PUBLISHED IN THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR THURSDAY, OCTOBER 12

 

PREGNANT WITH IDEAS

 

BY NICK KREWEN

 

It's only an empty dance floor, but the chasm between PREGNANT, MALCOLM BURN's latest musical endeavor, and his audience is a telling one.

Although new wave disciples will never forget Burn's first musical success as songwriter and singer for the sorely under-appreciated romantic pop quintet BOYS BRIGADE, his stage appearances as a front person have been rare since he was scooped under the wing of Hamilton producer DANIEL LANOIS in the mid-80s and installed in The Lab, located at an old warehouse on Wilson Street, to develop his production and engineering chops.

"For me, the situation in Hamilton was really a great education," Burn would say the next day at his record company headquarters.

"It was an opportunity to work in practical, real terms obviously thanks to Dan, BOB, JOCELYNE and JILL and everybody, to actually keep doing something that would maybe be heard, but doing it in a fairly minimal way with really good gear -- the best. I didn't realize how spoiled I was at the time."

Since working with Lanois on breakthrough BOB DYLAN and ROBBIE ROBERTSON albums, Burn's reputation as a visionary producer has grown in leaps and bounds with assignments overseeing such brilliant records as JUNKHOUSE's Strays, JOHN MELLENCAMP's Human Wheels, IGGY POP's American Caesar, THE NEVILLE BROTHERS' Brother's Keeper, and PATTI SMITH's latest opus, Gone Again. His star is about to be catapulted even higher with the release next week of Breathe, MIDNIGHT OIL's first new album in three years.

As a performer, Pregnant marks the first selfish artistic avenue since Burn's 1987 solo album Redemption -- another candidate for the category of "sorely under-appreciated" -- and on a recent Tuesday night at Toronto's venerable Horseshoe Tavern, expectations were high, if not great.

Although the music on Pregnant's new album After Dinner Mints is stark and minimal , Burn and his three co-horts -- guitarists CRAIG ROSS and JEFF TREFFINGER, drummer BRADLEY WISHAN -- have already mutated and beefed up some of the arrangements. Ross and Treffinger squeeze the notes to clash with Burn's anchoring bass lines. Drummer Wishan waits for visual cues from the leader as he peppers steady beats with assorted polyrhythms. The crowd's response is warm and polite...but nobody dares to cross the dance floor for a closer look.

They continue to watch from a respectable distance.

The next afternoon over a cup of coffee in the kitchen of his record company, an unassuming three-story bungalow casually north of the trendy College Street Italian district, Burn is sitting with Austin-based co-writer Craig Ross and discussing Pregnant's birth.

"The music business really isn't that big, especially in certain areas of music, people just sort of gravitate," says Burn, who is now based in New Orleans. "I started working with LISA GERMANO, and Craig was sending some tapes to her. She recommended I should check out his songs."

That was four years ago. Craig's previous band, STORYVILLE, was in New Orleans and dropped into Kingsway Studio Lanois and Burn during the For The Beauty Of Wynona  recording sessions. A year later, Burn and Ross hooked up again to work on CHARLIE SEXTON's Under The Wishing Tree.

"We wrote some more songs together, and thus Pregnant was conceived," says Burn. "Originally, when Craig and I first started writing together, I was really excited about it and thought we should form a group. Not a group, but something we could work like STEELY DAN where there's other people involved, but it somehow retains its anonymity."

Burn says Pregnant allows him an outlet for his production frustrations.

"A lot of the times when we were working on this record, I'd be doing a lot of things personally that I wasn't allowed to do when I was working with certain people," he explains. "I'd break all the rules I felt I was having to adhere to."

On After Dinner Mints, some of those broken rules include an omission of instruments and technological toys.

"The record is quite minimal," says Burn. "It's not overly produced. That wasn't a conscious decision. I've always thought that if you could have one instrument doing everything it needs to do, you don't need more.

"Hence, there are some songs that don't have bass because it didn't need it. So that was somewhat liberating."

At present, Pregnant is choosing between a possible cross-Canada CRASH TEST DUMMIES tour or Burn heading to California to work with Lanois on the new BOB DYLAN album. A U.S. release isn't pending, because Burn wants his baby to grow and breathe naturally.

"Whatever happens, happens the right way for the right reasons," says Burn. "That's become really, really important to me, because I've seen a lot of stuff about how to make records and build a career, and how not to make records and how to ruin a career. So if it never comes out in the States, then it was never meant to be.

"We just wanna keep doing it, because I've got billions of ideas and it's nice to know there's some other place where my ideas can actually exist."

-30-

DISCOGRAPHY

1983 -- Boys Brigade -- Anthem

1994 -- Redemption (solo) -- Anthem

1997 -- After Dinner Mints (with Pregnant) -- Handsome Boy

AS PRODUCER

1988 -- Blue Rodeo, Diamond Mine -- Warner

1989 -- Crash Vegas, Red Earth -- Warner

1990 -- The Neville Brothers, Brother's Keeper  -- A&M

1990 -- Iggy Pop, American Caesar -- Virgin

1993 -- Lisa Germano, Happiness

1993 -- The Devlins, Drift

1993 -- John Mellencamp, Human Wheels -- Mercury

1993 -- Junkhouse, Strays -- Epic

1994 -- Lisa Germano, Inconsiderate Bitch

1995 -- Giant Sand, Glum

1995 -- Junkhouse, Birthday Boy

1995 -- The Charlie Sexton Sextet, Under The Wishing Tree

1995 -- Chris Whitley, Living With The Law -- Columbia

1996 -- Pregnant, After Dinner Mints

1996 -- Patti Smith, Gone Again -- Arista

1997 -- Midnight Oil , Breathe

1997 -- Archie Roach, Looking For Butter Boy

1998 -- Sinead Lohan, No Mermaid

1999 -- Tara MacLean, Passenger

AS ENGINEER AND CONTRIBUTOR

1989 -- Bob Dylan, Oh Mercy

1989 -- Daniel Lanois, Acadie

1989 -- The Neville Brothers, Yellow Moon

1993 -- Daniel Lanois, For The Beauty Of Wynona

1996 -- Lisa Germano, Geek The Girl

AS CONTRIBUTOR

1998 -- Willie Nelson, Teatro

 

THANKS: JEFF ROGERS, SANDY ROGERS, DOUG FOLEY

©1997, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink

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