Like most rock ’n’ roll drummers, Lake Worth resident Jeff Clemens, who re-creates the unorthodox style of Larry Mullen Jr. in the nationally touring U2 tribute band U2 by UV, marches to his own beat.
But Clemens’ vices aren’t the stuff of Keith Moon excess, but rather parliamentary procedure and fiscal minutiae, the grist for his job as the state senator from District 31 in Palm Beach County.
For Clemens, this week was supposed to be all about preparations for U2 by UV’s free June 10 performance of “The Joshua Tree” at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood and band members’ plans to attend U2’s massive June 11 concert at Hard Rock Stadium. But thanks to the special session, Clemens’ ersatz rock-star life must take a back seat to more prosaic political concerns. Not that he would have it any other way.
“Obviously, my responsibility to my constituents is king here,” says Clemens, a Democrat, at the same time acknowledging that rock ‘n’ roll, especially in a tribute band, is the perfect antidote for the effects of three days in Tallahassee. “It’s a hoot to pretend you’re someone else for a couple of hours.”
If finding out Clemens is a member of a tribute band elicits the same response to his being a politician — players in both arenas generating fame off work originated by others — well, he understands. But make no mistake, he says, the members of U2 by UV know who they are — four serious musicians paying tribute to a band whose songs have touched them as they have millions of fans — and who they aren’t.
“I don’t think any of us ever forgets that we are not U2. Nobody in the band believes they’re a rock star,” Clemens says, laughing. “We never forget we are just interpreting someone else’s genius. But as a tribute band, when we can go and play the little amphitheater in Boca Raton and bring out 4,000 people to see us, that’s a pretty cool thing.”
U2 by UV, founded in 2005 by Fort Lauderdale guitarist Eddie Steklasa, an Edge fanatic, also includes lead vocalist Michael Schmidt, who channels the righteous swagger of U2’s Bono with impressive vigor, and bassist Keith Howard, obviously a serious student of Adam Clayton’s artfully angular and aloof posture.
The band prides itself on note-for-note re-creations of favorite live performances by U2, which they scrutinize in exacting detail on decades’ worth of video posted by the Irish rockers and fan footage on YouTube. U2 by UV has been a fixture at South Florida St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, but Clemens says those performances are just a shadow of the band’s signature concerts, more elaborate (and expensive) shows with accompanying video that is in many cases identical to that used by U2. Saturday’s Hard Rock Live concert will be at that level, he says.
There are less than a dozen top-level U2 tribute bands around the country, with U2 by UV claiming dominance in the southeastern U.S, says Clemens, who will put his group up against any of them.
“We’re very serious about this. You’ve got to have people who are willing to dedicate the time, energy and money to re-creating the sound,” he says. “For instance, I have the same drum set that Larry Mullen played on his last tour, you know?”
The Yamaha Oak Custom drum set includes the extra left-hand floor tom that Mullen uses to create his distinctive sound, layered with extra 16th notes, illustrated on such songs as “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” and “Pride.”
“Now, he’s changed to a new drum set,” Clemens says, laughing. “I’m probably not going to go out and buy a new $4,000 drum set next week, but …”
Similarly, Fort Lauderdale resident Steklasa has 16 or 17 guitars of the same model the Edge plays on certain U2 songs, and Howard has several Adam Clayton signature-model basses, which run about $3,000 each, Clemens says,
And, of course, a U2 tribute act is only as good as its Bono, and U2 by UV has one of the best in Schmidt, Clemens says.
“You’ve got to have somebody who has not only the voice, but the look. Who’s spent time kind of mimicking his stage presence, because he’s a dominating figure,” Clemens says. “If you close your eyes, we absolutely sound like U2, and if you just open them a little bit, we’re going to look like them, as well. That’s a relatively rare thing.”
MUSIC AND POLITICS
A 45-year-old Michigan native and father of three teenage sons (no longer awed by his life onstage, he says), Clemens has not limited his career to simulation, as he can also be found leading the Jeff Clemens All-Stars at upscale functions around South Florida.
In the early 2000s, he was a member of a garage-rock foursome called Super Model (yes, irony) that opened for the likes of Counting Crows, Live and Sugar Ray while playing the festival circuit, which included a 2000 performance at SunFest in West Palm Beach. Super Model was signed to a label, Magic City Records in Miami, and had a single, “The Drink Song,” that was heard in more than a dozen markets, Clemens says.
But this minor fame was fleeting, and Super Model was dropped by the label.
“The record company, strangely, wanted to make money,” Clemens says, laughing. “It was disappointing. Because once your song gets on the radio, that’s when you think to yourself, ‘I’m gonna be a rock star.’”
Confronted with what to do with the rest of his life, Clemens leaned on experiences he had as a newspaper reporter for the Naples Daily News and other outlets and, in 2003, ended up writing press releases and answering phones for state Rep. Mary Brandenburg. He discovered it was a calling. In 2007, he was elected to his first office as mayor of Lake Worth.
“I found I liked helping people,” Clemens says. “We talk a lot about what we do in Tallahassee, but the things that we do in our offices every day that help people have far more impact. I mean, helping out foster families, helping people get food stamps, helping people work through permitting issues, all those kinds of things, have far more impact.”
Clemens says his colleagues in the Senate know he dabbles with the drums.
“Most of them know that I play music, but they don’t know to what extent. And it’s only when they see one of the bands I play with that they realize that it’s not just a lark,” he says. “Everybody says they have a band.”
The four members of U2 by UV will be at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday for U2’s performance, one of the summer’s hottest concerts, with only resale tickets available. Bono has been known to pull tribute bands onstage during U2 shows, but Clemens says no one in his band has their hopes up. That said, Bono and his mates have an open invitation to drop by the U2 by UV show.
“Certainly, if any members of the band want to stop by the night before, if they’re looking for something to do, we have free food backstage and everything,” Clemens says with a laugh.