An Interview with Clinic
by Alexander Laurence
draw on a diverse range of musical sources, but pay particular
mind to the work of the Velvet Underground and Suicide.
This England-based art rock band's inventive "cut-up"
approach to music provides a welcome relief from the grey
mediocrity of the post-millennial independent music scene.
Formed in Liverpool in 1997 by Ade Blackburn (guitar, keyboards,
vocals), Hartley (guitar, keyboards), Brian Campbell (bass,
vocals), and Carl Turney (drums), the quartet earned immediate
notice with their debut release "I.P.C. Subeditors
Dictate Our Youth," issued on their own Aladdin's Cave
Of Golf label.
Two further limited releases, "Monkey On Your Back"
and "Cement Mixer", followed before the band signed
a recording contract with Domino Records. The label's first
release was a compilation of the singles. The band's debut
album, Internal Wrangler, confirmed the promise of
their earlier singles with a heady mixture of drone-rock,
psychedelia, doo-wop, and psychobilly that embarrassed more
musically competent but less imaginative contemporaries.
One of the tracks on the album, "The Second Line,"
gained exposure on a television advertisement for Levi's
At select live shows, they have adorned surgical masks
and full operating apparel onstage, creating a perverse
mixture of anonymity and crude amateur dramatics.
On Walking With Thee, Clinic's second album, you'll
hear a vast array of influences and sounds from rock history.
Everything from The Ronettes, to New Order and Neu! can
be heard in their sound, but they've assembled their influences
in such a manner that it becomes a unique and exhilarating
experience, instead of a derivative one. The album is filled
with driving drum/bass lines that keep the music moving
forward in an almost hypnotic manner.
The nasal, yet smooth vocals of Ade Blackburn are hauntingly
detached. Overall, Walking With Thee finds Clinic
experimenting with their sound to great success. Fans of
their first album may find Walking a strange
step sideways, simply because it's a different and unexpected
direction for the band, but they will doubtlessly be delighted.
AL: How come you guys
don't do encores?
Clinic: Well, I think
that, in the old showbiz tradition, it's always good to
leave people wanting more, in the same way that the albums
have been really short. If we were to play for an hour,
I mean, that would be 25 songs or something so I think that,
for the sake of sanity, it's good to restrict it. I think
you can still maintain an energy within a short set.
AL: The way Clinic
looks reminds me 1960's garage groups like The Seeds and
The Music Machine
Clinic: Yeah, they had a whole sort of philosophy to the
way their look was and their sound. I think with The Music
Machine and The Seeds, there's a real urgency in the music,
that's the strongest thing we took from that approach, rather
than copying any particular band.
AL: You like Crime too? They were a punk band that had
a strong visual presentation.
Clinic: Yeah, it was
because I think that when there's a definite image that
runs through, like, sleeves and how it's presented live,
that seems to me as much a part of it as the music. There
should be that kind of passion or excitement to it. I can't
really see the point of being in a band and being completely
ordinary. There's no entertainment value in that.
AL: Clinic doesn't
really seem to fit in with any movement.
Clinic: Right from
the off, we decided that we didn't have anything in common
with contemporary bands that were around, which would have
been 1997. It seems that in Britain each year, another conservative
band is always being pushed as being the saviors of something
and that gave us the freedom to do whatever we felt like.
We were into our own thing.
AL: Before signing with Domino Records, you put out three
singles on your own label. Did you approach any other record
Clinic: No, we didn't. We just decided that it seems like
you're putting yourself in an inferior position, sending
tapes or CD's out to record companies and trying to get
people down to your gigs. We thought it should just be a
case of people coming to us on the strength of what we can
do ourselves. I think that put us in a stronger position
when we did actually talk to any labels.
AL: I think that people often miss the humor in music.
Do you think it's something that's worked to your advantage?
Clinic: Yeah, I think that there's a strong sense of black
comedy within the music and sometimes I think that can needle
people a bit, if they do notice it's there but don't quite
know which way to take it.
AL: What are all the idiosyncratic instruments you use,
besides the Philicord organ and your strange "psychedelic
box" of effects?
Clinic: It just seems that when you get into using digital
equipment, especially if there's an overkill of it, all
the sound becomes homogenized, there's nothing unique about
it. For instance, with the organ sound, we just saw it in
the paper. I think it was 30 quid. When you start off with
something like that, it's on a unique basis. We stick it
through a Vox AC30 but it's actually designed like a home
organ so we have gotten a few nightmares when we're doing
gigs. There's a reverb unit inside it, which sort of comes
off and short circuits the rest of the wiring inside it,
so we're constantly having to repair it.
AL: The Philicord sounds
great on your new single, "Walking With Thee."
What influences brought that song together?
Clinic: Well, we'd
sort on gone back and listened to some psychedelic stuff
again. I like the way on the Nuggets album that there's
a band who have just done the one single, which is based
around some ludicrous progression or gimmick. We just wanted
something that was, you know, a sort of party-sounding song
but which at all times veered away from the obvious.
AL: Do you like soundtracks?
we'd listened to obvious things like John Barry and Ennio
Morricone. I just wanted to take that further, get a more
expansive, spacier sound in it. John Carpenter has an eerier
sound and I thought that was a way of maintaining an edge
to the songs, without just having them guitar-based. I think
that in the choice of the sound and the notes that he uses,
Carpenter found it possible to get something that has an
otherness to it.
AL: With the new album you got an outside producer.
Clinic: We wanted to
have more of a spacious sound, so we decided to get someone
in. I'd say that it's still kind of split -- half the album's
kind of punk, hard-sounding, the other more spacious. With
each record, we try to make it significantly different to
the previous one. We thought that, this time, we could do
with some kind of pointers in that direction.
AL: What current bands do you like at the moment?
Clinic: Erm, I think The Hives are a quite good, fun band
but they may be a bit too much of a novelty for me, I think.
It's much better to have those kinds of bands being pushed
by the press -- something that has an edge or is much more
rock 'n' roll based rather than Starsailor or Turin Breaks
or whoever else. I think it means that, when you're starting
a band or a small indie label, it allows more room than
just getting someone to think "I've gotta be signed
to a major label and have a slick sound." It seems
clear everything fresh is going to come from that.
AL: Are record shops
and thrift stores a regular part of your itinerary?
Clinic: Yeah, it's always getting together in the hotel
room and sussing out where the decent record shops are.
It is a lot easier than it was five years ago. Once or twice
we've kind of got really obsessed and thought "Just
one more," then get stuck on a train or something and
realize that it's gonna take you an hour or so to get back
to the venue!
AL: So what are your current obsessions?
Clinic: The last couple
of albums that I bought were the first Tim Hardin one and
a really nice original copy of Future by The Seeds,
which reminds me of Her Satanic Majesty's Request,
as a failure [Laughs] that's brilliant at the same time!
I think Tim Hardin's got a rather medieval influence as
well, which is what attracted me. Again, I really like Leonard
Cohen, especially lyrically, which doesn't have direct bearing
on what we do but I think it's good to have as broad a listening
taste as possible, really.
AL: Any books?
Clinic: I've recently
been into Richard Brautigan, I've read nearly all of them
now. Sombrero Fallout is a classic comedy. I've recently
read some Paul Auster and I think I've got Mr. Vertigo
and Timbuktu, which I'm going to take away with me.
I've also seen the Arthur Lee book [by Barney Hoskyns] that's
come out recently, which is a bit skimpy so I'll probably
read it on the way to the airport!"
-- Alexander Laurence