Column 81 — The Chameleon speaks; Head Like a Kite, An Iris Pattern tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 12:16 pm June 14, 2006

You’re getting the full, unabridged version of my interview with Chameleons’ frontman Mark Burgess. I wrote a condensed version for my column that will appear in the paper today, but I figured I might as well include it in its entirety at Lazy-i (Questions marked with an asterisk (*) are bonus material found only online here!). The 2003 Burgess show made that year’s “best of” list and I have little doubt that Friday night’s show at Mick’s will make the list at the end of this year. There’s additional info about the show here, and if you want more information about Burgess, check out my 2003 Burgess feature written in support of that Healing Arts show.

Column 81: Catching Up with a Chameleon
Mark Burgess returns to Omaha.

The Chameleons is one of those bands that changed peoples’ lives.

No, they didn’t change my life. I only discovered the influential ’80s band a few years ago when I interviewed Chameleons frontman Mark Burgess for an article written in support of a solo show at the Healing Arts Center. There were a lot of people there that night, many who told me afterward that The Chameleons dreamy, floating music inspired them in some way, sort of how the band clearly inspired acts like The Psychedelic Furs, The Church, The Cure and Lincoln’s own For Against. All of those bands sport the same, hollow, ghost-eyed style of gothic ambient rock.

So when it was announced that Burgess was coming through Omaha again — this time at Mick’s on June 16 — I e-mailed him a few questions to see what he’s been up to since that first show way back in ’03. Here’s the bulk of our little internet-based Q&A (including emoticons!). See you at Mick’s Friday ($12, 9 p.m.).

What do you remember about the last time you performed in Omaha?

Quite a lot actually. The beautiful room, which was more like a kind of New Age temple than a venue, the hushed attention of the audience, which I recall was a bit unnerving ’cause I wasn’t used to that level of respect at acoustic shows 🙂 I remember strolling the streets with Stephen (Sheehan, the show’s promoter) watching all the buskers that were around in glorious sunshine, one guy played the theme from 2001 on partially filled wine glasses. That was something. * And Dereck (Higgins, who accompanied on bass) of course, whom I’d never met before the sound check, how quickly he grasped the arrangements and dynamics and then later he introduced me to his amazing record collection, which included practically every record I ever grew up with. And one guy at the show who shyly made me a present of a guardian angel talisman, which I’ve carried around with me ever since.

* You’re only doing three U.S. shows this time ’round, and once again you’re including Omaha. Why?

Well, one of the reasons is to preview the up and coming live Chameleons DVD and promote that. It won’t be distributed traditionally, rather it’s only available via mail order directly from the band. So the manager thought it would be a good idea to preview it and make a few personal appearances. I was invited to come to Atlanta and to Omaha when Stephen heard about it; and the SF thing is a good opportunity to hang out with one of my closest friends, James Oakes of The Bellows. I’m hoping very much to bring my band out here before the end of the year and play more widely. I’m trying to drum up support for a new recording of fresh material.

* I believe when we last spoke, you were living in Hamburg. Are you still there and, if so, what keeps you there? Is it particularly conducive to the artist’s lifestyle?

Yeah I’m still in Hamburg. I think it’s one of the most beautiful and energetic cities in northern Europe, that’s not to take anything away from other great cities, like Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen etc. But for me Hamburg has a very special ambiance, it was a love affair that began a very long time ago during the early days of The Chameleons. My wife is from there so it seemed logical to settle there. We spent some months living in Manchester, but it didn’t really suit us. We both love going back to Manchester and have a lot of friends there, and family of course, but Hamburg is a bit more relaxed generally.

What is the current state of The Chameleons? When we last spoke, guitarist Reg Smithies’ son had just been born, putting a damper on any upcoming reunion tours.

Yeah, and they’re now expecting their second child, a girl I believe so that’s pretty much that 😀 We’re all kind of scattered to the four winds and you know with the passing of time we’ve become very different people, different priorities. I think we took it as far as we could really.

Are you more interested in pursuing a career as a solo artist than keeping The Chameleons active?

Yeah, I think so. I mean I try and get involved with different types of people in terms of collaborations and I like re-exploring past musical relationships, I think with Chameleons we’re too anchored in the past really from an audience’s point of view. Having said that, I still enjoy playing a lot of that stuff, especially songs that we didn’t play for one reason or another, like “Looking Inwardly” for example. It is very difficult, though, because Chameleons is what people are mainly interested in, it’s hard to get them to put that aside and be open for other people I play alongside. Some do though, so I still have an audience 🙂

* Tell me about the Ascension DVD. How did you put it together. What were you trying to accomplish with it?

A film maker contacted me prior to the US reunion tour and asked if he could come to the Californian shows and film them. The understanding was that if we had something we were happy with we could come to some kind of arrangement about putting it out. It was too good an opportunity to miss, really, and I think it’s the best footage of the band I’ve ever seen. That was the point really, to document the band at a time, which we all felt it was better than ever.

Do you keep current with what’s going on with today’s music? If so, what’s your take on the current status of American music? To me, it’s been in a rut for the past two or three years!

I think generally it has. One reason is because from the point of view of genre, it’s become very, very fragmented. There hasn’t been one scene that kind of unifies a ground swell of attitude or thought. I don’t keep as current as I used to, I tend to rely on friends or whatever pointing interesting things out to me. Currently I’m still playing the Arcade Fire pretty much non-stop.

I think part of the reason for America’s artistic malaise is its current political climate. What’s your take on US foreign policy and how do you think it’s impacted your life and your music? (I remember you throwing out some interesting jabs at Tony Blair during your ’03 Omaha performance).

Well obviously all our lives have changed with what’s been going on with US foreign policy. I understand that politically America has been forced to react to the forces that have been raging. I’ve lost what little faith I had that power politics will ever change the world for the better. I have contrary opinions to a great many issues that potentially may offend. I find it almost impossible to trust information that I’m given by the major media and think that in many instances, such as 9/11 for example, they fail us by failing to address very important questions. My cynicism toward Blair, though, predates all of that to a large degree. I feel that he got his party elected by betraying every ideal that the party was founded on. It was clever politics, forcing the Tories even further to the right and occupying the middle ground, but it was a betrayal in my view and it made me very sad.

What can we expect from your upcoming Omaha performance?

I honestly don’t know. I never really know how it will go or exactly what I’ll play. Hopefully the people who come will hear something or feel something that will stay with them for a long time. And at the very least it will be an honest performance.

* What’s in the works for Mark Burgess for the rest of ’06 and beyond?

Hard to say. I do hope I can take the band out and develop the new songs I’ve been working on. I have an autobiography coming out in December. Beyond that, I don’t know. I have to think long and hard about whether I should continue as I have been doing or go into something else. I just don’t know.

Tonight at O’Leaver’s, Seattle shoegazer(s) Head Like a Kite headlines a show that also features Omaha’s An Iris Pattern. HLaK’s recent album combines trip-hop (Manchester-esque) with synth-hop (Kraftwerkian) with indie-hop (Sonic Youth-y) and is all over the board, and also pretty good. $5, 9:30 p.m.

–Got comments? Post ’em here.

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