Yes, that Steve Burns, the one who used to consort with a blue puzzle-solving puppy. Yes, that Steve Burns, the one who once sought advice from salt and pepper shakers made of felt. But now allow your brain to handle the fact that this is also the same Steve Burns who colluded with the likes of Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips and record producer David Fridmann to create a lush, imaginative, off-center album for adventuresome grownups called Songs For Dustmites. Or, as Burns himself describes it, "It's an album of sweet songs about science and love."
You can hear the kind of playful, metaphysical rock Burns and Fridmann and Drozd are after from the album's opening track, "Mighty Little Man," a bouyant, space-rock epic propelled by an overdriven bass line that buzzes somewhere between Ween and Radiohead. "Steve Burns approach to music is so strange that I had to work with him and I'm glad that I did," says Fridmann, who has added his otherworldly touch to albums by the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev and Mogwai. "Steve is the best ex-children's-show-host-record-making-weirdo I know," he adds. Go deeper into the album and you�'ll uncover Burns' Bowie-like desire to push the boundaries of music. The sweeping "Troposphere," which was written on an airplane pondering the layer of the atmosphere before you hit outer space, builds from a contemplative little ballad to a sweeping rock dynamo flush with strings. A similar orchestral flair comes to light on "Stick Around," with its elegant use of trumpet and cello.
For Steve Burns, the shift from children's TV into the world of rock music isn't much of a leap at all, considering he's had the music bug ever since his dad carved him a toy guitar more than 20 years ago. But growing up, Burns found more opportunities in theater than in music. The acting remained a focus for Burns for years, leading to an audition in 1995 that changed everything. "I auditioned for Blue's Clues in camouflage pants, long hair and earrings. I thought it was a voiceover audition," he says. "When we started it was kinda like being in a punk rock band," he explains. "We had all these crazy ideas no one knew if it would work or if kids were going to talk to the TV screen, but we all really believed in it."
Burns treasures his five years on the show, but eventually, the time was right to make a new start. The music bug was beckoning -- as well as some other bugs. "I literally started writing this album because I was obsessed with a picture someone had shown me of a dustmite fighting with a micro gear," he says. "There are these tiny machines that are so small that dustmites, these microscopic animals, assume they are competing for food sources and do battle with them."
Starting from a single, combative dustmite, the album took on a life of its own according to Burns. "It all happened when I got a decent computer. I used to have a 4-track and now I can have an one hundred and four track. When I was 14 I would get my brother-in-law's bass and beat the hell out of it until I sounded like Fugazi or something. I did the same thing with the computer, having no idea how to use it I just pounded on it until I sounded like Boards Of Canada or Radiohead or whatever."
From those sessions of messing around with loops and noises and ideas, a few songs started to emerge. But what to do with them? "In my wildest dreams I thought 'who are exactly the people I would want to work on this with' and I actually got to work with them," Burns explains. Through a friend, Burns called Fridmann, sheepishly explaining who he was, and how much the Flaming Lips Soft Bulletin (which Fridmann produced) changed his life, to ask if maybe Dave would be interested in listening to a few of his songs. As fate would have it, Fridmann had just thrown a Blue's Clues party for his kids the night before. All of this led to David Fridmann's Tarbox Road Stuidos in upstate New York becoming home for some of the key tracks on Songs For Dustmites. "It's the Mecca for uncommon production value," says Burns. "It's a cabin under 40 feet of snow at all times. It's sort of like The Shining with vintage audio compressors."
With Fridmann¹s help, the album shares much of that cinematic psychedelia the Flaming Lips are known for, with more sonic color and wonder added by the Lips' own Steven Drozd. "When I met Drozd, it took us about 10 minutes before we were sitting on the floor writing fake rock songs like a couple of high school kids," relates Burns. " Drozd can rock out as hard to Zeppelin as he can to Air Supply and that's what makes him a genius." For Drozd, the feeling is mutual, calling Burns the "smartest, funniest, and sweetest man I've met in 10 years."
By: A. Nelson this article originally appeared on PhreshWater.com in 7/03