Q&A: The inside story behind Dec Burke's Book Of Secrets

Dec Burke poses with two guitars
(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

Limerick-born Dec Burke is something of a prolific multitasker. He’s had a varied career, from Darwin’s Radio to Frost*’s much-loved eccentricities and the recent anthemic sound of AudioPlastik. There’s no mistaking his signature melodies within each of the bands he’s part of. In 2009, Burke decided to embark on a solo career, something that proved to be a daunting yet ultimately rewarding endeavour. His tentative transition from band member to solo artist wasn’t easy – much of Burke’s talents lie with utilising the ideas of his fellow musicians to stimulate his own compositions. This was clear from his first solo record, Destroy All Monsters, a cornucopia of ideas collated from his time in his various bands. Book Of Secrets, his third outing, is where he really comes into his own. It clearly showcases Burke’s talents as a songwriter: he’s moved from keyboard-centric prog to rockier, riff-driven toe-tappers, showing just how much he’s grown in confidence as a solo artist, and taking his melody-fused progressive sounds to new levels.

How do you musically multitask so well?

I’ve always thought of myself as someone who would be a good collaborator when it comes to music. If I’m being brutally honest, I do struggle to write whole songs by myself, and with the various groups I’ve been with, I’ve been able to see what melodic content is needed in a song. This is what happens primarily with AudioPlastik – Simon [Andersson, ex-Pain of Salvation] writes the song structures and my job is to come up with the catchy content. So when it comes to doing my own stuff, it takes me a while. It wasn’t until I was looking through my ideas on the computer that I realised I had nine or 10 songs on there, which is an album’s worth. From there I was able to flesh out those ideas into songs.

I’m my own worst enemy – I’m very critical about what I do, and I worry about what people will think.

Was it challenging to go solo?

It was incredibly daunting. With the first album I just wanted to be busy as we’d just come off the back of Darwin’s Radio and I really wanted to push things along. But with different things going on in the lives within the band, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. So I knew that if I wanted to get out there and gig then I was going to need my own songs to do that. It was also a really steep learning curve – I was suddenly on my own and that was that. With my new record, it’s different to the other two because with the first two, it was just me with ideas, making a song out of them. I feel that this new one is definitely my best one. I think it sounds great, and I think the songs are strong as I’ve approached them from a guitar player’s point of view. I’m really excited about this one!

You released your first solo album, Destroy All Monsters, in 2010. You’re now on your third with Book Of Secrets. How has life as a solo artist changed in those six years?

I feel I’m a lot more confident in what I’m doing. I’m my own worst enemy – I’m very critical about what I do and I’m always worried about what people will think about new songs I post. I would say that has lessened as time has gone on as I’ve been teaching guitar for a number of years and I’ve become more adept technically, and more confident in my abilities as a solo artist. I’ve also written Book Of Secrets with my guitar as opposed to keyboard, and so it’s more about the riffs – I’d say it’s a bit more like Foo Fighters. It’s definitely bigger than the other two solo albums I’ve done, and as a result of that, it feels a little more ambitious.

Book Of Secrets features, among others, Swedish musicians Kristoffer Gildenlöw (Pain Of Salvation) and Carl Westholm. You’ve said you sometimes think that you should have been born in Sweden. Why is that?

It originated when Darwin’s Radio went to RoSfest in the States in 2007. We met up with the guys from Carptree, and Carl [Westholm] has been on all of my albums playing keyboards. Then Stefan [Fanden] produced my second album and I found myself over there quite a bit, even learning a bit of the language. Then when I was putting together AudioPlastik, I had a list of musicians I wanted to work with, and there was a strong Swedish connection. I just love what’s coming out of Sweden – they just seem to have an inherent musical ability. It’s always been the melodies that attract me and make me want to make music of that nature. If you’d have said to me a few years ago that guys like Kristoffer [Gildenlow] would be playing bass on my album, I wouldn’t have believed you. I’ll send him over the demos with guide basslines and then when he sends me his stuff, I’m in awe.

You mention that teaching guitar has helped with your songwriting. What is it about teaching that appeals to you?

I realised I had to get a proper job to support myself and to make ends meet. It’s something I really love because I feel as though I’m contributing, and it’s rewarding being able to share your knowledge with someone. A few of the kids I’m teaching are as young as eight, and sometimes you feel that for weeks they’re not making progress and then there’s a breakthrough. It’s so rewarding – and, of course, I get to play guitar as a job, which is what I love.

Book Of Secrets is out now on ProgRock.