Clem Burke Interview – by Travis Marc – 2011.
Drumming legend Clem Burke and his group ‘Blondie’ were recently on tour in the UK in support of their new studio album ‘Panic Of Girls’. We were lucky enough to chat with the American drummer about how the new record came together, his recently received doctorate award and a few other things. Here’s what Clem had to say…
Let’s start by talking about your recent honorary doctorate award, what does it mean to you to receive such an award?
Well, it’s a honour for sure. I’ve been been working with Dr Smith and Dr Draper for about fifteen years on on the Clem Burke Drumming Project and the research involves a number of drumming aspects including – physiology, ‘hand to eye co-ordination, blood level and oxygen intake etc. I never really expected any of the research to resolve in me receiving a doctorate from Gloucester University though. When I first heard that there might be a chance of receiving the doctorate award I was really excited, but the reality of it was completely unexpected. When I reflect back onto everything that’s gone into the research it makes me feel really proud, and the fact that the two scientists are able to continue their work while I remain the figurehead for it is simply amazing. The main goal behind the project was to make a good analogy between sport and drumming and I think we’ve done that, so again I’m really proud of how it’s all gone.
Would you say the research has exceeded your expectations in regards to the information your researchers have already discovered?
I think it’s exceeded everyone’s expectations. The research has been going on a lot longer than any of us ever thought that it would. I first met Dr Smith at Wembly arena in the late 90’s and it just so happened that he was a ‘Blondie’ fan. At the time he was involved in coaching the UK boxing team and he was really interested in trying to combine his love and research of physiology in sport with music. I don’t think any of us realised that we’d actually be able to obtain over twelve years of data (on me specifically) which has actually become a legitimate study into the physiology of drumming. It’s amazing.
Tell us a bit about the new Blondie record, ‘Panic of Girls’. What was the writing and recording process like? Also, how does Blondie manage to keep things fresh after being in studio as many times as you guys have?
I think that as artists we want to continue being creative, and I believe that being in New York can be very inspiring as it’s such a multi cultural city that has so many different styles of music that one can be exposed to. In my opinion, just being in the New York City fuels creativity, which is probably why there are so many great people living there. In regards to trying to keep things fresh I’d say that one of the main things one can do is to always stay positive. We’re all adults and have been working together for long enough to realise what brings out the best in each other.
What’s your favourite Blondie song off the new record?
We originally recorded around thirty songs while in studio, and less than half of them made it onto the final record. Some of my favourites are actually not on the record like a song called ‘God save New York’ and another called ‘Last Looks’. On the record I really like the first single ‘Mother’. Musically I feel this record really takes the listener on a journey, it doesn’t have just one specific sound and is pretty eclectic. We always liked artists like ‘David Bowie’, ‘The Rolling Stones’ and ‘The Beatles’ and they would almost always play different styles or change the sound from album to album, so we definitely take a lot of inspiration from those kind of artists.We’re really happy with it.
Live – I don’t necessarily have a favourite song to perform. I think the show should be about the audience and how they respond in general. I mean obviously most crowds enjoy hearing the hits and as artists we like to play a lot of what people expect to hear, but we also keep ourselves satisfied by throwing in a few of the new tunes. There’s not one song I don’t enjoy performing, I look at the whole show as one long song or performance instead of highlighting just one song that I know everyone is going to enjoy.
Did you use any unusual gear on the new record?
I did. I used a lot of different snare drums throughout the recording and even some really big bass drums for the overdubs. I played a trash can on one of the tracks and even some marimbas. I used a couple different drum kits, some which were more ambient than others. All in all ther was definitely room for experimentation on this record, which was great.
What advice could you offer up and coming drummers on how to successfully have a long career within the music business?
Always be open minded in regards to your outlook. Always try and be a team player within the context of the band and never be afraid to take chances or make mistakes. Keep on persevering, and think logically. I would also say that it’s really important to try and play with as many different musicians as you can, that way you can always bring back what you have learnt in other situations to whatever situation you may find yourself in at the time. As Blondie, we have all worked with other people during our careers and I really believe that we’re all better for it.
For further information on the Clem Burke drumming project please visit www.clemburkedrummingproject.com