Interview with Mathias Kom of The Burning Hell

If you don’t know them yet, The Burning Hell are the vehicle for Mathias Kom’s intelligent, brilliant and often hilarious songs such as last year’s classic ‘Fuck The Government, I Love You’. The Canadian band were back in Brighton last month to promote their new album ‘Revival Beach’ with a sold-out gig at the Prince Albert. Brighton Source spoke to band leader Mathias.

Our interview was delayed as Mathias had had to go to the launderette to wash some clothes, an essential stop for a hard-touring band. The band’s Brighton jaunt was in the middle of a three-and-a-half months of gigs, about 78 or 79 concerts in all. Kom explains:

“I’m trying not to think about it too hard. The best thing is just to treat every gig like it’s the first show. If you’re flying across the ocean I feel you might as well make the most of it. Lots of bands just play a week and I never really understand that. Plane tickets are expensive. You might as well stick around.”

The Burning Hell are known as a hard-working band having released roughly an album a year over the last decade. Kom is so prolific he has already had a tribute album dedicated to his songwriting prowess. The band also hold the record for the most concerts played in a 24-hour period – ten gigs in ten different countries. We asked Mathias if he could name them all and he reeled them off:

“Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria, Italy and Slovenia. The driving was taken care of by a friend of ours. We had the easy job, we just had to play the gigs.”

Notwithstanding this unlikely-to-be-beaten continental record, England is also a bit like home-from-home. The new album ‘Revival Beach’ was recorded in Ramsgate. Kom explains:

“There’s a lovely little venue called the Ramsgate Music Hall. We played there a few years ago and met Al Harle there and really hit it off. Al has a studio, Big Jelly Studios, which he runs with his partner Mike Collins. So we recorded the album ‘Public Library’ there and then recorded the new album ‘Revival Beach’ there too. It’s the most comfortable studio. We were just there today, picking up some gear, and it felt like home.”

The new album was released at the end of September on German label ‘BB Island’. It’s theme is the apocalypse, Kom says: “Post-apocalyptic, pre-apocalyptic, there are all kind of themes on the apocalypse. I don’t want to make it sound darker than it is because it’s not a dark record. It’s quite a cheery record.”

The apocalyptic theme doesn’t stand out on first listen, except perhaps in the title of the song ‘The River (Never Freezes anymore)’, although like much of the album and the band’s music, the tune itself is upbeat and joyful.

Brighton Source thought the first song on the album ‘Friend Army’ sounded like it was written by someone who grew up in the Salvation Army. Kom clarifies that he didn’t but it was kind of what he was going for. Over a fast and furous riff, the lyrics come on like a warning to young people, that you can have all this freedom and enjoyment but in the end “you’ll love your job… you’ll love the army”.

“That’s about half of it. But I also wanted to write some kind of jingle or commercial for the army, imagining a General thinking ‘we’re not getting the kids, how can we appeal to the youth?’ and coming up with this song.

Brighton Source’s other favouite track is ‘Canadian Wine’, on the surface an amusing tale about a wedding crasher who throws up on the groom “a handsome paralegal named Kevin” a line that is brilliantly rhymed with “My limit is five, and I had had seven”. The song is fast and furious and gets a lot funnier. We had to ask Kom, how much of the song is true?

“Well, I’ve been that guy for sure. Crashing weddings is something that happens in Canada. Everyone knows someone who’s done that. But at the end of the song the wedding crasher …I try to keep it vague… but the main character ends up under the table with the bride.” A sample lyric: “Are you a guest of Kevin’s or a guest of mine? I said to be honest, I just came for the wine.”.

Kom explains: “But a big ‘flash’ happens outside. That’s the nuclear thing. Yeah, that’s the apocalyptic theme. Everyone dies.” We agreed that it sounded like a pretty good wedding.

Kom’s songs have a lot of great stories. About half the songs are completely true and about half are completely fictional, he says.

“There are not many songs where it’s a blend. It’s either all true or all made-up. To the extent that I will say on stage ‘this song is a true story and people laugh because the preceding song so obviously wasn’t’.”

There’s a Burning Hell song called ‘My Name Is Mathias’. “It’s just a series of facts about myself, but every part of that one is true,” Kom says.

Live, The Burning Hell put on one hell of an entertaining show. The band have been touring as a trio with Kom on guitar/vocals joined by Darren Browne and Ariel Sharratt. “Ariel has only been playing the drums since February. Darren has been playing bass for ages but not in this band,” Kom notes. All three switch around a lot, combining a worldly, folky vibe with fast-paced indie rock. Their song ‘Amateur Rappers’ for example starts with a riff borrowed from The Modern Lovers’ ‘Roadrunner’ and then stretches out to give space for all three band members to show off their excellent musical chops.

“On stage we play some acoustic stuff with bazouki and clarinet and then we do a garage band version of ourself because we like to rock out a bit too. It’s kind of fun to mix it all up.”

It’s true, that. If the apocalypse doesn’t get them they’ll almost certainly be back in Brighton next year and come highly recommended.

The Burning Hell played the Prince Albert, Brighton, 12th November 2017

Interview and photograph by Jon Southcoasting

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Jon Southcoasting

Jon Southcoasting photographs all sorts, including music, writes about things, as often as not musical, and sometimes plays his own songs too. He lives in Brighton.

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