As if solving problems with a blue cartoon dog wasn’t trippy enough, former ”Blue’s Clues” host Steve Burns has embarked on an even more surreal path since leaving the Nickelodeon kiddie show. Teaming with Flaming Lips producer David Fridmann and drummer Steve Drozd, Burns has released ”Songs for Dustmites,” an album of ethereal alt-rock he describes as ”sweet sounding songs about science and love.” Well, what did you expect from a guy who spent six years chatting up a felt salt shaker? EW.com talked to Burns, who kicked off a tour last week in Austin about life after ”Clues,” why dustmites are fighting for their lives, and what happened to that green-striped shirt of his.
So, how does one make the leap from kid’s show host to experimental rocker?
There wasn’t a plan to go out and make a weird indie rock record after ”Blue’s Clues,” but it just sort of happened. I got a Macintosh G4 computer and [sound design software] Pro Tools, and I promptly ruined my social life making strange noises until 4 every morning. So someone I knew had David Fridmann’s phone number, and I called to harass him because he’s my favorite producer. Believe it or not, he had just had a ”Blue’s Clues” birthday party for one of his children the night before. So I guilted him into listening to my CD, and it all just started to happen.
Not only have you worked with Fridmann and Drozd, but you’ve even played a small role in the Flaming Lips’ movie, ”Christmas on Mars” (due on DVD this Christmas). What have you learned from them?
They’re every bit as nice as they are talented. They’re always trying to see how they can take something three steps further. I still remember seeing them in 1999 where they completely rearranged my head, and now I’m staying at [Lips’ frontman] Wayne [Coyne]’s house getting ready for the tour. So I keep smiling a lot.
What’s the big deal with dustmites?
What, you’re not brushed up on your nanotechnology? Here’s the deal. Dustmites are these microscopic animals that live in your eyebrows and pillows and all kinds of places you don’t want them to be. And they’ve had a very happy, peaceful life eating our dead skin cells for a long time. But we’ve now invented machines so small, microgears, that they assume they’re competing with them for food sources and attack them. I feel bad for the little guys. It’s the man-versus-nature battle played out on a microscopic scale, and if that’s not interesting, I don’t know what is.
Do you ever get sick of people asking where your blue dog is?
Well, sure. If there were a guy following you around saying, ”Hey, man, how do I get to Main Street?” all day long, you’d get tired of that, too. But I’m not turning my back on ”Blue’s Clues.” I loved that show, and it’s a wonderful show. That would be the boring story, to say: ”Oh, don’t pigeonhole me, watch me misbehave at a strip club.” I’m hoping people will be curious and say, hey, I’ve gotta see what that’s all about. But I’m also expecting some confused soccer moms.
Do you ever get nostalgic for the daily TV grind?
I don’t ever miss working on a blue screen, but sometimes it crops up in weird ways. Like I was trying to show my friends the ”Blue’s Clues” music section at Tower Records recently, and there wasn’t one. And I got briefly really insulted and hurt and angry. I’m really protective of the show and the new guy [Donovan Patton]. But the nice thing is now I get to bust that character out whenever I want to. It’s kind of like being Clark Kent.
Any more kid stuff in your future?
My best friend Paul Ford and I are working on a rock opera for children about a squirrel and a rat who become friends. It’s potentially the best thing I’ve ever been involved in. But Paul, who runs ftrain.com and is a commentator on NPR, is a lazy and terrible person who just won’t work on it. And now he’s going to be terribly angry with me. But I think there’s an extraordinary lack of interesting material for children out there. Kids deserve an alternate aesthetic, and frankly I think it’s foolish that there’s only one model out there that is interesting on many levels, and that’s ”Sesame Street.” It was a huge struggle for me to get adult humor onto ”Blue’s Clues.” I snuck it in while everyone else was checking their e-mail.
What happened to that darn green-striped shirt?
Oh, I have it with me, actually. I stole two of them when I left, and they had seven of them. They were all carefully handmade to be as uncomfortable as possible. Right now I just keep one around to do Make a Wish [children’s charity] stuff. Again, it’s the Clark Kent thing. You’ve got to keep it in the bag at all times.
When you left ”Blue’s,” the show explained that ”Steve” went to college. How do you think he’d be doing now?
It’s almost impossible not to instantly think of Steve at a keg party underneath a beer bong, just terribly confused. You can picture him going up to these really hot girls saying, ”Hi, um, which way to the varsity hopscotch field?” He had a lot of trouble with shapes and colors. And imagine Steve in biology class: ”I have a couple questions, will you help me?”