Clem Burke: “We’re Gonna Hold off Retirement For as Long as we Can!”

The drummer of new wave legends Blondie talks the chemistry of the band, their upcoming tour and what the future holds

Article by Andrew Steel

Clem Burke has just finished pounding out the miles on the treadmill when Riddle calls him in California. The drummer of legendary new wave pioneers Blondie and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, the Bayonne, New Jersey-born musician is keeping himself strictly in shape during a period of downtime for the band between legs of their latest world tour, coming behind latest album Pollinator; an album that, against all fashion, has reinvigorated the New York veterans, granting them the biggest success of their career for 20 years. It’s difficult for any band to gain a second wind; to have a third, over four decades on from their debut, is testament to the group’s influence and legacy.

“The creativity of the whole band really comes across on this record,” he muses, a laconic, Eastern seaboard brogue colouring his words. “The last two albums we put out before Pollinator, they were done sort of bit-by-bit, over the years, a lot of it with computers. So when we went to do this one, we wanted to make sure that we were all together in one place. We set up at The Magic Shop in New York and we made it the way we used to do, as a cohesive outfit. I think the reception’s been so good because it just really gets back to the chemistry of old Blondie, kicking around in the studio.”

Clem and his bandmates – including iconic vocalist Debbie Harry and founding guitarist Chris Stein – have cultivated something of an auteur persona with their litany of ground-breaking pop hits; and subsequently, the additional personal linking up with the group on Pollinator reads as a who’s who of big-name songwriters, including Sia, Johnny Marr and Nick Valensi of The Strokes. “That’s just the guys whose songs we used!” he laughs. “Dave Stewart and Paul Weller both did songs which might see the light. Sparks wrote one with us too. We have a history of reinterpreting songs; some of our biggest hits were penned by others. We pull from all these different places, add all these influences up and that’s what assimilates into that Blondie sound. When we get everyone together, we make a special sound that is exclusively Blondie.”

After a cluster of festival shows over the summer – including separate Hyde Park support slots for Phil Collins and Take That – the six-piece are embarking on their first fully fledged UK tour in three years, taking in arenas for the first time in around 15 years. With almost two-dozen hit singles in their arsenal and plenty more fan favourites, how do they prepare the perfect setlist? “We try to please everyone but we’ve also got to please ourselves. When we got back together in the nineties, it was to make new music and that remains our manifesto. So we’ll play five or six new songs, alongside an A-list of cuts, like Call Me and Rapture – and then we have a B-list of cuts like Picture This and Sunday Girl that we can move in and out of the set night-to-night.”

With half of their members all north of 60 – and Debbie well into her 70s – it seems natural to dwell on the future; what do the next few years hold for Blondie as they head into their fifth decade? Clem is wryly optimistic. “We’re definitely going to be continuing. I always say that the band will go for another eighteen months at least whenever I’m asked – and I’ve been saying that for longer than I like to think about!” He chuckles, then sobers. “We’re definitely planning on another album though, keeping up the live shows, all at our own pace. We’re all big fans of music – and we want to keep on making music. We’ve got some of the best jobs in the world and we don’t want to stop; we’re gonna hold off retirement for as long as we can!” riddle_stop 2

 

Blondie play Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, November 7. Then touring. Tickets available at www.blondie.net/

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