Mission of Burma
Mission of Burma
Formed in Boston in 1979, Mission of Burma helped to define an era of post-punk rock music. Considered by many music critics to be the best punk band to come out of Boston in the late 1970s to early 1980s, the group lasted only four years and through two singles, an EP, and one studio album before calling it quits in 1983. After a hiatus of almost 20 years, during which its influence continued to be felt through the covers of acts such as R.E.M. and Moby, the band reformed in 2001 and released its second studio album, ONoffON, to critical acclaim in 2004.
Mission of Burma was known in the early 1980s for its ability to play tuneful yet raucous punk at a time when that seemed like an oxymoron. With sophisticated lyrics about physicists and other unlikely subjects, the band pulled away from the then-popular flavor of post-punk music called new wave. The group also set itself apart with an innovation that was ahead of its time: the inclusion of a live DJ, Martin Swope, who added sonic effects from a soundboard.
At the end of 2001, three of the band's members came together for the first time in 19 years to play a concert in New York. As 2002 opened, they played two more concerts, one in New York and one in Boston. These gigs went so well that they booked more around the country. In 2003, Mission of Burma recorded its first studio album since Vs. was released in 1982.
Mission of Burma formed in 1979 when Bostonians Roger Miller (guitar), Clint Conley (bass), Peter Prescott (drums), and Martin Swope (soundboard) began playing in local clubs. The group quickly gained a devoted following, which expanded its range throughout the Northeastern United States. Two singles, an EP, and one full-length album, Vs., followed. The group was perhaps best known for the singles "Academy Fight Song" and "That's When I Reach for My Revolver."
On the verge of national success, the band split up in 1983 largely because Miller had developed tinnitus, a painful condition characterized by a ringing in the years and caused by frequent exposure to loud noises. The members of the group went their separate ways, but managed stayed in touch.
Conely went on to earn a master's degree in broadcast journalism, eventually finding work as a producer for Boston's ABC affiliate TV station. He largely dropped out of music, focusing on his career in television and on his new family. Miller stayed in the music business, composing for documentary and industrial films. In later years he became the keyboardist for a band called the Alloy Orchestra, which accompanied silent films at film festivals around the country. Of the three, Prescott stay closest to his punk roots, founding a succession of bands: Volcano Suns, Kustomized, and, most recently, Peer Group.
In the meantime, the group's impact on music continued to be felt. The single "Academy Fight Song" found new life in covers by the band R.E.M., and popular experimental rocker Moby's cover of "That's When I Reach for My Revolver" became a hit in 1996. Mission of Burma's legacy lived on in other bands, too. Groups like Husker Du, the Replacements, and the Pixies turned to the music of Mission of Burma for inspiration for their own compositions.
The reunion was set in motion in 2001 when Prescott invited Conley and Miller to sit in on a concert given by Prescott's band, Peer Group, at a New York club called the Knitting Factory. Conley found that he enjoyed getting back on stage after so many years away, and he began writing and performing music again as part of a band called Consonant. Later in 2001, Mission of Burma played its first concert in nineteen years, at New York's prestigious Lincoln Center. Concerts followed at the beginning of 2002, both in New York and in Boston. Offers began rolling in to play around the country, and what started as a lark turned into a full-blown resurrection of the band.
The members of the group were hard-pressed to explain why now, after all this time, they had decided to get together again. "Suddenly, it just seemed to make sense for whatever reason," bassist Clint Conley told the Providence Journal's Rick Massimo.
In fact, a number of factors contributed to the group's reunion. One of these was the publication of a book by music critic Michael Azerrad called Our Band Could Be Your Life, which documented the post-punk era in the early 1980s. The members of the band were flattered and surprised to find themselves included in the book along side such era-defining bands as the Minutemen, Black Flag, and Dinosaur Jr. "Perhaps," Miller told the Providence Journal's Massimo of the publication of the book, "it gave us a little extra courage."
Then too, the post-punk sound the group had helped to popularize in the early 1980s was making a comeback, ensuring that Mission of Burma would find a receptive audience among young listeners as well as those who were fans of the group the first time around.
At the time of the group's reforming, DJ/soundboardist Swope was living in Hawaii and was reluctant to uproot himself. In his place, in the band tapped Bob Weston, a former member of the Volcano Suns, to work the soundboard for their shows.
The revived band has proven even more popular than it was the first time around, and, according to Azerrad, writing in the New York Times, reentered the public eye at the top of its form. The band has also been helped the second time around by having friends in high places—many of the band's fans had grown into major positions in the music business. For instance, Gerard Cosloy, editor of a fanzine that lionized the group in the early days, and whom the band would often let in to its shows for free, became one of the heads of Matador, which became Mission of Burma's new label.
The group has consciously kept its touring schedule to just a weekend every three months, both to preserve Miller's hearing and to avoid undue strain on their other careers and their families. "I love my work, I love my family," Conley explained to Azerrad in the New York Times. "Once you start making it into real tours and stuff, I think a lot of the fun can go out of it."
In 2004, Mission of Burma released a new album, ONoffON, only its second full-length studio album, and the first since 1982's Vs. Critics lauded the group's new work, saying that the band had lost none of the fire of youth and had only gained a deeper resonance. The Daily Record of Glasgow's Barry Gordon, for instance, called the album's tracks "real fist-in-the-air works of genius."
For the Record …
Members include Clint Conley , bass; Roger Miller , guitar; Peter Prescott , drums; Martin Swope , soundboard; Bob Weston (joined group, 2001), soundboard.
Group formed in Boston, MA, 1979; released Signals, Calls and Marches EP on the Ace of Hearts label, 1981; released Vs. on Ace of Hearts, 1982; disbanded, 1983; released The Horrible Truth About Burma live album, 1985; got back together, 2001; released ONoffON on the Matador label, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Matador Records, 625 Broadway, 12th Fl., New York, NY 10012. Website—Mission of Burma Official Website: http://www.missionofburma.com.
Signals, Calls and Marches (EP), Ace of Hearts; reissued by Rykodisc, 1981.
Vs., Ace of Hearts; reissued by Rykodisc, 1982.
The Horrible Truth About Burma (live), Rykodisc, 1985.
ONoffON, Matador, 2004.
Boston Globe, May 2, 2004, p. N1.
Daily Record, July 9, 2004, p. 56.
Morning Call (Allentown, PA), May 8, 2004, p. D5.
Providence Journal, October 3, 2003, p. E6.
New York Times, May 2, 2004, p. 2.41.
"Mission of Burma," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (August 25, 2004).
Mission of Burma Official Website, http://www.missionofburma.com (August 25, 2004).
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