Interview: Driven By Harness – Andrew Burton

Once upon a time, Andrew Burton was the sideman in Colin MacIntyre’s highly successful Mull Historical Society. These days, however, the guitarist-vocalist is fronting his own outfit – Edinburgh-based melodic rock trio, Driven By Harness.

  • Having sold out their EP launch at The Depot in Leith recently, and with a support slot alongside cult Cincinnati indie-rock quintet, Wussy, lined up at the Electric Circus this weekend, the most obvious question is: will Burton and Co. be transported to the gig by a horse-drawn cart?

“No horses as yet, but they’re on the list of potential excesses should we ever find ourselves in a position to indulge. I read it (the band name) somewhere as a misprint of ‘Driven in Harness’, which I’ve been told, perhaps incorrectly, is the term for describing how you’d steer a horse and cart. It sounds direct but implies limited control, not being fully in charge of what you’re trying to move, and I liked that.”

  • You’re renowned for working alongside Mull Historical Society/ Colin MacIntyre. How did you come to play alongside him? What was life like working with Colin, and did you part ways to concentrate on your own musical output?

“A friend of mine from school was playing with Mull so he got me the audition and I ended up with Colin for five years under the Mull banner, and his own name. It was a good experience for the most part and I got to play some of the biggest shows of my life working with him, so I’m very thankful I got to do it.

“Colin has a reputation for knowing what he wants and there’s not a lot of room for bringing ideas in; but that’s clear from the outset so it wasn’t a big issue for me. His band changes from time to time, and after we took an arranged break for him to do an acoustic tour with a different band, I saw a tour advertised with the electric band that I hadn’t been approached to do – so I knew my time was up.

“I’d been expecting it as the line up had changed significantly since I joined, namely the guys I used to hang with were no longer there, or were also on the way out, and I didn’t feel like I fit into it anymore despite still liking everyone personally. So it wasn’t unexpected, and I wasn’t angry about it, just a strange way to find out.”

  • So, how did DBH come together?

“I’d come out of a band that had essentially been a couple of years of trying to find the right line up with the odd gig in between – the committed guys didn’t have the chops and the guys with chops were too unreliable.

“The initial plan was to just bring in friends to complete EPs, change the line up for each one, then see who was available when gigs came up rather than trying to find the right people to make it a proper band. I did the first demo EP ‘Where The Lightning Comes Down’ with two friends, then the line up of Brett (Allan – bass), Chris (Whitehouse – drums) and I got together to do ‘The Trade in Lunacy’.

“Once we got started and the other guys started offering up ideas for the music and arrangements, it quickly became clear that not only did we work very well together, but everyone was pretty reliable. So it became a band over the time we were working on these songs and once everyone said they were enjoying it; I abandoned the idea of looking to move on.”

  • Like the band’s name suggests, your sound is very driven and direct, yet it has some scratchy guitars in there, too. How do you describe the group’s overall sound? And what’s your chief influences?

“There’s definitely a 90s grungy aspect to it, but we’re all into some pretty diverse styles. We all like bands like Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Portishead and The Roots.

“Personally, I’m a big fan of the rougher edge sound of things, like the early Iggy Pop solo stuff, and alternative Americana like Tom Waits/Neil Young. Chris is a jazz-trained drummer and Brett is coming from a more funky, even club kind of background, so we’ve got a lot of additional bits and pieces going on in there, too. It’s always difficult to describe your own music I suppose, but to me it’s just melodic rock.”

  • Not to directly compare you to the likes of Fatherson or Frightened Rabbit, but there’s certainly a strong Scottish accent coming through in your vocals. Was singing this way a conscious decision? Do audiences prefer this to singing in a, say, mid-Atlantic fashion?

“Yeah it was definitely conscious. I used to sing in a mid-Atlantic accent like a good many non-Americans, but I got called out on this by a friend of mine from the US and I actually felt quite disingenuous when trying to explain why I wasn’t singing in my own accent, so that was the start of it.

“When I was younger, I was in bands that spent a few years chasing record deals/exposure at any cost and that can lead to a type of pandering where you lose your identity in your own music. So once I was out of that scenario (cliché alert) I knew I had to be true to myself, and singing in my own accent was the last (and most frightening) step towards that. I’ve had one negative comment about it and everything else I’ve heard has been positive based on what people say to my face anyway.”

  • Everyone loves a powerhouse rock trio. Was setting the band up this way deliberate? Or do you have plans to expand the line-up?

“It wasn’t deliberate at first as there was no intention of doing anything more than recording an EP or mini-album, so my initial plan was to bring in other musicians if the songs needed it once the core parts were recorded.

“Then we all started developing the songs together and it turned out that the straightforward approach worked well, so by the time we got to the studio we had decided to keep it simple, which allowed us to work quickly. We’ve discussed expanding and we’re all happy for that to happen at some point as the band and songs develop; which is good because it lifts restrictions on what we can write or record, but this works well for now so it’s a case of we’ll wait and see how the next round of songs pan out.”

  • The lyrics are, for want of a better word, ‘conscious’. What are the lyrical themes in your music? Do you have anything particular to say?

“I suppose the common theme on The Trade In Lunacy is about being able to see things objectively as life changes around you. As with a good many creative people, I can get into my own head and ideas, which can be productive and positive, but sometimes you get too into something to see it objectively and that can affect other people as well as yourself.

“There are a few in-the-moment songs too, though. I don’t have a message per se, but I think it’s important to try and maintain a healthy distance from oneself.

  • There’s some prominent beards among DBH. Are beards important in rock music? Are you all allergic to razors?

“Of course, beards are important in rock music; they help hide a multitude of sins in plain sight by always looking kinda scruffy – especially after something like 3 days of gigs and travel. Chris has been known to be clean shaven for a couple of hours at a time but we’re otherwise razor free, at least where you can see it. That’s not an admission of anything, I just don’t like to make assumptions.”

  • You released your debut EP to a sold out audience at The Depot in Leith recently. How are things shaping up for the future? Playing any festivals we should know about?

“Everything’s looking pretty good at the moment. We missed the deadlines for festivals as this happened while we were getting the songs mastered and the artwork finished. But we also thought it would be good to try and build things up this year, and aim for that next year, so we’re not coming off a bunch of bigger shows without even a small foundation.

“We’re playing throughout Scotland in May and plan to head down south later in the year. Right now we’re just keen to try and get the word out.”

  • What can the audience expect from your show at the Electric Circus?

“Nothing but the best. It’s gonna be a very up-tempo set so hopefully we’ll get the crowd moving. Feel-good grunge.”

Wussy + Driven By Harness + Keava, Electric Circus, Market Street, Saturday 7 May, 7pm, £9, 0131-226 4224

Words: Barry Gordon