Burning Bus:
guilt-free funk
July 1993

It touts itself as "guilt-free funk," but it's hard to think of Burning Bus as just a funk band.

There are few musical styles that haven't been borrowed or bent by the new local band. Its music slips casually from island beat and reggae to Latin dance and space music. There are polkas and classical elements, plus strains of '50s bandstand, '60s psychedelic and progressive rock.

"We started out with the intention of being a funk band, to get people dancing," said singer, songwriter and keyboardist Beatrix Greiner. "I just naturally write spacey stuff. ... Then we started getting psychedelic. I also play jazz, so we became jazz funk."

As the band grew, new members bolstered the rock influence and infused the music with exotic rhythms.

"When we started working together, we just went with what came naturally," said bass man Neal Kreider. "We stopped thinking about who it was going to appeal to or what kind of music it would be. We make the music we want to make and hope people like it."

The band's seemingly boundless energy finds focus in lead singer Loretta Modern, who fronts the group with unceasing motion.

Modern belts out the lyrics with a voice that is sharp, but not harsh. She enjoys voice caricatures and blending new sounds with her own style which, she confessed, remains undefined.

"I'm still in search of my own style," she said. "This band is helping me do that."

Rhythm is a strong point for the band. With Aaron Walker on traditional drums and Pete Barnhart providing techno-percussion, the band lays down a solid backbeat with a full set of whistles and bells.

When they share a spotlight, Walker and Barnhart fall somewhere between a duet and a duel.

"We're not sure either," said Barnhart, who brings a passion for Indian, African and Middle Eastern rhythms to the band.

"We incorporate that into what we're doing," he said. "It becomes a language, and we work things out by ear."

Walker said they work in tandem to provide a strong foundation for the Bus to move on.

"We just kind of see what happens. It goes back and forth, and I can lay back a little," he said. "It's harder to play less. ... It forces you to really concentrate."

Kreider said the group is "going for something that explores non-traditional rhythms."

"We're not trying to be your average classic rock band," he said. "We try and incorporate world music into our sound, but we'd like to make it accessible, stuff people like and can dance to."

The latest addition to the band is guitarist Chad Kinsey, who said he provides more bounce and jam to the sound.

Burning Bus is not a band that often spotlights one member, nor does anyone fade into the background. The members mesh well as a single unit, although each has a moment or two at the front.

"We try and create a little bit of chaos in our solos and push it to the edge of whatever cliff we're going to fall off of, then we snap it back into the song," Kinsey said.

Greiner said she draws her lyrical inspiration from books -- recently she pulled some lines from Kafka's The Castle -- and blends them into a story.

"I see a phrase in there that I like," she said. "I open various books and grab phrases and juxtapose them. I get a theme for a song and I throw them together. I tell a story."

She also writes about what she sees.

"Once a fight broke out at King and Shippen streets, near my old apartment, and I wrote down exactly what happened," Greiner said. "Then I expanded on it."

interview by
Tom Knapp

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