There are no rules: Singer-Songwriter Doug Burton on Leaving a Musical Legacy

Doug Burton is a singer-songwriter based in Fayetteville, NC. He has been actively writing & performing since forming his first high school punk rock band, The Cooties, in 1985 in Williamsburg, VA. Doug and Cooties drummer Chris Layton began a songwriting partnership in 1992 that quickly morphed into the band Gunston Midas. Gunston Midas would go on to be a mainstay in the Tidewater, VA/Outer Banks, NC indie rock scene over the next 20 years.

Upon relocating to Fayetteville in 2014, Doug embarked on a solo career, releasing the album, “Hotel Reverb” under the pseudonym Junction Medias that same year. He played regularly at the local venue The Rock Shop, and made frequent appearances in the Triangle area. 2019 saw the release of his second solo album, “Context Is Everything,” which was recorded & produced by Shawn Adkins at Back-A-Round Studio. In July 2019, along with local musician Michael Daughtry, he co-founded Fayetteville Songwriters In The Round, a monthly live original music series. The series features the best local songwriters as well as guests from around North Carolina. During the COVID hiatus, Doug wrote a new album called “Good Music,” which will go into production in early 2022 as the sixth Gunston Midas album. He has been happily married to Katie Jones Burton since 1998. They have no children and wouldn’t have it any other way. They enjoy staying at home and listening to a good record as well as going to concerts & traveling.

Burton at Back-a-Round Records

3 Things making your life richer & why

1. My love of music is my foundation. My main goal in life is to leave the world a better place than I found it. My way of doing this is through the music I make. Being that my wife and I decided to not have children, the music I leave behind will be my legacy and I take that seriously with every album I release and with every live performance. 

2. The love I share with my wife and my closest friends sustains me and when I need them, they’re always there. Likewise, being a good friend and a loving husband is of paramount importance to me and when I fall short, I feel extremely bad about myself. I am a perfectionist. I don’t consider a song and/or album to be finished until it is exactly the way I want it to be and I extend that high standard to most things in my life. It sometimes makes things difficult but when I do succeed, I feel like a tremendous success.

3. The music community here in Fayetteville is, for the most part, a close knit circle and a caring & giving support system. There are healthy rivalries to be sure, but ultimately, there is a real sense of community here that I haven’t experienced elsewhere. Artists here are often inspired by each other, which is also rare in my experience. When a fellow musician says they listened to my album and it meant something to them, that means a lot to me.

Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: Michael Daughtry. Upon relocating to Fayetteville in 2014, Michael was the first musician who befriended me and he has been an endless source of inspiration as well as a great friend. I’ve seen him behind the scenes and I’ve seen him on stage and he is by far the hardest working musician I know. His work ethic, passion, and positive attitude are infectious. Though he seemingly has more projects going on than time in the day in which to complete them, he is always giving with his time when I need to run an idea by him or just to chat. He sets an unbelievably high bar for local musicians to aim for. Keeping up with The Joneses? No, I try to keep up with The Daughtry!

Michael Daughtry and Doug Burton

What is one of your current artistic experiments?
During the COVID lockdown, I wrote a large batch of songs and I have written more in the meantime. I have selected twelve that will make up my new album, “Good Music,” and I’ve been busy recording home demos in preparation for the planned recording sessions in early 2022. I am also re-launching the Songwriters In The Round series every month at Fayetteville Bakery & Cafe.

What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? Throughout 2020, I periodically posted songs performed acoustically at home, in the studio, and at various locations in which I found myself. This “Acoustic Series” allowed me to practice my newly written songs as well as revisit many older Gunston Midas tunes. I have not continued the series into 2021 as I have been able to get out and play for people in person more. The various Open mic opportunities in Fayetteville allow local musicians the ability to try out new material and get the immediate feedback not possible with home practice.

Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. I have a music room in our house where I have my guitars and recording gear set up. I keep my Fender Telecaster out and readily available as well as my Epiphone Hummingbird acoustic guitar and Mustang bass. My other guitars are packed in their cases but I do use some of them occasionally on recordings for a variety of tones. I practice there daily but sometimes I also practice while sitting at the computer, especially if I am working on something new so I can make notes to remember parts and/or lyrics for future use.

How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? I would stop short of calling it “random,” or “magic,” but it’s often a little of both. “Love Makes You Stupid” from my “Context Is Everything” album was inspired by a Seinfeld episode. My early Gunston Midas song “Vancouver” was written in the aftermath of a friend I knew I would miss moving to Vancouver. The title track on “Good Music” is about my desire to leave as much good music  behind as possible, when “my time disappears.” Then there are songs like “Fire Ants” which is a story told through the eyes of a fire ant and how life is often disappointing but “you get used to it.” The first song I ever wrote was in high school in 1985. It was called “Chair.” One day, a friend sat down next to me in class and said, “I wish I had a nice chair ’cause all of these are so uncomfortable.” A lightbulb inside my head suddenly switched on. The first line of “Chair” turned out to be “I wish I had a nice chair ’cause all these are so uncomfortable.” My songwriting mantra is “Never question The Muse.” My Muse has been singing to me since 1985 and I will listen until she stops. 

Advice to newer artists in your genre.
1. Get it on tape. Or ones & zeros in modern parlance. I wish I had recorded many of the songs I wrote early in my life as a musician that have disappeared into the forgotten depths of history. It was more difficult in those days to record but with today’s technology, songwriters are in a golden age of convenience so take advantage of it. 

2. If you write something you are not entirely happy with, don’t consider it done. Put it aside and move on. Then maybe go back later and listen with fresh ears. Sometimes you will find that your initial reaction was too harsh, or maybe you like the chorus or the verse and you can use just that part in something else. 

3. A song is whatever you say it is. Don’t restrict yourself to a formula or structure. Every rock & roll song doesn’t have to be: intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus/outro. If you just have a verse and a chorus that you like and they work well together and all combined, it’s only 50 seconds, so be it, that’s what the song was meant to be. My favorite band, Guided By Voices, has more drop-dead brilliant songs that are under a minute than most bands have what you would even call a good song. There are no rules to songwriting. 

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