The Burning Hell ramps up the intensity

Sarah Smellie
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Band will celebrate release of sixth album ‘People’ at Rocket Room on April 13

Mathias Kom and The Burning Hell will celebrate the release of  “People” on Saturday at the Rocket Room at 7:30 p.m.
— Submitted photo

Mathias Kom is chuckling about his hectic schedule when a frantic beeping breaks out in the background.

“Oh, sorry about that,” he says as the noise subsides. “That’s my smoke alarm.”

He then carries on with the conversation as if nothing happened.

Kom is the founder of the band The Burning Hell, co-founder of Lawnya Vawnya: An Explosion of Independent Arts and Culture in St. John’s, and an ethnomusicology PhD student, and he’s in the middle of organizing a music festival, a CD release, a Canadian and European tour and finishing his last few classes.

Fire alarms? No big deal.

“People” is the Burning Hell’s sixth album, and it was recorded during another intense time: the band had just finished a two-month long tour of Canada and Europe, during which they set the world record for the most shows played in the highest number of countries in 24 hours.

“We knew that we would be in Europe and we also knew that it would be the Euro Cup, and that everybody and their dog would be watching football,” he says.

“So we thought we shouldn’t try to do shows during Euro Cup, we should make a record. We used the tour leading up to it to start performing new material and then we spent all of June in the studio and then about three or four days after we were done and we went on our world record tour.”

The Burning Hell is a much-adored indie rock band, whose sound incorporates everything from bluegrass and klezmer to straight-up rock ’n’ roll.

Kom sings clever, tongue-in-cheek songs in a baritone voice about plane rides and Jewish born-again agnostics. The roster of musicians playing alongside him constantly changes, depending on where in the world he is located and who’s available to play.

“The Burning Hell didn’t start as a project that I ever thought would do anything, it was just a name that I gave to recordings that I made starting in the early 2000s, most of which I’ve tried to destroy,” says Kom.

“But from the very beginning it’s been a pretty open-door policy that people who want to play get to play. I saw the downside of that after a couple of years: I would put the call out and say, ‘Hey, going on this tour, wanna come?’ and everybody would say yes.”

Not one to turn down a dedicated musician, Kom has set out across the country flanked by a 13-piece band.

The troupe he’s taking on the road for “People” is modest in comparison as Ariel Sharratt will play saxophone and clarinet, Nick Ferrio will play lap steel and bass, Jake Nicoll will be on percussion and Darren “Boobie” Browne will play mandolin and guitar.

“This marks the very first time, the only time,” says Kom, “that I have ever gone on the road with the exact same band that made the record we’re touring.”

The album was inspired by a book of poetry called “A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Kinds of People” written by Gabe Foreman and published by Coach House Books.

Foreman has designed every one of The Burning Hell’s album covers.

“He gave it to me as we were leaving on tour almost two years ago,” says Kom. “I would read it in the van and I’ve been reading it ever since. It’s funny and dark and wonderful. Last year, when I did my RPM  record for 2012, I realized that a couple of the songs I wrote were actually people songs in a way, and that it had really been on my mind as a theme.”

“People” is a collection of songs about Kom’s favourite kinds of folks: wallflowers, travel writers, amateur rappers and even barbarians.

“But not so much the Conan style of barbarian,” he says. “I’m sure in the Viking era, there were Vikings that were single dads and Vikings that had problems that we could understand. I tried to make it an epic saga song, but while sympathizing with the everyday life of the single dad and his son.”

It’s that kind of thoughtful playfulness that has earned the band a dedicated and even cult-like following in both Canada and Europe. The upcoming tour will put the band in the Maritimes, Ontario and Montreal in April, and all over Europe in May and June.

“Touring Europe has many advantages over touring in Canada, though it’s certainly not a walk in the park,” says Kom.

“There is a different culture of music appreciation, in Germany in particular, but also in France and other central European countries. I feel like it’s something that Canada had at one point and then maybe started to lose, but it’s a culture where musicians are valued a lot. What’s happening more and more in Canada is that, basically, bar owners feel like they don’t have to treat bands very well because there is always another band that really wants that gig, though there are exceptions.”

“There are exceptions to this in Europe as well,” he adds, “but, in general, there is a lot more support and a lot more positivity. Playing even bad shows in Europe, the promoter will say (and first of all there is a promoter) ‘Hey, sorry not many people came out, I guess it’s a weird night or I should have done a better job promoting it, here is your small guarantee and here is a drink and let’s go back to the place where I’ve arranged for you to stay.’ That doesn’t happen in Canada.”

Kom says Newfoundland treats its bands well, giving a special mention to Mightypop, the St. John’s-based booking and promoting agency run by Krista Power and Jud Haynes.

“They care. They really give a crap about the bands and the people they bring in and I find that really inspiring,” he says. “If we had more Mightypops across Canada, things would improve drastically.”

The Mightypop spirit informs Lawnya Vawnya, which runs from April 17-22 this year and will take very good care of musicians like Shotgun Jimmie, Bry Webb and Kid Koala.

Just a few days after that, Kom and the Burning Hell will set out on their tour.

“I’ve done this now three years in a row and every year I say, ‘Well, that was dumb, don’t leave right after the festival again,’” he says, laughing. “Sure enough, this year we’re doing exactly the same thing, almost to the day, that we did last year.”

“I think we’ll be OK,” he adds. “We’ll, you know ... exercise daily?”

The Burning Hell’s new album, “People,” will be released in Canada on weeworks and Headless Owl Records on April 16.

They will celebrate its release at the Rocket Room on Saturday, at

7:30 p.m. with Nick Ferrio & his Feelings.

Organizations: Coach House Books.Foreman

Geographic location: Canada, Europe, Ontario Montreal Germany France Newfoundland

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