[4 June 2014]
PopMatters Assistant Editor
Though lounge jazz is one of the first reference points that comes to mind upon hearing Canadian songwriter Kenna Burima’s “The Warning”, her primary influence for the tune comes from a different corner of music’s darker side. “I was listening to a lot of Black Sabbath while I was writing songs for the album. When I say a lot, mean A LOT,” Burima confesses. “I’m a tad obsessive about learning something in its entirety, so I had decided that I was going to transcribe their entire Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album with all of [Tony] Iommi’s solos. I got about halfway through the album when ‘The Warning’ came to me”.
The band that struck the all-important tri-tone chord all those years ago proved to be a potent influence for Burima and the musicians in her band. She thoroughly details the songwriting process: “When I showed it to the band, I asked everyone for their best ‘Black Sabbath impressions’ and Simon [Fisk], the bass player, nailed the opening without really knowing what I was talking about. The song developed from there as a kind of acoustic homage to Sabbath. That seems to happen a lot with my band: I give them some sort of vague ‘impression’ of what I want and they translate it to the best of their ability. It became apparent early on that it was absolutely essential that whoever I played with had a similar musical language. It makes it easier when I ask them to ‘play like the apocalypse’ or ‘play like we’re in the jungle and we don’t have mosquito netting”. They roll their eyes, and then—much to their surprise—it always works. I will say this was the first song where I heard and NEEDED bass clarinet. I notated a very specific part that Mark [DeJong], the clarinetist, really performed beautifully. I’m particularly pleased with it on this track”.
And then there’s the matter of lyrics, which Burima wrote “as [her] ‘teenage self’”. She explains, “My present day self, at the time of the song’s writing, had a huge fight with a friend. So here I was listening to Black Sabbath and feeling sorry for myself, and I wrote the song as an angst ridden, hurt little teenager, unfriending my supposed best friend on Facebook.” The angst, however, didn’t burn for too long: “For the record,” she says, “We’re friends again”.
Burima’s intoxicating vocal, DeJong’s bone-rumbling clarinet, and a deceptively catchy chorus all add up to make “The Warning” a delightfully dark piece.
Burima’s self-titled LP is to be released this summer.