The legacy and history of the rock band Burnaround occupies its own area of regional musical history that forms a roadmap of sorts to the evolution of the rock music scene itself in the Great Lakes Bay. Formed back in 2000 from the remnants of Wet Cement and Shovel - two formidable hard rock outfits that dominated the live rock scene in the mid to late '90s; the members of Burnaround have contributed to defining the shape & sound of the Hard Rock scene for over two decades; and like the power of a magnet, drawn some of the best players in our area into it's fold.
In addition to securing honors of Best Rock Band & Best Metal Band at the 2012 RMA's, veteran Burnaround members Matt Johnston was selected Best Rock Drummer, 'The Axe' Best Rock Guitarist, and Tony Paul Best Rock Vocalist. But the 'secret weapon' in their high-powered arsenal of musical personnel that has led to their resurgent success exists in the form of newest member, bassist Rick Maida, who's divergent musical tastes, ability, and vocal prowess has added an entirely new dimension of coloration and power to the Burnaround sound.”
First formed over a decade ago with Wet Cement members Vince Gaskew, Mark Dillman and Tony joining forces with The Axe from the band Shovel, the group Burnaround was born and instantly started packing clubs from Hemlock to Hale and all points in-between. During that evolution they also enlisted respected bassist Bruce LaFrance into the fold, cultivating a well-deserved reputation as one of the most professional, passionate, and committed rock 'n roll outfits populating the circuit.
But then tragedy struck when Vince found himself involved in a serious car wreck and broke his back, at which point the page turned and the band enlisted the aid of drummer Matt Johnston, who was one of the founding members of The Hipakritz.
Tony recalls that period well with an excellent anecdote that reveals much about the professional attitude that permeates the fabric of Burnaround:
“Matt came in and sat with us for a month, showing up with this crappy Pearl drum kit. But he fell into the gig naturally and covered everything really well. We felt comfortable with Matt from the get-go. But then Vince rehabilitated himself and came back into the fold for a little stretch, only wasn't really feeling the music.
“In the meantime Matt took the money that he earned playing with Burnaround for that little stretch and bought all new equipment. When we approached him about becoming our permanent drummer, to my mind the fact he went out and bought all this new gear was an indication of both his seriousness and commitment.”
The band continued for a good five-year stretch, only to have their bassist move to Ann Arbor; and then Tony himself took a break from the group in order to tame some of his own personal demons, so the band soldiered on with a different vocalist under the name of Power Trip. Subsequently, Tony got himself back into circulation and Burnaround reformed with the addition of current bassist Rick Maida - a move all members reference as an important reason for their resurgence and broader popularity.
Tony puts it this way: “It's all about chemistry. You can put the best musicians together but if they don't have interpersonal chemistry, it can't work. Each member of this band has specific talents, but we've remained friends on a personal level and always had love for each other, no matter how bad things may go for any individual member.”
A pivotal move to re-inventing Burnaround came with an expansion of their repertoire and evolution of their sound beyond the realm of Metal and Hard Rock. “We have more variety now,” explains Matt. “We've always been known for intense in-your-face music, but I think we've expanded the horizons to benefit a larger crowd and keep everybody dancing. Now we do everything from Modern Country and Johnny Cash to Aerosmith.”
“We didn't want to lose that Heavy Metal element 100 percent,” adds Tony. We can still play those songs, but since 2005 to where we're at now I hear and see us as a totally different band. We still enjoy heavy music because its part of the band's DNA; but the key change to the group musically is the addition of Rick and his level of musicianship, coupled with the feel and technique he employs. Rick opened things up wide for us musically with his ability at playing different styles and his overall feel and demeanor changed the dynamic of the band in a really good way. Now if we wanna play Brick House we can - the 2005 Burnaround couldn't do that.”
As for bassist Rick Maida, his own impressions of this long lasting hard driven outfit of road-tested warriors is one of respect, engagement, and obvious affection. “There's a lot of bands out there that focus singularly on cranking out the music to a heavy metal blueprint, but now that we can play all kinds of pop music, especially with the three-part harmonies we now have going, our musicianship takes everything about this band to an entirely new level.”
“Vocals are big with us now,” says Tony. “While I always had Matt to rely upon as a secondary lead vocalist, Rick is also a lead vocalist and can sing harmony, plus he can exist in vocal ranges that Matt and I can't, so it allows more coloration with the music. There are a lot of songs we never covered because we didn't have that other voice when we needed it. Plus the vocal power of the group takes a huge weight off my shoulders.”
All this power and musical diversity, along with their reputation for professionalism has translated into a sizable demand for Burnaround throughout the club circuit, with the group regularly booked and performing three to four nights each week. Indeed, Burnaround can be seen every Thursday at The Red Horse, every third weekend of the month at Big D's, every 4th weekend at Coty's and they split remaining weekends between The Baywood, 702 and Roadhouse.
Obviously, having paid their dues in the clubs for over a decade now, the group has witnessed changes not only within the group, but also in the overall zeitgeist of the music scene in general.
“I feel peoples love & appreciation for live bands has declined considerably from when I first started playing live music back in the '90s,” reflects Tony. “The output of organic rock music by guys playing on the stage or in the studio does not exist on the same level. In the '90s you had such a high level of output for rock music - whether it's called Alternative, or Grunge, or whatever surname you put on it - the early to mid-90s were incredibly prolific.”
“You had bands like Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains putting out an album per year and there were five singles off every one. In Wet Cement we played 10 to 12 songs by every one of those bands and there was a deep well of material to draw upon. At this point the only Modern Music we're really drawing out of is Country, which I think is taking the place of Pop that would equate to that time period. Aside from that we're learning Rock songs from the '60s and '70s, because they're not writing good new music anymore, really. Don't get me wrong, there's new music out there that is good - I like that new Shinedown song 'Bully' and Three Days Grace puts out good songs, but you might only hear three songs a year that really jump out.”
“To that list I would also add The Foo Fighters,” interjects Matt, “they've consistently been a quality high-output band generating excellent music.”
As for Rick, the divergent variety of taste he's infused into the band surfaces with his own musical preferences. “I was just listening to America, Boston, and Elvis Presley,” he laughs.
“The magic seems to be gone from the live music scene somewhat,” agrees Matt. “When I first attended concerts I wanted to be a part of it, not only watch the band, but be in the band. Maybe it's a generational thing.”
“That's true,” interjects Tony. “When I was 21 or 22 and discovering the club life it was very live music oriented. Growing up today I think music might have a different priority in younger kids' lives. Nowadays you can carry videos and movies around in your pocket, so it's different. I hate to sound like an old fart, because I don't think I am; and Rick is still in his 20s but I consider him an anomaly in his age group.”
Regardless of current trends, fads, and directions, Matt feels that “I'll probably be playing with these guys forever” and the unity of the group on this point is unanimous.
“A huge reason for this resurgence with all the Awards this year is because of Rick,” affirms Tony. “We were in a spot where we were really burned out as a group and Rick changed the whole dynamic of the band and brought new energy and new focus to a higher level with his musicianship. I never thought we were a bad band and could have won an award any year, but he brought us back to life. The real reward in all of this is doing something you're able to do that you love and do it consistently on a high level while getting paid for it - life doesn't get better than that.”
When asked what they feel their biggest collective challenge consists of, the group also agrees it centers upon engaging the audience and keeping them that way.
“Motivating people to get excited and into your music is an aspect that cannot be discounted,” reflects Tony. “When the crowd is up it will bring you up; and it takes the piss out of you when an audience is just sitting there looking at you.”
“Honestly, there's so many different elements to making it succeed - a great band to a dead crowd is one thing; and a crap band to a lively engaged audience is another. Our job is to give people a reason to get excited and that's something we'll never stop doing.”