Midnight Oil

Subject: Re: Malcolm Burn Q and A
From: Koala Sprint
Date: 14/01/2018, 6:28 am
To: Powderworks

Good things come to those that wait. Many thanks to the man himself for taking the time to answer.

• Can you describe how the recording process was with the band?

The band wanted to record in a live rehearsal set up situation which I like. We set up to record at Darling Harbour studio in Sydney. Most of the songs were well rehearsed so it was pretty easy going. I enjoyed that and also had some excellent times with the members being shown around as a guest, body surfing with Pete and hanging out after hours with Bones

• Did they arrive with a lot of finished songs or were they composed or drastically changed in the studio?

Answer above

• You got a songwriting credit on Sins of Omission. What was your contribution to that song and how did it come about?

I came up with the bass riff and suggested they write a song over top of that I wanted something brutal and aggressive for the record.

• You played bass and guitar on Sins of Omission. This seems quite unusual given it never happened on any other Oils release. How did that come about? Would most bands pick up on your suggestions and then record the parts themselves?

I just grabbed the bass and started playing that riff through a fuzz box and a jam occurred which we recorded. Bones was a little miffed by that I think.

• How does your production technique differ from most producers?

I'm first and foremost a musician and a writer so I always come at things from that perspective. Plus I like to experiment with sounds a lot.

• Both you and Bones played bass on Surfs Up tonight. How did that come about and did you play different parts?

I forget how that happened sorry.

• Do you know where the album title came from?

Pete swimming in the ocean.

• In the Rain stands apart being the only song in the Oils catalogue written solely by Pete. Do you know much about this one? Also unusual as Bones plays clarinet and Jim plays the matching drum. What happened with Rob on this recording? To date they have never played this one live. How is Bones Clarinet playing and does he have any other hidden talents?

Bones is immensely talented and many of those talents are as yet to be revealed. I think the song is just something Pete had knocking about for a while. I liked it and thought we should give it a go I don't even remember clarinet at all though sorry.

• Barest Degree was written by Rob and Bones and like In the Rain it’s the only songwriting credit to that pair and also has never been played live. I've heard that you took Rob’s lyrics from his music and placed it on music that Bones had and that Rob was not happy about it. Maybe this is why it was never played live. What's your memories about this tune? Bones said that it's a duet with him and Pete sharing lead vocals and alternating high pitch in the verse to low pitch in the chorus. Whose suggestion was this?

I think that song was something that may have been intended for Robs Ghostwriters project but got pilfered for the record I don't recall any tension about that, perhaps just a bit of confusion.

• How did the song Home come about with Emmy Lou Harris singing? We’ve heard that it was your suggestion. Another strange one with Jim playing bass and 5 people playing guitars of various sorts. What’s your recollection of this song?

I think Emmylou was in town while we were recording in New Orleans and it seemed like an appropriate idea. I tend to record in a very irreverent fashion and follow inspiration from whence it comes so if having a bunch of people on guitar seemed like a good idea we just did it. Perhaps I was thinking of Robert Fripp and his league of gentleman.

• I'd love to the see the intro to "HOME" up to the vocals start - tabbed. Any idea what kind of amp settings to get that sound?

Not a whit mate, sorry.

• With Gravelrash, Bones is AWOL and you play bass. What happened with Bones on this one?

He must have stepped out for a minute. Things happened fast so blink and you miss it.. Think about how records like "exile on mainstreet " by the stones were recorded. It's not so unusual.This whole notion of people having specific roles in bands is a bit of an imposition.

• The album closes with Gravelrash, which is an instrumental. Were there ever lyrics to this song, and if so, how was the decision made to drop them? Did this come to life in the studio, or was it something the band had developed previously?

I think that was just a jam that ended up staying as is.

• I See You has you on Drums. Again, how did that come about? Where was Rob? Did you play drums on any other tracks? Was this track ever seriously considered as a contender for the album?

Which one's that?

• Did you think any of the b-sides or out-takes should have made the final album cut? If so, which ones and what would you have swapped them with?

No, I think the choices we made were the right ones.

• A Sunburnt Sky was just released on Lasseter's Gold, the album of unreleased demos in the recent box set. Do you remember this track and who played what?

I'm sorry I don't remember that one either.

• Were there many more songs that you produced in the Breathe sessions that didn't get released?

I don't believe so no.

• Did you ever try Smash the Wobbleboard with Pete on vocals? If so, why the decision to release it with Jim on vocals? This remains the only Midnight Oil song with Jim on lead vocals.

Again, it seemed like a good idea to switch things up a bit and Jim sounded good on this one from the demo.

• Underwater is so different in sound and style from the rest of the album. How did it evolve so differently to the other tracks? What do you think about it becoming the lead single?

We wanted to do something that felt contemporary at the time. I think it was a good choice, perhaps a bit ahead of its time.

• I noticed that there are a lot Moginie and Garrett songwriting credits and not many Hirst (the least from all Oils albums). Did Jim and Peter have a lot more ideas or did the style of their ideas fit the album more?

Rob was saving up for his solo project I think.

• Do you know why the songwriting credits are sometimes in different order? Moginie/ Garrett vs Garrett/ Moginie?

Lyrics first I think, then music. or vice versa I recall.

• Pete is credited with co-writing Kingdom of Flaunt and Gravelrash, but seemingly didn’t play on either. Do you remember what his contribution was if any?

I think Pete had the original ideas or concepts and those count as credits I believe.

• There were rumours that Rob was not happy with the way the record was going? Was this true and was it because of the sharp change of musical style? ie. Not many balls out rock songs.

Rumours are just that.

• How did your experience producing them compare to other bands?

Excellent. Best live band I've ever worked with no contest.

• Do you think that recording in New Orleans had an effect on the sound and style of the album or did the songs they brought in already have a more relaxed feel?

Yes. They were almost delusional when they arrived from jet lag. What a good place to end up.

• Have you listened to Breathe recently and if so, what songs are you most proud of? How does it sound to you today?

I listened to it a few months back. It sounds pretty unorthodox which is good. Personally I like 'home" a lot. 'time to heal" seems timely. "one too many times' has a bit of the old Capricornia vibe to it.

• Do you know why on some editions of Breathe, just like with Diesel and Dust it states that all compositions are by Midnight Oil but in other editions it gave the actual songwriting breakdown?

Not sure about that mate.

• The album has a very 'live room with a few mics' feel (especially the drums). Was that something that was decided from the beginning or did it just kind of happen?

That was a specialty of mine back then.

• I've a lot of time for this record, and am fascinated by the tales of its making. My question is, what was your knowledge of the Oils before taking on the recording? Were you familiar with their previous work for example? And given that, what were your ideas going into the studio? And what is your opinion of the result?

I was already a fan but had no idea of how great they are live. Luckily they played a gig at a small joint in New Orleans one night impromptu which gave me some guidance.

Malcolm, how do you think Breathe sits within the Midnight Oil catalogue of studio albums as far as quality of songs & production?

I think it rates right up there. Albums are a snapshot of a bands development.

• Would love to have any insights we wouldn't even think to ask about the sessions. Easy/difficult tracks, recording tricks, changes that came out of rehearsals, etc. thanks

The most unusual aspect I believe for the making of this album was that it was done mostly "live off the floor" So although there are some technical issues etc I might have liked to change, I think the overall energy of the record is very good.

• Why was the album recorded in 2 places -Sydney and New Orleans?

I think the band wanted to try out the studio in New Orleans and soak up some of that energy

Malcolm. Were you, Jim and Martin looking for a specific guitar sound? Love the album, particularly Star Of Hope, Surf's up, Home, Gravelrash (and I See You, Smash The Wobbleboard and Sunburnt Sky)

We often used some open tunings on the guitars and a particular favourite guitar on the record is a Guild StarfireV

• What was the daily routine when writing/recording an album? (What time do you start/finish? What kind of breaks do you take – food & drinks/activities to stay fresh and fit? Is there laughter/discussion/anger/disinterest/revelation?

We would usually start at 11am. Take a break around 5 for dinner and then work again from about 7 until 10PM or so. A good full days work.I believe we did not work Sundays.

• Why do you think the band are not playing many Breathe songs on their current world tour? I see you got to see their only rendition so far of Surfs Up tonight at Glendale. Sins of Omission and E-Beat are the only others that have been played on the world tour so far.

Not sure why. Perhaps they're rotating material throughout the tour? Possibly with such a wide selection of material they're rotating it as they go?

• Who is playing what on the album, particularly the guitars but possibly also keyboards? What I mean is: are all left channel guitars by Moginie and right side Rotsey? And solos? Do you remember who plays what in which song?

I know that Jim played some keyboards on the record. Often it will be Jim on the left and martin on the right. Solos would alternate I think.

• Was the nature of this particular album, its unique atmosphere and style, something that was aimed for in advance or did it gradually evolve during the recording sessions?

I think that things developed organically during the process due to location and circumstances.

• I think Bring On The Change is a mighty hard rock song and one of Pete's best vocal performances. It's also apparently the only song on the album that features only the five members of the band. The band obviously don't want to play it anymore, and it had a short live shelf-life, but I wonder if your remember anything about the process of hearing the song for the first time and capturing it in the studio? Did anyone seem excited about the end recorded product at the time?

I think we were all thrilled with how that one sounded live off the floor. Very garage band energy

• Would you ever work with anybody again from Midnight Oil?

Yes of course. They are all super humans!!!!

• Did the band say why they wanted to work with you? Was it related to a certain album you had worked on previously and if so which one(s)? Or if not, how did your involvement come about?

The band absolutely wanted to work with me. Possibly Jim had heard some records I'd done such as Chris Whitely or The Neville Brothers or even Iggy Pop and liked the sonic picture.

Malcolm, if there was one song off Breathe that you weren't completely satisfied with and if you had the opportunity to produce again, which song would it be?

Hmmm, that's a tough question. Maybe underwater? Perhaps I'd have tamed the recording a bit and made it more "pop" oriented for the radio?

• You were at the show in Philly/Glenside. What did you think of the show?

I enjoyed the show but could tell the band were a bit "off" after having just arrived from Brazil. The road’s a tough life.

• Do you remember what snares did rob use on the album?

That I am sorry I don't recall.

• Can you please give us some insight into your experience of working with, and your general thoughts on Jim and Martin as a guitar combination?

The two guitars create a very powerful dynamic, almost becoming one superhuman ingredient.

• What, beyond their radio hits, did you know of the band before you agreed to produce Breathe? Was there anything in particular that was appealing to you about the opportunity to work with the Oils?

When I met them they all just seemed like really down to earth decent chaps!. And they first introduced me to Australian Pies!

• Once you agreed to produce the album, what sort of discussion or planning with the Oils too place in advance of entering the studio? I’m curious as to what happens between “yes, I will produce this” and commencement of the actual recording process.

We had to agree on the process. They wanted to do it quite "live off the floor" That entails certain technical challenges that I made them aware of.

• How fully-formed was the material as the band entered the studio? Were there particular aspects of specific songs or the album as a whole that really only took shape once in the studio?

Much of the material was in pretty solid form prior to recording, but there certainly where some left turns along the way once we began.

• Can you talk a little bit about what you hoped to capture on this album, in terms of sound, atmosphere, message, etc.

I think the idea was to document the band where they were at that point. They'd been off the road for a while and other things were of interest, particularly Peter’s political interests, as well as Rob’s budding musical aspirations.

• What aspect of the album were you most pleased with?

We certainly captured some good aspects of the live feel of the band.

• It was clear from activities around their prior album that there wasn’t going to be a lot of record company support for this album, at least in terms of pushing singles for radio airplay. Did this impact how you or the band thought about the album during the recording process?

I think in a way it sort of freed up the band to focus on creativity rather than worrying too much about commercial expectations.

• Were there particular aspects of the Oils’ songwriting or overall sound that you thought were particularly strong or important, in that you wanted to make sure to leverage them on the album?

Yes indeed. The live sound was a big aspect of the album.

• Were there songs that came together particularly quickly, or that you and the band struggled to capture what you wanted?

Yes some came very quickly such as "underwater" and "now is the time"

• In my professional life, work on a particular project can often shape how I approach future work. Did working on this album influence your subsequent work in any way?

Yes it certainly did. For me I will always recall how impressed I was seeing the band play a small club and the power of that. That's something I think is worth remembering to keep in mind.

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On Sun, Jul 30, 2017 at 6:23 PM, Koala Sprint <koala.sprint@gmail.com> wrote:
Apologies for those of you on the Facebook page too but for those of you who are not......
One thing we can all agree about Breathe is that it's the most divisive album in the Oils catalogue. Malcolm Burn, the producer has very kindly agreed to answer our questions about the writing and recording of the album. If you want a question answered just respond to this email before Friday 4th August. Unlike Giffo, Malcolm will choose the questions he wants to answer (this was my suggestion so as not to put him in a difficult position when someone asks something stupid like "why did you ruin Midnight Oil?), so don't get annoyed if your questions don't get answered. And before anyone asks, I don't have a hotline to everyone in the Oils world now. I just asked him on Facebook 😀. I'll post his responses once I hear back.