Clem on the iconic red sparkle
Blondie have had their ups and downs since their late-’70s/early ’80s heyday, but the core band of Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and drummer Clem Burke is as solid as ever as they continue to tour and release new material. Clem talked to us about the his iconic red sparkle kit, the switch to DW and his attitude to electronics, while we also caught up with his drum tech for the nitty gritty.
You can read a full interview in the current issue of Rhythm. Here we focus on Clem's set-up and playing philosophy.
You’re famous for your iconic red Premier kit, what was it about that kit that you loved?
“Keith Moon had the red sparkle drum kit. When I went to the factory I said I wanted a red sparkle kit but it wasn’t an option for them to do it. I found some wrap that had been discontinued from the ’60s.
"The red sparkle kit was the first sparkle kit they made in the ’70s. I’m a bit of an Anglophile and I’ve been happy with the success we’ve had in the UK with Blondie. Hendrix had to leave the States and go to England.
"The same thing happened to The Strokes, and in between it happened to us. I found it very rewarding to be accepted in the UK. My main influences were British.”
So why did you change to DW?
“I was really heartbroken to move from Premier but I’d played them for 30 years. During those 30 years the company went through a lot of ups and downs. As my career was going into a different stage it occurred to me I needed drums a lot.
"In America, if you want to rent a kit it will be a DW kit. I was touring with Nancy Sinatra in Europe and Premier couldn’t provide me with kits, so I always used a DW kit. Now, in LA,
"DW are very close to my house so I have a good working relationship with them.
"I’m glad to see that Premier are back now, I still have all the great drums that I worked with them on. DW had a more consistent service, the people I work with there are really cool. Premier were very helpful but it took a long time for me to get the equipment I needed, they made great drums but I’m very happy with DW now.”
You don’t use electronics live much do you?
“No. The drums are just tuned really well, and my tech does an amazing job tuning. I tried using completely triggered drums at one point, but I went back to acoustic drums, I’m much more happy with that. Fifty percent of the set is with a click track and 50 percent isn’t. I don’t really mind, I like playing to click tracks. It’s just the process, the way things are done.
"In the live set you need to play to a click track, play samples obviously. We’ve always done stuff like that. When I played with Eurythmics, nothing used to be tracked, nothing was programmed. The bunch of years I did with them, the keyboards were all played by a keyboard player. Everyone was just in sync – amazing band and players. The new Blondie band is an amazing band too.”
So you’re a traditionalist at heart?
“I’m happy using electronic drums in the mixes, but you know, going back to The Eurythmics I was using a Simmons kit in conjunction with my acoustic kit and on ‘Heart Of Glass’ I was using a drum machine and it’s just a continuation.
"I like to use exclusively acoustic drums, rock’n’roll drums on my other projects – like I have a band with Glen Matlock called The International Swingers, we’ve just been in 606 Studio, Dave Grohl’s studio that he builtwith the Neve board from Sound City. I went to see that young band, The Strypes, and they’re just completely organic kids that play really well.
"I prefer to do things like that, that’s the kind of music I listen to. I don’t like programmed synthetic music that much. But having said that, with the Blondie stuff between Debbie’s vocals the strong melodies come out. It still very much sounds like Blondie. The new material is just to keep things fresh and to keep making your music. We never really fancied just going out and playing the hits. [When] we got back together in 1999 it was important for us to make the No Exit record and collaborate a lot.”
- Ultimate Ear UE 7 in-ear monitors
- Porter & Davies BC2; DW 9000 Series hardware; DW 9000 bass drum pedals
- Roland Octapad “for all the claps and electronics – in the studio we always uselive percussion”;
- Remo heads – Ambassador head on snare, Coated Emperors on toms and Clear Ambassadors on the bottom (“Snare heads are changed every show. Once a week all the toms are changed so it always sounds fresh.”)
- Vic Firth 5A sticks (Clem says he goes through “80-100 sticks per tour – It’s very important that the drum sticks are consistent. I’ve been using 5A my whole life”.)
- Plexi-glass custom-made by Clear Sonic
We also caught up with Rick West, Clem's drum tech, who talked to us about keeping the hard-hitting rock'n'roller in business, and in a plexi-glass box...
Tell us about the screen that surrounds Clem…
“The plexi-glass we use is custom-made,so as to not have any seams in the middle, and nothing in sight-line – one of a kind, and it is a monster. The cleaningof that glass is of most importance – NO finger prints! The glass itself is used to isolate drum and cymbal bleed as much as possible. The drum kit itself is cleaned daily, all the chrome is cleaned, and the drums cleaned with Trick drum polish.The glass is cleaned with a mixture of water and rubbing alcohol.”
Clem is a hard hitter, does he go through many sticks and heads?
“During a Blondie tour, we will go through between three to five pairs of sticks on a show day. Clem’s sticks are checked for weight on a postal scale then the varnish sanded off from the middle down. The sticks can only be used once! The stick weight will change due to the stick being sanded and exposed to moisture and sweat. Clem uses Vic Firth 5a sticks, wooden tips.
“Toms have Remo coated Emperors on the top and Clear Ambassador on the bottoms. I like to change them on a regular basis for consistency reasons. Generally speaking on a Blondie tour, the batter heads are replaced weekly. The bottom heads are replaced at the beginning of that run. Bottom heads are replaced at least three to four times a year. Bass drum batter head is replaced monthly or as needed – that’s a Remo Powerstroke 3 on the batter side.
“Snare drums… now here is the magic! Snare heads are replaced daily, the head that I generally use is a Remo Coated Ambassador. The bottom headis Remo Hazy on the snare on the left and DW bottom snare head on the main snare. I do carry a few extras such as Remo CS batter and Emperor X, sometimes depending on the venue. Snare wires are 42-wire snares.”
How about cymbals?
“Cymbals are replaced on a regular basis. Thefact that I hand-polish Clem’s cymbals (with Zildjian cream polish) everyday thins them out,so therefore they break, and/or crack on a regular basis. We carry with us at least two sets of complete cymbals at all times. I hand-pickClem’s cymbals at the Zildjian factory, generally twice a year.”
What electronics does Clem use?
“The only electronics in Clem’s set-up isthe Octapad that sits just left of the hi-hat.The Octapad is programmed with electronicdrums and all the percussion sounds used throughout the show.”