‘Never Better’ and Other Stories: Phil From the Burnt Tapes

Burnt Tapes – London, England, United Kingdom

'Never Better' and Other Stories: Phil From the Burnt Tapes.

It’s safe to say that London four-piece the Burnt Tapes have made quite the impression these past few years with their self-branded “regret punk” – that being, if you’re unaware that is, their own take on contemporary melodic and emotive Punk-Rock. The band’s releases to date have gained more notoriety with each passing play and with a recent tour to the homeland of three quarters of their ensemble and the debut full-length many people have been waiting for since 2014’s Wasted History and/or also staring fanatically at their copies of Alterations until it magically gave birth; it’s again safe to say their momentum is one unrelenting.

So with that, I caught up with Lead vocalist and Guitarist Phil L for the latest EN publication – ‘Never Better and Other Stories.’

So, before any actual semblance of conversation going somewhere takes hold -Why are there tapes? What are they? Why are they burnt? And who are you?

That’s a very good question, maybe there are no tapes and none of this is real. I am Phil, I play guitar and sing in the Burnt Tapes, and I’m almost certain I’m not real either.

Is this an interview? An observation of an existential crisis? Who knows? Anyway, it’s safe to say it all kicked off for the four of you this past year or so, most recently with the new album on the way and obviously your tour of Greece. How did it feel to go home and show them what you can do?

Haha probably a bit of both. Yeah 2018 was a bit of a milestone year… Going home and playing our first shows in Greece was kind of a dream come true. We actually weren’t even a band when we left, so we had never played out there. We were quite nervous actually for the first time in a very long time at the prospect at playing in front of all our old friends and family!

I wish I could have seen it. You toured with some great home-grown talent as well! How did you find yourselves and the dynamic of being in amongst the bills of Greek bands? Was it strange at all having your music career in the Burnt Tapes elsewhere? Do you wonder what it would have been like the other way around?

Was a very special night that’s for sure.

The tour itself was hit by swine flu (making a come back in Greece) and snow that almost derailed the whole thing!! The Overjoyed’s singer Leo was in the hospital days before the tour began and they only managed to play the Athens show after he made a hero’s recovery, snow cancelled our middle show, while Hoi-Poi got caught in a blizzard up north and never made it down to Athens. We were lucky enough we still got to play with both though – both excellent bands in various stages of their journeys.

We actually recorded our last EP in Athens with guys from the Greek band Despite Everything, and I think they definitely influenced our sound, and actually we fell in love with Punk, the DIY scene and bands like Lawrence Arms while we still lived back home. It’s interesting to look back and think what could’ve been, but I think the Greek scene had already left its mark on us.

Thats really very unfortunate but at least you were able to play with them both. Lawrence Arms, certainly a starting point! By mentioning them and Despite Everything, you’ve opened up the world of your influences to be questioned. But I won’t ask you that, have you found the band compared to any bands within the “gruff punk” (Term: Sarah Williams, Shout Louder, Circa 2018) scene or have the Burnt Tapes been described at all in any ways you’ve found unfavourable or strange either subjectively to your opinion or objectively? The world of music opinion is varied and strange phenomenon after all.

Nothing that stands out too much, most of the time I can see where people are coming from. Early Hot Water Music, Polar Bear Club, bands like that, or Spanish Love Songs more recently. Jawbreaker is one that gets mentioned which we find odd ‘cos we never really listened to Jawbreaker much (I know, right?). We were recently described as “pussy boy band shit”, not sure that’s unfavourable, but there you go. 

I saw that and that actually brings me on what I wanted to ask you. Punk is very much an emotional genre and has been since day one, despite some debate from those on the more “Hard boy band shit” side of the fence. How do you feel the Burnt Tapes fit into the contemporary scene? Less in regard to the varied styles of Punk music but more in where it is ideologically and what it chooses to discuss? With the “pussy comment” in mind what does it mean to you to be in a Punk band at the moment? Album questions to follow, I promise!

I suppose we don’t try to fit in somewhere specifically, but conveying emotions and the general theme of opening up about Mental Health is something we wouldn’t shy away from or stop, no matter how many people tell us we’re “pussies”. 

We’ve never been a band to really take a passionate stance on one topic or another, we’ve just tried to always be ourselves, be authentic in what we are trying to convey and express in our music, be kind and supportive in our daily interactions. I really feel like that is such an important part of being in a Punk band at the moment, it’s that sense of we are in this all together, that sense of community, togetherness, respect for your fellow human being. I think (and while there are exceptions), the rest of society could learn a lot from the Punk scene. 

Never Better

I think I have to agree with you from my perspective in the scene and similarly from a more objective stand point. I think all of your releases to date quite organically convey this ethos and the Gruff-Punk (Sarah Williams, Shout Louder, Circa 2018, Just In case you missed it) elements definitely feel very much the right method.

So, ‘Never Better’, the daunting full-length! Needless to say the above is very a key part of the album, generally and especially within Mental Health awareness/inspiration. By now you know I’ve listened to the record, so with that in mind, I must ask you bluntly, why such a name and was it a collective naming? 

I don’t want the title to be strictly perceived as something negative, or hopeless. It kind of stuck out to me as a title at some point while we were writing the record, as it dawned on me that the whole era from ‘Alterations’ (what I consider our first EP) to this record, has been a journey of discovery for all of us in the band really. That kind of crucial time where you are making mistakes, trying to learn from them – or suddenly society is all like, be “more adult” (whatever that means) and maybe you finally realise who you are/maybe you don’t, and the whole rollercoaster that goes with that. What I like about the title is its ambiguity, the record has its up and downs, and I think the title aligns with it, going from its darkest points of “this shit is never getting better”, to the light at the end of the tunnel “you know what, I’ve never been better”.

I have to agree on the ambiguity aspect. Approaching it first as a casual listener it is emotive at face value. Approaching it as “””””””critic””””””” only left me delving into said ambiguity. At what point did you know it was going the direction it eventually led to and how did you know that was the album you wanted?

We just kinda said we wanted to write a really honest album about stuff we’d all been through the last couple of years, and musically we wanted to try and step it up from what we had done previously and try out slightly different things. I think we’re just coming out of that ‘Alterations’ era, so the themes were always going to be similar, but I think if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s about learning to own your shit, so hopefully, that comes through?

In terms of the album we wanted, the goal was to write twenty songs and pick ten, we only wrote nine, and finished one-off in the studio. So if it’s not the album we wanted, it’s definitely the album we deserved.

Alright Bruce Wayne, calm down. In all seriousness, however, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there, musically it is both characteristically “you” as a collective but something moving forward.

Now, obviously, as a band, you all believe this is the best thing, the best effort and the album deserved but as individuals do you all share the same opinions on what the strongest and or weakest parts of the album are? I.e is one of you more focussed on one aspect of the record more so than others.

Haha alright, Alfred. I’m actually always quite pessimistic/critical about anything we create, always focussing on the negatives or the “what could have beens”, don’t think that would change even if we made the perfect record.

But… if I take a step back I think it’s fair to say we’re all pretty proud of this record.

I’m just looking out for you Mr. Wayne, it’s my job. So, the recording and writing process is what it is, you say yourself it wasn’t the album you wanted but what you deserved and you are in the end happy with it. So, with that being said, were there any notable negatives and or contentious issues during the process or was it as near to seamless as is realistically possible?

Nothing is seamless in the Burnt Tapes haha. We always have the best intentions but things just get away from us, and you can fight it all you want, but at some point, you need to just accept things for what they are. But the months leading up to this record were particularly intense, I’m surprised Jo (our drummer) didn’t stab me in the head with his stick for making him try out a million different kick patterns only to settle on the one he suggested in the first place, but hey, we got there in the end. Having said that, while we might have small debates on some of the smaller details, we’re actually most of the time on the same page about what we’re trying to do, and I think that’s pretty special in itself.

It’s good to see your honest attitude at its grassroots. That may seem like a throw-away statement but so many songwriters twist their own words into something grandiose but that really isn’t the case here. Ha well! Perhaps on the next release, he will be a little more forceful and in regard to being on the same page, band politics are never straightforward but again, it fills me (an avid music fan I suppose) with hope.

Right! So you’ve mentioned some names you’ve found influential and some you’ve been compared too, so I have to ask, are there any bands/albums within the BT’s camp that you fight over liking or disliking? And to extend that question, what’s the most trivial/humorous thing you’ve all disagreed over?

Well, Pan (guitar) has no time for Pop-Punk, and myself and Jo dabble in bands like Real Friends or State Champs, and Tone (bass) has no time for The Smith Street Band, whom the rest of us love, but again mostly we’re pretty aligned on the stuff we’re into, although we each have our own musical idiosyncrasies.

What usually happens is one of us discovers a band, recommends it to the other guys, everyone ignores the recommendation, then six months down the line are left wondering why they’ve been missing out for so long.

Most trivial thing…there were some weird things on this album actually. Initially, there was an idea to include either a six second song about drinking, or an 8-bit version of one of the riffs from a song. All of us at one stage or another had agreed it would be funny, and then had changed our minds and it all got a bit messy, until Daly George (the producer on ‘Never Better’) veto’d it. Thank god he did!

I lived on Smith Street in Melbourne for a time and could never get into them despite trying. Ah! That’s a very certain era of Pop-Punk as well, very niche.

Wow, well, I can firmly say I didn’t expect that. Maybe release another b-side EP for those ideas – ‘It was never going to get better if we did these’.

So then Mr. Wayne or Bat-Phil or whatever you wish your public persona and moniker to be, to sign off, is there anything you’d like to say to the people reading this? The release date for the b-side or Tapes-Mobile maybe?

You lived on Smith Street? No way haha – that’s awesome, yeah they have a weird and wonderful way about them, I can see how they wouldn’t be for everyone.

I kinda regret not recording more songs so we could actually drop some b-sides, but hey, maybe next time.

Burnt Phil, please. Just wanted to say thanks for the chat, thanks to anyone reading, look out for b-sides release ‘Better Never’, out never, and hope you enjoy ‘Never Better’. Peace x

Never Better is available to pre-order – Here (Lockjaw Records) and Here (Wiretap Records) now and will release on the 22/02/19. You can find EN’s review – Here.

Founder of Ear Nutrition, Matt is sadly over 30 and first cut his words writing for the now defunct site, Musically Fresh. He enjoys a variety of guitar-driven music but can usually be found navigating a web of Skate Punk, Hardcore and everything in between.