In honour of The Clean’s first Australian tour in 20 years, here is an interview I did with David Kilgour last year plus a review of their last album Mister Pop. The good news is that currently the band are also in the studio recording some stuff for a probable EP release before they head back to their respective parts of the world.
DAVID KILGOUR INTERVIEW
The Clean have been an intermittent project for 31 years now and through all that time they have grown in stature while more prolific musicians have been consigned to the back pages of history. Somehow the influence of the Kilgour brothers and Bob Scott has seeped into the consciousness of generations of aspiring garage and indie rock bands.
Mister Pop is the latest in only a handful of albums from the band and their low key approach means guitarist David Kilgour hasn’t even seen his brother (drummer Hamish) since they recorded the record, let alone made any plans to tour in support of the release. “We don’t plan anything, its usually because we happen to be in the same town and we might give it a go. That usually sparks it or someone gets us together for a festival or something and we think we should try and write some music,” says Kilgour in a typically laid-back Kiwi manner.
“We kind of have to write new stuff or we’d go insane. We can’t just go out and play old stuff, thats always been the rule. Thats why we make records because we’ve got new stuff,” he explains.
The sound of the record is still distinctly The Clean though this time round they have delved deeper into their folk and krautrock influences. “Yeah there is that jangly krautrock thing there. We never talk about it though. I often go in with an idea of what I want the record to be like but this time I wanted it to be a jam guitar rock album and look what happened, there is no real guitar rock there at all [laughs]. We just get together and se what happens. We love krautrock, especially the older stuff from the 70s. I always felt like the VU stuff like on the album 1969 had that driving disco repetitive beat like Can, they all had that driving beat. Moe Tucker was like a great drum machine really. I think that comes through on our stuff too,” Kilgour says.
All the members of the band have their own musical projects. Hamish plays with Mad Scene in New York, Bob Scott has The Bats and David plays solo with his band The Heavy Eights. How do they determine what makes a Clean song? “90% of the time we write them together. We very rarely take finished ones in. On this album I took a few in. The three albums before this were all written on the spot and thats how we try to keep it,”says Kilgour.
”Sometimes you can listen and say that’s the Bob song or thats the David song but we do try and not sound like what we are on our own, we are aware of it. Individually we take very different views on music. Mad Scene, what Hamish does in New York is very different again.
In the early days of The Clean and the other acts on the seminal Flying Nun label there was very little ambition outside New Zealand and other than The Chills very few of the bands travelled overseas at the time. “We never thought about it. I remember when we first went to Australia after we reformed in the late 80s… and we had no idea. It was always so hard to gauge without the internet back in those days whether you could go somewhere and people would come. Going there in the late 80s and thinking ‘shit, people here really want to see us’. We sold out a few clubs in Sydney and Melbourne and we thought ‘maybe we should’ve come here back in the day’. All the Aussie acts used to come over here like Go Betweens and Paul Kelly. I never thought beyond New Zealand shores, I never dreamt we could leave the country as a rock n roll band.”
Though their aspirations were limited they were still intent on bring punk ideals to conservative New Zealand and shaking things up. “ We were on a mission. We wanted to break the doors down and do it on our own terms. It was a crusade,” Kilgour recalls.
The Laneway Festival has been looking to reel in The Clean for a few years now and Kilgour teases that that may happen one day. For now they are back in their regular lives leaving any future activity in the hands of fate and destiny. Mister Pop in the meantime will satiate the obsessive types and introduce yet another generation to the wonderful music of The Clean.
MISTER POP REVIEW
The Clean are seemingly the name-check band of the moment in the indie rock world. Everyone from Jay Reatard to Crystal Stilts to Stephen Malkmus and Pete & The Pirates have been referencing the New Zealand trio who are now into their 31st year. Their latest album, Mister Pop, is their 8th, not withstanding a couple of live albums and compilations (2003’s excellent Anthology is recommended) and it sees the Kilgour brothers andRobert Scott settling into a relaxed mode.
Those expecting the energy and abandon of early Clean songs like ‘Tally Ho’, ‘Getting Older’ and ‘Beatnik’ may find the going tough on Mister Pop. There is very much a laid back feel to the whole record – to the point of drifting, drowsiness in some cases. For those that like and appreciate music that finds its own space and comfort zone though, there is much to enjoy.
Opener ‘Loog’ is representative of what many contemporary dream-pop bands like Beach House are doing, though it retains the link to The Clean’s past with that lovely organ swirling in the distance. (Random fact: the organ on ‘Tally Ho’ was played by Martin Philipps of The Chills). Stereolab are also echoed in ‘Loog’ though it is hard to ascertain whether they were influenced by The Clean or vice versa.
‘In the Dreamlife You Need A Rubber Soul’ brings the album to life with David Kilgour’s lazy vocals chiming in like a familiar friend. The jangle and strum of the kiwi pop sound is augmented by some slide guitar and female vocals similar to those on Loog drift in the background. Are You Really On Drugs” continues the psych folk feel that many like Brian Jonestown Massacre try to master and often fail. It is a perfect example of how songs of The Clean drift by, without peaks and troughs, just a linear journey on a light and floating groove.
‘Back In The Day’ possesses a catchy chorus when Kilgour repeatedly sings “Puts me right back in the day”. It is a nostalgic look back at the past, referencing the southern cross that so many from the southern hemisphere have used to navigate with. The guitar twinkles and jangles over the ambling beat before the song shuffles to a faltering close.
Elsewhere, ‘Tensile’ sounds like a magical marrying of New Order and Kraftwerk while ‘Factory Man’ flips the coin and delivers another of the pretty pop moments that The Clean do so well.
One of the highlights of Mister Pop is ‘Moonjumper’, a nearly 6 minute instrumental, firmly in a krautrock style with some Middle Eastern accents thrown in. It feels like The Dirty Three jamming outdoors on a sunny afternoon as it rolls on with backward guitar and Hamish Kilgour’s insistent drumming generating a hypnotic mood that feels like it could go on forever. Live this track would be a glorious sound to behold and you sense that the full recorded version probably stretched for another 10 minutes before it was edited down.
The Clean have continued to do their legacy proud albeit in a very understated and gentle way. Mister Pop sees them exploring some of their less obvious influences in krautrock and folk and for the most part it works wonderfully well. If anything the failing of the album is that they haven’t added any contrasting songs to add some bite and energy. Next time perhaps a little more caffeine and less chamomile tea.