco", that he felt would be improved by a tape loop.
Swope was immediately enlisted as the group's live audio engineer and occasional tape-effects artist.
His latter role grew gradually, until by 1981 he was adding tape work to most of the group's songs, and was regarded as an integral part of the group, appearing in group photographs and receiving equal credit on recordings.
From the start, Mission of Burma received support from local music magazine Boston Rock, which printed a lengthy interview with the band before they released their first record, and MIT community radio station WMBR.
The station played Conley's "Peking Spring" repeatedly, and it became the station's most-played song of 1979.
Mission of Burma wanted to release the song as a single, but by the time they had found a label, they felt the song had run its course.
Signals and Vs.
By 1981, the band signed a record deal with the Boston-based record label Ace of Hearts.
Rick Harte's layered production was far more refined than the band's ragged live performances, and the band initially objected to the single.
However, the first pressing of the single sold out quickly, and the band thereafter trusted Harte's judgment.
By the end of that year, the EP had sold out its initial pressing of 10,000 copies.
In 1982, Mission of Burma released their first full-length album, Vs..
The album has since seen wide praise; one review notes "very few American bands from the 1980s released an album as ambitious or as powerful as Vs., and it still sounds like a classic".
Breakup and aftermath
In 1983, after the release of Vs., the group disbanded due to Miller's worsening tinnitus, attributed in large part to their notoriously loud live performances—during their farewell tour, Miller took to augmenting his usual small foam earplugs with rifle-range earphones onstage.
A live compilation, The Horrible Truth About Burma, was assembled of recordings from the farewell tour and released on Ace of Hearts in 1985.
Miller and Swope then turned their attention to their side project, the quieter Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic (co-founded with their old friend Erik Lindgren, who had played with Miller and Conley in Moving Parts), which they both left in the 1990s, Miller to produce several solo efforts and film scores, and Swope to semi-reclusion in Hawaii.
While disbanded, Mission of Burma accrued a larger fanbase.
Mission of Burma was also one of the 13 groups featured in Michael Azerrad's book Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981–1991, marking them as an iconic group in the American indie rock canon.
In 2002, Mission of Burma reunited but without Swope as he declined to join.
Conley, Miller and Prescott instead played reunion shows with Bob Weston of Shellac (and formerly Prescott's Volcano Suns bandmate) replacing Swope at the mixing board and tape manipulation.
In an interview Miller relates that "when we approached Bob Weston to fill Martin's position, we told him he could use current digital technology which accomplishes Martin's antics in an easier fashion.
However, Bob opted for maintaining the original integrity, and uses a tape deck."
Weston began using a digital looping box from Electro-Harmonix in 2007 during live performances, but still uses actual tape loops in the studio.
Weston regularly joins the band onstage during encores, playing bass while Conley plays second guitar.
The band initially planned on playing just two reunion gigs, one in Boston and another in New York.
When tickets sold out very quickly and concert dates expanded to two nights in New York and three in Boston, Mission of Burma decided to re-form more permanently to tour and record new material.
They also released Snapshot, a live recording of the reunited lineup, through online digital channels.
In 2006, a documentary about the band was released entitled Not a Photograph: The Mission of Burma Story.
In March 2008, Matador re-released remastered versions of Signals, Calls, and Marches, Vs., and The Horrible Truth About Burma from the band's original era.
In a September 2008 interview with the L.A. , Prescott explained that the sheer physical exertion involved in performing Mission of Burma songs meant that the band could only play together for a "couple more years at most." RECORD
In March 2009 the band recorded 14 tracks for their fourth full-length studio album, The Sound The Speed The Light.
Matador released a two non-album songs on a 7″ single in August and the full album in October.
The album saw release in July 2012, preceded by the single "Dust Devil".
In a June 2019 Facebook post, it was revealed that the band has no plans to make further albums.
As of June 2020, the band was officially finished.
Miller's songs were typically more unorthodox, both lyrically and structurally.
Critic Franklin Bruno described Conley as a "hook machine".
Though Miller and Conley handled most of the singing and songwriting, Prescott contributes a few songs per record as well.
Prescott explained Swope's methods in a 1997 interview: "What Martin did ... was tape something that was going on live, manipulate it, and send it back in (via the soundboard) as a sort of new instrument.
You couldn't predict exactly how it would sound, and that got to be the really fun thing I think we all liked.
We wanted to play this hammer-down drony noise stuff, but we also wanted another sound in there."
Swope's tapework ranged from subtle and nearly subaural (such as the quiet shifting feedback sounds in Conley's "That's When I Reach For My Revolver"), to prominent and even jarring (such as the high-pitched two-note squeal in Miller's "Red").
Journalist Michael Azerrad later wrote: "A lot of people never knew about Swope's contribution and were mystified by how the musicians onstage could wring such amazing phantom sounds from their instruments."
Though his contribution is widely considered an integral part of Burma's sound, Swope very rarely appeared onstage, only occasionally appearing to play second guitar during encores.
Their live performances were notoriously hit-or-miss, and were usually far more rough-edged than their recordings; the Horrible Truth of their live album (The Horrible Truth About Burma) being an in-joke about their inconsistency.
Boston critic Tristam Lozaw described Mission of Burma live: "When they were good, they were very very good, but when they were bad they were horrid ...
But that was the nature of the beast ... Because they took chances, you never knew whether you were going to get one of the most spectacular experiences of your life or if it was going to be a ball of incomprehensible noise."
While the band's improvisational side and the unpredictable chaos of Swope's tape work contributed a little to this inconsistency, the two main factors were (as Lozaw implies) the live sound and the pacing and timing of their sets.
When faced with a venue where the sound system or room acoustics weren't up to the task of conveying clarity along with the band's trademark volume, Swope always refused to compromise, and opted for volume.
The band's set lists (composed by committee a few minutes before going on stage) could range from well-constructed to seemingly picked at random, and (aside from "Secrets" as a frequent opener and "All World Cowboy Romance" or a cover as an encore) there was a general reluctance to repeat any song placement or sequence that had worked in the past.
Many bands and musicians have cited Burma as an inspiration, including Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Superchunk, Jawbox, The Grifters, R.E.M. , Miracle Legion (the last two have even covered "Academy Fight Song": the former on their Green tour and the latter on their debut), Thurston Moore, Drive Like Jehu, Throwing Muses, Yo La Tengo, Pixies, Sugar, Guided by Voices, Shellac, Catherine Wheel, Graham Coxon, Pegboy, Moby and Down by Law—the last five of which have covered Conley's "That's When I Reach for My Revolver".
In 2009 the city of Boston declared October 4 to be "Mission of Burma Day" in honor of the band's work in a ceremony held at the MIT East Campus Courtyard.
Main article: Mission of Burma discography
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission of Burma.