Interview
Clinic
Brian Campbell



i stepped into the Middle East several hours before the lights would dim and Clinic would sprint through their forty minute set with surgical precision. The tour manager was politely asking the door girl if she knew where he could find a "launderette" to wash the scrubs before the show. Befuddled, she went to look for the manager while I caught a bit of sound check, killed roughly two hours, one beer, and three cigarettes before finally sitting down with B Campbell, the bass player for the British quartet.

Evan Chakroff (STYLUS): So, how's the tour going?

Brian Campbell (BC): This tour's only a week long, basically when we were out here last March / April for the east coast gigs Ade, our singer, got really sick, and we had to cancel some gigs, so we're honoring those again. We were coming over anyway to do some promotions, so we're tying it in.

STYLUS: I've read your songwriting is mostly a group effort ...

BC: Well it's a real complicated sort of process, almost scientific in a way. We'll come up with different sort of grooves, lyrical ideas or melody ideas, but our songs are really schizophrenic - they might start off in one direction -- and they take about, we usually spend around 2 or 3 months on each song, you know? They don't come easily. We start kicking them around the rehearsal room, and by the end of it they're kicking us around. A song could start off in 2/4 but then we'll change the time signature to 3/4, try different keys, different techniques, try different instruments, so it's a time consuming - I wouldn't say laborious, cause that's the exciting part, that's what we're in it for, you know? But it is a group effort, we all come up with different ideas, the drummer will drum ideas, the guitarist will come up with guitar ideas, we all sort of pitch in.

STYLUS: Are any of you classically trained? Or just self-taught?

BC: (smiles) All self taught - I think that's the best way. I think if you are sort of taught, you can pick up other people's bad habits. We're not great musicians... on the last album we needed someone to play the flute, so I went out and bought a flute and within two weeks we were recording it. So in that way we're not classically trained, we're not spot-on. I could be playing the flute through the wrong orifice for all I’m concerned, but as long as it sounds good or -- I think it brings it's own character to it because it's not that great.

STYLUS: There's a lot more room for innovation, I think, if you don't know how to play an instrument...

BC: Exactly, yeah.

STYLUS: The album cover for Internal Wrangler was taken from some old Ornette Coleman album?

BC: Yeah, yeah... I mean that's the kind of thing that people sort of say, well, is that due to lack of imagination? And also, if some songs are quite similar to other songs -- but we think if something's good it's more of a homage to it.

STYLUS: Your songs seem to be more about the rhythm and getting a groove than melody...

BC: Yeah, we try to come up with a groove or a rhythm you could listen to -- you could just listen to the drum and bass for like four minutes and it'll keep your interest, so I think once you've got that you've got a great foundation to then put the melody and the hooks down.

STYLUS: Would you say most of the instrumental ideas come before the lyrics?

BC: Definitely, yeah. The lyrics are usually the last things to go on. Sometimes they'll just be there to enhance... the lyrics don't all make sense all of the time, they're more there to help the rhythm aspects, to help the rhythm along.

STYLUS: I noticed that, the lyrics are very abstract at times...

BC: A lot of people ask what the songs are about, what the lyrics mean. We don't ever print our lyrics on the album sleeve, we like people to get their own interpretation of it. It gives the listener ownership, really, so whatever the listener thinks it's about, they're right. It's happened a million times - you'll listen to a song and think you know what it's about, but then you go back and read the lyrics, and - this is about the singer's dog or something, it really takes away from you.

STYLUS: Is there any message to any of Clinic's lyrics, or just kind of random abstractions?

BC: No, no, there's no real hidden message or anything like that, no "kill your parents."

STYLUS: The band's compared to the Velvet Underground a lot... I don't really hear any connection, but it seems to come up... what are your main influences?

BC: Well, the Velvet Underground is our big influence, we all grew up listening to the Velvet Underground, but that's just the tip of the iceberg, really. There are so many things we listen to like Ornette Coleman, doo-wop, jazz, techno, electronica... it depends what day you ask, really. We have millions - our record collections are just vast, and really obscure. I think being compared to the Velvet Underground is just lazy journalism, I agree with you. It's just people who don't understand music just sort of think "oh yeah, that’s the Velvet Underground" the melodies or whatever, the keyboard sounds...

STYLUS: Your music is really keyboard based, it seems, as opposed to guitars, which is not too common in rock and roll these days...

BC: That's the kind of thing -- we like to take that, the instrument, and make it work in a rock and roll sort of sense. In Britain, with your rock and roll and indie bands the guitar is the main instrument, so I think we like to give a different slant, a different edge.

STYLUS: What are you listening to now?

BC: Have you heard of the Nuns? They're a band from the 60s, they had one album -- they were based in Germany in the RAF in Germany, the air force, which was pretty cool. Personally I'm listening to the new flaming lips album, that I just got hold of. We were lucky enough to play with them, on The Soft Bulletin tour, so that was a big thing...

STYLUS: Didn't they pass out headphones to the audience on that tour?

BC: No, not that one, the one we were on they had the screen, they filmed the drummer, since he's also the keyboard player, it was an amazing sort of show.

STYLUS: A lot of people think Walking With Thee has less of an edge than Internal Wrangler, what's your reaction to that?

BC: Yeah, I kind of agree. Internal Wrangler is more garage-y, and the record technique was more left-field in a way. I think this time we could have done Internal Wrangler 2, and gotten slated for it. I mean, we always want to keep pushing it, pushing ourselves, and keep people guessing. We hate for people to think "oh, this is clinic." This is a more mellow album, we experimented with more wind instruments, and say, piano... I think when you mess around with those instruments, you're going to get a mellower album.

STYLUS: Though it is a little mellower, slower, it seems like you keep the same level of intensity...

BC: Yeah, I think so... it's quite cinematic. More like a horror film, you don't really know what's round the next corner. I think it's trying to induce fear.

STYLUS: You said Internal Wrangler had more of a left-field recording approach, how did you do things differently this time?

BC: Well, Internal Wrangler was kind of sham-bullocks - we didn’t' really know what we were doing, and I think that comes out on the record - which I think is really good! This time around we recorded [demos] at home ourselves with a four track, so basically we could give it to the producer and say "we want it to sound like this..." I think it's more organized, more disciplined this time.

STYLUS: Analog or digital?

BC: Everything we do is on analog.

STYLUS: Your albums have a very warm sound...

BC: Yeah, you listen to a lot of digital stuff nowadays and it just sounds... ehh.... it's got no character to it.

STYLUS: There's a lot of stuff going on too, on your albums. Do you ever have trouble pulling it off live?

BC: Yeah, there are a lot of songs we can't play live... it'd be easy to get all the musicians in to play the parts, but we don't like that. We've got a sampler to play the loops, we try and get it identical [to the recorded versions], but it's just not possible. People ask us to play "Distortions" off Internal Wrangler, but there are so many things going on, it would sound inferior... unless we used backing tapes as well, but we just sort of think that's cheating.

STYLUS: You use a sampler?

BC: Yeah, just a little sampler... there's a drum machine on "Second Line" that we use just a little sample on... and "Porno".. just a little way we incorporate modern day technology.

STYLUS: I hear you play fairly short sets...

BC: We do, but within that we do play fifteen songs, but our songs are so short. Any other band, any regular band their songs go for five minutes, if you play fifteen songs that’s what, about an hour and a half, isn't it? We want to try to use a kind of punk ethic, since the songs are so short, they're like a kick in the face really. We have played sets that are longer, but you feel that people are just -- they can't take any more. We're doing it to save the audience a little bit. Plus, it's really intense for us, it's not exactly fun, being onstage. We do like it, but it just... keeps your brain going, it wears you out. A lot of promoters complain, but they just see bands who have like nine minute guitar, self indulgent solos.

STYLUS: Yeah, you never have solos...

BC: When we're writing the songs, we have a quality control sort of built in technique, where every bar is analyzed, and if it's not serving the purpose for the song we throw it out. More direct and to the point, that's more of the punk ethic.

STYLUS: It must be hard to analyze everything that much...

BC: Yeah, but when you listen to a lot of albums sometimes you think the musicians aren't doing that, and I think that's a downfall of a lot of music nowadays. Though it is time consuming, it puts more work on us, I think it's worth it for the end result... I hope.

STYLUS: So, wearing the masks onstage today?

BC: Yeah, definitely, [laughs] yeah.

STYLUS: Do you always do that?

BC: Yeah, we do. We've done a few gigs where we haven’t and people have been, you kn0ow, a bit upset [laughs]. We still think a lot of bands don't try enough these days, we want to put some mystique back in rock and roll. Un-punk? You've had bands like the Residents or Everett, yeah a bit more avant garde, but that's the thing, I wouldn't describe us as a punk band, or any sort of band, really. We try to take bits from every sort of genre and put it in a big melting pot, and hopefully Clinic is what comes out. Also, it makes it more fun for us, more fun for the audience as well.

STYLUS: Does it cause any problems? Do people think of you as "that band in scrubs"?

BC: Well that's the thing - it's just simple sort of gear that we're wearing. I think some bands are more concerned with how their hair looks or what they look like on stage rather than the music. We got into music just to play music not to be onstage doing the guitar solos, getting an ego, using the guitar as a cock extension, you know? We're just in it for the music. Hopefully it just takes away from us a little bit, so you can concentrate on the music. Maybe I just contradicted myself, maybe people concentrate on the outfits, I don't know [laughs].

STYLUS: A lot of bands seem more concerned with style and how they look than with the music...

BC: People have offered, record companies have offered us stylists, but we're just "no way" [laughs]. The music should speak for itself!

STYLUS: You guys have been getting a lot of press lately, but it doesn't seem like you've really broken through in the US. Are you happy with your level of success?

BC: Yeah, because the record was released on a shoestring budget, with basically nothing behind it, Domino just put the record out. Considering it has done really well... I think if you compare the level of bands playing here, here at the middle east - and this show sold out - relative bands would have had a massive marketing campaign behind them, but we had nothing really. If you consider that, it's the music that's doing it, that's causing the attention. We're not trying to force anything down peoples throats. If you like Clinic, that's great, but we're not going to do in store signing sessions or anything like that. We're just not into that. So, if people come buy Clinic, well, that's brilliant, but we're not going to beg and plead people to listen to us.

STYLUS: One more question... what are you doing after this? Any plans for a new album?

BC: Yeah, we've already started writing stuff. Hopefully we're thinking maybe early next year we'll have an album out. We're coming back to America in the fall to do about a month tour, then we're back home and off to like Norway to do a few more shows here and there, and so that always takes a lot of time - going out on the road, doing stuff. But we're continuously writing, and we're continuously adding new songs that are a matter of hours old into the set. I think we're playing two songs tonight that we just made alterations to in the bus coming up, so you know it's really good - it's a good way of getting quality control. If the audience doesn't like a certain part, you can go back and change it next night. That's basically what Walking With Thee was about. We were lucky enough to go on tour with Radiohead for a while, and basically the pressure is not on you, no one came to see clinic at a Radiohead gig. But the audience was really responsive and receptive. We were able to write songs and put them in each night, and play in front of ten thousand people and see what the reaction was.

STYLUS: How was that, playing with Radiohead?

BC: It was amazing, we went all over. All over Europe, Israel, Japan... it was amazing. It's just nice to know a band like them, a band that size, is not like Spinal Tap, they're down to earth, really nice guys. It's nice to know you can be in a band of that size and not be a complete wanker.

STYLUS: Well that's it! Anything else to add?

BC: A cigarette?


By: Evan Chakroff
Published on: 2003-09-01
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