I had the pleasure of interviewing Maxim and Alex of New York City's Burn Books - one of the most challenging and artistic young labels in sight. This pairing are a serious inspiration; putting out records, publishing the written word, releasing art and helping to promote shows around the Brooklyn and Manhattan area. If you're not familiar, you should head on over to www.burnbooks.org to acquaint yourselves with everything they've been doing for the past two years 'cause they ain't gonna stop for you to catch up
How did this DIY venture into all things expressive and artistic come about?
Alex: Maxim and I have been buddies for a while...we’re both really into punk/music as well as other kinds of art. We initially conceived Burn Books as a way to help promote and sell our friends’ artwork...there is so much mediocre crap out there getting attention we wanted to help get the word out about things that are actually good.
Max: I think the two major things that really got Burn Books rolling for me where when it was time for Pregnant to put their LP out and talking to our friend Dennis McNett. We'd been friends with everyone in Pregnant for years and before we even heard that record we knew we had to put it out. Around the same time I was hanging out with Dennis and looking at all his awesome sculptures and prints and he was just talking about his philosophy of getting his art out there. It was not just DIY but it was punk too and it was really a breaking point for me where I knew there was no reason we couldn't use that same approach we also grew up with and apply it to all sorts of art.
Considering that you're both artists in your own right, though not musicians, how could you describe your link to the New York music scene? Is it something you've grown up appreciating?
Max: We both grew up in NJ and started coming in to NYC in the late nineties to go to shows at CBGB, ABC, or wherever else. I think we were both probably just as interested in punk/hc as we were with art. It's probably every 15 year old punk kid's dream to own a record store and Burn Books is similar in idea, it just goes beyond music.
Alex: Both of us moved to Brooklyn to attend college about 10 years ago and have always stayed active in the “scene.” Max booked shows as a part of Team Narc in NJ, and later had a punk house in Bushwick called Crewtonz that I think was one of the first sparks of the scene that’s going on now. It’s guess kind of a cliche, but it really is a loose knit family of people doing bands, putting out records, and booking shows.
The sheer volume of fresh young talent in the city and within the confines of Brooklyn is staggering. What do you think of acts such as Wet Witch, Brain Slug, Dawn of Humans etc?
Max: All those bands are great. I think the best thing about NYC punk right now is that it isn't like all the bands that are good are trying to sound a specific way. You know, it's not like there is one awesome band and then 10 others trying to sound like them. It's probably more diverse now than it has been since I started coming to shows here and as long as it's both diverse and good there is nothing to complain about.
Alex: All those bands rip! It’s nice to listen to heavy and aggressive music that is still original and coming from people with good taste that are actually thinking about things. It’s a shame that this is such a rare thing nowadays.
In my opinion, New York is the hub of all things original and exciting right now, specifically the Hardcore scene. Would you go as far as to say that New York holds the throne in 2011?
Alex: I don’t leave the city too often so for all I know there is a sick hardcore scene in some shitty town I’ve never heard of that blows NYC away...but there is something tangibly exciting going on here. All these people are maniacs. Toxic State Records is the best punk label around right now.
Max: I think people have a natural attachment to wherever they are from in terms of thinking of what is going on there is so great and interesting but I'm really trying to take a step back and think of it from an outsider perspective and the NY music scene is really great right now. Don't get me wrong, there are probably about 3000 shitty bands trying to make it, but I mean, come on: The Men, Crazy Spirit, Dawn of Humans, Hank Wood and the Hammerheads, Wet Witch, Perdition, Anasazi, White Suns, Population 1280, Rosenkopf, Night Birds, Pygmy Shrews, Dream Police, American Sun, Nomad, Bortgang, Brain Slug, Zatsuon.... I can keep going.
The New York Rules compilation was fantastic, how was that project birthed and how did it feel to put that out and become a sort of rallying point for an entire scene?
Alex: We felt it was important to document a little piece of what’s been going on here and help get the word out about all this great music.
Max: Thanks. We just thought there wasn't a really good NYC comp in a long time and wanted to have it be diverse but also make sense. I think the goal was for people to buy it only knowing some of the bands but not fast forward through any of it either. I dunno if we accomplished that with everyone but it's cool to read some review of a band's record that's from the tape saying something like ... I first heard this band when I bought NY Rules mostly cause this other band was on it....
What do you think it is, intrinsically, that allows the Brooklyn / New York scene to coalesce in the way that it does? I mean how does the out and out melody of Night Birds and Pregnant, the untethered wildness of The Men and the forceful scumfuck craziness of White Suns manage to live together so well?
Max: Part of it is just the sheer amount of people playing music. I mean, you can probably have a Friday with one show with The Men, another with White Suns, and then a third with Night Birds and all 3 would have good turnouts at them but it also wouldn't be as cool as if those 3 bands just played one sick show together. I also think a lot of it has to do with the attitude of the people in the bands just being fans of music and not concentrating on what sub-genre their band fits in.
Alex: All those bands might sound different, but they are coming from people that grew up going to the same shows and listening to the same records. Punk kids here seem to be more open to different styles of music and getting weird with things. Living in New York you are exposed to so many different kinds of cultures and people it kind of forces you to be open minded, but it’s also so hectic here it makes you insane.
Are you guys in this for the long haul? What can we expect next from the Burn Books collective?
Alex: I’d really like to cash out and buy property somewhere out in the midwest to prepare for the oncoming collapse of society, but until then we’ll keep putting cool stuff for people with outstanding taste.
Max: All of our upcoming releases will be $100 and come with autographed head shots of the two of us.
We have the Wet Witch 7", which will be out by the end of the year. NY Rules II which is in it's very beginning stages right now as we just started talking to the bands. We're doing 10 different commissioned silk screen prints from NY area artists which is kinda like the idea behind the NY Rules tape but in fine art form. We have the HC Gig Volume zine of fliers which is a bit delayed right now but we'll get back to it. We're doing a new section on our website of live recordings from NY shows we go to which should be a cool way to archive the scene right now. There's tons of stuff and not enough time to get it all done.