Interview with Clem Burke
by Katrina Fox for the Official Blondie Web Site
Sydney, Australia, August 2003
KF: How long have you been playing drums and what training have you had?
CB: I've been playing drums for over 30 years. I took some preliminary training at school, I was in the school orchestra for a while. I think I got chucked out, probably for playing too loud. Then I was in a sort of drum and bugle corp thing. When I started my first band in high school I stopped being in the drum and bugle corp but I figure that a lot of my rudimentary expertise came from doing that and it's also a test of endurance as there's a lot of marching involved. A lot of drum people came out of that background. I combined my social life and music together; it started as a teenager and kept going from there, I was always in bands.
KF: Are you from a musical family?
CB: My dad was a drummer for a while. His family had a society band for a little while.
KF: What did you do when Blondie stopped?
CB: Right when Blondie stopped I had a band called Chequered Past with Nigel Harrison and Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols. We made one record for EMI and during Blondie I started working with a lot of people, two of which were Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart. I did the first Eurythmics record and went on to work with them throughout the eighties. We did a couple of huge Australian tours then. I've worked with everyone from Joan Jett to Bob Dylan to Iggy Pop to Pete Townsend.
Now I'm playing with Nancy Sinatra as much as I can which is really fun. It's a great band, really musical, I've been learning a lot. She has all the musical charts from the sixties. There's a drummer who was very influential on me - Hal Blaine, who also played on Phil Spector and the Monkees' stuff. The thing about all those bubblegum records from the sixties that were made in California is that they had all really excellent musicians. There's a guy who plays keyboards in the band with Nancy called Don Randi who played on (the Beach Boys) Pet Sounds and on the Phil Spector record crew. It's great when you get him and Nancy together late at night, there's some great stories. They are amazed that I know some of the stuff that I ask them but it's good, it's really fulfilling musically working with Nancy.
I also have this band called the Romantics, disbanded from the eighties, who have a new record coming out as we speak. Unfortunately the Blondie record is coming out at the same time. I have someone who substitutes for me and with Nancy now we've got Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello & the Attractions who's going to be playing with her. I'm no longer able to do it because this Blondie thing is hopefully going to be for the next 18 months at least, as far as this whole configuration of promotion and performance for the Curse of Blondie goes.
KF: What do you think of electronic drums? Do they make it easier for you to hear the other members of the band, as well as yourself at the same time, or do you have to rely on monitor speakers/phones about the same as with the old drums?
CB: All my drums are sampled now. It is a drum computer system that was customized for me, so they look like acoustic drums. The main impetus behind the whole thing was to lower the stage volume which makes it a lot easier for Debbie. I was talking to Butch Vig, the drummer in Garbage and that's basically what he does and Madonna is also using it. The last tour I had some plexiglass behind me to isolate the drum sound but I didn't really like it very much and it wasn't as effective so now I just wear the headphones and there's no need for onstage monitoring, just in the headphones. I have a sound that is superior to anything else you would get live and it sounds like a recording studio. It's worked out for Debbie especially. My whole thing was that I researched it to find out like I was saying what Madonna and people like that would do to make things as easy as possible for everybody.