Published on September 26th, 2012 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Jack Burg Puts All Four Limbs And More Into Punks&Snakes
Longtime Charleston musician Jack Burg feels comfortable in any setting as a drummer, whether it’s behind a full kit at a live-band heavy metal karaoke show, on a battery of percussion instruments with a Cuban-styled instrumental band, or keeping time with a funk/soul combo.
Burg started playing drums when he was 10. He picked up the guitar when he was 13. He developed his technique while living in Columbia where he jammed on a variety of punk, soul, and rock styles with friends. Since moving to Charleston in 1996, he’s kept time and recorded with a staggering array of local artists, including songwriters and musical scientists from the Chord&Pedal collective and the Shrimp Records family.
These days, Burg is at ease when he performs as a one-man band in which he handles drums, electric guitar, and vocals all at once. His current solo project is not “Punksand Snakes,” “Punks and Snakes,” or “Punks & Snakes.” It’s Punks&Snakes. Metronome got a hold of Burg this week. He told us the truth about it all.
Metronome: It seems like Punks&Snakes gradually evolved out of your own songwriting efforts outside of the various bands you’ve been involved with. Did this project start out as a solo recording endeavor and then take shape as a “one-man band?”
Jack Burg: You hit the nail on the head. No matter what bands I’ve played drums in, I’ve always wanted to write at least one great song to be able to call myself a songwriter. This aspiration started me writing tunes around age 19. When I moved back to Charleston in 2004, I began to pick up the pace, finally getting my hands on a multitrack recorder in 2005, which really helped with writing. The one-man band is a relatively new development.
Metronome: What was your first proper band, and when and how did it form?
Jack Burg: My first real band formed in 1987 in Columbia. We were called Kindread Soul. I was expelled from private school, and when I transferred to a public school, I met and started hanging out with a lot of dreads, punks, hippies, and freaks. Out of that, and a real OCD for Bad Brains, Kindread Soul was born.
Metronome: When and how did you expand your skills as a multi-instrumentalist? What are the instruments you can handle these days?
Jack Burg: Mom got me started on drums. Dad on guitar. We always had a piano in the house. Whenever I see an instrument, no matter what it is, I feel compelled to pick it up. These days, I’m playing a good bit of ukulele, guitar, Casio keyboard, conga drums, drum set, and vocal chords.
Metronome: What kind of punks and what kind of snakes are you dealing with?
Jack Burg: Punks&Snakes is a reference to my childhood. We played with a lot of fireworks when I was a kid. Ripping them open, emptying the contents into a metal can and lighting it. Bottle rocket wars, etc. A punk is an incense-like stick used to light a fuse. A snake is one of those black wormy things that you light and it protrudes from who knows where until it goes out.
Metronome: The first time I ever saw and heard you on the drums was in the late ’90s with SKWZBXX. That was pretty rockin’ ska/reggae-tinged stuff. Since then, most of the bands and projects you became involved with over the years sounded totally different from each other — from spare, experimental pop to complex, aggressive funk-rock. And then there’s the Metal Monday Band. And Garage Cuban Band. So when you boil it down, what kind of a drummer are you?
Jack Burg: A working one. Let’s hope it stays that way. I attended Drummer’s Collective in N.Y.C. years ago. There, I learned the importance of being able to play different styles. If you’re versatile, you’ll always have work.
Metronome: When did you first perform in public as Punks&Snakes with the one-man band set-up of you handling the kick drum and high-hat with your feet and the electric guitar and Casio keys up top?
Jack Burg: Probably sometime in 2011. It was at the Tin Roof, opening for one of my other bands, Garage Cuban Band I think. I remember I did an a capella version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.” I also did “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” by Prince. It was a while ago.
Metronome: Why stick with the solo set-up? Would it be easier to hire a backing band? Or is it prohibitively expensive? Or have you somehow offended so many friends and colleagues, no one’s willing to sign on?
Jack Burg: You have again hit the nail on the head. But seriously, I’ve done a few Punks&Snakes sets with a backing band, usually my Shrimp Records comrades. I like playing alone. It’s terrifying. I like to terrify myself,
Metronome: What’s the trickiest thing about playing drums, guitar, and singing simultaneously?
Jack Burg: Probably playing drums, guitar, and singing simultaneously. I don’t know … not thinking about what you’re doing? Everything seems to fall apart when that happens.
Metronome: What other one-man band acts have inspired or influenced Punks & Snakes?
Jack Burg: Reignwolf. Jon Brion. Joel T. Hamilton.
Metronome: Didn’t Joel T. Hamilton rip off your act as Mechanical River? He plays the kick drums and high-hat while standing up, which requires a great sense of balance. You recently added a snare drum on its side to your kit. Cary Ann Hearst seems to have been lured into the simple kick-and-snare thing. Have you started a trend?
Jack Burg: Joel gets all his stuff from me. We have weekly meetings via fax machine where he asks my opinion of his next project or creative endeavor — everything down to his red shorts. It’s lucky we’re bros because if we weren’t, I might have to give him a lesson in advanced drumming technique. As far as Cary Ann goes, she’s another. I actually stopped singing in my natural voice because Cary Ann stole my style. What can I say? I’m a trendsetter.
Metronome: Have you made plans to release a Punks&Snakes album this year?
Jack Burg: I would love to say that a Punks&Snakes record is coming out before Santa Claus gets to town, but I am not going to. The rest of this year is pretty busy for me. I have started recording with the help of my good buddy Paul Bannister. Hopefully something will come out someday.
Metronome: You’ve mastered the rendering of numerous obscure and rarely-covered ’70s and ’80s hits. It seems like plenty of long-forgotten mellow gold of the ’70s and cheesy Top 40 of the ’80s make it into your live shows. Were these songs you loved as a kid?
Jack Burg: Your intuition as an interviewer is downright creepy. Yes, the songs I cover are the songs I loved as a kid. I still love them. My top five covers to play at a Punks&Snakes show are “Africa” by Toto, “Young Turks” by Rod Stewart, “The Breakup Song” by the Greg Kihn Band, “Overkill” by Men at Work, and “When U Were Mine” by Prince.
Metronome: Where is the spirit of Chord&Pedal in the Charleston music scene these days?
Jack Burg: I believe the spirit of Chord&Pedal to be hiding out in a small lean to on the property of Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner. Or holed up on James Island with the worst sinus infection known to man. Whatever the case, much like the Punks&Snakes record, all we can do is pray for its appearance.
Metronome: What might be on the setlist at the Rocktoberfest event this week at the Tattooed Moose? Since the name of the bash refers to the German Oktoberfest going on right now, will you work in any songs by Deutsch rockers like the Scorpions, Accept, Neu!, Nena, or Kraftwerk?
Jack Burg: Funny you should ask. I’m planning a medley of “Balls to the Wall”/”Winds of Change.” You’re not going to want to miss it.
Punks&Snakes performs at the Tattooed Moose (1137 Morrison Dr.) on Sun. Sept. 30 as part of Rocktoberfest. The all-evening bash runs from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. with music on the deck and inside from Cary Ann Hearst (of Shovels & Rope), Sarah Bandy (of Local Honeys), Mechanical River (a.k.a. Joel T. Hamilton), Michael Trent (of Shovels & Rope), the El Caminos, Punks & Snakes, and the Lean Few. Admission is free.
Top photo by Adam Chandler.
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