Pioneering New Zealand synth-rockers Mi-Sex will be teaming up with Dragon and The Angels for a “Clash Of The Titans” tour in February of 2016. The three bands will play 7 dates throughout New Zealand playing hits like Computer Games, April Sun In Cuba and No Secrets. The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to Mi-Sex keyboard player Murray Burns recently about the band’s return to the road with new front man Steve Balbi. Murray also talked about the fertile music scene of Invercargill in the early 70s and he revealed plans to release some new music in the coming months.
Click here to listen to the interview with Mi-Sex keyboard player Murray Burns:
Or, read a transcription of the interview here:
MD: I saw you guys play here in Auckland, I think it was a year ago August, you played at The Studio…
MB: Yeah, yep…
MD: …with Eddie Raynor supporting you guys. It was a fantastic show. So, I guess my first question is, what have you been doing since then?
MB: Well, we’re all sort of living in different parts of Australia and New Zealand so we’ve been coming together every two or three months and going to Perth or going to Adelaide, you know, for three or four nights and then going back and hiding in our little holes in our various cities that we live in.
MD: So, has the response been pretty good?
MB: It’s been great. We’ve been doing these shows in Australia with three or four other bands of the era and the crowds are having such a good time, you know, every thirty minutes there’s another band on stage that brings back the memories of all the great old songs so it’s been a really special time, actually.
MD: And that’s what you’re going to be doing when you come back here early next year, you’re playing with Dragon and The Angels I believe.
MB: I believe so, yeah, I can’t wait for that.
MD: I checked out your Facebook page and it looks to me like you guys may be considering doing some recording, or have been doing?
MB: We have done that. Yeah, we’ve recorded a bunch of new songs and we recorded some of our old songs. As you probably know, Steve Gilpin, our singer, passed away in a car accident in 1992 so we had no intention of playing. And then a friend of ours, Steve Balbi, who played bass in Noiseworks, of all things, he approached us about, you know, he’s like to sing with us. So we re-recorded some of the old songs with Steve singing so we can have them at shows for people to listen to if they want.
MD: What was it like for you guys to go back and re-record those songs? It must have been a little but strange.
MB: It was weird, it was strange. Basically we just went and played them like we do live on stage and ummm, had a little play around with them afterwards. Yeah, it was pretty interesting 23 or 24 years on, actually going in the studio and re-recording them.
MD: For you as a keyboard player…it seems to me that keyboards are the instruments that are most linked to technology more than anything else, and changes in technology, so did you have to do some re-thinking about what to play it on, what kind of equipment to use?
MB: Sort of…we recorded on computers as opposed to tape recorders for starters so there’s lots of time to manipulate and move things around and make it tighter if you want to. I funnily enough had to use the keyboards that I used in the band in the 1980s. I’ve still got them and they sound really good. I was very keen to use them again. I’ve been working in studios since the band stopped so I’ve gone from old to new to old to new and back and forward all the time. It’s pretty interesting, the old stuff still sounds great.
MD: Is it tough to keep the old stuff going and find parts and things like that?
MB: Ahhh….yeeeeah…my Prophet 5, which I absolutely love, I spent quite a bit of money on that, you know, 15 years ago, and it’s hung in really well. The good stuff’s well -made and it really will last.
MD: I’m curious, you, as a keyboard player I’m assuming that you started out by playing the piano. Was it your intention to move on to these electronic…because you started around the time that everything started changing as far as playing keyboards and synthesizers and things. What was like for you making that transition?
MB: Look, I was a bass player in high school and I sort of became a keyboard player because a really great bass player came back to town so I was forced to play keyboards, being from a small town. The first synthesizer I bought was a Roland synthesizer series number 0001, which I still use today. Look, I love the Hammond organ and the Fender Rhodes and the synthesizers all at the same time and I still love them equally as much now, you know.
MD: You say you were doing this in a small town, are we talking about Invercargill?
MB: I was, yeah.
MD: Was there a music scene happening in Invercargill in the early 70s?
MB: There was a fantastic music scene. It’s so bloody cold down there that there’s a lot of indoor stuff going on…I think they were just called “dances”. There was lots of dances on and lots of…a very active music scene, actually. I was quite blown away when I left Invercargill, I missed the scene that we had down there. It was small enough to know everybody but big enough to sort of have a bit of competition.
MD: Do you get back there at all at any time?
MB: I actually go back quite frequently. They have a quite a good audio and music college down there so I go and work with the students a couple of times a year. We’re going to play down there on this tour so I’m looking forward to playing the Civic Theatre with Angels and Dragon and Mi-Sex. It’s gonna be a knockout actually.
MD: I know when I saw you guys at The Studio last year, I was amazed…impressed…surprised, I guess is the right word, at how hard of a rock sound you guys had. Is that a different sound than, say, the live sound that you made in the early 80s? Would you say you’ve changed some?
MB: Well we have two guitars now. Colin Bayley joined the band in 1983, so that gave us two guitars and we’re kinda pushing the two guitars out a bit just to give it a bit more power. But no, we were a pretty kicking band in those days. When we arrived in Australia we really upped the ante, we were playing shows with Midnight Oil and The Angels and various other bands and we really got an edge to the sound that we didn’t have when we were formed in New Zealand. Yeah, it’s a rock and roll country, this one.
MD: And I get the feeling it’s pretty competitive among bands as well. Was it like that?
MB: Yeah, actually, the bands that are playing from that era, that are playing now, it’s fantastic. They competition’s healthy, but the camaraderie is absolutely brilliant. It’s been the most exciting thing about coming out and playing actually. We’re all sort of adults and everyone’s pretty well behaved these days. I think everyone’s just so happy to be out playing, playing to crowds and having a great time, that, yeah, it’s a great camaraderie.
MD: I guess that camaraderie is part of the reason that you’ve got Steve Balbi, who used to be in Noiseworks, in your band now…he’s helping out. How would you say his presence affects how the band plays nowadays?
MB: As Steve Gilpin was also, they are both quite big personalities on stage and they’re both also completely different. Steve is such a spearhead, having him in front of us, he’s like a hurricane or a cyclone that drags us along behind him. Sometimes I’m sitting there playing keyboards, I feel like I’m watching another band, I’m not even in. Steve’s such an entertaining character, you know. I couldn’t imagine us ever playing again with anybody else singing. It took quite a while to actually get used to the idea of going out and playing without Steve Gilpin there. Now I really feel we’re solidified as a great band. I know Steve Gilpin would be looking down from above and going, “Just kick it, guys! You’re having a great time and loving it.”
MD: Yeah, you can’t take your eyes off him when he’s on stage doing his thing.
MP: Yeah, exactly, I can’t either when I’m playing.
MD: So you mentioned that you were re-recording some of the old tunes, are you also writing some new stuff as well?
MP: Yeah, we’ve got our first EP coming out, we’re calling it “Extended Play”. We think it is an extended play. We have two new songs on it and three old songs. We’ve recorded four new songs so far but we’re actually going to keep writing and recording. It’s actually incredibly good fun and fortunately three of us make a living out of having our own studios so we’ll just spend most of our spare time running around between each other’s studios and putting ideas down.
MD: How much time do you spend thinking about what Mi-Sex should sound like in 2015 when you’re writing these songs and you’re in the studio.
MP: We’re kind of aware of that, but I must say of the two new songs we’ve recorded, one of them’s a song called Somebody and it really does not sound that much like Mi-Sex so we’re just basically taking it for what it is and not tried to mould it too much. We’re just running with what feels good to us, you know.
MD: Right. And who’s doing the writing?
MP: well we all write. Most of these have been written by Colin Bayley and myself and Steve Balbi. We’re waiting for Paul, our drummer, who’s a great writer, to chime in with a great song. I’m sure they’ll be a good one coming around the corner soon.
MD: Are you surprised that this is where the band is at this stage in your lives?
MB: Yeah, we totally are. It was a chance meeting of Don Martin and Steve Balbi that put this show on the road and none of us had any idea that we would be playing again. Kevin Stanton’s unwell and Steve’s not with us so we just didn’t think it was something…look, we’ve been very social as friends, but never really talked about playing. All of a sudden to have that happening is quite amazing.
MD: It’s pretty cool. There are some second chances in rock and roll.
MP: Yeah, you’ve gotta take those chances cause all of a sudden we’ll be, you know, hangin’ around in the wheelchairs. So have fun while you can, I think.