Interview: Burden Limbs

I always strive to be as creative as possible when I write about bands, but sometimes they do that job for me in a way that needs little embellishment. Burden Limbs describe themselves as: "a 6-piece swarm of jank post-psyche miserable bastard music working as a unit to explore extremity in all its facets, using their vast array of influences to create something that exists in its own unsettling dimension." I couldn't have said it better myself!

That description shows both the creativity and self-awareness of Burden Limbs, an outfit who don't produce traditionally heavy music, but strive to push their own boundaries and open up a musical territory that is dark, abrasive, intricate, emotive and highly enjoyable. Their last EP There Is No Escape, released in 2019, is a fascinating ride through the heavier sides of post-punk, shoegaze and noise rock. I spoke with founding member Chad to discuss the band's origins, their inspirations and what they are planning for the future, and it provided me with a wonderfully honest insight into this intriguing group.

Tell us about the origins of the group. I understand it started as a one-person project but has now expanded into a full band?

The beginning of Burden Limbs is me writing songs in my mum’s house when I was a teenager. At first I wrote music as ‘burnt-out’, then over time my sound started to change and my playing developed a lot and I wanted to start moving from acoustic stuff inspired by Johnny Cash, Nick Drake and Townes Van Zandt, to more band-orientated music. Originally, the music I was writing for band type stuff was basically very similar (I would later discover) to The Twilight Sad and when I bought Forget The Night Ahead in a HMV cause I liked the cover art, I scrapped the sound and started again,but they remain one of my favourite bands. I kept trying to push the sound in all directions and named the project Shizaru inspired by the story of the three monkeys of see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil...well, sometimes there’s a fourth which covers it’s genitals called Shizaru which means Do No Evil. I also discovered Sub-Rosa and The Body through previously titling the project those names and I particularly love The Body. After a while, I wrote the song Burden Limbs which summarised perfectly where I was at in that period of my life when I was about 18. The songs of this era would go on to form the first album of Burden Limbs ‘It Can Never Be Satisfied’, excerpts from which became ‘There is No Escape’ our first EP as a full ensemble.

After graduating from LJMU, I moved from Birkenhead to London and shortly after began looking to form a band. I first met Sam Birkett, our original bassist, at a HEALTH gig at Tufnell Park Dome in 2015, he had became friends with my older brother Jake through them both writing for Echoes and Dust. Over time Sam would become my housemate in a pirate ship-esque warehouse existence and I convinced them to play in my band. The next person to join was Rory Dickinson, I first met him as the new bassist for in violet, my brother Jake’s band of which Rory and I are still members. We quickly became friends and Rory wanting to relaunch his label Glasshouse Records agreed to work with me on releasing my demos as a cassette tape. Originally, I didn’t consider Rory for the band because two basses isn’t something that’s usually done but, having seen Gnod, Evil Blizzard and Taman Shud with more than one bassist, I eventually agreed that it’s fucking awesome having more than one bassist (Editor - fully agree with this, see Farer as a great recent example). Omar Zaghouani was the third person to join the band, we met at a gig that Sam and his For Breakfast bandmate Joe Thompson were putting on under the Multi-Storey banner, I invited him to watch me play as part with Gnod R+D the next day and upon him showing up we became great friends. We went from that show to the Echoes and Dust Christmas party and met up with Gareth Watkin who began increasingly coming to our rehearsals due to me and Gareth being good friends. Again, I didn’t consider having Gareth in the band due to us now having what I considered to be two guitarists in that me and Omar already played guitar. However, we once again decided to disregard norms and Gareth joined on guitar and later e-bow and loops as well. Omar’s role became that of lead instrumentalist playing whatever he arrives with on the day and always killing it. The last person to start playing with us was our original drummer, Oscar Hesmondhalgh, I’d met Oscar as a new housemate for our warehouse and he’d agreed to drum with us before I’d even met Omar but, it wasn’t until we were able to start rehearsing in Fat Tank, our old space, that he was able to play with us. 

Shortly before recording our first EP ‘There is No Escape’ Oscar decided to leave the band to focus on work and producing his own music, but he still came with us to record the EP which was super cool. This threw us into a loop for a long time, we had Rory on drums for a while and at our release show in 2019, we played as a four-piece line up due to Omar breaking his hand. Then after the show Ed (Edmund Dable-Heath) having watched us play a couple of times and being a good friend of Sam’s, joined the band on bass, kind of replacing Rory, we basically breakdown the bass as more effects-heavy punky bass and more raw funeral doom or jazz bass. We were hunting for a drummer for a long time but, after the pandemic hit in 2020, we finally found George Bailey, an old friend of Rory's that happened to line up as being able and very keen to play with us. Sam’s commitments to For Breakfast, work and life meant that they were unable to continue playing with us full-time so, Sam is currently on a hiatus but, we fully expect to be playing, writing, jamming et cetera with Sam to some extent in the future. 

When you started the project, were you focussed on a particular musical direction or concept?

Art as catharsis is one of the crucial ideas at the crux of Burden Limbs. I grew up loving music that I felt understood my pain. I loved music that spoke to my depression, trauma and anguish. I was raised on Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Nine Inch Nails, Bjork, White Zombie, Marilyn Manson, The Doors, Hawkwind and The Rolling Stones. My teens started with a Nirvana obsession that progressed into a Joy Division obsession. I never had any time for what was popular because for the most part it didn’t give me that spark of serotonin that hits me when I hear something that grips my suicidal ideation. I intentionally tried to soak up as much well-reputed music and movies and art and tv as possible in this period and started being increasingly hermetic. I feel more alone in a room full of normal people than I do at home with my albums and movies. That’s why all the people I’m close to are extremely neurotic because I find it extremely difficult to relate to neurotypical people. Music is how I express my feelings and Burden Limbs is therapy for me and for us as a band. Sometimes that bond causes friction and sometimes it creates magic. In our song Scorched Earth which we’ll be premiering in the coming months, we have a section we call the megazord, where we all unify into one huge energy out of a maelstrom of chaos and noise and it feels fucking epic. Literally. It’s like a power rangers battle sequence. I can listen to recordings of that song at any time when I’m alone and when that section hits, I feel like all of my best friends are right there with me. Increasingly now when we play, I feel like the charge of what they’re feeling and this pride to vocalise this collective release we’re having is fuelling me to somehow pull something further out from the abyss. It’s kind of like the dragon soul-bond orgy from Rick and Morty too. Our catharsis and our mutual love and support is the foundation of Burden Limbs.

Stylistically, I started off playing guitar by learning a lot of Johnny Cash stuff and that’s the style I’m most accustomed to playing and naturally gravitate towards, I like to try and do things differently whenever I feel I’m re-treading old ground though so, I do deliberately try and play in new rhythms, styles, time signatures, tunings et cetera. But the Burden Limbs swing is certainly Johnny Cash influenced. I’m also a huge fan of J. Mascis and play a lot of Dinosaur Jr. inspired chords (we share the same birthday too!). When I first started the band I wanted things that felt “sonically violent” which is actually how I originally described to Omar the show that I mentioned before (“the most sonically violent show in London”), I would say something akin to The Amazing Snakeheads or Gnod or early Nine Inch Nails. Very aggressive and in your face and pulverising. Relentless. But, realistically, I also wanted the band to be able to be acoustic or industrial or electronic or psyche or psychobilly or ambient. I didn’t always want it to be a band that’s why the six piece is usually referred to as the Burden Limbs ensemble because we also want to be able to do solo, duo, trio, quartet and even Burden Limbs Arkestra! It’s a like-minded collective. But, overall, I think we don’t want our music to be a particular style, we want it to cover all the myriad genre influences that we enjoy and realistically, we all have backgrounds where we’re exposed to a lot of music; myself, Gareth and Sam were all Echoes and Dust writers. Rory works in a record shop. Ed has been playing in bands for a million years and George, well, George now has an entire group of new friends slamming new music over his head constantly. We all like a similarly expansive range of music and none of us want to ever sound like anyone or anything else but, really we play what comes to us naturally and our continued revision of our music as well as our constant discoveries of new music causes us to naturally ooze out what we call “jank post-psyche miserable bastard music”. 

I like bands that re-invent themselves and bands that don’t really sound like anyone else or perhaps pioneered their genre and were so fascinating that everyone started aping their sound. I find that these bands tend to know who they are and what they have to say and that tends to lead to songs that cut me the deepest. I’m just chasing that first hit again, trying to find the goosebumps.

Cover art for There Is No Escape

Your early demo tapes have a particularly lo-fi aesthetic to them. Was this a deliberate choice or simply a result of circumstances?

A bit of both really, I like lo-fi music if it’s the kind of music that lends itself to low-fidelity. I think acoustic stuff tends to work nicely for lo-fi and Rory likes cassette tapes, I wouldn’t have released the demos in any other way, but realistically I think it was the best fit for us to do a tape. I doubt we’re gonna do any more tapes for a long time because the producers we work with are all amazing and I think it would devalue their work. For the first EP we had my brother Jake who is the manager at Strongroom, recording, mixing, producing the album at Shaken Oak farm in Oxford and then, Bob de Wit who produced Gnod, Radar Men From The Moon and others mastered it. We have a new live session coming out soon that we worked on with Carlos Mas and Ephie de Angeles at Strongroom Studios and honestly the work of all these producers and engineers is mind-blowing, we couldn’t be happier, there’s no one else on our list of producers to work with. There’s not some dream producer out there for me, so when it comes to their work I wanna hear it high quality through as good a sound system as possible and where physical releases are concerned, preferably on vinyl. I really want to just keep the standard of everything we do now as high as possible and keep trying to push higher, a vinyl release is one of my big goals for our debut LP.

The sound on your EP There Is No Escape is much more expansive, and I hear some punk and metal influences that weren't obvious on the demos. Is this down to the contribution of other members or just the natural expansion of the songs?

Well, I mentioned some of my heavy influences earlier but, I know for some of the guys there are definitely more black metal and grindcore influences. We’re really into Oranssi Pazuzu after hearing their latest album ‘Mestarin kynsi’, really amazing (Editor - my second favourite album of 2020!). But generally I think the six piece line-up and having two basses creates a lot of the heavy and then the subject matter and the emotional gravity of it amps it up a bit. I think the EP doesn’t really display the band’s sound as much anymore and our new concert film coming later this year should hopefully articulate our live sound better in terms of how much better I am at expressing myself in terms of vocals and also, just how the sound has changed since Sam has taken a break and Ed has joined and how it has changed with George on drums. I think we’ve really stepped our game a lot and I’m so proud of what we’ve got coming up this year. 

The does EP have a particular live energy to it even if, as you say, the sound has changed somewhat. Were you trying to emulate your live sound on the recording or vice versa?

This is down to my inability to play to a metronome! I was adamant about us playing live because metronomes drive me crazy. Jake more or less said that the only way to capture the cacophony of the band, he probably called it a shit blizzard or something, was to record it live... but, really, we didn’t direct Jake too much, I think when we work with producers we usually go based on how it feels and try and nudge them, but Jake influenced our sound massively anyway. As my older brother, he showed me so much music and gave me the acoustic resonator I wrote most of our songs on. His band in violet was a huge influence on our music and his production brought our sound to life in a much more nascent period of our life as a group. I think everything about that recording was done in a way that felt very much centred around us focusing on our bond as group. We all stayed together in a farmhouse and played together and and cooked together and ate together and smoked an insane amount of weed together. I think realistically, it all comes down to our catharsis and fuelling that by helping us get in touch with our friendship and be the blimbs and channel that into our music.

Your lyrics often appear quite dark and emotional, and seem to come from a deeply personal place. What inspires your lyrical content?

Struggles with trauma, anxiety, depression, grief. I just always found that the music that really hits the spot for me is music that is cathartic. I like fun music but listening to something like Talking Heads just never hits me like listening to Low, Songs: Ohia or Daniel Johnston does. I like music that feels genuine and honest, listening to people pour out their souls at how cruel and unfair life is... for whatever reason, that gives me massive rushes of dopamine. So singing about this stuff gives me a lot of catharsis and over time I’ve come to appreciate that the band gain some catharsis from forming the sounds alongside the sentiments of the songs cause they’re fucked up too. Gareth actually is the only other person that I’ve let write lyrics for Burden Limbs. Gareth has a solo project called Low Resident as well and they’re such a talented songwriter. I love Gareth’s playing style and writing how it’s developed with loops and how Gareth is now a great lead guitarist as well, in their own unique way. Gareth’s lyrics have similar themes but Gareth deals a lot more with self-loathing and mine is more fear and loathing. I hate being alive in an unjust world I didn’t choose to live in, full of pain and suffering and misery. I hate all of the bad aspects of life and I hate that I was raised to believe there was some unjust yet apparently holy god that decided that life for some would be torture and for others it would be bliss. Now I’m more mature though so I hate the 1% and organised religion as opposed to the Christian God. My mum keeps asking me to write happy music and I keep telling her that I’m incapable of doing that and that it would give me no joy.

Do you have a structured process for writing song lyrics or is it more free-form? And are there any particular lyricists who stand out to you as influences?

I tend to just write when I catch something kicking around in my brain. A phrase or whatever. It’s usually best when it’s coming from a particularly shit part of my life, but sometimes I’ll just write phrases down that speak to me or a line or whatever and later on when I’m writing I might incorporate some of those into something I’m working on because they’ll speak to me again at that time. I like to write late at night, it’s apparently 3:15am right now, so sorry if I’m rambling but my adhd means that I find it hard to focus and being tired helps me to just do one thing. Some of my favourite lyricists are Marilyn Manson, Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain, Ian Curtis, Jason Molina, Tom Morris (Her Name is Calla), James Graham (Twilight Sad) and Mark Linkous aka Sparklehorse. Mark’s lyrics are amazingly surreal and poetic, totally captivating. I spent a long time contemplating them and his song ‘Apple Bed’ is where I got the name Burden Limbs. The lyric goes “and burdened limbs of its weight to break and rot a whispered fate”. I misheard it as “Burden Limbs” not burdened Limbs. I wondered what it meant because his lyrics are so surreal. I figured it was about the body as a prison that anchors us to reality and pain and suffering. Could we not have instead been atoms or stars or sparks or trees. Things that just are and don’t want or need anything? That don’t suffer or abuse? Things with no care for all of the expectations and norms of something as toxic as society? Having totally disassociated from my body at the time of making the band, it really made sense and I think within the band it also speaks to our disavowal of gender norms and toxic masculinity. 

Live at The Windmill, Brixton, 2018 - photo by Jenny Robertson

The EP came out in late 2019, and I imagine like most bands your plans have been on hold through 2020. How has the pandemic affected things for you as a band?

Well, Burden Limbs thrives on misery. We feed on this kind of thing, it pushes us and drives us to work on this band even harder. If things were all good in our lives, we might not be doing this at all. I have no desire to ever make music for sake of it, I like to actually have something to get off my chest when I hold a microphone. But we were going to go into the studio in September, the pandemic fucked those plans up because some of us had to isolate and Gareth moved to Kent and things kind of went to shit for a while. Rory and I focused on working in demos for stuff we had written and developed a better in-depth understanding of structures rather than me being like “it’s this bit then that bit and then this bit again”. Then when we eventually started playing with George it was super easy to get him up to speed because we had everything worked out. Everyone  rehearsed remotely then we all came together during November lock down to rehearse and record a live session at Strongroom studios. We were supposed to play three gigs in 2020, including one with Telepathy at The Black Heart and now they have a fund raiser to stay open . I lost my job at the Lexington because of covid and now I’m unemployed and totally broke. They also have a fundraiser going, hopefully they’ll reopen so I can go back to work. But we have a lot of new stuff coming, we have a new member, photos, a podcast, a live session and more coming and we are better than ever.

(You can support The Black Heart here and The Lexington here!)

Once we come out of lock-down here in the UK, what are your plans for the rest of 2021?

Promote the stuff above. Hopefully, go and record the rest of our debut album, ‘It Can Never Be Satisfied’ and a couple of tracks for a split later in the year. We’re working on stuff with in violet, Low Resident, Driven By Machines. There’s gonna be For Breakfast stuff going on too. I also wanna do something acoustic at some point and we’re also gonna be looking for baby bands to help with their early releases on our label Glasshouse Records. We’re gonna keep working with new collaborators wherever possible and hopefully, by the end of the year we’ll play a gig, if not you’ll still be able to watch our scaled down concert film which I’ve been editing myself. 

Any final words?

I hope this wasn’t too long. I tend to write a lot. Brevity is not my strong suit. Also, sorry that there was nothing from the others this time, it gets really long with six or more people talking about each question. But, we would all like to say thank you to you Will and Wolves At The Drone Doom for featuring us, we’re all really keen to see more from this blog and I really appreciate your approach of seeking out and promoting new and small bands. We love anything DIY and we also love seeing people giving a chance to some unknowns. It’s a big part of what we wanna be doing long-term.

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