The band’s founding drummer finds himself back on tape for the first time in years.
If you’ve seen Martin Chambers live with the Pretenders in recent years, you can’t help but think that there aren’t many men pushing seventy that can get away with wearing sleeveless, form-fitting shirts, and possess the kind of stamina required to pilot a hard-driving rock band through a two-hour show. He’s still every bit the showman, utilizing full extension to whack his oversized China cymbals, and regularly bouncing sticks off his snare. (The key to a successful ricochet, according to Chambers? A perfectly flat snare.) And the drummer remains completely on top of his game, flashing the same kind of power, groove, swing, and reckless abandon he did when the Pretenders burst onto the scene forty years ago.
Practice is a big part of Chambers’ tour prep. When MD caught up with him he was working through songs from the band’s new album, Hate for Sale (the first Pretenders album featuring Chambers since 2002’s Loose Screw), on a Roland electronic kit set up in his home. He says proper diet and near-constant activity are also necessary to function at a high level over the course of a lengthy tour at this stage in his career.
“I keep saying, ‘After my seventieth birthday I’m going to start eating,’” says Chambers with a laugh. “You have to keep yourself trim. It’s a mostly vegetarian diet. Rice and beans is a good staple. And I’m from a meat-eating county. I’m a different shape than most of the men in my county. And I’m physically working all the time. I’m doing a lot of work on my home conversion, driving a digger, everything. Putting a hole underneath a wall in solid ground, it’s hard work. I moved ten tons of concrete blocks about a year ago, all by hand.
“I’m very healthy considering all the stuff I’ve been through, all the investigations into my heart and into my body—that wonderful pace of life you have when you have your first number-one. I’m not doing too bad.”
On recent Pretenders tours, Chambers has been playing a DW kit in custom black-and-white wrap. The drums are modeled after the black-and-white kit he used during the band’s early days, made by the late custom U.K. drum maker Eddie Ryan. “Eddie Ryan was next door to where we rehearsed in Covent Garden,” Chambers recalls. “He had to make each panel fit the drum. Today they just make it in vinyl and wrap the drum. Back then you had to join everything together. Somebody borrowed that kit back in the early ’80s, and I never saw it again. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wanted it and I said, “Well, if you can find it, you can have it.”
Chambers says there’s talk of possible headlining U.K. dates in the fall, and then maybe a tour of Australia and New Zealand or a return to the States. Wherever he is on tour, he’ll be working on finishing the autobiography he’s been chipping away at over the last few years, and trying to secure a publisher to release the book, which he promises will include “every single little forensic detail” about his time in the band and his famously combustible relationship with lead singer Chrissie Hynde.
“Chrissie’s pretty pragmatic; she knows she’s been [difficult],” Chambers says. “She’s said so to me and I said, ‘No, you’ve been worse than that.’ My thing is, if you dish it out, be prepared to take it. I will very respectfully tread that line of telling the absolute truth with great respect. I love the woman. We’ve had such a harrowing journey. It doesn’t stop me telling what happened to me. It’s my book. She’ll be absolutely fine about it. I just need to find the right publisher. Nobody really wants to give a book deal to a drummer, apparently. But I’ll get that coming out one way or another in the next couple of years.”
Martin Chambers plays DW drums and Zildjian cymbals, and he uses Shaw drumsticks.