Burnt By The Sun interviewBy Alex
Talking with vocalist and lyricist Mike Olender is a little like talking to four different people at the same time. He is at once reserved, funny and light-hearted, open-minded and contemplative, and opinionated and self-assured. The once outspoken frontman of mid-nineties era Trustkill Records hardcore unit Endeavor, Olender spends most of his time organizing political issue campaigns and lobbying in the public interest the corruption-stained walls of Trenton's state house. How he finds time to renovate his house and play active roles in heavyweights Nora and For the Love Of is a mystery. Finding time to do this interview with Olender was challenging enough over the course of two weeks, eventually opting to talk to me via cell phone while speeding back to the office from a day in Trenton. The same holds true with the other Burnt By The Sun members, particularly drummer extraordinaire Dave Witte, who is on the road more often than he is home. It is for that reason that the next album won't be seen for at least another year.
For those who are familiar with Olender's lyrical content, he is a political animal. Nearly every band he has been involved with – with few exceptions – has been political in one way or another. His commentary has never been offered lightly though and, even though I may personally disagree with his world-view, I have always respected his opinion because his approach is always dynamic and thoughtful. He doesn't come to conclusions easily and he tells me that there's nothing more he despises than a political hack, from either side of the political fence. After re-reading some of his lyrics after this interview, I agree with his self-assessment. His approach is not preachy but is still challenging, and there aren't a whole lot of lyricists who can pull that off.All that aside, Burnt By The Sun's next full-length effort promises to be as interesting as it is mature. Olender is excited about the new record, though he is reluctant to guarantee that the new album will come out next fall. From the band that never ceases to grow up, Burnt By The Sun's final release will likely be worth the wait and will no doubt etch its name in stone.
Both Dave and I left for a variety of reasons. For me, it was mainly an issue of burn out and a conflict I was having with the band and other work I wanted to do. I was running a political website and a talk radio show at the time that was doing pretty well. It was consuming most of my time. We went to Japan a couple of times and I actually brought my laptop so I could keep up with the website. They'd all go out at night partying and I was in the internet café, doing my thing. So when the last tour ended and Dave said he was done, I didn't have much desire to deal with the challenges of a new line-up. Dave was, along with John, the one who asked me to sing for the band, so when Dave left, I felt a certain sense of loyalty to keep BBTS to its core elements. What brought both me and Dave back though was the new material. Ted had sent me an mp3 of a new song and was on my case a bit, asking me to do the last record. I listened to the song and was blown away by it. Then Dave called me up and was like, "Mike, this is pretty amazing. What do you want to do?" and we talked about our situations and what we could and couldn't do with BBTS. Eventually we met up with the other guys, sat down, had a good conversation, got on the same page, and decided to write a final record. That's pretty much it.
In terms of commitment. After I left the band, I took a promotion at work and lost the flexibility I used to have. I couldn't be on the road anymore and didn't want anyone to have that expectation. For Dave, he's on the road all the time with his other bands which put food on his table, so for him, he had to keep that going and wouldn't be able to devote a lot of time to BBTS. It was important for all of us to understand that we weren't going back to where we were. Also, as much fun as I had, being out on the road took its toll on me.
I've been going on tour since I was 20. I'm 31 now. Not that that's old, or that there aren't a million other people doing it, but when you live out of a van for weeks at a time, it gets to you. The last year we were playing it really got to me. I spent a lot of time alone in the van, doing my work, or just watching movies. I didn't want to be around people 24-7, and that's part of the deal when you're on tour. I'm a pretty independent, solitary person most of the time. We have a little running joke in the band. If the guys see that I'm thinking about something or am being kind of distant, they go, "Mike's pissed!" They get a real kick out of that. But some people can be social every minute of every day, I can't. I would probably lose my mind if I couldn't get any time to myself and I would get pretty moody on the road, even just on some of the weekend trips. I need to have time to myself. My idea of heaven is renovating my house and listening to talk radio.
I'm completely serious, that's what's really funny. It's just the way I am. I'm probably the only guy in the world who burns talk radio shows to cd.
Actually they do. I don't have an iPod. My wife does, but I don't. I download them from iTunes and burn them to disc.
Sure, there are personal reasons. Not personal in the sense of there being personality conflicts, but personal in the sense that, like you said, touring is not for everyone.
We did mainly go out on weekends, because of our work and family obligations. But we went out every weekend. We would do 3 or 4 weekends every month. And then we would do short tours around the country, hit Japan, Puerto Rico, Canada...
Just everything. The conflict between doing the band and doing the political and issue work I wanted to do. The fact that my voice was feeling the strain. Going on the road is when I would feel the crunch the most. I remember one time we were on the road. It might have been that last tour. But we were in Colorado and after the show Teddy was all wound up, ready for a night of drinking or whatever, and I was not feeling well and not feeling remotely social. And Ted and I got into it, verbally, for a minute, and I was boiling for no reason. I wanted to rip his head off and didn't know why. And then John made a comment about how I'm always grumpy and don't like anything anymore. It really woke me up. I felt like an ass, like I was ruining everyone's fun. I've been around people like that and it was really bothersome to realize that I was that guy this time around. I was embarrassed of myself. I pretty much realized that this was having an effect on me, the touring, the conflict of figuring out what the next step of my life was going to be. Touring didn't seem to do it for me. I'm not built that way and I was realizing it. But at the same time, I absolutely loved the band and wanted to keep doing it. I love the music these guys come up with and it was really hard for me to come to terms with the conflict. Plus, it was difficult personally. I love these guys. They're brothers. Last thing I wanted to do was let anyone down. I'd felt really self-conscious about leaving Nora to do BBTS and didn't want to disappoint them in the same way. So I stuck it out and dealt with the situation until Dave announced that he was done. The rest, as they say, is history.
Both, I think. Lyrically and conceptually, the record is going to be vastly different from our previous records. There is so much that we want to say with this record that it's going to be difficult determining how to organize everything. It's going to be dark, I can tell you that. I want it to be an audio version of Apocalypse Now. The darkness, the themes of good versus evil, judgment, morality, the inner demon, all of that coming out. I especially like the imagery of Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness, the classic Conrad novel on which Apocalypse Now is based. There's a film on the making of Apocalypse Now called Hearts of Darkness, and in it, the director, Francis Ford Coppolla, talks about wanting to recreate the image of the rusted out locomotive in the middle of the jungle, with vines and vegetation consuming it, trees growing through it, the mossy ground swallowing it up. The notion that the past is catching up to the future, that all mankind's machines are nothing in the face of the earth and its raw elements, which is a metaphor for the inner demon of man consuming the civilized mind. That's just the tip of the iceberg of what I want to explore with this record.
It's so heavy and dark, it's ridiculous. It's heavy without being chugga-chugga moshy. It's winding and twisted, great writing on John's part.' I don't know how he comes up with these ideas.
It's a goliath of a song, I'll tell you that.
I'm still developing the lyrics...
Not yet. I'm working on them now. Lyrically it will be pretty much the theme I just described. The giant technological machine being bogged down by a group of people and a culture which are primitive in every sense except where it matters.
Not just Iraq, but the whole culture that you see with this war on terror. The idea that, for good or bad reasons, whatever your persuasion, we believed that we could walk into a part of the world so conservative that it chooses to live hundreds of years behind us culturally, yet has the strength and tenacity to withstand all our bombs, our high tech gear, the most highly trained soldiers in the world. They're at the mercy of these rag tag desert people who ride around in rusted out pick up trucks, don't have boots, don't have the level of training or equipment that we have and yet they've made us screech to a halt.
No, I think it just is what it is. For the average Republican American that bought the war on terrorism line, it's a nightmare that they can't accept. In their mind, whatever overreaction we had to 911 was worth it because "they messed with us", even if Iraq didn't have anything to do with 911. But now they're wondering, silently, "what the hell have we gotten ourselves into?" Because there is no question that we're ahead of the world militarily. By leaps and bounds, no one can touch us. And these independent terrorist factions operate on the backs of camels and in caves. They have nothing. And we've come to a halt. And it's not because of the media or the politicians, like some people say, because the Soviet Union suffered the same fate when they went into Afghanistan. And the Soviet Union didn't care one bit what was reported in the media. In fact, they owned their media, they were telling their people everything was great. So they'd bomb and bomb and wipe out a village with no regard for public opinion. They'd capture and torture any one they wanted but those Afghan freedom fighters, as we called them back then, sent the Soviets over that bridge back home to mother Russia. Same thing with Vietnam. The French couldn't handle the Vietnamese. It wasn't the French media that led them to fail, it was the nature of the situation and the people. Same thing with the Jews, their resolve. They'll never back down. You can't defeat people like that with guns alone, no matter how backward they may seem to you. You especially can't defeat them when you're trying to fight it on your own terms back here at home. Borrowing the money so you don't have to raise taxes. So the American people won't feel the cost of the war. Not allowing coffins of our soldiers to be published, so people don't physically see the cost in lives. And if the news covers stories about how bad the situation is, just say that the media hates America. But all of that has a way of sabotaging the effort. You can't go too overboard with the military because you initially said the war wouldn't require much of us. If you admit you need more troops or bombs or whatever, you're admitting that you were initially wrong in your assessment. Nobody in the White House is willing to admit a mistake. It's a very interesting situation we have here.
Well, it's not even an analogy. It's a straight up comparison of our involvement versus Soviet involvement in the same area against literally the same people. Same thing with Vietnam. People can speculate on what went wrong with Vietnam all they want, but they ignore that the French had the same problems. The American politicians and press had very little if anything to do with what happened on the ground there. Same thing with Iraq and Afghanistan now.
I have no expectations.
No. I have no idea what will happen. I don't study foreign policy for a living. I'm not a Middle Eastern expert. The world has enough arm chair commentators who make predictions. All I do know is that I don't think our government has any credibility. Not in terms of assessing imminent threats, nor in terms of understanding the world in which we live. The Bush people have been wrong about literally every single thing with regard to Iraq. WMD, nuclear material from Africa, mobile weapons labs, unmanned aerial vehicles, Iraqi meetings with al Qaeda, being greeted with chocolates and roses, the oil paying for everything, this being a cakewalk, about standing down as they stand up. All of it has been wrong. Now they expect us to believe that Iraq will blow up if we pull out. How do they know? What credibility do they have. They have no idea.
I don't know if we should. You have to be careful about your suggestions, especially if you don't know what you're talking about. Like us. We're not military strategists or regional experts. It's easy for lay people to say "pull out", just as its easy for people to say "stay the course". The bottom line is difficult to define. What is victory? Even the Bush people can't answer that. First they say we must defeat the terrorists. Then it's we'll stand down as the Iraqis stand up. Which is it? The complexity of what the Bushies tried to pull off is astounding. The irony is that Cheney and Bush 41 understood this back during the first Gulf War. They didn't remove Saddam because it would an absolute nightmare to deal with. Saddam himself said that if you take me out, you're going to need seven more Saddams to run Iraq. It's sad but it's the nature of the situation. Iraq was pieced together as a colonial collage. Maybe the answer is a three-state solution. The only way they're going to figure that out is if Bush takes off his cowboy boots and sits down with the right people and sorts this out. That's very unlikely though. He's already said that this will have to be sorted out by the next president. The new Bob Woodward book just revealed that Henry Kissinger is Bush and Cheney's key civilian advisor on Iraq. Henry Kissinger, for God's sake. What does that tell you?
If we were fighting terrorism, I mean, really fighting terrorism, Iraq is one of the last places we'd want to invade. Saddam was an ally of ours for years precisely because he was a secular dictator who kept the Islamic tide at bay. They had laws on the books in Iraq that called for the death of anyone who stood out on a corner and handed out pamphlets on Islamic fundamentalism. The Muhajadin al Kalq, the MEK, had bases set up in Iraq. Fox News and some of these other channels reported on it, showing aerial photographs, saying that this was proof that Saddam was tied to Osama bin Laden. What Fox and these others didn't know though is that the MEK is an anti-Iranian group. They were driven out of Iran when Khomeni took over because they weren't fundamentalists. They fled to France and then Saddam took them in and used them as a proxy force against Iran. Yeah, they were terrorists, but they were good terrorists. So we're not really talking about a war on terrorism here. It's something much different than a conceptual war without end. The MEK is one of many examples. The MEK in particular is interesting because they were the most heavily armed terrorist group ever. And now they're all protected persons under US command.
The deputy commanding general in Iraq at the time sent a letter to the MEK when they were being held at Camp Ashraf, congratulating them on their new status as protected persons. They're now working with us against these al Qeada groups in Southern Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan supposedly. So Saddam's terrorist ties were mainly anti-fundamentalist. Remember, this was a guy who was ruling a melting pot of Shitte, Kurds, and Sunni that didn't want to be in the same pot, and one of the most troublesome groups for him was the Islamics who had ties to Iran and the Islamic Brotherhood and others. So he used the MEK to repress them.
Of course not. He was a brutal tyrant. But let's distinguish what he was from what he wasn't. He wasn't in bed with the Islamists. He brutalized them.
He was trying to play the middle ground to a certain extent. He wanted sympathy from the Muslim world and he got it. The issue of sanctions in Iraq was huge in the Middle East. He milked that for all it was worth and he got the sympathy he wanted. He did send money to suicide bombers but that's not a factor in any of this. Saudi Arabia held national telethons for the suicide bombers. Telethons, like you saw in this country with Hurricane Katrina. Saudi Arabia is much more guilty of that crime than was Saddam Hussein. And Saudi Arabia, of course, is not just tolerated, it is a close ally of ours. But Hussein and Osama were blood enemies. Even right before the invasion, Osama sent out a notice saying that he wanted Saddam dead.
Salman Pak. Let me tell you something about Salman Pak. The only place you ever read about Salman Pak is in right-wing rags. The only place...
... no, because it's not true.
Dave, don't you think that if there was anything to that story, the White House would have used it? With the White House so desperate to try and build support for the war, don't you think if there was any credibility to that claim that they'd use it? Come on. Bush went on tour of the country, for God's sake, to try to regain support for the war and Salman Pak was never mentioned. And that's because Salman Pak was a rumor that was never substantiated by a single credible source. And as far as the mainstream media being liberal goes, that's a whole other conversation. The media suffers a whole many other biases than liberal or conservative. Was the media liberal back in the Clinton years, when all you heard for 18 months was Monica (Lewinski)? Or when the media covered every congressional investigation of Bill Clinton? Literally dozens of investigations to the tune of $70 million in taxpayer dollars. They covered everything. The worst thing you could be in Washington DC during those years was what they called a Clinton apologist. Reporters openly talk about it now. They were all trying to be the next Bob Woodward, trying to find the missing piece to the conspiracy, just like during the Nixon years.
And most college professors are liberal, too. Including the chemists and the astronomers and every one else. What does that tell you? Colleges are institutions that are supposed to break down barriers. The term conservative literally has no place in those types of settings because college is not supposed to be an experience where you stop thinking and progressing. It's just the opposite. The problem with many conservatives is that they don't want their kids thinking outside of the box. They don't want to know what other people think or what the rest of the world thinks. That's liberal nonsense, to use their words. College education is supposed to be about breaking down barriers, not building them. You don't get challenged if do otherwise. I'm not saying that there aren't teachers who impress their own opinions too much.
Getting back to the media, the fact that most reporters are liberal in their personal lives is similar to that of college professors. If you're a reporter, your job is to reach out to that other side of the issue and get as much of a complete story as you can. Now that doesn't always happen. But it involves stepping outside of the box. And maybe that's why most of the top reporters do lean to the liberal side. Not commentators, I'm talking about reporters. Maybe the reason why they get to the top is because they have a more natural ability to seek the other side as opposed to conservatives, who, by definition, are less comfortable with being challenged.
I don't know either, but that's my sense of why more reporters lean that way than to the right.
That's just not true though. Look, I've read all these books, these conservative books. Bernie Goldberg and Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly and Hannity and Stossel and on and on. You can find arguments for anything if you look hard enough. There are others on the left who say the opposite. Groups like Fair and people like Al Franken and Molly Ivins and many others make very compelling cases that the media leans to the right. In my opinion though, the media is neither left nor right, it's just corporate. And that explains everything. It, first off, is factual. Media are businesses with a bottom line. They are concerned with ratings that attract advertisers that sell products and services to certain audiences. But it also explains why the media can appear to lean left and lean right. The media will cover whatever has the most bang at the moment, and neither side has a monopoly on getting positive or negative attention.
Yeah, but is that any surprise? That's not a real comparison there. First off, we're talking about sex here. Gay sex, even better as a hook for the media. Gay sex, pedophilia, political power, cover-up, and hypocrisy. And in an election year, what hammered it home was the fact that Republicans openly stand up on soapboxes and declare themselves the party of moral values and here's this guy who did what he did. That was the story. Foley was hypocritical but more importantly the Republican leadership was hypocritical because they knew about it and covered it up because of the elections. That is a much more dynamic and interesting story than Jefferson, who took a bribe and hid the money in his freezer. Interesting story, yes, but come on, there's no comparison to the depth of the Foley scandal. People love hearing stories of fallen angels and of hypocrisy.
Of course. But the Washington press corps always hammers on the administration, no matter who it is. Joe Lockhart, who was press secretary for Clinton during the Lewinski scandal, got hammered. Butchered. He's considered to have had the hardest job as press secretary ever, in the history of the Republic. Most people forget what the 90s were like for Clinton. Even before he got elected, he was hammered over Vietnam and sexual indiscretions and other things. If you go on-line, you can watch the White House Correspondent's Dinner. Watch Clinton's speech during the last year he was in office. It was famous because he made peace with the press. They knew they gave him a really difficult time.
I'm not a Clinton fan. I got my start working on political issues during the 90s when he was in office. It retrospect, I see why he did what he did. He played both sides of the isle because he was stuck with a Republican Congress. But at the time, I thought he was the biggest sellout for giving us NAFTA, welfare reform, which was nothing more than a corporate welfare program, to that big anti-crime bill, the Telco Act of 96, which deregulated media markets. And all that topped off with his State of the Union speech when he said that the era of big government was over. That's not a liberal thing to say. I never understood how people said he was too liberal.
She won't get my vote if she wins the nomination. I saw her speak at a dinner last year. She's an amazing speaker, I'll give her that. It's easy to see how she's gotten where she is. She's very bright, but I don't like her. I might have to sit that one out.
I think Clinton will the presidential nominee and she'll ask Obama to run for VP. The Republican side is a little harder to call. McCain will go really far. Maybe Mitt Romney. McCain and Mitt will probably be the team.
They'll win the House and probably the Senate.
I don't know, man. I can see this being an election where the moderates get rooted out of the Republican Party. The Senate has several moderates, and even some conservatives, that are in danger. I think maybe a tie in the Senate, with Cheney breaking the tie. But I'm leaning towards predicting the Democrats will take both.
The last thing I want is a political record. The more I work in the political world, the more I see how trivial this left, right, liberal, conservative debate is. Liberal, conservative, these things don't mean anything. Look at the issue. I don't buy into "world-view", this idea that you either see things as a liberal or as a conservative. An independent mind is one that both, one that realizes that the world is much broader and more complicated than what can be fit into a party platform. There are no easy answers to anything, and calling yourself liberal or conservative does a disservice to the God-given ability you have to think for yourself.
I'm an independent who is liberal on most issues. I don't particularly like the Democrats. I thought John Kerry was a horrible candidate. I think the Democrats are almost as out of touch with working people as are the Republicans. The Dems also need to be more bare knuckled. I liked Howard Dean, Joe Biden for those reasons. That Truman style of throwing down and not caring who's feelings you hurt. This is politics not a tea party. You're supposed to offend the other side. Even back in the Truman days though the Dems were very out of touch with real working family values. But like I said, getting caught up in what's liberal or conservative does a disservice to yourself. And as a band, we're all individuals with our own opinions. I will only speak for the band on issues on which we all agree. That's it.
You become an advocate and work for the things you believe in. Or you run for office and try to do the same. Independent politics is on its way up, I can tell you that. Throughout our history as a country, we've had parties come and go. We've had parties switch sides, like the Dems and the Republicans. The Republicans used to be the liberal party, I don't know if you knew that. But then they became the conservative of the two. And now, we've seen another shift. The Republicans aren't small government anymore. They're big government conservatives, which doesn't make any sense.
We've seen a big shift just in the last 6 or 7 years. And people are upset over the power struggle. They're upset that their concerns about the national debt or border security and immigration and corruption in government aren't being addressed. You're going to see an independent party rise up. And in my opinion, its going to come from the right. I'll wager that you'll see the Republican Party split, sort of the like bowevils did from the Democrats years ago. The more conservative Republicans are going to get fed up and split and start their own thing. That's my prediction for the next 20 years.
The information was out there. You just had to be willing to look past Fox or CNN.
We'll see as we write it. I definitely want it to include all the elements.
It will be a heavy record, and our influences have never just been metal bands or hardcore bands. It is all still unknown at this point. But yes, it will be in the metal section at your local music store.
We love that song. I especially wanted to re-record it for the new record.
No, we just recorded it with "Goliath" just for the sake of doing it. I really want to include "Corporations" for the new record because of its energy. I think its worth revisiting.
I hate the title. It will be different on the new record. At the time, I wanted it to be painfully obvious that we weren't a band that took itself too seriously, so I picked the most ridiculous title I could think of. I hate it though, it'll definitely be changed, along with most of the lyrics.
[laughter] That's pretty good. I never thought of that. It'll probably include the word "neo-con" in there somewhere. Maybe "When Neo-cons Rule the World" or something. Don't quote me on that, I'm shooting off the top of my head right now.
That's not me. That's all Teddy and John.
That's all them. They used to sleep in the van at night so they could listen to Art Bell on the radio.
Yeah, I think they're just intrigued. The questions are intriguing. But a lot of it gets ridiculous. A lot of the 911 truth stuff is interesting but some of these people look so far into it that they ignore the obvious in some cases.
Like the plane in Pennsylvania. There are people who say that the plane really landed in Ohio and let the people off. But then, where the hell are the people now? I agree, there's no plane in those pictures. But come on, use your common sense. The people are dead. The plane was probably shot down. That would explain how the airline magazines and such were found 8 miles away. You could argue about the moral implications of that decision if the media would give it a chance but of course that's too much for people to handle. I'm thinking that it may be like the media was with the Iraq War. After some more time, the media will be more willing to look into some of this 911 stuff more closely. But some of it is clearly ridiculous.
I have no idea. We'll certainly have references to it. I don't think we'll be covering "Have You Forgotten" or anything.
I'd love to be stuck in an elevator with that guy.
Pick his hairs out, one by one, maybe.
New record won't be out for a bit. The new song will be out on Relapse sometime this fall.
Right on, brother.
David Peter Ratner can be emailed at email@example.com. Mike Olender welcomes emails at firstname.lastname@example.org.
28 commentsPost Comment
Haha, Democrats won both the House and Senate. Take that, Peter "Rush" Ratner.
good interview...would've been better if David (interviewer) was actually on the same intellectual level as Mike. "so you liked clinton" what a moron
Peter, you are misinformed on every issue you spoke on. I'm glad this guy made you look like the angry nerd you clearly are.
Dave, you should really stay out of political issues.
interesting interview. great band. can't wait for new album
this was a wonderful interview........what an articulate speaker.....so very rare
drew wouldve done way better this interviewer f*cking sucked
drew wouldve done way better this interviewer f*cking sucked posted by () on 12/29/2006 1:30:55 AM
Wow, Mike's an incredibly articulate and insightful guy. This David guy is pretty much the opposite.
mike o rules, his show ruled, burnt by the sun rules, dave witte rules, art bell rules...
I respect Mike more now for putting up with these gay questions from an illiterate c*nt without reaching down the phone and gutting him like a trout.
this is the best interview on LG ever.
This interview could've delved a bit more into the Coast To Coast AM realm...
Mike is a credit to rational thought in America.
YOU WILL MOVE, DAVE PETE RATNER! at points, i almost felt embarassed for DPR, then i felt good about BBTS being one of my favorite bands
so yer a clinton fan? hur hur hur. why is that a logical conclusion for all right-wingers who can't take criticism of their ideology? there are shades of grey in political thinking.
"mike o rules, his show ruled, burnt by the sun rules, dave witte rules, art bell rules..."
Great interview...now if only they would actually put the new song online.
Also, weird that there is no mention of the fact that there is a new guitarist in the band.
this interview was amazing. I love people in music that actually are aware of the shit around them. As opposed to the fruitcakes in most of the big bands now who dont know shit about politics and just run with the fairweather.
Interesting interview. Interviewer was a moron. What a great band.