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An Interview with Clinic
by Alexander Laurence

Clinic 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 jeans.

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 companies?

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?

Clinic: Previously, 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


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