The fusion of electronic instruments with punk and hardcore is not new today, but when Milemarker formed in Chapel Hill in the late ’90s, no one else was combining ironic socio-political commentary, synthesizers and post-hardcore angst.
Now both based in Germany, founders Al Burian (who grew up in Durham) and Wilmington native Dave Laney reconnected. The re-formed band releases “Overseas” – its first album in 11 years – at the end of August and kicks off its U.S. tour at The Milestone Club Thursday.
Burian addressed the band’s N.C. roots, its global existence and the new album via email recently.
Q. Forming in Chapel Hill, were you connected to the scene there at the time?
The music or general idea that influenced Milemarker wasn’t directly N.C.-based. We weren’t connected to the Merge Records scene or the indie-rock thing that was going on at the time. We were more just weirdo art kids with a very confrontational attitude trying to shake people up.
Q. What was it like going back and re-visiting “Frigid Forms Sell” for the re-issue?
It was awkward. I’m proud of “Frigid Forms Sell” as far as the integration of the music, the packaging and the concept. And it seems to have had a strong resonance with listeners, which of course is what you want if you make a record. But it’s a pretty bleak album overall, and kind of brought me back to darker times in my own life. Re-learning some of those songs, especially the lyrics I wrote at the time, felt like, “Oh man, I can’t get back in this headspace.” But playing the songs live is fun, and the audience reaction is so positive and enthusiastic that in the end it feels kind of cathartic, like the whole thing has come full circle in a good way.
Q. Would Milemarker be a different band if it were starting now?
Definitely. There was a lot of anger and anxiety driving the band in its formation. If we were starting now, we’re pretty much sitting around listening to Nigerian music from the ’70s and drinking herbal tea. So our out-of-the-gate vibe would probably be different.
Q. How did the two of you end up in Germany?
My mom is German and I have dual citizenship. For me it wasn’t such a leap to end up living here. For Dave, it was a bit more of an adventurous move, but basically he moved here for love and got married. It was more or less a coincidence that we both ended up in Germany.
Q. Are the other musicians you’re playing with from there? How did you re-start things?
Lena Kilkka, the keyboard player, is actually from Charlotte, although we met in Berlin. Ezra Cale, the drummer, is half-German, half-Canadian. We got an offer to play a festival as Milemarker, so we thought we’d try it out as a one-off deal with a new lineup. I was already playing in another band with Lena, so I suggested we bring her in, and Dave brought in Ezra. Once we started practicing it all clicked, and felt like a really solid band. Plus, we started writing new material very quickly and easily.
Q. Germany has a history of electronic music. Did living there have a big influence on the new album?
Yeah. In Berlin, electronica is basically the soundtrack of the city. You hear it everywhere you go, and it has a different contextual meaning because techno/house really came up as a music style right as the Berlin Wall came down. So it is linked to political ideas and with real experiences of personal freedom: techno was literally the “soundtrack to the revolution” here in the early ’90s.
Lena is coming at music from a total electronic background. She’s not from a punk or rock background at all. Ezra is a more groove-oriented, kraut-rock-type drumer than we’ve played with in the past. Their input influenced the direction of the new record. Playing with them challenges our aesthetics and notions of song-writing.
Q. The first song released is called “Carrboro,” which I’m guessing is a reference to the town in North Carolina.
I was visiting Carrboro last summer, and came up with the lyrics while sitting on the Weaver Street co-op lawn. The song is about living in a liberal, affluent community where people leave their doors unlocked, care about the environment, there is always organic or vegan food available, the quality of life is good, etc. The song is basically saying that people should be aware that this kind of life is an illusion. Carrboro is dependent, as the song says, on “invisible fences.” The song is not trying to diss Carrboro. Where I live in Berlin, or even northern Europe as a whole, is just as much an illusory society. Our quality of life, unfortunately, is dependent on global inequality.
Q. Does living in Europe give you a broader perspective of what’s going globally? Does any of that come into play on the album at all?
We’re seeing a rising tide of violence, it’s true, but it is not coming out of nowhere. It’s a consequence of globalization. The title of the album has an ironic element to it, because of course the idea that these sorts of natural borders exist anymore is antiquated – nothing is overseas anymore in a globalized economy and world.
Q. Why are you starting the tour in North Carolina? Were you familiar with the Milestone growing up here?
We still have lots of friends and family in N.C. So it made sense for us to start and end the tour there. As far as the Milestone, I think anybody that grew up in central N.C. and was interested in punk rock knew about that club. I went to a few shows there when I was in high school, but Milemarker never got a chance to play there.
When: 9 p.m. Thursday.
Where: The Milestone Club, 3400 Tuckaseegee Road.
Details: 704-398-0472; www.themilestoneclub.com.