Roger Miller – he of Trinary System – and Peter Prescott – he of Minibeast – are sharing a bill with US Girls for what should be a killer show of avant-garde/noisy rock Saturday Aug. 8 at Out of the Blue Gallery in Cambridge’s Central Square. Miller and Prescott, of course, have shared many a stage over the years, most of them with Miller playing guitar and Prescott playing drums for Mission of Burma. They recently did this at Fenway Park, opening for the Foo Fighters. When Burma formed in 1979 by Miller, Prescott, bassist Clint Conley and sound manipulator Martin Swope, and went down in 1983 it was because of Miller’s tinnitus – something he’s now able to deal with as an electric guitarist. This allowed for the improbable Burma reunion of 2002 and the ongoing (if open-ended) status of the band. (One album, one EP during first incarnation; four in the second.)
Miller did lots of musical things in the missing Burma years, including Birdsongs of the Mesozoic and Alloy Orchestra (as keyboardist, a band he still plays with, writing/playing instrumental music to silent films) and the Binary System. (He recently joined Randy Black and the Heathcroppers as guest cornet player at T.T. the Bear’s final show.) Prescott has formed various editions of the punk-rockVolcano Suns and psychedelicized-punk band Kustomized. His latest project is Minibeast, an altogether different animal with Prescott on guitar, samples, keys, and vocals. “Keep in mind,” Prescott says. “I do these things as a casual layer on top of the rhythm section, not as a virtuoso display. But you knew that.”
Obviously, the linkage here is Mission of Burma – duh – so let’s start with something kind of obvious: Do you regard Burma as the mothership still, after all these years, and the Trinary System or Minibeast as spinoffs, offshoots or alternate projects?
Prescott: Roger recently said something in an interview about Burma being a “pivotal event” in his life – I am paraphrasing – I would say that for myself, too. That said, each musical thing you do has its own life to you, so Burma is not the “mothership” in that sense. But outside-looking in – the way others perceive things – of course, it is!
Miller: They’re just different. I mean, I was in at least 40 bands of rather wide variation before I was in Mission of Burma. Sproton Layer (1969-1970) is really my “Mother of all My Bands.’ If you really dig in, you can see why. Both Sproton Layer and Mission of Burma were essentially three-piece bands with “an added attraction. (Burma – tape loops; Sproton Layer – trumpet). And Sproton Layer is where I first came up with my approach to rock – the song “Up” from our “With Magnetic Fields Disrupted” album has quite a bit of Burmese DNA to it I think! On the other hand, it was Burma where those ideas matured and became manifest in the world. But I’ve always done multiple works. Trinary System is just another thing I’m doing.
What do you get from these projects you don’t get from Burma?
Prescott: Lots! I have found as time goes by, I have a lot less interest in the traditional idea of “songs.” I listen to tons of instrumental music where there is no “payoff” – guitar solo, vocal hook, wordplay. The whole thing is moving and standing still at the same time. So, Minibeast is based on that – the rhythm section revolving on one axis and the other stuff – guitar, keys, vocals, samples- on another and sometimes they interact. There is a freedom in it. Burma is actually tightly controlled in comparison.
Miller: Well, Burma has a very specific thing it does, no matter what we do. Trinary System, despite being me on guitar (oh no! Not AGAIN!), has a very different drummer and bassist, and this allows me to go places that Burma wouldn’t naturally go. It’s in many ways looser, and has less baggage attached.
Both groups, best as I can tell, are more into instrumental music rather than music w/ vocals and both are big on texture and mood. Not following traditional “rock” formats at all. Sometimes ambient, sometimes noisy. Can you talk about what you like about this style? Why it works for you?
Prescott: I think Trinary System has more singing and tight song structures, but we share a love of the groove. For me, believe it or not, this is still a type of punk rock. It’s supposed to be about fucking shit up, right? Whatever indie/punk stuff has become, the revolution seems to be long gone, so you have to make little revolutions.
Miller: I try to go directions I haven’t gone before is all. There are actually some funky and bluesy elements to Trinary System. I just like doing different kinds of research, and Larry and Andrew (drums/bass) help me do it in the band.
It’s funny to ask about commercial applications, because I know that’s where neither of you are headed here … but what type of listener to you envision when you think of who might enjoy this?
Miller: Whoever enjoys it.
Prescott: If you like rhythm and texture, like to dance and….umm……have a sense of humor, you might dig it. I never make music to be commercial or un-commercial.
Music for both of you, I think, has always been about adventure, about turning convention on its head, exploration. How do you do this in Trinary and Minibeast?
Miller: Do whatever comes naturally, things that I wouldn’t do in Burma or anywhere else. I also get a lot out of different players. Burma has a very incredible thing that happens – the same songs in another band would barely be the same songs. But so does Trinary System. I like that. … The band is less punk and more psychedelic than Mission of Burma (and also not nearly as loud), but it is in no way retro: the past can be incorporated, but now is now. Anything is game except nostalgia.
Prescott: I went into this in the other questions but for me, it’s all about a really fun PROCESS that I hope is entertaining to others!
A step-back question: With Burma having had this improbably post-break up run since reforming, how has that affected you? Has that success given you even more confidence to use Burma, in some way, as a building block for making other, different music?
Prescott: Just since reforming, Burma has played about 13 years – that’s our middle age into our old age! – it has been an incredible experience in every way.so it has ultimately affected my whole life positively.
Miller: I’m happy about how things unfolded in Burma, that’s for sure. It’s certainly lifted me out of being just “a legend” into being “an actual person”! That’s kind of nice.
Roger, I think I know the Trinary lineup – you, Larry and P. Andrew – but Peter, Minibeast has gone through a few lineup shifts, right? Who’s doing what now?
Prescott: The current group is me, Adam Autry on drums, Eric Baylies on bass. We’re a tad more aggressive and rock-ish, I suppose. All who I have played with in Minibeast, past and present, are really fascinating and cool players.
Miller: Larry Dersch is on drums: he played in The Binary System duo with me on keyboard. Now with P. Andrew Willis on bass and voice and me switching over to guitar and voice, we are obligated to change our name to The Trinary System. I am totally comfortable with these two guys, and they can not only keep up with me but add plenty of extra zonk and pizzazz.
Trinary web site (w/music):
Trinary’s version of Morphine’s LIKE SWIMMING:
Minibeast’s “High Sea”
Minibeast’s “Reaction Time” https://soundcloud.com/pprescottbeast/reaction-time
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