Interview Dec Burke
"I consider myself a guitarist that sings rather than being a singer"
(September 2021, text by Aad Bannink, edited by Peter Willemsen)
Guitarist and keyboardist Declan 'Dec' Burke originally hails from Limerick, Ireland. In 2008 he became a band member of Frost* and he played on the critically acclaimed album Experiments In Mass Appeal and on the live album The Philadelphia Experiment (2010, see review) both recorded by the British band Frost*. Being a band member of Darwin's Radio, he also appeared on the two albums this band recorded. After releasing three solo albums Destroy All Monsters (2010, see review), Paradigms & Storylines (2011) and Book Of Secrets (2016, see review) he joined in 2016 Dutch band Dilemma during the recordings of their second album Random Acts Of Liberation (2018, see review). In September 2021 Life In Two Dimensions, his fourth solo album saw the light of day. Background Magazine got the opportunity to do an interview with Dec about his career so far, and his new album. Personally, I follow Dec Burke's music for years and I love his solo albums, but also his collaborations with Frost*, Darwin's Radio and Dilemma. In this interview I talked with him about the newly released solo album, but also about his side projects.
“Ah, that's cool. Thank you very much Aad.”
I think that most of our readers are familiar with your name. But for the few who don't, would you please tell us something about yourself?
“Sure, well I was born in Limerick, Ireland into a musical family. My parents played in the Irish show bands and my father was part of a resident 'house band' as a guitarist. There was always music in the house and I used to sing and pound on the piano. Eventually I got interested in the guitar and once I had a few chords and simple riffs I formed my first group with my brother.”
What kind of music and which bands did you listen to at the time?
“Well, initially I was into pop and then discovered rock: Thin Lizzy, Van Halen, Whitesnake. I was unaware of prog at that stage but as long as there was a good melody it was good enough for me. I'm a sucker for a good melody.”
Is there a specific band, or bands, who inspired you at the time?
“Yes, sure. The aforementioned bands actually, but then I loved so much of the eighties stuff like Nik Kershaw and A-ha. I mean that was the thing about the eighties. Every band had their own unique sound. Duran Duran didn't sound like Simple Minds and Eurythmics didn't sound like Soft Cell, every act had its own sound, which nowadays doesn't seem to be the case. Today, I see a lot of similarities in music, a unique band is a rare thing.”
As far as I'm concerned you're a great singer and an excellent guitarist as well. How old were you when you start playing guitar? And when was the first time you discovered that your voice was developed in such a way that you could use it as a real instrument?
“Well, thanks. I started on guitar when I was sixteen. I remember seeing a Van Halen album in a record shop for one pound. The cover was missing and it just had the inner white sleeve. I only knew Jump so I thought it was a twelve-inch version or something like that. So, I got home and put it on. The second track was Eruption, and that was it. I thought that's incredible, I have to play guitar too. As for singing, well, I consider myself a guitarist that sings rather than being a singer. For whatever reason the microphone has just always ended up in front of me. I'd love to do a band where I'm just the guitarist, that would be great.”
Beside guitar you also play keyboards.
“Yes, that's true, but guitar is my real love that's where I'm comfortable but I play keyboards a little, but that tends to be more when I'm writing and adding textures to support the guitar parts really.”
What was he first band you ever played in? Have you got memories on that which you could share with us?
“My first band was back in Ireland. My brother was the singer, I played guitar. Two friends played bass and drums. We played covers of The Cult and stuff like that and we even wrote a couple of songs. We played a few gigs together, but then before too long we moved to the UK, and that was the end of that. My brother stopped singing and I carried on in other bands.”
How did your musical career develop further from that point?
“By then I was seventeen and we were living in England. My parents ran pubs. Every Tuesday night there was a jam session at the pub and I would join in from time to time, but it soon became more and more. So, you had to learn
I first got familiar with your music when you started playing in Darwin's Radio in 2006 on their debut album Eyes Of The World. Would you please tell us how you came in contact with the other band members and started this prog rock adventure? And do you consider this album to be your first steps into the world of prog?
“Absolutely. GLD, the old band of Mark Westworth and Sean Spear, had just broke up and they were looking for a singer, a guitarist and a drummer. A guy I knew at the time introduced me and we hit it off. They would play me all this prog stuff from old Genesis and Rush to Yes. I'd never heard anything like it. I was immediately hooked. It was a very inspiring time. Someone like Mark who's such an amazing player and writer! I was in awe, but at the same time I could see where the melodies should go, how to piece the ideas together. So, we started writing while still looking for a drummer and a singer. In the meantime, I would cover the singing at writing sessions and rehearsals, so I ended up being the guitarist and singer in the band. I've very fond memories of those days.”
Somewhere around 2008 you became a member of Frost*. Your first achievement with this band was Experiments In Mass Appeal. In Frost* you played with John Jowitt and John Mitchell . How did you get in contact with these guys and can you tell us something about the creative writing process in that band?
“I guess, my involvement with Frost* started around 2006. Jem Godfrey had said some really nice things about the Darwin's Radio album Eyes Of The World on a few online forums. I remember saying thanks to him, not knowing who he was. I met him in London in December 2006 when they were supporting The Flower Kings, and Jem was going to call it a day with Frost*. I said hello to him in the bar after the gig and he said he was going to do this new project called Dear Dead Days. He asked me if I would be interested in being part of it. Of course, I said yes and before too long, Andy Edwards was going to be playing drums. John Jowitt joined playing bass and then John Mitchell, so all of a sudden it was Frost* again but with me involved. Dear Dead Days then ended up being a song on that second album. Writing was all done by Jem, there were just a couple of spots where I added an idea, namely the chorus section for Dear Dead Days. I saw my role as a guitarist in the band to support John, so he would say: 'Dec can you do that part than I'll do this bit', and then we would sometimes double the parts together. Everyone in the band sang, which was great. I thought it was a good album, I have a lot of good memories about the recordings of it, so much laughing. Their new album is terrific and the dynamic between John and Jem is the main thing there. Long may they continue, they're amazing musicians and writers. I was glad to have been a small part of it.”
At the time your first two solo albums were released. In 2010 Destroy All Monsters and two years later Paradigms & Storylines. Did you have the intention to say farewell to other bands and to continue your career as a solo artist?
“That's a good question! I do enjoy being my own boss. I'm constantly writing and when I write I have a vision for how the song should go, so my solo outlet allows me do exactly what I want to do. With Dilemma I can just come in with a melody line or take a basic song structure and add to that, because everyone in the band contributes to writing songs. So, it's kind of like the best of both worlds, with my solo outlet I can just be me and work with who I want, and in the band context I can add to or bring in parts that then go towards the complete picture if that make sense.“
Paradigms & Storylines has become a collector's item. It's the only album that I physically miss in my private collection. Did you ever think about re-release this album?
“Yes, I plan to re-do my first two albums. I was never happy with the mixes on either of those albums. I'm actually looking at that right now, so that could be the next thing you hear from me after Life In Two Dimensions has been released.”
“Ah, that's so cool. Well, there is an entire second album of AudioPlastik songs demoed, but because of Simon Andersson's poor health we've had to hold off on that, but I would love people to hear those songs. They're really high energy rockers, it's very strong material. Simon and I went through a period of intensive song writing and we've written so many songs together. But there is, as I already mentioned, a whole album of songs that we could record and release, but that will be when Simon is ready. I know people would love it.”
Your third solo album Book Of Secrets was released in 2016. Personally, I find it the best solo album you recorded, so far. How do you look back on the album? And did it bring you what you hoped for?
“Thank you. Lee Abraham recorded that album and mixed it too. Steve Hughes (ex-Big Big Train) played drums, my good friend Kristoffer Gildenlöw played bass on a few songs and Carl Westholm from Carptree added some keyboard parts too. Yeah, that album just came out of nowhere really! As I looked through my song ideas and sketches I realized I had an album that's worth of songs that I didn't think I had. So, it all came together very fast. I have good memories of making that album.”
At the end of this travel through your musical history, we end up in the Netherlands. In 2018, Dutch band Dilemma all of a sudden awaked and released the second album Random Acts Of Liberation. To my surprise you were the vocalist on that album. How did an Irishman emerge in a rather unknown Dutch prog rock band?
“Well, I've been friends with drummer Collin Leijenaar for a number of years and we always said we would do something together at some point. Dilemma were in the studio recording that album but they had no singer. So, Collin called me and asked me If I would sing on the album as a session musician. I said 'sure', so the guys flew me out and I got to work. They had a real vision for how they wanted the album to sound, so I just did what I was told and along the way we all started to become really good friends. When the album was done gig opportunities were starting to come in and they asked if I would join the band as the singer and I thought: 'Sure, let's rock! I love the guys in the band, we're close and always laugh a lot which made it an easy decision for me to make. Wait until you hear the new Dilemma album, it's great!”
I saw you for the first time live at the 2019 edition of Night Of The Prog Festival at the Loreley in Germany. Dilemma were the opening act of the festival. Have you played at this festival before? How did you experience playing at this festival?
“Yeah, that was a fun gig to do. A beautiful venue, the audience were amazing. It was a real highlight for us, we enjoyed it very much. It was my first time playing there and I think for the guys too. I just remember it being a really happy day. We met so many people and made lots of new friends. It was great to catch up with the IQ-boys again, and I had a great chat with Peter Nicholls who is the nicest guy in the prog scene. I would love to play there again. That was our last gig before the whole corona crisis kicked in.”
In September this year, your new solo album Life In Two Dimensions was released. When did the writing of the album start?
I like the title Life In Two Dimensions. In my opinion you miss one dimension and therefore the normal view is limited. Is that what you mean with that song or have I misinterpreted the title? If so would you tell me what the real background is?
“Oh, that's cool. Actually, that was the last song I wrote for this album. While I was doing the guide vocal melodies - you know just singing nonsense words to get the melody out - the line life in two dimensions just came out. Then I thought, hmm, I really like that title and it fitted with everything that was going on in the world. Obviously with corona everyone's life was kind of on hold, day to day routines were different and it felt like we were all somehow living in two different worlds. So, the story is of a guy that is wrestling in his mind between the realities of life and what has now become to be 'normal'. That's serious stuff, isn't it, ha, ha.”
Would you please tell me which additional musicians are playing on the album and what did you do yourself?
“Sure. The powerhouse is the amazing Scott Higham (ex-Pendragon) on drums. Then there are three different bassists: Kristoffer Gildenlöw, Reinier Siemons and Gilherme 'Ghost' Aguiar. Ghost also plays cello on the album. I cover the vocals, guitars and keyboards. Robin Zuiderveld plays the piano and Robin Armstrong added some additional keyboards too.”
Most people are tired of the corona crisis but there is one question I want to ask you about it. Did Covid-19 and the lockdowns influenced this album? Did you have more time to finish this record?
“I certainly had more time to focus on the sounds and how it was going to sound. Robin and I concentrated on that very much. I had more time to write the lyrics as well.”
Are lyrics important to you and if so would you tell me what subjects or themes you are interested in?
“I have a love-hate relationship with lyrics, ha, ha. I always leave them to the end of the writing process. But, yeah, they are important of course. On this album the subjects vary from the pandemic, the advertising culture that's gone mad, love, hope, all sorts of themes, actually.“
Is there a track on the album which is your personal favourite?
“Trapdoor is my personal favourite song. I had the beginning melody for years but I was never able to get the rest of the song to come together until one day it all just happened. Plus, it's the most proggy song on the album too.”
“I would love to, but I'm just a small fish in a big pond. Gigs in the United Kingdom would be a realistic goal but playing outside the UK right now would be difficult and expensive I suspect. I would love to do it and play my own songs with a good band behind me. Well, who knows..., never say never.”
Due to Brexit it's quite an administrative adventure for UK based bands to tour over Europe nowadays. When you want to play with Dilemma in a European country, do you have to take obstacles due to new custom rules for example?
“Yeah, that's going to be difficult. I hold an Irish passport so that helps I guess but the cost of transporting my gear will be expensive, maybe I'll just hire some gear for the European gigs.”
Have you got any idea how the fans and the press will respond to the new album?
“Honestly, I have no idea. But from a production point of view, it sounds strong. Robin Armstrong mixed and mastered the album and he did a great job. I think the songs are strong so I'm hoping people will connect with them, but I guess we have to wait and see.”
Would you please tell our readers what future plans you have? Can we expect new material from Dilemma or AudioPlastik for instance?
“As far as Dilemma is concerned we have already a new album written and we're in the process of recording it. Covid-19 had an impact on the speed of us getting that completed, but it's starting to happen now and should be out in 2022. I also want to re-do my first two solo albums and maybe add in some new songs too. I'd like to do another project if the right opportunity comes up.”
Is there anything I forgot to ask you which is important enough to share with the readers of Background Magazine?
“Sure, please buy the album. I don't have a big label behind me so buying the album makes all the difference. It's Available from www.gravitydream.co.uk”
Thanks very much for this interview Dec! It was nice talking to you.
“Thanks so much Aad. That's very kind of you. It was really nice to chat. Take care mate!”
review album 'Destroy All Monsters'
review album 'Book Of Secrets'
review album 'Dilemma - Random Acts Of Liberation'
review album 'Frost* - The Philadelphia Experiment'
review concert De Pul, Uden (NL)
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