Getting to know: BURNER HERZOG

BASED out of New York City, BURNER HERZOG have recently released their latest long-player, ‘Random Person’ (Take-A-Turn Records) with accompanying video for ‘Metric Halo.’

Formed by multi-instrumentalist Jasper Leach in 2015 as an outlet for some of his more overly ambitious recording projects, and inspired by Arthur Russell, Sun Ra and Paul Simon’s Graceland, the idea set out to make ‘impossible to play’ live pop symphonies.

“Herzog had been a solo act with other people brought in as a sort of pageantry for a few years when we were out in California,” explains Leach.

“I finished the album ‘Big Love’ right before I left for New York, and between that and the stuff the album was about – living in the Bay Area, unrequited love – I landed in my new home super depressed. I was nursing heartbreak by reading G.I. Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s ‘Tales to his Grandson,’ and that’s what ‘Random Person’ is all about, trying to nurse a broken heart by reaching for the stars.”

The video for ‘Metric Halo’ was shot in Brooklyn’s ‘Prospect Park’ where Leach wrote much of the album.

“I was looking for something that tied to the origins of the record and a feeling of the occult behind this album and this song in particular, hence the masks, sparklers and outfits,” he added. “I want people to get the sense of the song echoing off the expanse of Prospect Park in a profound way.”

While Burner Herzog may be somewhat tricky to label musically, they have previously been likened to the Byrds or Pavement.

“For the album I got inspired by walking around unfamiliar places, and in my head a lot of my music is geographical that way. The second half of the album mostly came to me while wandering around Prospect Park with no place to go. Similarly, things like ‘Sometimes It’s Hard to Break Free,’ I think of wandering around the Maspeth UPS depot in the freezing December cold, or ‘Memo To Persephone,’ finding my way back home from the industrial, vacant streets of East Williamsburg.

“I’m very proud of this record; in the end it is a celebration of life, and a celebration of the time I got to spend being creative with some of the most important people in my life, a time I didn’t want to end. I hope at least a fraction of that comes through to outside listeners.”

(Photo (c) Martin Bisi)

The album is marked by self-reflection, along with plenty of upheaval, disorientation, alienation, but also a lot of love, and an embrace of the spiritual.

“I didn’t even know if I wanted to make music anymore, but thankfully my friends had other plans and believed I would get them playing again as soon as I landed in town. Sam Weiss had played with Sonny and The Sunsets and Fresh & Onlys and was eager to get something going. My former bandmate in an old band Brasil, Mike Vattuone and I were walking down the street discussing old times and he said, “Let’s just do it.”

“Then I met Nick Freundlich, he was listening to the new reissue of Gene Clark’s ‘No Other’ moments after I had bought the same record. The next day he showed me ‘Gun Club,’ and everything took off from there. I had new inspiration, and after he let slip that he played a little, a new bass player too.

“We treated ourselves to having Peter Zummo, an amazing musical mind who worked with Arthur Russell and Lounge Lizards, come in and play trombone on ‘Bliss of Love.’ When it came time to overdub, another stroke of luck. Our keyboardist Alison Niedbalski, the only constant member besides myself across every Herzog album, just happened to be flying out to NYC that weekend. With minimal prep she added her distinctive parts to every song over a day and a half, with me using the remaining time to do half my vocals and my lead guitar parts while fairly inebriated and wearing the dress I wear in the band picture. 

“As far as plans for 2024, I want us back out on the road once things slow down at the studio in the summer. We did a nice little run in October where it showed me we have actual viability as a touring unit, something we never had before – too anarchic, by design. We have about fifteen songs ready to record, and at first I wanted to whittle it down, but now I’m thinking of keeping going until we have a triple album. 

“A triple album is a good way to get some attention – All Things Must Pass, Escalator Over The Hill, 69 Love Songs, etcetera. The material is leaning a lot more into rockist territory than the stuff on Random Person, but there’s a strong country influence along a lot of it.

“When we were on the road, half of what we listened to was country music. The songs are all a continuation of themes and stories from Random Person, but they’re a lot more like story-songs, and immediate both in sound and subject. I plan on calling it ‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,’ and it’s going to wrap up what we’ve been doing for ten years as a project before we move onto something totally different. 

“Everything we do has an element of melodrama, and an element of humor to it, because I don’t really know how to do it any other way. The Greeks would put on ‘Oedipus Rex’ but there would also be an absurd comedy the same night. I think that one kind of has to approach things that way.”

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(Photo (c) Collin McClutchy)

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