THE FANZINE THAT FEATURES SMALL AND UNSIGNED BANDS
Saturday, March 27, 2010
INTERVIEW WITH MARK BURGESS
I dunno how many fave bands I have, must be a couple of thousands just because as Mark says music is like food with many flavours. I only have a few heroes and I guess that with my 2 hands I have enough fingers left to count them. One of them is without any doubt Mark Burgess, singer from The Chameleons. Mark says it makes him laugh if someone says that they're the most important band in history. Everyone knows that technically speaking he might be right, but I am NOT technically speaking. I am talking about emotions. When something went wrong in life (and that happened more than once) I locked myself in my little world hanging around with my records from The Chameleons. It probably never helped as Mark is the kind of musician who opens wounds a bit more thru the melancholic touch of his music and not in the least because of the lyrics. But that's me I guess, the day my former girlfriend ended our relationship I started playing at immense volume a record by Spear Of Destiny. Just an introduction to tell you what Mark and his music means to me. After 20 years of DIY-journalism I can confess without blushing that this interview below means most to me. In this life not everyone has the change to swap some words with his hero, Mark gave that to me and therefore he becomes even a bit more my hero I guess.
WELL HELLO MARK, I HOPE IT’S OK THAT THIS IS AN INTERVIEW DONE BY AN ENORMOUS FAN INSTEAD OF A TRAINED JOURNALIST. LET ME FIRST ASK YOU, WHAT ARE YOU DOING THESE DAYS MUSICALLY?
I’m looking to put another band together and using Chameleons sets to find the musicians. I’m currently in the United States, in Los Angeles to be precise hanging out with musicians, DJ’s, promoters and the like. I’ll be playing some acoustic shows while I’m here ahead of a visit with John Lever’s band Bushart, and the Sun and the Moon, at this years GWT in Leipzig, and a few date in Germany and Manchester England. I’ll be in New York on July 31st to play Jack Rabid’s ‘Big Takeover’ 30 year anniversary event. Big Takeover is an independent Underground music magazine. After that I hope to return to the West Coast for full back line shows. I’m also planning something big here in music in the wider sense, but I can’t talk too much about that right now.
IF I SAY THE CHAMELEONS, I ALWAYS LINK YOU WITH THE SOUND. NOT MUSICALLY, BUT I OFTEN THINK….WELL, THEY COULD HAVE BEEN AS HUGE AS LET’S SAY U2. WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I think everything happens for a reason. Had that happened to us a lot of great things that I’ve experienced wouldn’t have happened, so I’m okay with the way things went. I’ve always been on a personal journey, rather that a collective one, even when I was in the band. That kind of fame would have hindered me but than helped me. I’d hate to be one of those people that can’t walk down the street in public or go out anywhere in public without causing a fuss or having folk staring at you everywhere you go. I’d really hate that. And I’ve always been able to do exactly what I wanted, when I wanted and go wherever I like, and never really needed for anything. So you know, I don’t care that we didn’t play stadiums and made a quadzillion dollars. I get enough satisfaction from the people that DO appreciate the music, I don’t give a fuck about all the ones that didn’t or don’t.
IN FACT, YOU ARE HUGE CULT HEROES…AND IS THAT SATISFYING ENOUGH?
Yeah I’d say more satisfying to be honest. Every time I get invited to a club or something, no mater where I am in the world, I always hear one or two of our records being played, and the people I do meet that come up and say hello are really cool and some of them have gone on to do great things in music on their own. I stopped listening to the radio a long time ago to be honest. I hated most of the music being played on daytime radio in England especially, if I did hear our records in the middle of all that dross, I think I’d be embarrassed or insulted. I’d think we’d actually done something wrong.
WHAT ALWAYS WAS OR IS SPECIAL ABOUT THE CHAMELEONS IS THAT I NEVER MET PEOPLE WHO LIKED YOUR MUSIC….I MEAN IF THEY KNEW YOU THEN THEY WERE ALMOST MANIACALLY IN LOVE…..
Really? I meet them all the time.. But its amazing how many very young people are discovering the band now and write to me or come up to me to talk. Kids as young as 15 up to their early 20’s. A lot of musicians too, a lot of people starting bands of their own. We seem to attract a lot of those.
THE CHAMELEONS WERE ALSO THE BAND WITH THE LYRICS! SO SIMPLE, IT WASN’T POETRY BUT MORE LIKE A FIST THAT GOES RIGHT THRU THE MIND. DO YOU THINK YOUR LYRICS WERE DARK?
I think they have shades of light and dark and all the shades of grey in between. They reflect life and the experience of living, so they’re going to incorporate all of the spacial and dimensional elements that life has to offer..
THE CHAMELEONS WERE FROM MANCHESTER. THE MANCUNNIAN MUSICSCENE IS LIKE OVER-ROMANTISED. WAS THAT SO OR IS THAT ALL MADE UP BY JOURNALISTS WHO WANNA WRITE BOOKS?
No Manchester music has been a vital force and it is romantic, but at the same time hard, dark and humorous, and that’s still the case. I think it’s one of the most potent breeding grounds in music in the world and it’s reached every corner. With the passing of Joy Division, New Order, Chameleons, Smiths, Stone Roses, the city might not have the focal point it once had, but it’s legacy is huge and far reaching and I think it always will be, just like Liverpool, Seattle, New York etc.
YOUR THIRD ALBUM “STRANGE TIMES” WAS NOT RELEASED ON GEFFEN BUT IT ALSO HAD A DIFFERENT SOUND, AN EVEN MUCH DARKER ONE I THINK…., HOW DO YOU SEE THAT PERIOD, MARK?
Actually Strange Times WAS released on Geffen, maybe that was a typo? Well the sound changed compared to other records because we were working with Dave Allen, who’d produced The Cure, the first accomplished producer we’d had since Lillywhite, and he brought a lot to the project. As a period it was significant because I was at a very definite crossroads, a kind of awakening that heralded one of the most profound periods of my life. I personally regard that album as my best lyrical work for the band aside from the Tony Fletcher tracks, which came next and didn’t get released for many years.
I KNOW IT SOUNDS STRANGE….BUT IF YOU COULD DO IT OVER, MARK, WOULD YOU DO IT THE SAME WAY?
I don’t know. You can’t go back and re-do things so the question is redundant. But I have no regrets whatsoever. I’m having a really great life and I wouldn’t swap if for anyone else’s. There’s no one else I’d rather be, than me. Oh wait a minute, the haircuts, I’d definitely change the haircuts.
IN FACT, WHAT’S YOUR FAVE CHAMELEONS-ALBUM, MARK?
Script of the Bridge because it was our first album and for that alone it was exciting. We’d had a long time to prepare the songs and ideas were cascading all around us. We were cocky, confident, even arrogant, which is normal for a band in their early 20’s. We were having such a great time together for the most part and everyone who was in on the beginning were still involved. Everything was fresh and new.
AFTER THE CHAMELEONS CAME THE SUN & THE MOON…..THEY MUST BE ONE OF THE MOST UNDERRATED BANDS EVER I THINK…HOW COME?
Well the record wasn’t that well produced to be honest and it was coming in the wake of The Chameleons, one of the best guitar bands ever to come out of Manchester, so I think we suffered from the comparisons. These days I feel a lot better about the band than I did back then. I felt we should have stretched ourselves more and gone on to do something a little different. The band’s reluctance to do that was what brought it to an end. But these days I’m really enjoying playing that stuff again..
YOU ALSO COVERED A SONG BY THE FALL, NOT? BIG FALL FAN? AND THAT LEADS ME TO MY NEXT QUESTION….SOMEWHERE FOR ME THE CHAMELEONS ARE PUNK, SO DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS A PUNK?
We always were and it in terms of attitude I still am. That was what a lot of the record labels, like CBS or Geffen, couldn’t understand. We had more in common with The Fall than we ever did with the likes of U2, The Bunnymen, or the Psychedelic Furs.
IF SOMEONE TELLS YOU THAT YOU WERE THE BEST BAND IN HISTORY, WHAT DO YOU THINK THEN?
THE CHAMELEONS DIDN’T RELEASE THAT MUCH ALBUMS BUT IF YOU ADD ALL THE EXTRA RELEASES (THE LIVE ONES, THE SESSIONS) YOU’RE ENDING UP WITH A VERY HUGE PILE. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING YOURSELF IF EVERY 3 MONTHS THERE WAS ANOTHER LIVE-ALBUM?
Well live albums I’d have no problems with, because every gig we did had a different quality about it. You’re capturing the band in that moment. I would have loved people to be able to buy a live recording of the gig they’d just seen, as they left the venue, but of course that’s impossible. I think live albums are really pure, which is why I don’t have tantrums and jump up and down every time someone points out a bootleg to me.. When Dave and Reg and Imaginary Records started releasing all the demos and stuff, I was like, “oh fuck, that sounds shit.” They weren’t ever supposed to be heard by anyone other than us. But then when the cheques arrived I smiled and banked the royalties just like everyone else, cause I realised people wanted this stuff. The fascination with the band was huge amongst the underground and they appreciated it most of it, so I just accepted it in the end.
AFTER THE “FIRST CAREER” FROM THE CHAMELEONS YOU WENT SOLO. WITH ALL RESPECT, MARK, IT WAS JUST LIKE WITH ADRIAN BORLAND. AT FIRST THESE ALBUMS DISSAPOINTED ME BUT IT WAS ONLY AT A LATER AGE THAT I START DIGGING THEM. ISN’T IT DIFFICULT BEING SINGER FROM SUCH A LEGENDARY BAND WITH SUCH AN OWN SOUND TO CONVINCE YOUR FANS WITH NEW MUSIC?
Well you know everyone is different. Not everyone is gong to go for the work I do alone or with others. A great many came to Chameleons because of the sound of the band, the guitars. I just do what I do and people can take it or leave it. And if others want to give me the opportunity to make a record, I’ll carry on just doing what I do. A lot of people really love some of the solo stuff I’ve done, others don’t. Fair enough. I told Adrian once that I didn’t really like the Sound that much, because the sound of the band put me off, it got in the way of the songs. It wasn’t until I’d heard him play them on his own that I got it. He told me he felt exactly the same way about Chameleons.
TALKING ABOUT ADRIAN BORLAND. DURING THE RELEASE OF “THE AMSTERDAM TAPES3 YOU PERFORMED SOME SOUND-SONGS. WAS ADRIAN A FRIEND OF YOURS AND WERE THERE NEVER PLANS IN THE HEAD TO RELEASE THESE SONGS ON CD OR SO, AS THEY’RE FABULOUS….
Well I think some of those songs were released by Adrian in one form or another, just not those particular recordings of them. Yeah Adrian was a friend. He’d invited me to work on his last White Rose Transmission album and I was going to tour with him that summer. I was waiting in Germany for him to begin rehearsals when I got the phone call that he’d committed suicide.
I DON’T KNOW IF YOU FOLLOW THE CURRENT MUSICSCENE BUT THESE DAYS WELL KNOWN BANDS LIKE INTERPOL OR WHITE LIES ARE RIPPING OFF WHAT YOU GUYS DID IN THE 80’s. HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?
I don’t give a fuck. Everybody does it, they’re welcome to it. In fact I’m flattered.
THE CHAMELEONS ARE ONE OF THOSE BANDS WHO MARKED THE 80’S. BUT WE BOTH KNOW THAT 99% OF THE PEOPLE RELATE THE 80’S WITH CRAP LIKE ROBERT PALMER OR GLENN MEDEIROS. SO WHAT DID THE 80’S MEAN TO YOU?
Well I was having a really great time but pop music in the 80’s was absolutely shite. I mean if it hadn’t have been for John Peel, I would have gone completely insane and would have just gone around smashing radios with a sledge hammer or something. A few bands were around to save the day and the sanity. Chameleons were just one of them.
TO WHAT KIND OF MUSIC ARE YOU LISTENING, MARK?
All kinds but I’m still very into bands that can write great songs. Current favourites of mine are Editors. And there’s a band have been going for quite some time that I really love called Archive.
I CAN’T HELP IT BUT WHEN I HEAR THE CHAMELEONS I ALMOST HAVE TEARS IN MY EYES….SO I GUESS I CRY A LOT….. I KNOW IT’S A DIFFICULT MATTER, BUT DO YOU THINK THAT MUSIC IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN LIFE?
No. But like good food, music makes life worth living.
SOMETHING FOR THE BELGIAN READERS…. ANY CHANGE THAT THE CHAMELEONS WILL COME TO BELGIUM?
The Chameleons disbanded in 2003 for the final time. But I do want to play there with a ChameleonsVox line-up and we are working on it. I really dig Brussels and have some good friends there.
SORRY MARK, SINCE I START INTERVIEWING BANDS FOR MY FANZINE I ALWAYS ASK THEM THE SAME 2 ENDING QUESTIONS, SO MY HERO IS THE VICTIM OF IT TOO!!!! WHAT’S YOUR FAVE RECORD OF ALL TIME AND WHAT WOULD YOU DO THEN?
That’s impossible for me to answer. Music has so many different flavours and it depends on my mood, but if I had to choose one album, it’d be the very first Beatles album, the Hamburg set they used to play on the Reeperbahn.
WITH WHO WOULDN’T YOU MIND TO BE ALONE WITH IN AN ELEVATOR FOR 8 HOURS AND WHAT WOULD YOU DO THEN?
Kate Bush. I’d have lots of deep and not so deep conversations, and lots and lots of sex.
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS?
To have as a good a time as I can in the time I have left and bike across America and after that , the world.