Burnt Books drummer Troy Thames walks off the stage like an athlete does off the field or court. Sweating and his body punished because of the way he tackles his drum kit, Thames prefers to walk through the crowd following performances.
“What I like about punk rock is that it is community,” Thames said. “It’s not some person on a big stage.”
When he’s done playing, Thames likes to high five anyone willing to clasp hands, and, if recent shows at New Brookland Tavern and Art Bar are any indication, the gesture is welcomed.
“If there are only 50 people in this room, why don’t we get to know each other?” Thames said rhetorically. “So I go through with my simple high fives.”
Burnt Books, a quintet armed with hairpin tempo and rhythm shifts that toe the line separating hardcore and punk, is a band that attempts to create a communal vibe at its shows.
“There’s not this weird separation between who’s on stage and who’s in the audience,” guitarist Matt Thompson said.
“I would rather be closer to the floor,” bassist Joey Parker, whose preference is to play at eye level, said. “I feel like it can feel like you’re not right there.”
At a Loss Recordings will release Burnt Books’ self-titled full-length debut Tuesday, but the band will play a release show Saturday at New Brookland Tavern. (A vinyl version follows later this year.) Whores, Carolyn and Dark Entries will open.
The album was recorded with Phillip Cope at Jam Room Recording Studio. Cope, an esteemed hardcore producer, was able to harness Burnt Books’ sound in the studio so that the recorded version corresponded with the live setting.
“He was definitely there as a way to get us sounding tonally as good as we could in the studio,” guitarist Chuck Sligh said.
Burnt Books formed from the remnants of two of the local music scene’s more audacious rock bands, Thank God (Thames and Thompson) and Tunguska (Parker and Sligh). Zoe Lollis sings. Well, she screams and growls. And wails.
At an interview over pints at Delaney’s in Five Points, Thames pulled out his iPhone when asked to discuss the band’s abrasive yet somehow ingratiating (if you can stomach it) sound.
“Some of the words that we’ve used for interviews: loud, melodic, heavy, eclectic, diverse, plain old hardcore,” Thames began. “And then we came up with a term, avant-gardecore.”
“Obviously, that question has always been difficult to answer. If you want to know, listen to it,” Thompson added. “In this setting, you kind of have to use words to describe it.”
By setting, he meant the interview.
“It’s not breaking any new ground,” Thompson concluded. “It’s not sit down and pre-conceive anything. It’s just whatever comes out.”
Nothing came out of Lollis’ mouth in the way of words for much of the interview. Instead, blade in hand, she focused on shaping a Burnt Books sticker onto a coaster, transforming it from “The one and only Newcastle Brown Ale” to “The one and only Burnt Books.”
It’s an applicable phrase, because Burnt Books is about its business, as heard in the compact, tightly constructed songs.
“Us as individuals or as a group, we’re not very serious people, but the music is definitely,” Thompson said.
“I take it very seriously,” Parker added.
“We want to play well,” Sligh said, piping in. “We want it, not necessarily to be musically impressive, but we want to represent it as good as we can.”
Thames, the high fiver, has loftier goals.
“We hope that it creates an environment that inspires,” he said. “I want to inspire young people to play music.”
Thompson, who played bass in Thank God and Guyana Punch Line, has been working on the guitar riffs he couldn’t get into his previous bands for about a decade.
“I can do riffs all day long,” he said. “The composition is what I have trouble with. That’s where everyone comes in.”
Parker and Thames have formed a forceful unit that employs aggressive time signature changes, while Sligh and Thompson pile punk chords on top. For her part, Lollis shifts from snarling to wailing, sometimes in the same song. And she contributed two disarming and emotionally potent banjo songs to the album.
“I like using my voice in completely different ways,” she said. “I try to try something new with pretty much every new song that we have with the band.”
From talking to singing to outright screaming on the record, don’t mistake her pleas with her mother — and other demons — as Lollis being obsequious. Her petulance was on display at the Free Times Music Crawl in November. With her torso and most of her chest exposed (double-sided tape was used so her breasts remained concealed by her clothes), Lollis had “Up the Queers” written in marker on her body. (Jonathan Sharpe captured a great image of Lollis.)
“It wasn’t what I was expecting to write on myself,” Lollis said. “I wanted to write something more about body image, just being a woman. Like not having men look at me as a sex object and being able to put my practically naked body on the stage and people are forced to look at me, and I don’t want them to sit there and stare at me like I’m a naked woman, but rather as a person performing.”
Music, for Burnt Books, could be considered a necessity.
“It’s like therapy,” Parker said.
Sligh, who also plays in The Fishing Journal, another punk-esque band, admitted he probably moved from Portland, Ore., back to Columbia just so he could play in bands.
“I’m sure that, subconsciously, probably the biggest reason was I wasn’t playing music where I lived,” he said. “It’s not necessarily something I consciously have to do, but I always do it because it’s the most productive way to fill your spare time, I think.”
“I’ve been doing this since I was 15 years old. I don’t see me stopping,” Thames, who also played in Guyana Punch Line, said. “The whole process is fun for me.”
Including the high fives.
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.