Blondie’s big come back
Long-time drummer Clem Burke opens up about the band, music and life
By Nikoleta Morales
For those of you who are a bit too young to know, Blondie is a legendary American rock band formed by Debbie Harry and Chris Stein in the mid-late 1970s, emerging than in the new wave punk scene and soon after climbing their way to the top of the music scene. The band’s most popular and number 1 hit singles are “Call Me,” “Heart of Glass,” “The Tide is High,” “Atomic,” among many others, as well as one of my personal favourites “One Way or Another.”. They are very well-known for their mix of musical styles combining pop, disco, rock and roll, and reggae.
Now after 40 years in the music scene, Blondie is coming back with a new album in early 2017. The band is collaborating on the new album with a new producer, who has also worked with reputable celebrities. The band will also do a few concerts this summer, starting on June 10 in the Genesis Theater in Waukegan, IL. Following up the release of the album next year, the band is planning a big tour for its fans.
I had the honor to interview Blondie’s original and long-time drummer Clem Burke who has been distinguishing the band’s powerhouse sound. He talked about the band’s new album, their music, upcoming concerts and of course…life. Burke is among the great rock and roll drummers, a Grammy award winner, member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a recipient of the Honorary Doctorate of Music by the the University of Gloucestershire for his involvement in the Clem Burke Drumming Project. Burke has also been recording and touring with his other musical collaborations the Spirit Squad and the Empty Hearts.
Blondie has been in the music scene for over 40 years and you have been there since the start. How has the band and its music changed over the years and how is the band adapting now to the new millennials taste of music?
I am not sure if we changed over the years. We always have had different styles of music [like] disco, rap, reggae and rock and roll, but the tools have changed. We record digitally. The new album comes full circle with it. We came together and tried like we did back in the day. Fortunately for Blondie, we have always been outside of the box, searching for inspiration and paying attention to what is happening in the culture. We keep moving forward. I love being in the band and making new music. We will always continue making new music.
Speaking of new music, Blondie’s new album is coming out next year. Tell us more about that and what style or mixture of styles will be in there?
This album will be very organic sounding. For the first time we are working with outside writers to write some of the songs like Sia and Charlie XCX.
You are playing select shows this year beginning in June. Where can fans hear and see you this year? Is this the big come back?
We had filmed a concert in Chicago in PBS right before Christmas with new songs, which will air soon on TV. We also have some shows here and there but we are not on tour. We are waiting for the new album to come out to go on tour. We also have some shows in July. It keeps the band together, like we are on a summer vacation (laughs).
You have recently been named by the Rolling Stone as one of the 100 greatest drummers of all times. You are number 61. How does that make you feel?
Of course it is very subjective. This particular one I liked the idea because it is judged by the music critics and it is more based on influence and musicality. I am very happy to be included among a lot of great musicians and singled out.
Tell me more about the Clem Burke Drumming Project (The Project is based on the pursuit of knowledge through the application of scientific principles to the various art forms of drumming. It is committed to the dissemination of information leading to increased enjoyment, health and well-being of all participants involved in drumming.) Why and how did you come up with this idea?
I am very happy that Dr. Marcus Smith wrote me a letter 15 years ago. He was working on an analogy between sports and music, like when you are performing how does your heart rate come up and down, which is also applicable to drumming. I became friends with Smith over the years. He has very positive aspects and life lessons for younger people. If you want to be a musician you have to be in shape to be the best you can be. I am happy to be part of it! [More about the project: http://www.clemburkedrummingproject.com]
What would you like to say to your fans in Chicago and the young musicians, people that are looking up to you?
You have to have your inspiration that came from the people before you. If you are fortunate enough to be influenced by the right people, continue to be inspired by them and follow your heart. Pay attention to trends. When we first started playing it wasn’t a popular music. You have to try to be original and think differently than the mainstream and find your niche, capture the moment. Our songs capture a feeling and they are still appreciated. We were lucky and we followed our heart. You have to have conviction and be able to deal with rejection in life, whether music, relationships or your job. Some people have more difficulty especially in the artistic career and do not survive the music business. You have to learn what happened in the past and make yourself better. When we first started we just wanted gigs and to make a record. It changed as time went on and no one could have predicted that we will continue as long as we have. You like what you do and you survive. We fell in love with the music we were making. We were also supporting each other a lot. We built a foundation. Have your mind together and think positively.
For a full schedule on Blondie’s upcoming shows, visit: http://www.blondie.net/#shows.