Lost Balloons' Hey Summer comes out Friday, June 16, via Dirtnap Records.
Jeff Burke is a prolific songwriter, but he doesn't sit down to write much. Songs tend to come to him when he’s watching TV or just messing around on his guitar, he says.
“When I try to write songs, it doesn’t end up working too well."
Burke writes for a myriad of musical groups. When he writes, he says, it's often without a particular band in mind. In addition to fronting the sugar-laced punk band Radioactivity and playing occasional shows with the Marked Men — both based in Denton — he's recently formed another project, Lost Balloons. The group's second LP, Hey Summer, will be released Friday.
“In general, what comes out, comes out,” Burke tells the Observer in a phone conversation from Portland, Oregon, where he is playing with Radioactivity.
Aside from playing music, Burke spends his time running a music studio he started, Cool Devices, and working at his brother’s Mad World Records shop in Denton. But he used to live in Japan, where he met musician Yusuke Okada, his partner in Lost Balloons, through mutual friends.
Burke and Okada, who also plays in a band called Suspicious Beasts, had talked about collaborating someday. After Burke moved back to North Texas and Okada moved to New York in 2011, they began trading song ideas over email.
Whenever Okada is in North Texas, he and Burke record at Cool Devices, based out of a two-car garage in Tarrant County. They’ll have songs ready and practiced, but sometimes the pair will come up with new songs while recording.
Between the two, they cover all the instruments; Burke plays on a drum kit he has had since he was a teenager. In 2015, Lost Balloons released its self-titled debut, full of thrashing downstrokes on distorted guitars, via the Berlin label Alien Snatch! Records. It will be re-released in the U.S. later this year.
Hey Summer is a step forward for Burke and Okada’s melodic sensibilities. While there are uptempo rockers, the influence of the Beatles and the Kinks comes through more clearly on this follow-up. There are open chords, walking guitar leads and slower tempos. Burke’s penchant for indelible melodies is on display.
“We’ve solidified some sort of sound,” Burke says. “All of the songs fit better. The first record was a little bit more of us just screwing around in the studio.”
Opener “Change Your Mind” has a beautiful tinge of sadness while “Paint” sounds more like Built to Spill and Mercury Rev. Heart-tuggers “Feed the Pain” and “Numb” are also standouts on this nearly 40-minute album.
Hey Summer came together not long after Lost Balloons finished its debut album three years ago.
“We started working on the next one right away,” Burke says.
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Burke and Okada plan to tour as Lost Balloons in August, and to make that happen, they've recruited help in the form of Radioactivity drummer Greg Rutherford and bassist Daniel Fried. Mark Ryan will play keys. Okada also knows people in New York who can fill in if conflicts arise.
“I like the idea of mixing it up a little bit, trying to play with other musicians as well,” Burke says.
Burke also says he has enough material for a new Radioactivity album. He just needs to find the time to get all of his bandmates together to record.
“It’s a matter of getting everybody in the same town to practice the songs at this point,” Burke says. “I was hoping to record in April or May, but just didn’t get to it. Hopefully I’ll get these guys into the studio so we can start recording and then see which ones will work for the next album.”