Something strange happened on the last Blondie tour. Usually, when the reviews come out, Debbie Harry is talked about as though she is doing a solo act with anonymous back-up musicians. But on this recent tour, although Harry still received the bulk of the attention, one of the musicians was consistently singled out: drummer Clem Burke. The Tampa Tribune stated: “One needed only to look to the right and watch Clem Burke tirelessly flail away at his drums…to figure out who’s the backbone of the Blondie sound.” The New York Times called the concert itself “a decided disappointment, “but referred to “Clem Burke’s authoritative drumming” as an “attractive, redeeming quality. ” From a review of the same concert, Billboard called Clem “one of the most dynamic drummers in rock.” The Minneapolis Star compared Clem’s stage presence to Debbie Harry’s, commenting: “Blondie drummer Clem Burke was an equally appealing show as he bashed a way at the drum kit with all the abandon of the Who’s Keith Moon. Burke is the backbone of this energetic, eclectic band… ” And the Miami Herald put it quite simply: “Cool, maniacal Clement Burke may be the best drummer in rock. “
Not bad for a kid from Bayonne, New Jersey, who started off by playing along to Beatle albums. But then, he made his Carnegie Hall debut at age 15 (with his high school band). Clem Burke has been the drummer for Blondie ever since the group formed in 1975. They developed their sound and style in Bowery clubs such as CBGB’s, and were a part of the Bowery circuit that included such bands as the Ramones, Television, and The Heartbreakers. They recorded a single, “X Offender(s),” with producer Richard Gottehrer, who also produced their first album, Blondie. Both were released on Private Stock records, but with their second album, Plastic Letters, the group began their association with Chrysalis Records, for whom they continue to record. Their third album, Parallel Lines, was released in 1978, and soon went platinum. This was the album that contained the hit, “Heart of Glass.” Eat To The Beat followed in ’79, with the hit, “Dreaming,” after which, the group took a break from touring. They returned to the studio in the summer of 1980 to record AutoAmerican, but afterwards, took another break during which the individual members pursued a variety of independent projects. They finally regrouped in January of ’82, going into the studio to produce their sixth album, Hunter, which they followed with a major tour.
RM: Blondie was relatively inactive for almost two years. What were you doing during that time?
CB: The last live gig Blondie had done was March 1980 in Paris. Since then, first, with Blondie we did the AutoAmerican album. That gave us the chance to sort of branch out, musically. I got to play with Ray Brown, Tom Scott and people like that, which was very interesting for me. I felt I was broadening my horizons, so to speak, by getting to play with people of that stature.
I was also trying to get involved in production work; trying to learn more about the studio and seeing what it’s like on the other side of things. Chris [Stein], Jimmy [Destri] and I have been involved in production work for a couple of years now. We’ve found that it really helps us when we go into the studio as a group because we’ve seen the other side of it. So I produced a couple of records— independent records—one for a local group called the Colors. I just did an album with them as well. I did another record with a band called the Speedies. Sort of developing the local talent in the neighborhood, so to speak. Then I went to England and did an album for RCA with a band called the Eurythmics with Connie Plank.
RM: Were you doing any playing during the layoff?
CB: Once we realized the layoff was occurring, it took me a while to realize what I was going to do with my time, so I didn’t play my drums for a good six months. Virtually didn’t touch them at all. Then I started to get various little offers here and there and I slowly got back into it. I moved to Europe and lived in London for six months and tried to work as much as possible. I was trying to expose myself to as many different musicians as I could, because working with different people makes you stronger when you come back to your regular group. So I did some playing with Steve Jones and Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols, then I did a mini-tour with Nigel [Harrison], our bass player, and Michael Des Barres. I also did some stuff with Brian James for Miles Copeland’s label, IRS. And then, with only five day’s notice, I did a six-week tour with Iggy Pop. That was a lot of fun, and I found it very rewarding. His words to the band before every show were basically, “I want you guys to go out there and play as loud and as hard and as fast as possible.” He sort of leaves everything open so your playing can become uninhibited, which can be a good thing, at times. Playing with him for that six weeks really helped develop my chops, because it’s a very intensive form of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s very grueling and can be very exhausting if you’re not in shape for it. It was a fairly long show—an hour-and-a-half to two hours—and it was all very “up” music. He has such a wealth of material that we were sort of spanning his whole career. He was a particular inspiration for me, musically, so it was really great to play with him. And then I recently did an album with him.
RM: How did not playing for six months affect your drumming?
CB: You feel like you’re playing great for the first week, and then you realize that you have some catching up to do. I was pretty amazed that I could fall right into it. I think that comes from having played so much. I mean, Buddy Rich says that he never practices, right? I always sort of contended that I never practiced, but I did practice to get in shape for the Hunter tour.
RM: Back when you were saying that you never practiced, weren’t you playing almost constantly?
CB: Right. That’s the thing, I was always playing. If you play all the time, you don’t have to practice. It was after I hadn’t played awhile that I realized I had some catching up to do.
RM: Some people feel that getting away from the instrument occasionally can be good because you will come back to it with a certain freshness.
CB: Yeah, you definitely do find that, and if you don’t leave it too long, you can always get right back into it. I think chops are the main thing. You have to have a lot of endurance to play rock ‘n’ roll, so I’ve been working out—lifting weights and all that kind of stuff. I find it really helps with my playing. To play any sort of intensive music—really crazy big band music or really crazy rock ‘n’ roll—you have to have chops and endurance to be able to withstand the pace. I haven’t ever really gotten tired from playing. I find that after I play for a couple of hours, I want to keep going. I’m sort of disappointed when a rehearsal is over. I always feel more could get done. It’s just my particular personality I guess. But it’s like jogging—after the first couple of miles you can just keep going. With drumming, it’s the first two hours that you feel it. But after you get over that certain hump, you just keep going and it’s easier to do things.
RM: When Blondie got back together to do the Hunter album and tour after the layoff, did the group have to work very hard to get tight again, or does that tightness come back immediately?
CB: There was a certain tightness already there. For one thing, I think Nigel and I are probably one of the best rock ‘n’ roll rhythm sections, because we never really have to work out parts together—they just always seem to fit. We know how to play around each other, and obviously, interaction between the bass player and drummer is really important. In the old days, I think I tended to overplay and he would underplay. But then I started giving him a little more freedom, just by holding back a bit in my playing. Now we’ve reached a happy medium where we can really interact properly. And then he and I were in Europe, playing with Michael Des Barres together. I think it’s really good that we spent that time together playing, because it really helped us coming back into the Blondie thing.
I think the key to group playing is working with the same musicians. It can work against you in that it can get stale, but that’s where a layoff can help. I think that’s one of the assets of longevity of a group: you can come back into the fold and achieve a certain tightness that would normally take a while to work up to. You know, when a group of musicians get together for the first time, you have to feel each other out. If I find myself in a studio situation with musicians who I haven’t played with before, I always tend to be a little apprehensive about what I should do. But with Blondie, yeah, when we got back together to play, there was a certain tightness already there. That’s one of the real assets of staying together.
RM: Rock musicians generally seem more willing to make a commitment to a group than, say, jazz musicians.
CB: That’s really important. In jazz circles, it seems like one usually serves an apprenticeship with a well-known player, and then goes on from there, like the people who have come out of Miles Davis’ groups—McLaughlin, Corea, and all those people. In rock, it seems that maybe people do sort of stay together more. Maybe it’s based more on friendship. I don’t know. To be involved in any sort of business with your friends is a luxury—and rock ‘n’ roll is a business like anything else. In Blondie, we’re pretty fortunate that way, and you get a certain pleasure from that, for sure. I think it helps it to be a tight unit.
RM: When you were rehearsing for the Hunter tour, I presume you had to go back and work up some of the older songs. When rehearsing older material, do you have the freedom to try something new?
CB: Oh sure. We’re constantly trying to do that. One of the reasons Blondie has been together so long is that everyone has sort of a give and take approach. We have the freedom to start from a basis and expand it from there. We’re trying to do some songs a little more laid back and we’re trying to do other songs a little more up. Everyone works sort of collectively on the arrangements. I’m usually pretty good about coming up with endings for songs.
RM: Would you imagine that the average person who is regularly going to CBGB’s bought Blondie’s Hunter album?
CB: Good question. I would like to think that they did, out of wanting to see what we are up to these days, being that we came out of there, back when. It’s hard to say. I think Blondie’s not, in the eyes of the average person who goes to CBGB’s, considered to be “hip” these days. We’re probably considered to be more established. I always love it when people still think we’re weird, because a lot of the things that we sort of developed and stood for have become really commonplace these days. I’m convinced that if we made the album we made in 1976 today, it would be considered really hip. But for us, that’s what we did seven years ago.
RM: I guess it’s like asking if the people who used to hear the Beatles at the Cavern bought Rubber Soul, or Sgt. Pepper. But then, how well would “Norwegian Wood” have gone over in a place like the Cavern?
CB: Right, you wonder. The sound changes over the years, but that’s inevitable. I think it’s healthy. Our music has become more sophisticated and more eclectic. But I think eclecticism has always been one of the big things with us, like trying to pull these really off the wall influences into our music. We’re still trying to do that.
RM: Some of your old fans might feel that you’ve betrayed them, but how long can you play the same thing? You have to try to grow.
CB: Yeah, that’s true. But then I remember back when I was a 16-year-old kid. Even with groups that I was totally keen on, after their third album or so, forget it. Give me something new. I like to think that we are still doing things that people are interested in, and that we’re still innovative.
I think all the things we’ve done, like the layoffs, and the music changing, have made for the longevity of the group. As you said, if we had just hashed out Parallel Lines again, and things like that, it wouldn’t have been the right approach. But I also think that in the future, there is a chance that we can sort of go back to what we once did, and do it better, because of the changes. Perhaps it’s time to come full circle.
Debbie and Chris have brought a lot of different styles of playing out of me, which has really helped me. I mean, a long time ago, it took me forever to figure out how to play a disco beat, because I had no interest in it whatsoever. Even though it’s a simple thing, it was just alien to me. So this band has really helped me grow as a musician, that’s for sure. I can see it when I look at other groups who sort of came up with Blondie, but who have continued playing the same sort of music they started out playing. They haven’t really progressed as musicians. I think it’s the attitude of openness that’s important, and I think music is pretty open now. I think things like Miles Davis having a rock guitar player, and things like that, are really positive things. Some of the jazz freaks may say, “What is this guy playing this crap for?” But you have to be open to it.
RM: One thing that a lot of people are not open to is the use of drum machines, and things like that.
CB: Lately I’ve been getting into programming a drum machine and then playing drums along with it. I think that’s where the real strength lies—in the combination of the two. There’s probably a bit of resentment among drummers in particular about modern technology, but I don’t think that’s a very healthy attitude because these machines do exist. Drummers shouldn’t feel that these machines are going to put them out of work. They can be a real asset.
What I’ve been getting into is practicing and rehearsing with the drum machine. It’s much the same as practicing with a metronome, except that you can set up a counter rhythm with the machine and play against that. I find that programming the machine will give me ideas that I can then take further with the drums. It really helps me come up with a lot of interesting patterns. So modern technology is here. People should get into using them to their fullest potential, instead of shying away from them. It’s all part of modernization and I really think it’s important.
RM: Have you ever used one on a record?
CB: Yeah. The first time we did it was with “Heart Of Glass,” which we recorded in ’78. I think that was probably one of the first pop records to incorporate a rhythm machine and a sequencer into the final mix.
RM: Did you have any trouble staying with the machine?
CB: Yeah, I did at first. But that was a very mid-tempo disco beat, so it wasn’t that hard. I have a hard time playing to a straight metronome. I don’t particularly enjoy that. So I try to get a really swinging counter rhythm happening against straight time. That way, the machine is not just clicking away time like a metronome; it’s really like another instrument playing a rhythm. That really inspires my playing and I find it very helpful.
RM: I think what bothers a lot of people is the idea that the drummer is leaning on a machine.
CB: I would say to use it just to inspire your playing; not to use it as a crutch. I approach it by thinking of it as a separate instrument unto itself, and then playing together with it. I really think that state-of-the-art drumming involves the use of both a real drummer and some sort of rhythm machine. People probably don’t realize that most people do play to click tracks in the studio. I’m not talking about total, crazed punk rock or something, but on professional rock ‘n’ roll records, I think the average person would be surprised at the amount of people who play to click tracks. Some people think that’s cheating, but it’s really not.
RM: Plastic Letters had a statement on the back that said, “An Instant Record.” What did that mean?
CB: That was Richard Gottehrer’s company. His concept—which I sort of agree with—is to make records very quickly. His company started around the time of our first album, and the idea was just to go in, cut the tracks, and put it out—hence, “instant records.”
RM: I thought maybe it meant that it was all live; no overdubbing.
CB: No, but a lot of the early stuff was just one or two takes. When the whole group is recording together, you obviously get a certain spontaneity and a certain live feel. But it can also tend to come out very sloppy. I think the happy medium of that is maybe for the group to play together to achieve the right feel, and then going back and redoing certain things. People have made records in the past totally live, but I think it just comes down to state of the art, really. I think you tend to follow a certain route that is sort of the accepted way of making records. You are working with people who are making records professionally, and they know how other professionals are making records.
Nowadays, I really enjoy laying down a drum track, and then doing everything else over that track. There’s one track on the Hunter called the “Orchid Club,” which was done totally from scratch. It began with just a rhythm machine and a sequencer. Then I added a tom-tom pattern, and then a counter pattern to that, and then I used a synthesizer for the bass drum. I think building a track that way gives you more time to be creative. Doing a live track, maybe you can achieve spontaneity, but perhaps you put less thought into it. You don’t want the track to sound clinical either, but you can go back and pick and choose what you do.
We have done things live. The first track on the Hunter, “For Your Eyes Only,” was basically live, with just some guitar overdubs, and that achieved what it was supposed to achieve in that respect. And then on “Call Me,” the entire band was playing, but we were playing to a sequencer click track. With that, we could play like the first 16 bars, stop, listen to it, make sure it was happening, and then continue from there. That’s the other thing about playing with a click: you can stop and start. To the average person at home this might sound like a really clinical way to do things, but it does go on and it does achieve a certain quality that one wouldn’t particularly get by going in and just banging out the tracks. So I think there are things to be said for both ways of doing it. It’s a lot quicker—quicker meaning cheaper—to just go in and cut something live. Building the tracks takes a lot more time. Sometimes with Blondie, we’ll cut a drum track and we won’t know exactly what’s going to go on top of it, aside from the particular melody. But that gives us the chance to get the drum track down properly and then go back and really think about what’s going to be lying on top of that track. So that’s where you have the difference. In the studio, I enjoy being more technically minded. Live, it’s a whole other thing.
RM: When you are recording then, are you influenced by the thought that at some point you will have to perform the tune live?
CB: Well, with the AutoAmerican album, we were in the situation where we didn’t intend to go out and tour for that album. So you approach the record from an entirely different point of view. When you’re in that situation, you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to recapture that sound.
State-of-the-art wise, I think replicating live what you do in the studio is a very old concept. I don’t think one should have to worry about that at all. You’re making a record; a piece of vinyl. It’s not a live performance; it’s something else. I also think there’s a good deal of enjoyment for the audience in hearing a record a particular way, and then hearing it interpreted live, because it’s going to be different. I think Sgt. Pepper probably changed the whole concept of what a record should be. Of course, with all of the synthesizers and technology available today, the Beatles could probably duplicate it now, with just the four of them. But anyway, I don’t think there’s any reason to hold back on an idea in the studio just because it can’t be duplicated live. With Blondie, we really try to use the studio as the musicians’ palette. Although I think anything we’ve recorded we could go out and play. It all involves music.
Another thing is the quality of sound. It’s a lot more easily controlled in the studio than it is live. Studios are built to enhance the acoustics. In a live situation, you could be playing in a skating rink or something like that. You’re not going to get the sound you get in a controlled environment. I see live performance as mildly verging on chaos, as opposed to the studio, which is very controlled. It’s not necessarily clinical; just a different atmosphere.
RM: People contend, though, that in many cases overdubbing is used to cover up bad musicianship.
CB: I think in rock ‘n’ roll, the idea and the attitude are more important than the actual playing. If you don’t have ideas, you’re not going to achieve anything worthwhile. I mean, if you can learn to play Beethoven’s 5th, then you’re a wonderful musician, but you haven’t created anything. Without ideas, chops and technique aren’t worthwhile, just for the sake of ability. I think these ethics apply to my particular genre of music—rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t think it necessarily applies to capturing a jazz performance, or something like that.
RM: You have different goals. Jazz musicians are interested in capturing the way a musician played at a certain moment. You are not so much interested in capturing a performance as in realizing compositional ideas.
CB: Right. And also, I’m dealing in a more commercial medium than jazz. You have to consider the marketability of your product, so to speak.
RM: Marketability has always been a concern, but given the condition of the indus try in the last couple of years, it seems to be a higher concern than ever.
CB: The music business has changed considerably in the last five years. I think it’s taken this long for the big companies to take the little companies more seriously. I think they’ve also learned a lot of lessons from the small, independent companies about scaling down their operations, and things like that. The bigger record companies are trying to figure how they can get a return on a smaller investment, whereas in the ’70s, they were giving away these really lucrative contracts. They would sign a group who was very successful at the time, and guarantee them millions of dollars on albums for the next ten years. That probably has a lot to do with the economics of the business right now, because you still have some of these groups who are no longer selling records, but yet are guaranteed millions of dollars upon delivery of an album, and the record company knows the album isn’t going to sell. I don’t think you are going to see that again for a while.
Everybody’s saying the music business is in terrible shape, but I think for the new groups coming up, it’s a very healthy situation. I think the big companies are more receptive to new things now than they ever were. Not that they’re willing to take a chance on it, but I think they respect it at least. The credibility is there now for people to work independently, whereas when we started out, it really wasn’t. You had to be signed to a major label or you didn’t matter. Nowadays, I think every record can stand a chance. IRS Records is a prime example; they’re very successful and they have a relatively small operation. The whole attitude of the majors has changed. They see a small record company selling 100,000 albums and having a good return, whereas a major company has to sell two million albums to get a good return. So I think things are getting scaled down a little bit. We’re not seeing albums sell ten-million copies anymore. The contracts they were giving away and the money that was there five years ago just isn’t there any more. The standards of mass marketing and selling were too high. The expectations got blown out of proportion. The record companies were spending too much money, the staffs were too big and all that kind of stuff, and they just had to come to grips with it. It took them a long time, because maybe they thought things would just keep getting better by magic, but that’s not the case. Once it’s all scaled down, I think it will all start over again. Record companies will be more receptive to going to clubs and finding bands.
RM: The industry is blaming a lot of the problem on home taping. As a musician who is part of a group that makes records, do you feel threatened by home taping?
CB: No, I don’t. If you’re a working musician, the record is only one part of the whole entity; the whole way of making money. No one can duplicate a live performance. And then, this might sound corny, but no one can duplicate the creative packaging. If you give people an interesting package—the music, the photographs on the cover, lyric sheets or whatever—they won’t just want a tape. Records from the ’50s and ’60s always had liner notes and good packaging. But then in the ’70s there wasn’t really a lot of information on an album. The record companies were just slapping a picture of the group on the cover, putting out the album, and then selling millions of copies without that much effort. I think maybe it just got too easy. People will have to get down and work a little harder now. People thought it was going to go on forever, but things change. Every business goes up and down, but I figure the record industry will get back on its feet.
Another thing to consider is that the whole economy is bad right now, and also there are more things to spend money on. I think a lot of people might prefer to spend their money to see the band live, rather than to buy the record. They don’t have the money to do both. And then the whole video thing is biting into the record industry too, from kids spending five dollars a day playing video games to adults spending $60 to buy a movie, instead of spending that money on records. All of the technology that’s been developed over the last ten years is now becoming consumer oriented, but at a time when there’s no money available. So people have to decide. If they want to buy a video deck or something, they have to make payments on it. There are more things to buy than ever before, and people want things like video recorders and all that kind of stuff. So basically, entertainment has diversified.
Home taping is biting into record sales, but a bigger problem is the counterfeiting of records. That’s detrimental to the whole business. But home taping—what can you do about it? I don’t really think they could work out a royalty on blank tape, which is what they’re trying to do. I think Walkmans and things like that brought about a lot of home taping.
RM: But they also brought about a big increase in the sale of pre-recorded cassettes.
CB: Right. You’ve just got to make records that people will want to buy. That’s the whole thing. I think if a person really likes the group, they will go out and buy the record and support the group. I’d like to think that, anyway.
RM: Could the musicians themselves be doing more to hold down costs? For instance, you hear stories about groups going into the studio not even knowing what they are going to record.
CB: Right. Well, once again, that way of thinking is sort of outmoded nowadays.
RM: Is this something you try to control with the young groups you have been producing?
CB: What I try to do is make sure the group is fairly well-rehearsed and prepared to go in and do it. With the Colors album, we did something like 20 tracks in two weeks. It was fun like that; less boring. As a producer, I see my role as being a helping hand to people who are new to the situation. I choose to work with people who are new to the studio because I’m new to production. It’s nice when you see a group live, and then you take them into the studio and record a few tracks with them, and then when you see them live again, you see how they’ve developed as musicians just from being in the studio that short time. With my productions, I’ve used up a lot of time getting drummers to play with the click track, but in the end, it pays off. And even the time you spend just banging on the snare drum to get the proper sound will help you develop as a drummer. It can be an alienating experience to go into a studio because it’s a whole other way of playing and a whole other way of working. So even though you may be in the studio for ten hours, and you only spend two or three hours of that time playing, just being in the studio will help you develop as a drummer.
The production thing is really fulfilling, and at some point, I would like to produce another group and work with a really good engineer. But I’ve now done a lot of the things I wanted to do, so right now, I’m more interested in drumming than in anything else. For the last year-and-a-half, I’ve been drumming pretty constantly, and I’m really starting to see the accomplishments of that coming out in my playing. So I’m interested in taking it even further.
RM: Are you interested in trying to do regular studio work?
CB: I think I would enjoy doing that, because of the opportunity of playing with a lot of various musicians. There’s sort of a “big brother” thing in the studio world, so to speak. There are certain respected players who get all of the work, and then they sort of pass on their spillover to players who they think can cut it. So I’ve been trying to get involved in that. I’ve been speaking to a few people about it who said they’re going to try and get me some extra studio work.
I think one of my major assets lies in the fact that I’ve been in the studios a lot over the last four or five years. I’m totally accustomed to it, totally relaxed in that environment, and really do enjoy being in that environment. A lot of people don’t enjoy being in the studio. It can tend to grate on your nerves, being in there for three months without ever seeing the light of day or something. But I understand what it’s supposed to be and what’s supposed to be done. And I enjoy making records. I feel very capable of laying a drum track down and making everything very solid and precise, so that other musicians can create on top of it. I guess the reason I feel that way is that I see myself as being a lot more controlled than I once was. Probably because I’m a bit older now. I mean, Moon is still my favorite drummer, and I really enjoy playing that style of drumming. But in the studio, I enjoy the challenge of getting the drum track right. I don’t think I’d like doing 25-million sessions a day, but I’d enjoy some freelance things.
RM: Do you think you could be happy just playing in the studios and not doing any live playing?
CB: Nothing takes the place of live performance. When you’re not in the studio environment, you can just play and go wild and have fun. I think that’s what live playing is all about. The more serious stuff comes in the studio. So I think I’m ready to mix both of them for a while.
RM: Your set-up has remained pretty consistent over the years.
CB: It’s still basically the same. I’m still using Zildjian cymbals because they don’t break. I’ve added a couple of Syndrums. I’m still using Premier Resonator drums. [8 x14 snare, 14 x 24 bass, 12 x15 rack tom, 16 x 16 and 16 x 18 floor toms.] My kit is going to be changing soon; I’ve ordered a kit with four rack toms.
RM: A lot of rock drummers use single headed drums, but you’ve always used both heads.
CB: The Resonator drums are designed to be used with two heads. Basically, I’m still pretty traditional. I find I get a better sound using two heads and miking them properly as opposed to just sticking the mic’s up underneath and just getting volume.
RM: I’ve always thought it was odd having a mic’ up inside a drum, because drums are designed to project sound, and they usually sound better when you hear them from a distance.
CB: Well, we have ambient mic’s in the studio that pick up the room sound. Even though I’ve recorded in some big rooms, I would really like to record in a cathedral or something like that, and have it close miked, and also have the ambient mic’s. The definition comes from the close mic’s, and then you use the ambient mic’s to give some air to the sound.
RM: Have you ever gone into a studio and had an engineer start to remove your bottom heads?
CB: I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to get the people to work with me. I like to have a certain amount of input. I mean, I believe that the engineer does his job, and the drummer does his job, but there should be some sort of give and take and a sort of happy medium. I’m more into the ambient sound. I always thought John Bonham had a good drum sound, and I’ve been told that if you put a mic’ anywhere near Bonham’s drums, he would immediately start to complain, because he didn’t want that close-miked sound. I think today you find a lot of people going for a more ambient sound. You should have a couple of tracks that are just reserved for, like, air. You can always shut those mic’s off later and not use those tracks, but I think you need that ambience.
RM: Your drumming tended to be busier on the earlier Blondie albums than on the last two.
CB: I’m really trying to come up with a happy medium of the two ways of playing. One of the reasons I played a lot of fills was because we had a bass player who had only played a week before he joined the band. So there seemed to be a lot of gaps to fill, and it just seemed to work at the time. As time went on, I think the proficiency of the musicians I was involved with got better—not to say that I was any more proficient by playing a million drum rolls, because that’s a fallacy.
And then the music that the writers in the band have been writing calls for a different sort of playing then it once did. I never had much use for brushes and things like that, but on AutoAmerican we got into a couple of lighter, jazzier type things that I used brushes on.
RM: When you play some of the older tunes, do you go back and play them the same way you did five years ago?
CB: I try to play them a little more controlled. The early stuff was done very quickly, and that was really representative of a live performance. So that’s the way I was playing then. Also, it’s a lot harder to get all that stuff in when you’re playing to a click track. That’s the thing I’m trying to achieve though: using the click track not just to keep the beat, but to make all of the rolls and fills become real even. Another thing is that we are now doing a lot of things that are r&b and disco oriented now, and that calls for more of a Bernard Purdie style of drumming—just keeping the beat. And then, like I said, I look at the studio as being a more controlled atmosphere.
When I played with Iggy Pop, I got a chance to just blow out and play as crazy as I wanted to. I’m still looking forward to being in a situation where I can do something like that again. I’m really looking to make a super rock ‘n’ roll record—really loud, crazy, guitars and all of that. If I can get a session like that, I’d really like to do it. I really do think that’s my forte, although I am capable of being a controlled player. But I really think if you want to get the best out of me, just tell me to go crazy. I’m real accomplished at that.