|Photography by Eleonora Collini|
Not many bands have a distinctive sound and image as Clinic. Yet, after over 15 years of career, they still seem to be somehow underrated : extremely loved and seen as one of the most influential bands in the psychedelic music scene, they still haven’t reached the deserved success outside of the psych “elite”.
Their new album Free Reign shows one more time how the band has managed to maintain their distinctive style whilst constantly evolving and experimenting with new sounds.
I had the pleasure to meet up with frontman Adrian 'Ade' Blackburn before they played a wonderful show at London Corsica Studios. He confessed that the secret beyond their fantastic music and such a long career without any lineup changes is not to take things too seriously…..
Eleonora Collini: Your new album Free Reign came out last November. To me it sounds a bit more experimental and electronic, especially in comparison with the poppier Bubblegum. Can you elaborate that?
Adrian 'Ade' Blackburn: Yeah, I’d say that the band has always had two different sides, a kind of kraut rock, repetitive side and also more of a songwriter side. Bubblegum was the most extreme of that side, with more acoustic guitars, softer sounds, whereas Free Reign is on the other end of the spectrum, more about the textures, rather than the actual song structures, therefore less conventional. So these are probably the two extremes of what we do, that’s why we decided to release the albums one after the other.
Eleonora: Do you still record only analog?
Ade: Yeah that’s what we mainly use. We record all analog, and then if there is anything digital it’ll be more in the editing.
Eleonora: Is there any vintage instrument you own you are particularly attached to?
Ade: We have quite an old harmomiun. We like sort of medieval sounding instruments so we’ve got a harmomium, a dulcimer, and also we use a very old keyboard, an old Yamaha 71 that can produce nice piano and harpsichord sounds. We use not necessarily vintage stuff but things that are not as easily available as lets say on the internet or with softwares, as that makes a more unique sound.
Eleonora: Where do you usually find your instruments?
Ade: Usually folk instruments shops which are a lot better than the standard guitars and music instruments shop. Also old markets where you can fin old, cheap stuff. And we also have lots of percussion instruments. So the way we put our things together is to base around these different sounds and that would kind of lead the tracks almost, rather than the vocal melodies or the guitars.
Eleonora: So usually the way you write music is playing around with those unconventional instruments and letting them inspire you?
Ade: Yes. We’ve done the conventional way lots of times too, but if it’s based on the original sound the result is easily something hard to categorize and it takes a life of its own. And this way of working is definitely more inspiring.
Eleonora: Are your songs a collective effort?
Ade: It’s usually me that comes up with a few basic chords and melodies. I usually have an idea for a record which may be the starting point but the way we’ve increasingly got to work is almost not to stick to that at all, as that allows us to go in different directions, and get inspired by them.
Eleonora: You co-produced the new album with Daniel Lopatin (of Oneohtrix Point Never) and now you just released Free Reign II, a set of alternate mixes by him . How was collaborating with Daniel?
Ade: The original album was around two third of our mixes and the rest was Daniel’s. Some of Daniel’s original mixes were great but somehow we felt that they didn’t work for what we wanted on the first album. But then we thought that they were very good to hear on their own as they have a special feel and his own distinctive sound running throughout. And we thought it’d make sense for them to hear as a whole LP. It’s not something we usually do and it’s not that we did a collection of remixes by different people, but with this both we and Domino thought it’d be worth releasing.
Eleonora: You seem to be into remixes quite a bit as the single “Miss you” was also remixed by Daniel Bardelli & DJ Rocca, and then Peaking Lights….
Ade: Yeah that’s right. We also do remixes ourselves as well as that’s something that takes further away from the band’s sound I guess.
Eleonora: Bubblegum came out on gum-pink vinyl and now Free Reign was also released on UFO format which is basically a Frisbee with a download code…
Ade: Yeah the UFO thing, I haven’t got one, but I’ve seen one.
Eleonora: What made you go for all this new formats experimentation?
Ade: Well, before all the sales decrease in general, I always thought that the CD packaging with the dull case wasn’t really attractive. That was probably fine when it was less important, but now that people can get music for sort of free…you know we’ve always been interested in all the visual stuff like videos and stage outfits of course. And at that point Domino also wanted to make the packaging more inventive and imaginative, And the UFO format is probably one of my favourites so far.
Eleonora: And there were also those free iron-on transfers that came with the Bubblegum vinyl, right?
Ade: Yeah, that’s right, I forgot about those ones. . It’s probably because a lot of people think we are pretty serious as a band which we are not really, so I like things that are a bit more fun.
Eleonora: Since you mentioned videos earlier on…. The two “Seamless Boogie Woogie, BBC2 10pm (rpt)” videos and the one for “Miss You” are quite interesting psychotropic films. How much do you usually get involved in the making of your videos?
Ade: It depends. There are some we really got involved in and co-directed, but for instance with the last two we didn’t get directly involved in the making but we still had a say in the content and the editing. For us videos are important as you want something that somehow represents the song. We’ve always been very lucky as most people that directed our videos and were chosen by Domino either knew the band already or were very useful at grasping what the band wanted to say, so we’ve never had any major arguments about the videos.
Eleonora: What’s the meaning of the song “Seamless Boogie Woogie, BBC2 10pm (rpt)?
Ade: The title is obviously a piss take of Jools Holland, but the actual song is more a sort of love song which wasn’t intentional but that’s the way it turned out. I usually like things that are more odd jokes making, so that was a title that I had and I thought that’d be quite diverse as that’s not usually a title for a love song
Eleonora: You were guest editor for Magnet Magazine for a week last November. How was the experience?
Ade: It was all done via internet like everything nowadays. I’m quite a fan of music and films, and I’m also into books and people, those are my favourite things (laughs), so it was great to get the chance to do that. And I got to think that maybe some younger people…….because I mentioned older stuff, like from the 70ies, things that maybe younger people didn’t know about, so I like the idea that you can perhaps get people into things they may have not heard of before.
Eleonora: You are one of the few bands that have been together for over 15 years without even one lineup change. What’s the secret for that?
Ade: Yeah sometimes it feels like you are in the United Nations or something! (laughs).
Probably as the time goes on we have our own opinions on things…. at the beginning we took it very seriously and that was a good thing but in order to improve again you have to take it not seriously at all, you have to do it in a way that, at least to me, has to be as playful as possible. But especially with the middle albums I think we got more and more serious, and the funny side wasn’t gone but wasn’t there as much as it should have been, but I feel that with Free Reign we kinda captured more of a prankster side of things than on earlier records.
Eleonora: I read in an old interview that the surgical masks you’re wearing are a homage to Crime and The Residents. And in May you’re supporting the Residents at the Barbican on their 40th anniversary tour. Would you consider them among your biggest music influences?
Ade: Yeah they are certainly one of our biggest influences. At heart what we have done has always had kind of pop elements to it, and though maybe lots of people don’t realise it to me the Residents have always been essentially a pop band. But with us it’s not only about catchy melodies, we’ve done somehow a bit of jazz too, and in a way our music is also quite punk, and to achieve that mixture is just incredible. So musically if you go back to an album we’ve had before it never goes where you expected it to and you can’t say that of a lot of music.
Eleonora: Still talking about your unusual outfits, you wear different costumes depending on the circumstances of the show and the sound of the album you are promoting, right? How do you come up with them every time?
Ade: Yeah we’ve always spent a lot of time in the past thinking about it, not as much as we do with the music of course. But since the beginning everything we did had a visual side to it and that was something we wanted to keep going. And we’ve done it in slightly different ways, so for instance sometimes it was also about the headgear and not just the actual tops. And it’s the same with photographs. I think that’s so much more enjoyable as it just adds to the show. I think when people see it live it makes it feel more as if it was a special occasion rather than if we just turned up in jeans and t-shirt.
Eleonora: Don’t you ever feel that when you perform live the costumes, especially the masks somehow create a barrier between you and the audience?
Ade: I think after our first album a lot of people in America thought it was funny but we’d never played over there, but when we finally got to play there it felt that was dividing people as some really liked it, some either hated it or just felt baffled about it. And that was the reaction I was expecting and kinda wanted, because you don’t want a bland reaction from people. For instance when we played with Arcade Fire or Radiohead, when we got on stage I guess you could see people were asking what was that sort of thing and weren’t very pleased (laughs)
Eleonora: Mugstar are opening for you tonight, and they are also from Liverpool. Do you think there is a Liverpool music scene you feel you belong to?
Ade: Ten years ago there were only a handful of bands and we felt that we were just out there on our own, but now there is such a strong Art scene in Liverpool. Not just music but theatre, club nights and like I said art. There seems to be lots of non mainstream events. And it’s been very flattering for us that people have stuck to us as we were kinda forerunning in that. So yeah it’s very great in Liverpool now.
Originally published on The 405