Reprinted from the original – Rip It Up August: http://www.ripitup.co.nz/music/interview-mi-sex-keyboardist-murray-burns/
The first time I heard ’80s Kiwi icons Mi-Sex was in the basement of my school hall. My Form 2 teacher had bought a job lot of excess cassettes from the EMI factory in Lower Hutt and was selling them to students to raise money for a new gym. The song immediately caught my attention. It was unnerving, energetic, threatening and slightly space-age. It was ‘People’, one of the band’s greatest singles, about relationships in a world of computer dating and test tube babies – 10 years before the hit film Gattaca summed up the same ideas in sound and vision. It was very much ahead of boring, conservative ol’ ’80s New Zealand!
After years working on “other” careers, the core members of Mi-Sex plan to once again honour the pact they made with each other many years ago: “We will get together and perform at least a few times each year.” Back in the day they’d swept the annual Countdown awards, charting hit after hit, including number one single ‘Computer Games’. However, with the accidental death of former brilliant frontman Steve Gilpin in 1992, Mi-Sex had been put to rest and the lights switched off. The band’s resurrection only began after one of the Mi-Sex guys saw Noiseworks’ Steve Balbi performing in the Ziggyshow (a David Bowie tribute) recently. Suddenly, the power was back and the lights clicked on.
Of course, I knew nothing of this development – until I began to see posters around town advertising shows with Eddie Raynor, in support. I thought I’d better email keyboardist Murray Burns and find out more.
Welcome back, how long has it been? Where have you been? What have the lads been up to?
We’ve not played as Mi-Sex since the mid-Eighties. We didn’t break up as such, but felt time out was due. We’d toured heavily in America and Australia, (made) four albums, lived in each other’s pockets… still, we maintained a close relationship, even though we’d stopped functioning as a band.
(Lead singer) Steve (Gilpin) began to build his family home in Byron Bay, NSW, and the rest of us mostly became heavily involved in studio work of varying degrees – producing artists… scoring for film and TV. We’ve also played in other Aussie bands. I played with Richard Clapton’s band for a year and Colin Bayley (guitars) toured with Men At Work. Kevin (Stanton, guitarist, writer) moved to London for a long period. We began (again) to write again, as a band, in 1992 – sadly in that same year we lost Steve in a car accident.
Has Mi-Sex always been there?
In spirit. Losing Steve obviously placed what we felt was a “full-stop” and goodbye from us as a band… time marched on and we never really paid much attention to ideas of reforming. So to even consider doing a full-time gig again after 30 years is quite a challenge. However, the past three years wheeling out the Mi-Sex bus (on various occasions) has been beyond our expectations. That moment on stage, when there are four of us there from our ’80s line-up. Myself on keyboards, Don Martin on bass, Colin Bayley on guitar and Paul Dunningham on drums – both of whom joined Mi-Sex for the final three years of our time, then making us a six piece. They both contributed to the songwriting on album number four, Where Do They Go, and breathed much-needed new life into our road-wary band. Colin actually wrote ‘I Wanna Be With You’ for Graffiti Crimes. It was a natural progression. Sadly, today Kevin is unable to play with us due to cervical spondylosis (where raw bone is exposed against the spinal chord). He’s lost the use of 75% of his left arm, has no feeling in his fingertips but he still thinks positively.
Is it possible to be Mi-Sex without Steve Gilpin?
We love and miss Steve’s voice, but the songs still remain strong. We often comment that Steve would be looking down upon Steve Balbi, who sings with us now, with total approval and happiness. To see that we are actually playing today, years on with a brand new energy. Steve was like that.
Tell me more about Steve Balbi – how did this come about?
It didn’t seem to ever be on the horizon until our bass player Don Martin, by chance, met with Steve Balbi. Steve is also a bass player, singer/songwriter, and founding member with (Aussie band) Noiseworks – also a producer in Sydney. Steve said to Don, “If we ever wanted to play again he was sure he was the man”. It’s been a long-time desire of Steve’s to front a band like ours.
How good is his Bowie?
Bowie might see a touch of himself in Steve and I’m positive David had an influence on the Steve Babi we know today. We actually did ‘Heroes’ the first night we played with Steve, at a Sydney gig.
Are you playing just old material, or is there some new stuff too?
We’ve been playing around in the studio with new songs and ideas but we’ll see how a couple of these feel live on this trip home to NZ. It’s a “slowly, slowly” for all of us on that front.
Some of Mi-Sex’s material borrowed heavily from Gary Numan and the new romantic/new wave era. Isn’t funny how so many new bands are heavily influenced by that age and by Mi-Sex – such as Franz Ferdinand and Kids of 88? You were new wave in the ’80s – in the 2000s what would you be? What’s your inspiration?
Just to set the record straight, we had actually recorded ‘Graffiti Crimes’ in 1979, the same year that Gary Numan also had his moment with ‘Are Friends Electric’. He invited us to meet him on tour. ‘Computer Games’ resonated with him somewhere I suppose. I would say John Foxe, early Ultravox, Bowie and Roxy Music would’ve been more of an influence on Mi-Sex at the time but the brash Australian rock music was the biggest thing to hit us. We absorbed the energy of bands like Midnight Oil and the Angels. They showed us all about the deliverance of the live show and the studio also to a degree. Mi-Sex was a hybrid of many bands, maybe that’s what all bands actually are! Today we might be a fusion of, say the Artic Monkeys, The Killers or Arcade Fire, with a touch of Coldplay for sugar. Then again – probably none of the above!
Some of your big hits, like ‘People’ were post-Orwellian nightmares – “carbon copy people”. Has that dream come true?
I can comment on the music of those songs. Kevin Stanton was the one who had so many of those visions. His lyrics do ring true today, unquestionably.
And what about ‘Computer Games’?
This was a fantasy but is now so real in the age of Facebook and Twitter relationships.
What would you be writing about these days – are the themes eternal?
NZ has been family and friends for the past 30 years. It is now a whole new adventure for us and for Travis New on guitar and Steve Balbi. We have the energy to perform and we know it’s on par with our ’80s performances. Best now we think “there’s no time like the present!” It is actually great to re-acquaint with home, travelling around and seeing old haunts. Some things don’t change at all, but many things in NZ are almost ”alien” now – joke!
SEE THEM LIVE: MI-SEX W/ THE EDDIE RAYNER PROJECT
THU 28 AUG STUDIO, AUCKLAND
FRI 29 AUG BODEGA, WELLINGTON
SAT 30 AUG SAMMY’S, DUNEDIN