Clinic have always done things their own way.
Outsiders in a city of outsiders, the Liverpool group have patiently allowed their psychedelic oscillations to permeate the outside world via their Mersey base. Returning with new album 'Free Reign' though, the group have decided to shake things up a little.
A less structured, more free form effort than 2010's 'Bubblegum' this new album contains some florid, ecstatic bursts of other worldly noise. Handing the tapes over to Daniel Lopatin, the American artist was able to bring a new dimension, a fresh perception to who Clinic are and what they do.
Very much a band-oriented album, 'Free Reign' seems to find Clinic at their noisiest and most free form, yet simultaneously the material contained within seems to pierce closer to their heart than ever. It's a curious contradiction, one that Ade Blackburn was happy to sit down and talk about.
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Is it important to the band to have their own space?
Yeah. We started off having our own rehearsal space and then we just got some cheap studio tape machine and desk in there so it’s meant that we can just record ideas as well as rehearse in the room. I suppose we’ve always – even in Liverpool – been outsiders, really. I think in the past couple of years I think it’s changed quite a bit in Liverpool there seems to be quite a bit more experimental things that you wouldn’t quite expect coming out of Liverpool. That seems like it’s been quite healthy, yeah.
Liverpool does tend to spawn these psychedelic groups, though.
I can remember growing up, you’d have these record shops which were around and they all had psychedelic sections in them. Things like garage punk and psychedelia which you didn’t seem to get as much in other cities. I think that tradition seems to go back to Eric’s and a lot of the bands who came out of there, like the Bunnymen or Teardrop Explodes and Wah! – they all seemed to have that interest or influence. I guess that’s been passed on. I think our take on it was that we didn’t want to do something which was in any way like that harmonies, Beatles kind of 60s thing. We always wanted to be more like a punk edge to it but still have some of that garage elements as well.
Does this freeform approach equate to old fashioned jamming?
Yeah. The way we put the songs together was more just playing against drum machine patterns and so on. Just improvising against that and that’s where you get a few more of the extended instrumental sections. That again is not much of what we’ve done in the past – in the past, things have been really tightly structured, three minute type songs.
Had you ever worked like this before?
We’d done a few things which we’d either edited down so it was a more compact song or things that we felt were a bit too loose so we didn’t include them on things. I think it was a conscious decision this time to leave in a lot of the rough bits, more like a DIY, almost amateur feel to it. It’s so easy with computers to just over tidy things and make it pristine – we wanted to keep it so it still had a roughness to it.
How did the Daniel Lopatin collaboration come about?
Lawrence Bell who runs Domino, he always would have some suggestions on each album for someone to mix the tracks. We record them ourselves in our rehearsal space. When we sent them the demos for this he knew it was based around keyboards and drum machines rather than guitars so he suggested Daniel as someone to mix with. The way it kind of worked is that Daniel added more of an edge to the songs than we had on them but it was in a way which wasn’t using guitars or typical instruments that we wouldn’t normally use. I think on ‘Miss You’ and ‘You’ that really helped to take it somewhere else.
Were you familiar with his work before the project began?
Yeah. I mean I really like the way he’d use a lot of edits in his own songs, it would switch from one mood to another really quickly. That was something we’d played around with slightly ourselves so I was interested to hear his take on the songs.
There’s a trippy, psychedelic edge to a lot of his work.
Yeah definitely. I think that was kind of Lawrence’s idea, I think he likes to pull things together which fit in one way and don’t in another just to see what comes out of it.
Was it exciting for you to work with someone from a very different musical background?
Yeah. I always like working in a way where you don’t quite know where you’re going to end up with. I think that’s far more exciting than, say, doing it with someone who’s used to your methods of working. It’s better to work with someone who will analyse things and then throw it out.
Why settle on ‘Free Reign’ as an album title?
Probably a couple of reasons. For a band like ourselves who are quite small and sit on the margins it’s quite a cheeky title. In a sense, though, that’s what we did – we weren’t really thinking about any commercial inspirations we were just making music. So it did sort of fit us really well.
That ‘Seamless Boogie Woogie, BBC2 10pm (rpt)’ song title - no prizes for guessing who it's aimed at...
It’s kind of like a slight dig at the Jools Holland show, obviously. I think I saw Jools Holland’s show a couple of times last year and it just seemed to be Jools Holland switching from him playing piano on one thing to piano on the next and the whole show seemed to revolve around that. You think, maybe he could do a bit more with it, given how conservative it seems to be. Especially as it’s the only real music show on telly. Surely he’d be better with something new on it than more boogie woogie.
Have you ever been invited?
No. I think early on there was some talk about us being on the show but I don’t know how well it fits. I guess we’re probably too small a band to be on a show like that, realistically.
It’s a very English title, do you see yourselves as being an innately English phenomenon?
Yeah. I’d say that there’s probably quite a British, English sense of humour to it and in that way it’s probably quite self-deprecating. Almost like a darker sense of humour to it. I think it’s quite self-deprecating, in a way. It’s almost baffling to people outside.
It’s funny how people outside the UK embrace these references.
It’s like American references on garage records. To me, it’s intriguing, you’re trying to work out what the references are.
How are you seeing out the year?
This evening we’re doing a session for Marc Riley. He’s always been quite supportive with the band so it’s quite an easy thing to do, for Marc Riley. We’ve got a few European festivals at the end of the month and then we actually won’t start a proper tour until February for the album. We’ll do a British tour. It might get lost in the run up to Christmas so it seemed like the easiest thing to do is to do it in February.
Does Daniel Lopatin’s involvement mean that you have to construct the live show differently?
Yeah. We’ve kind of touched on that a bit so far. It’s been really good because we’re swapping round more. We’ve always swapped around but with this, Carl is the drummer and he’s using the sampler and drum machines quite a bit. That forces everyone to move round. Carl also plays a bit of keyboard and we’ve got some clarinet live as well so it means that it’s less of a standard four piece band set up. It’s more like you’re producing music in some way.
Could you work with Daniel Lopatin again?
Yeah. I think what we’d like to do in the future is maybe change things round and get away from recording ourselves. We’ve done that for the last sort of three albums so I think possibly it would be good to work with someone like Daniel from scratch, so that you can put the songs together differently and again took it in a completely different directions.
Would you find it difficult to hand over the reins?
As much as you try and avoid it you might have the same starting point so it’s good to get rid of that completely and start from something that you wouldn’t even do yourself.
That must be quite difficult to do after all these years.
Yeah. That can be the hardest thing. You’ve got to think ‘fuck it’ sometimes, just let go and see what happens. You need a way to make it more exciting for yourself.
In an odd kind of way are Clinic beginning to feel more at home in Liverpool than they did before?
Yeah. Definitely. It does feel like that. When we played recently in Liverpool you seemed to get a different group of people coming to the gig. People who are in younger bands. It’s really quite flattering and satisfying really, I suppose when we started out there wasn’t really anything like that, it was still more based on The La’s or the Beatles, that kind of tradition in Liverpool. It seems to have come together quite naturally, as well, rather than it being a forced attempt to create a scene. All the bands are quite different, they’re all doing their own thing.
Photo Credit: Keith Ainsworth
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'Free Reign' is out now.