Aaron Mills Interviewed by Amy Jay Britton (Sept 20th 2019)
Guitar music becomes just a phallic object, that isn’t in itself interesting or rebellious. It’s about relinquishing those associations so that you can move on…
The swirling cacophony of huge sound that is Southampton’s Burning House is a force to be reckoned with right now. Having grabbed audiences both live and on record, this is a band not afraid to be ambitious and tackle things on an impressive, expansive level – not just sonically but in terms of the depth and issues that they are prepared to tackle. Fresh off the release of their latest incendiary slab of immersive reflection, “Her Vowel No,” I spoke to frontman Aaron Mills about what inspires and influences him.
You’ve got great cultural tastes/influences in general, so lets get a bit desert island here – what book, film and album have had the biggest impact on your music?
It’s hard to nominate just one book! But in the formation of the band, Yukio Mishima’s ‘confessions of a mask’ and ‘the sailor who fell from grace with the sea.’ Kawabata’s palm of hand stories.. and osamu dazai’s ‘no longer human’ figure highly, and, the more I think about it..Japanese literature in general. A particular work of pessimist philosophy by Thomas Liggoti ‘conspiracy against the human race’ infiltrated me in a profound way. The latter of which was cannbalised in the stunning first season of True Detective.
With respect to films, I cannot deny ‘Synecdoche, New York’ with its absurdly iconic burning house scene, definitely, among other things, reified the name in my consciousness!
But also enjoy the meandering romantic films of Tarkovsky and Malick.
The record that reinvigorated my love of songwriting was Red House Painters Second LP, otherwise known as ‘Rollercoaster’ but my penchant for sonic tapestries is almost certainly informed by Loveless and Siamese Dream.
Do you think geography and background contribute to sound at all? Has your Southampton backdrop, for example, helped “Anglicise” your American influences into your sound?
Definitely. Those roots go deep! Southampton is quite desolate and transient. People study and leave, and for those that remain, it is fair to say, they are a little more than fed up with the world. Since I don’t have that expansive American backdrop, I think our music is more insular in a way. Dense, concentrated, hyperaware of its usage of space. One needs to almost contrive a terrain that isn’t there! I think also fighting one’s cultural repressions is a recurring theme whether I like it or not. English people are defensive in a particular way, I think the fact we’re an island nation, protected by the sea, informs our psychology. Our response to what is ‘alien’ or ‘novel’ itself. Our ability to deal with those ‘phenomena’ defines our reailty….to get dangerously Freudian, there is a fear of what comes across or emerges from the ocean. On the left, and speaking as a leftist, I think the chief concern is what emerges from the subconscious that impinges on a consistent ego-identity… one arguably we are shorn of in our transient and precarious system. And for the right, it’s an existentiaI threat embodied in the physical. The right have never been afraid of making objects out of their loathing… though they are still plagued with cowardice. Both meet in the sense that often they do not know how to factor the ‘alien’ into their conceptualised vision of the world. I stress though, I am documenting… that is all. I refrain from emotional attachment to this adversarial struggle. I would prefer to sleep uninterrupted…
How do your interests in existentialism, psychoanalysis and the human spirit infuse Burning House?
Psychoanalysis is fascinating, I discovered the other day or rather chose to consciously acknowledge, that a primary reason the band is called burning house is likely because my first therapist was called Mr. Byrne. It’s impossible to deny this.. and it stands as the substrate layer to its conceptual vision. Because in that room I divided as a person and suddenly saw mirrors that weren’t there, but couldn’t rid myself of. From then on I likely sought concepts that resonated or brought attention to this idea.
The other night, having returned home from playing a sequence of shows, an alarm went off outside and I had no idea where it was coming from. It took me ages to notice that directly outside my window a house was on fire! albeit, with the flames predominately confined in the building. It all felt very surreal and dreamlike but indicative of my mindscape, which feels a sense of renewal and rebirth taking place at present. It also felt like God was having a joke! We are meaning-seeking creatures and with the great divisions happening beneath us, we more than ever want compelling, unifying narratives to rescue us from the nadir. Which has pros and cons, as this can choke and limit the artist who should be like the fearless explorer. Guitar music becomes just a phallic object, that isn’t in itself interesting or rebellious. It’s about relinquishing those associations so that you can move on. When someone mentions a ‘guitar riff’ we no doubt have an idea or ideal of what that means, but it’s just a sequence of notes that don’t need to adhere to these unspoken rules or staid context.
Your sound is huge and warm but uncompromising (in a good way!) How do you balance artistic risk, reward and the “need to be heard versus the need not to be heard?”
What a great question. You reminded me of the quote “In the artist of all kinds I think one can detect an inherent dilemma, which belongs to the co-existence of two trends, the urgent need to communicate and the still more urgent need not to be found.” That sums it up. I fear what issues out of me, but at the same time want to construct the world out of it! I think we convey things in music that is not possible anywhere else. The entrancing intimacy is sexual, transcendent, violent… anything you want it to be. You can resolve a deep entrenched conflict through the practice of art. It’s catharsis but it’s even more than that. It releases you from the mouth of darkness. Sometimes the solution is not in the mind, but in just simply breathing. In the body. The doing. We muddy the pool with our endless, fatiquing judgement. So my goal is to be truly present in my creations not speculating an audience that may or may not be there. I don’t want to compromise. I’ve gone too far to come back now.
Burning House’s Album “Anthropocene” is available on Bandcamp – you can find it here
They also have the upcoming live dates:
3rd October – After Dark Club, Reading
11th October – Smoke House, Ipswich
1st December – Bar 42, Worthing
Interview by Amy Britton. Find more on her archive or via Twitter as @amyjaybritton and Instagram as @amy.jay.britton