A few years after moving to NYC, in 1999, Jankovich acquired a small, digital studio in Hoboken, NJ, and the Milwaukee native found himself exploring electronic music. Armed with a Groovebox, a couple of keyboards and a guitar, the songs he wrote strangely mirrored his new and old influences at the time--some sort of bizarre pairing of DJ Spooky and Paul Westerberg.
Occasionally, Jankovich would invite musician friends over to contribute to the tracks he was working on, and artists like LD Beghtol (Magnetic Fields/Flare), Hub Moore and members of the Mendoza Line would come by and offer their talents. (The beautifully breathy, melancholic voice of Mendoza Line’s Shannon McArdle graces both The Networks as well as The Finest Example.) Jankovich also found a kindred spirit in multi-instrumentalist Gerald Hammill, and invited him to be the first proper member of Burnside.
Bar/None took interest in their demos and in early-2003, released The Networks, the duo’s first full-length together. Burnside Project quickly added keyboardist Paul Searing to its line-up and began playing out regularly around NYC and the Northeast. Meanwhile, The Networks began charting on college radio stations across the country (including heavy rotation on Seattle’s KEXP), and received high praise in mainstream publications, earning an A- in SPIN and placement on Rolling Stone’s “Hot List.”
The album’s signature track, “Cue the Pulse to Begin,” would also become a hot commodity of sorts, bringing the band licensing deals via a major motion picture (The Medallion) and a theme song to Showtime’s Queer as Folk. The song would also become a top 40 hit on Japanese radio, and in March of 2004, Burnside Project flew to the Island Nation for a promotional tour, which triumphantly concluded with a sold out show at Tokyo’s Astro Hall.
Following their return to the States, the band spent the next year-and-a-half experimenting in their studio with new sounds and ideas. Jankovich became quite adept as an engineer and producer, while Hammill and Searing became integral to Burnside’s songwriting process, fully contributing to the melodies and arrangements.
By the following year, they released their third studio album The Finest Example is You.
The Finest Example is You
If there is an early clue that Burnside Project’s new album isn’t a simple continuation of their indie rock flirtations with electronic music heard on the Bar/None released, The Networks, the Circuits, the Streams, the Harmonies, it’s in the directness of their much shorter titled new full-length, The Finest Example Is You. From the buzz-saw keyboard introduction of the opening track, “Signs of Perfection,” to the scratchy, dueling guitars in “And So It Goes,” you can tell that the New York City trio’s follow-up is far more urgent in tone than the introspective, narrative approach of their last record. The guitars are turned up. The skittering, IDM-inspired rhythms have been streamlined into more danceable, four-on-the-floor beats, and the light-spirited samples and cartoon bleeps almost completely replaced by denser textures of synthesizer and organ. Even Richard Jankovich’s vocal melodies have gone from understated to upfront, deliberate and immediately catchy. These unconscious changes are a reflection of Burnside’s evolution from one person’s solo recording project into a full-fledged band.
There would be no way to recapture the earnest, almost lo-fi innocence of The Networks; Burnside Project’s new album marks a new era of sorts for the group. Mixed by Paul Mahajan, whose credits include TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Liars, Burnside’s electronic production is still prevalent, but The Finest Example is a much more diverse offering than their debut. Songs like “Get Better Soon” and the sweet melancholy of “Cynical Weathers” are hook-filled slices of electro-pop, while “Just Drop Off” and the propulsive dance punk of “One to One” show off the band’s rockier side. Elk City’s Ray Ketchum, who co-produced and played drums on The Networks’ “Cue the Pulse to Begin,” keeps the rhythm on the latter two tracks, as well as four others on the new album. Meanwhile, the orchestrated, slow-building “Another Way” and the psychedelic-tinged “What’s Said Was Spoken” are Burnside’s most ambitious offerings to date. All at once adventurous, cerebral and catchy, The Finest Example Is You is truly Jankovich, Hammill and Searing’s shining moment.
The Networks, The Circuits, The Streams, The Harmonies
The Network, The Circuits, The Streams, The Harmonies is the Burnside Project’s recording debut as a flesh-and-blood band, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Now that ’80s-influenced dance music has become the cutting-edge sound of the moment, Richard Jankivich and fellow multi-instrumentalist Gerald Hammill, who are joined on stage by keyboardist Paul Searing, have reshaped some of those vintage beats for their own disquieting purposes. “Cut and pasted and recut and refucked with” is how one critic put it. But they’ve ditched the overarching irony, the tongue-in-cheek/deadpan-chic attitude of the “electro” scene, for a collection of midnight confessions from a dark corner of the dance floor. The Burnside album is almost cinematic in scope, or at least indie-cinematic, evoking the kind of skittering drum-n-bass rhythms that jacked up the tension in Darren Aronofsky’s Pi.
Richard, who had toiled in Midwestern indie-rock bands during the early ‘90s, wanted the CD to be the result of a collaborative process, even though he had originally conceived The Burnside Project as a solitary endeavor.
“When I moved to New York in ’96, I made a conscious effort to rediscover electronic music and I explored the new sounds of the times: drum-n-bass, trip hop, turntablism, hip hop and IDM. Around ’99, looking for a creative outlet, I made a decision NOT to create another indie rock band with the traditional foursome format of drums, bass, guitar and voice. I really wanted to fuse different styles deliberately, even if they clashed.”
But, by early 2001, Richard realized he could benefit from “the intervention of other people.” When Gerald Hammill, a webzine contributor and employee of uber-indie record store Other Music, came to one of Richard’s shows, he got more than just the story he was planning to write. Richard realized he’d found a truly kindred spirit and invited Gerald to join him in the studio. It helped, of course, that Gerald was already a guitarist, keyboard player, a veteran of several indie bands, and a deejay with a serious record collection.
Richard recalls, “When Gerald came over and we played around, it seemed clear that he was the perfect match for evolving Burnside.”
“After our first meeting, I thought we really clicked well,” Gerald confirms. “I contributed a lot more than I had anticipated. Early on, we developed a trust in each other’s taste and we were constantly bouncing ideas back and forth. Next thing you know, I’m a full-fledged member.”
"In May 2001,” Richard explains, “Gerald and I decided to record some new material, and we invited friends from other bands to stop by and add some stuff. In exchange, we filled their bellies with pretzels and beer.”
Probably the key figure in these sessions is Shannon McArdle of the Mendoza Line, who lent her beautiful, haunting, and sometimes twangy vocals to five of the songs. Another key contributor was Hub Moore, whose baritone voice clings to some of these tracks like molasses on a cold day.
These studio-mates, had more in common with the Burnside Project than just an affinity for pretzels and beer. The Mendoza Line -- whose guitarist, Pete Hoffman, also joins Shannon on this disc -- have been working their own world-weary changes on the Replacements-to-Pavement canon, while solo artist Hub Moore’s soft, melancholy vocals have been an important component on the soundtracks to Hal Hartley’s excellent American indie movies. In addition, Ray Ketchum of Elk City co-produced and remixed two of the tunes, and also did a bit of drumming. Bar/None owner-operator Glenn Morrow swears he's the executive producer of this thing and even contributes some of his own guitar stylings, thereby setting a new standard for label involvement
“The record really evolved over the course of a year,” says Gerald. “We probably spent as much time experimenting with sounds and reconstructing arrangements on the computer as we did recording the basic tracks. The album is totally unrecognizable from the early mixes, but we were able to take the songs where we wanted them to go.”
“The album was influenced greatly by American authors and filmmakers who spun stories of paranoia, insanity, and the general breakdown of the American mind,” Richard continues. “Each song in some way deals with feelings of disillusionment and, particularly, insane paranoia….There’s a strong undercurrent of that old ‘man co-existing with machines’ theme, but I think the lyrics state all of this much better than I can.”
Inside the package are liner notes that amplify and underscore the themes of the record. This purple American prose comes courtesy of well-known author Rick Moody, who chose to write under the nom de plume of Tyrone Duffy. “The liner notes are the most wonderful thing in the world to me,” Richard confesses. “Tyrone took the album and wrote an actual response piece based on the songs and the lyrics. If you read along while listening to the album, you’ll find his textual analysis adding to and reacting to the songs themselves.”
With the recent addition of Paul Searing as full time keyboardist, the Burnside Project will continue to expand and experiment, taking its show well beyond the borders of Brooklyn and Manhattan. Check in with www.burnsidemusic.com for upcoming dates. You might also hear their songs on MTV’s The Real World and Road Rules. And you’re guaranteed to find Burnside’s songs lodged firmly in your own imagination. The Networks, the Circuits, the Streams, the Harmonies is utterly original, very emotional, sometimes funny, and more than a little disturbing. Plus it has a good beat and you can dance to it.