Clinic “The Witch (Made to Measure)”
With the band’s fifth full-length release, “Do It!” [Domino], Liverpudlian quartet Clinic – whose dark, avant garage-tinged rock is visually accentuated by the band’s penchant for adorning surgical masks and scrubs – the band has stopped trying to induce fear, opting instead for spreading Beach Boy-like love with a high-energy, booty-shaking summer LP. On the heel of Clinic’s final European date before heading across the pond, Ade Blackburn (keys/melodica/vocals) spoke from Sheffield to Linda Rapka.
What came first – the band name or the surgical masks and scrubs?
The band name. We had that for quite a while. With the San Francisco bands Crime and the Residents, I like the way there was a visual side to what they did, but it wasn’t something too serious. It was like a tacky pun on the band name. I liked something a bit more ridiculous like that.
Do you think that distracts the audience from the music or in a way makes them focus more on the music?
It kind of makes you think of the thing as a whole rather than as individuals – I’ve never liked the idea that you’ve got the lead singer out front, and it’s a standard rock band. I don’t think the image is an essential element, it’s more of an addition to it – it’s just something else visually there. It wouldn’t really make too much difference whether you played in costume or not, the main thing is still the music.
The last time I saw you live you weren’t wearing your regular gear – you looked like monks or Freemasons or something.
That must have been the brown outfits with the stovepipe hats. It was kind of a mixture of a few things. I like that kind of Masonic bit of a twist to it. I like the idea that you’re meant to be secretive but you’re playing in front of people, so it’s a contradiction.
You guys have been offered by record labels to have a “band stylist.”
I just thought that would be quite an enjoyable thing to do yourself.
Any new surprising outfits for the next tour?
Yeah, we’ve got some ’cause we thought this was a more brighter, almost tropical LP so we got Hawaiian shirts, which is a new addition. It’s a bit of an homage to the Beach Boys.
The title of the new album, “Do It!”, is pretty suggestive.
It was kind of meant to be humorous, something cheeky. I like the way you can read quite a few different things into it, and obviously the suggestive one is quite a good one. I think the main thing with it was, I don’t know if you remember there was a prankster political movement in the ’60s called The Yippies…
The Youth International Party – Abbie Hoffman, Paul Krassner…
Yeah. One of their slogans is “Do It!” which was all-encompassing, intensive, trying to get people not to be apathetic with politics. It just is, I suppose, quite funny now when people will just take things, whatever is pushed on them, so I thought it was a kind of sly reference to a time when people would stand up for things more. Here in the U.K. it’s become more of a “nunny” state where you can’t breathe almost without there being some petty law being cut down. Basically people’s civil liberties are disappearing. I think it’s happening everywhere.
The new album sounds more garage-rocky than previous releases. It reminds me of a lot of the raw ’60s garage tunes on Nuggets.
Something which I really like about those kinds of records is that there’s a lot of humor, but not in a working sense, something where it’s more playful.
All your stuff is experimental and abstract, but also really danceable at the same time. It sounds like you think a lot about the enjoyment of the audience.
That’s why we sort of don’t have self-indulgent, really long instrumental pieces. No guitar solos! “Do It!” was really a fun album for us to record. Now so much music seems really serious and a bit too earnest.
What’s your impression of L.A. audiences?
Los Angeles has actually been, I’d say, the best place each time when we play in America, which I suppose is a cliché thing to say, but the people have always been really supportive with us. The Troubadour is an ideal venue for us as well.
I read an interview with Brian where he said the “Walking With Thee” LP was “like a horror film … trying to induce fear.” What is “Do It!” trying to induce?
We saw it as sort of a summer album. I think if anything it’s just something to sit back and enjoy. It’s definitely not meant to have any scary side to it.
What made you decide to produce this one yourself when previous albums have been produced by other people?
If you want to sort of experiment and try for other things, if you’re in a conventional studio you’re always aware of time, so you’re more likely to play it safe. Because we wanted to mess around with sounds, it meant if something didn’t work out than it didn’t matter at all, you know, so you gave yourself the luxury of being able to make a lot of mistakes or go down blind alleys but then it didn’t matter. It could be a good thing. Something that you thought had no potential could turn out to be, which happened with one thing, you put more kind of oddball things right next to each other.
Clinic always uses really interesting instruments – the melodica, and that fantastic sounding one on “Walking With Thee.”
Oh yeah, the philicorda. It’s an organ keyboard. It’s just something that we’ve always been on the lookout for, it’s something that takes it outside of a standard guitar band. Things like that we found at sales in Liverpool, as you say garage sales and that. I think a lot of people aren’t interested in it so you can pick things up like that really, really cheaply as well. It’s creative to put songs together but I think it’s creative as well finding different instruments. If you’re not used to playing an instrument sometimes you can come up with melody ideas more so than with the ones technically you’re really proficient. None of us has ever been interested in taking lessons. I think it’s how it combines as a whole, you know, rather than if you can play an instrument with too much reference or if you went to school and how fast you can play notes.
That rings especially here in Los Angeles, the land of Musicians Institute graduates.
Yeah, it’s like that with 10-minute guitar solos, isn’t it? I mean, if you go into guitar shops you can hear them whenever you feel like it.
Does the band still record only analog?
Yeah. This is the second album we’ve recorded ourselves and it was all going onto tape and we used kind of vintage effects and equipment and everything. I suppose it’s a way you can get sounds which aren’t typical of what’s happening now. I think it just makes it sound natural as well. I think so many things now are so manipulated in studios that it comes out sounding really plastic and artificial. It seems to me the most exciting when you hear something – is where you can imagine where it’s made by humans, and actually played in a room.
You guys are big fans of free jazz, sixties garage, and also punk – you’ve got a lot of eclectic influences from all over the place…
I’ve always listened to music from all kinds of different genres. You get really good things in each genre, so with your influences there’s no reason to limit yourself to one particular style.
What’s up next for the band?
The next thing we do will probably be almost like Glen Campbell. More ’70s. Very light.
Are there any new bands within the last couple of years that you’re into?
There’s a kind of newish band from Liverpool called Mogstar, they’ve been touring with Portishead. They’re really quite inventive, almost like space rock but with a kind of Liverpool influence as well.
I’m sure you all have quite extensive record collections. Any gems you particularly love?
I always forget what I’ve got. I think the last couple of CDs that I’ve bought was a Swell Maps CD. I think they’re underrated. I think they had quite a strong sense of pop as well in what they did. The other thing was Charlie Mingus, “Black Saint and the Sinner Lady,” I thought that was really good. But it’s getting harder to buy records now.
You must scour record shops when on tour.
That’s what we do a lot of the time, going to record shops. You’ve got Rhino in Los Angeles and Amoeba in San Francisco. There are some really good indie shops in America.
How would you describe your sound?
When making music I suppose you’re always trying to make it so it’s hard to categorize, so I don’t think I could sum it up ’cause that’s the opposite of how I look at it. I write the melodies and the lyrics, but as a band then we would say add the musical parts and the rhythms to that, so it’s still quite wide open from even though there are a lot of songs that just go over one chord, it’s really open to what rhythms you can attach to it. It’s collaborative but it’s got a base to it with the melody.
Clinic has been together for about 10 years.
Yeah. That’s quite unusual nowadays, isn’t it? The equivalent of the seven-year itch of playing in a band is probably when you do your third album, so if you get past that point then everyone is aware of everybody else’s strong points or foibles and quirks, so I think everyone knows when to give each other space or everyone takes different roles on within it. That’s how you keep it fresh without being claustrophobic.
All of your records seem to draw from a particular influence you’ve immersed yourselves in at the time.
That goes back to what we were talking about using new instruments for each album. That way it’s always, you’re always aiming to do something different each time.
I hear you’re a fan of my favorite author, Richard Brautigan, who unfortunately nobody else seems to know of.
I like Richard Brautigan because that had a real sense of the ridiculous to it. It’s start a paragraph and it’ be really everyday, very normal and suddenly it’d switch into something completely surreal. I like the sort of childlike view that he tends to write from. To me I think a straightforward sort of narrative lyric on the second or third listen can start to wear a bit thin, but I think if you’ve got something that’s more implied or you can read something else into it, I think that can give it more longevity.
Any other influences? Films?
Probably my favorite director, who’s not really fit into any art typecast, would be Woody Allen, just cause I think again where it’s got humor in it, it really nails some kind of strong kind of philosophical points and observations with relationships. I just think he’s so intelligent.
What’s your one guilty pleasure?
Top Noodles. Do you have Top Noodles in America?
Top Ramen noodles?
Yeah. They’re absolute rubbish.