BURNING BRIDES ‘LEAVE NO ASHES’ BEHIND ‘FALL OF THE PLASTIC EMPIRE’
FOREWORD: I got to know the Burning Brides pretty well during 2001 to 2003. I had originally interviewed Dimitri for Aquarian Weekly and thereafter met them at a show and invited them to sleepover following a sold out Mercury Lounge gig. I also took Dimitri and his now-wife Melanie out for pizza in their old hometown of Philly with my wife and kids. The following piece never ran in High Times so it’s being posted here in front of the earlier Aquarian Weekly article. Needless to say, the Burning Brides are true marijuana advocates.
When former Shakespearean off-Broadway actor Dimitri Coats dropped out of Julliard School of Arts with dancer-bassist Melanie Campbell, they settled in South Philly’s drug-addled neighborhood and formed the Burning Brides, combining Black Sabbath’s antediluvian metallic soot with grungy Goth brashness. When the City of Brotherly Love’s lecherous lifestyle became overbearing – inspiring Coats to pen the crunchy mindfuck “King Of The Demimonde” about a now-deceased dope dealer – they moved to serene Northern California.
“All roads lead to heroin and speed eventually. So I stick to beers and joints,” guitarist-vocalist Coats affirms. “Weed’s not the enemy. It’s been there for me and never let me down. But I steer clear of drugs that almost ruined my life.”
After several years toiling away rehearsing for small gigs, the Burning Brides recruited drummer Jason Kourkounis and released ‘01s brazen Fall of the Plastic Empire on tiny File 13 Records. They opened for elite rockers Queens Of The Stone Age, Marilyn Manson, and A Perfect Circle, signing to larger label V2 along the way.
But a plush tour bus and monetary rewards haven’t softened Coats’ feisty resolve, as he wryly quips, “Isn’t weed supposed to mellow you out?”
Hooking up with producer George Drakoulias (Black Crowes/ Tom Petty), the Burning Brides return with the brash Leave No Ashes. Brutally snarled raging anthems such as “Alternative Teenage Suicide” (a fictional Vietnam soldiers’ gay love tryst) and the bludgeoned boogie “Heart Full Of Black” find Coats searing with vengeance even if his composing method appears hippiesque.
Coats’ confirms, “Marijuana is an extremely useful creative tool for writing. I’m best when baked. Every song I’ve written stoned on the couch 4 AM when everyone’s tucked away. I approach songwriting like stoner poetry – many cool images threaded together that are hopefully related, tell a story, and fit the music’s mood. It’s a dada approach.”
An organic weed snob, Coats enjoys inhaling Blueberry, Snowbud, Trainwreck, and Shiba Skunk from a vaporizer to get only “the pure crystal THC extract.”
“As a singer, the vaporizer doesn’t affect my throat as much. It’s a cleaner high, like smoking hash. You can function on it,” Coats maintains. “And it tastes good, too. You can get the flavor of your favorite strain.”
Now ensconced near Cali’s Redwood Forest, he’s trying to acquire a green thumb.
“I don’t grow yet, but I’ve taken care of gardens. Marijuana is an antenna to alien life forms. You have to respect those tentacles. Bat shit’s extremely good fertilizer. But you got to spend time. You can’t water them and walk away.”
During Leave No Ashes recording, Coats received Drakoulias’ herbal support.
“He’d say, ‘Are you fired up yet? The vaporizer’s not cooking. We making a rock and roll record here or what?’”
Scarily, Coats nearly got busted prior to the Burning Brides recent tour.
“I got pulled over in California when I had three pounds of kind bud in the back. I told the cop I didn’t live anywhere and was in a rock band. He just gave me a speeding ticket.”
BURNING BRIDES BEGET ‘FALL OF THE PLASTIC EMPIRE’
Though Burning Brides singer-guitarist-keyboardist Dimitri Coats is an avid Beatle fan, you’d be hard-pressed to find any trace elements of the Fab Four’s freakbeat in his trio’s blistering punk-metal oeuvre. Instead, Coats’ blood curdling groans and savage moans rise above brash hardcore, psychedelic Goth, feedback-drenched noise-rock, musty grunge grooves.
After Coats (an ex-off-Broadway Shakespearean actor) and bassist Melanie Campbell (a modern dancer with ballet experetise) dropped out of New York City’s Julliard School for the Arts, they founded Burning Brides, settled in Philadelphia, recorded tracks with drummer Mike Ambs, and got snatched up by indie label, File 13.
Their bloodied, but unbowed, debut, Fall Of The Plastic Empire, piles dark-edged mantras such as the metallic “Pastic Empire” and the grinding “At The Levity Ball” on top of grungy melodic pop such as the hook-filled rollercoater ride, “Arctic Snow” and the Sabbath-meets-Beach Boys “Blood On The Highway.”
Throughout, the blunt immediacy of Coats’ stream of consciousness verbal assaults evoke bleak imagery and near-Apocalyptic visions. On the cacophonous “Plank Of Fire,” his siren-like bellowing cuts through the ear-splitting guitar-bass-drum calamity with the desirous conviction of Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander and the scorch-throated haphazard slacker attitude of Kurt Cobain.
This sense of unguarded post-adolescent anxiety thrives on “Glass Slipper,” another brutal attack bristling with appropos chaotic menace. Though less ferocious, the fucked-over disconsolate condescension of “Stabbed In The Back Of The Heart” slithers along with nearly as much abrasive fury.
The fact that the Missouri-born Boston-bred Coats has moved around like a vagabond may have some bearing on his hardened lyrical outlook. Even after finally settling in a tough Philadelphia neighborhood (the seedy section below South Street), Coats has had to deal with the frustration of getting sucker punched for no reason. To add insult to injury, Campbell once got her purse snatched. But through it all, these admitted Cure fans have managed to open for Marilyn Manson (“He’s a really sweet guy,” Coats justfies) and tour cross-country.
Did anyone in your family inspire you to become a musician?
DIMITRI COATS: My grandmother was an opera singer in Poland. I met her before she died. She didn’t have many teeth left. She had turned into an alcoholic bag lady with twenty cats who fed neighboring pigeons. She sang to me once and it was incredible. She broke into a perfect wall shaking, glass breaking prelude to some opera.
What’s with the cool Burning Brides moniker?
We wanted a name that was dark and beautiful and rolled off the tongue well, like the Flaming Lips. There’s a whole phenomenon in ancient India where they’d throw a widow into a funeral pyre with her dead husband while she was still alive. Hence, the name.
Were there any political implications affecting the title of Fall Of The Plastic Empire?
I look at it as gazing into a crystal ball and predicting the current state of music. This plastic pop they’re calling rock will eventually crumble like it did before Nirvana came along. We need a pop or death metal band to shake things up. Going back to the Beatles, they could use any color on their palette. They’d go from “Helter Skelter” to ”Honey Pie” in three seconds. That’s what great artists like David Bowie and the Rolling Stones can do. It’s what good dynamic art is. We throw everything that inspires us into the mix. We’re not gonna rope ourselves off in one corner like some bands do.
I like the neo-psychedelic edge some songs have. Do you listen to the ’60s-based Nuggets collection?
Yeah. I got that. I just smoked half a joint and listened to the Kinks Face To Face. I work at the Philadelphia Record Exchange. It’s a great record store with a bunch of old heads who collect rare psych. I’ve been inundated by that stuff. The boss is J.C., the guitarist in the Strapping Fieldhands. He drew the skeletons on our inside cover.
I thought your most dynamic song was “Arctic Snow.” It had a delectable emo feel.
I’m not a big emo fan. That’s just me tapping into a Wipers song. It started off as a slower ballad. Then, I detuned it, sped it up, and thought, ‘Hey. This is like the Wipers!’ I gave it a Beatles chorus and a Slayer ending.
“Elevator” has a rambunctious hardcore tension reminiscent of Black Flag or the Misfits.
That’s a bout an elevator ride down to hell; a Faustus time to pay up ‘thing’ Christopher Marlowe wrote about. He’s a scientist who’s frustrated because he can’t explain the Wonders of the World through science. So he sells his soul to the devil. He gets to expereince wonderful things, but has to pay when the clock strikes midnight.
How do you usually go about creating your songs?
I sit around, get stoned, listen to records, then I can’t contain myself anymore and pick up the guitar and all the records I’ve been listening to pour out. It could be the Bee Gees and Odessa meets Venom. Rock and Roll is a superior artform. It was refreshing to enter that world after coming from such a high art background. There are no rules. We could do what we want and feel like we’re 18 again.
What did veteran producer Brian Mc Tear add to the project?
He’d recorded Mazarin and he has a real pop sensibility. We knew there’d be a lot of dynamic melodies on this record. He was good at suggesting where harmonies should go or where a lift with a tambourine should be. He’s also a decent musician who makes you feel comfortable in the studio. He’s like, ‘Go ahead. Get stoned.’