Clinic already knows what its next album sounds like: Interview
Ade Blackburn on the 'necessary evil' of selling music to commercials
AUSTIN -- Clinic already knows what their next album is going to sound like.
Ade Blackburn and his Liverpool-bred band have survived eight album releases over 13 years, the most recent "Free Reign" from 2012 getting a makeover as "Free Reign II," a totally different mix. And maybe that's eh key to the four piece together: mixing, remixing, new inspiration. Thusly, the album that arrives after this guitar-heavy, instrumentally-centered effort may have no guitars at all.
But some things stay the same. The art-punk band has always performed in clinical masks and other costumes, for instance. Rock music of the '60s and early '70s has consistently influenced their records. They don't shy away from a good concept.
Clinic just wrapped a tour of the U.S. last month and are hitting a few fests in Europe throughout the rest of the summer. Blackburn and I caught up at Austin Psych Fest -- during which they were performing -- to talk about the band's past, their future, self-producing and selling music to commercials.
The idea of the re-release, “Free Reign” and “Free Reign II”: Who’s decision was that and talk about the idea of re-release?
We’d done some original mixes for the album. But also then another mixer from Brooklyn, Danny Lofton, he did the mixes of the songs. We felt that a couple of them kind of fitted and took the songs further in the way we thought was kind of right for it. He did mixes of every song and all the remixes were kind of more remixes rather than mixes if you like. So we thought it was something that kind of worked well as a whole and had his own sound to it so it seemed like a really sort of artistically worthwhile thing to release those mixes.
I think from the reviews and everything, people have kind of taking it as something of having some worth to it rather than sort of cash in or trying to eek out the shelf life of an album.
I guess there must have been some extra thought since this is an album that you guys produced yourself, not that you were second-guessing, but you can hear how songs could go a totally different way
Yeah. I thought that was pretty good because it wasn’t something that I didn’t want to be precious about it.
What I liked was we never had any plan to do that from the start.
There seemed to be a theme with your last few albums, like with “Bubblegum” especially. With this one did you go into it having a better idea, having more of the acid influence, having a better idea exactly what you wanted to hear out of his album?
Yeah, we did, yeah. Because it was – we knew that we didn’t want to do another kind of song based album like “Bubblegum” where it’s very much about this sort of melodies and a softer side to it. So we started with all the sounds first. We had all these different kind of vintage drum machines and putting the keyboard through different effects. It felt more like trippy, spacey side to it was there right from the start. So it was far more about the sounds than the songs really. That kind of gave it a looseness to it as well which we really haven’t really had before. I think it was more extreme anyway.
After eight albums I’m wondering if there’s anything that kick-starts your new songwriting process? How do you keep things fresh? Do you look for new instruments?
Yeah, definitely new instruments I think. I think the next thing that we’ll do probably won’t have any guitars on it that’s all. And I don’t even know how we can make that work but I think it’s worth a try.
You need the challenge of it.
Yeah, yeah. ‘Cause even if then you end up going back and using guitar on one song or something, at least you’ve pushed it further. So I think you got to throw yourself into the deep end and take more risks with it. That’s what results are sort of more creative. The closer you stay to your comfort zone, the worst an album is probably gonna be.
So even as you’re making the album, you have an idea of what the next album will sound like?
Usually towards the end of it because you’ve done so much of one thing it’s usually a reaction to that. Say with this, next time we might do a punk sounding album or something but not with guitars.
You guys have been with Domino since the top. Even since when you guys started putting out singles, how has the Independent record industry changed to work in your favor? And how has it worked against you?
I’d say it’s probably mainly against ‘cause with all the changes with the Internet and everything ,they just couldn't really stand up to that with the independence, ‘cause they didn’t have enough money to sort of weather the storm.
It’s just meant that everything’s done on much more of a shoestring sort of a budget. I think on the plus side of that it means that you have to be far more organized and know exactly what you want to do. You can’t just go into a studio and mess around for a couple of days and waste money. So I suppose it means there’s no access to it. Everything’s got to be, you know, you’re either still doing it for the music or you’re probably stop doing it altogether. Because it’s not something you can coast along in and do it for the money really, you know?
Was that part of the reason why you guys decided to self produce on this one, an economy thing at all?
We’ve self-produced a couple of them in the past as well. If we did that with each one, then I think it would get too samey. But I think if you can do that every so often it means like you've done it a couple of albums with other people and suddenly you’ve got this freedom again. So it works well in that way.
With bands always it’s always described as a family or a relationship. What period do you feel like you’re in your relationship with the band?
I think work probably in our golden years. We started off and it was quite plain sailing and then after that we kind of starting to take it more seriously because there’s more pressure, there’s more sort of at stake. And then you realize you are better off the way you were to begin with, not taking it seriously. So I think we kind of gone full circle with it. I don’t know whether that does equate to the golden years, or where it’s just good enough.
Do you associate a certain record or a period of recording where it was your most tumultuous, when it was not smooth sailing?
It was the third one, “Winchester Cathedral.” There was quite a bit of pressure on us to do something that would have a fair bit of impact after the first two albums. And we probably put too much pressure on ourselves. We just kept going round and round doing all these endless mixes and it's was taking forever. But I suppose you just it’s kind of necessary to do that probably with at least one album to then learn from that and not take it too seriously from then onwards. So we’ve been lucky enough to be able to do enough albums since then to put that into some kind of perspective. So it’s not coming you’re saying, “Oh Christ we completely blew it” or something. It’s just something that happened along the way.
So you’re feeling good about kind of the future of the band? It sounds like you already have some good ideas for your next reported projects.
Yeah, yeah ‘cause it seems we’ve not taken it seriously I think that makes it a lot more creative as well. The atmosphere is more that you want to try anything rather than thinking, “How good is it gonna be?”
I think people, whenever they talk about your band, the immediate association, of course, is your live performance, of the costumes. Does that ever get wearisome, that there’s such an emphasis on that?
That again is something that sort of has pissed me off sometimes in the past. It seems like some people like it, some people really don’t like it. And so it’s just out of your hands. The reason we did it was for something that’s more kind of fun or have some sort of other visual element to it. So at least that was our reason for doing it. However anyone else takes it I suppose is theirs…
I guess it’s the idea of the severity, the severity of the look. A lot of bands kind of take things on and off, like “Here’s my stage clothes, and now my corner store clothes.” They put on costumes even if they look fairly normal, in a way.
Yeah it’s more extreme what we do because it’s all the time. I mean, people think with the costumes tend to read into it, that there’s something more sinister that it is. Or it’s a lot darker that it is. I think quite a lot that is down to the outfits, which I do sort of like that as well. The songs, I think , are almost quite poppy or melodic or whatever.
You can have fun with.
Yeah, you can have fun with it. Because if you got those preconceptions you can’t mess around within them.
What are some other wrong preconceived notions or misconceptions about Clinic that bother you?
Another one is probably that we just only listen to stuff from 1965. I mean, we do ‘66 as well.
But no, because I was always a bit into a really broad sort of mixture of music. The early things we did were more kind of ‘60s-based. But yeah, occasionally we do listen to stuff after 1979.
How have your feelings change over the years about synch-licensing, licensing your music to commercials, films, television whatever? You guys have had some great luck. But 15 years ago was “selling out.” Today it’s the only way that some bands can get by.
In ’99, the first thing we had was use on a Levi’s advert in the U.K. We’d only we just kind of signed a publishing deal with Sony, so when we got the phone call about it we only had sort of an hour to make up our mind with it -- allegedly. So that’s what we have to take it as. So we agreed to do it because I suppose we felt pressure to do it.
I think it knocked peoples views of the band a bit because they thought it was something that was quite sort of underground or resistant to that. Since then, it’s just become kind of par for the course, really, hasn’t it? So you just got to - unfortunately I’d rather not do it, but if it’s a way of surviving, then it’s necessary evil really.
What is the inherent evil of it to you?
I think it’s because television seems so bad to me ‘cause it’s all about being bombarded with adverts. I’m just not a fan of adverts and the manipulation. It’s all subliminal side to it. So I'd rather not be involved in that if possible.
But you've got to be realistic and it's a way that obviously as well benefits us. I guess I’m just not that business-mind when I should be really.
Describe yourself as a person 14 years ago, before you put out eight albums.
14 years ago I was, I think I was probably a lot more intense 14 years ago. I was like really I’d say absolutely fixated on trying to make the music as good as it could be. And I think we have mellowed quite a bit since then.