At the start of their U.S. tour behind their new Free Reign (QRO review), Ade Blackburn of Clinic sat down with QRO. In the talk, the singer/guitarist/keyboardist talked about making Free Reign, their remix album with Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), Free Reign II, still doing new things after all these years, still getting to play new places after all these years, putting out a release every even year (but none of them their band-defying ‘huge’ one), DIY venues vs. classy ones, going back to the classic scrubs look, and more…
QRO: How was the show at Brooklyn’s Glasslands?
AB: It was really good. It was sold-out; it was really enthusiastic audience. I think it was probably the best Brooklyn gig we’ve done for about ten years or something.
Sometimes, you know, you can battle with an audience, never really sort of win them ‘round, but it seemed quite easy – everyone seemed up, getting into it, dancing.
AB: I prefer the sort of DIY type of venues, just ‘cause I think people are probably more likely to let themselves go, just enjoy themselves, whereas somewhere where it’s a bit classier, I suppose people are a bit more wary, I think.
QRO: You’ve been a band, been on tours for so long, is it nice when you get a chance to play spaces that you had never played before, especially in cities you’ve been to many times?
AB: Yeah, that’s what we always try and do. Say, on this tour, we’re playing in Nashville, which is somewhere we’ve never played before. Even though, maybe, financially, it doesn’t make any sense to do that, but I always just think it’s good to just keep mixing things a bit, keep it sort of fresher.
Also, a lot of the best times are the first time you go somewhere. That’s definitely true with a band.
QRO: So you’re still managing to play cities that you’ve never played before?
AB: This time, we’ve got a few that we haven’t played for like ten years – Houston…
QRO: Most importantly, what are you all wearing on this tour?
AB: It’s the classic surgeon’s costume.
QRO: Oh, you’ve gone back to the classic…
AB: [laughs] Full circle…
QRO: Is this the first time you’ve done a costume for a second time?
AB: Photographs we used with this album, we used sort of alien heads with masks on (see above), but that was just a bit too impractical, especially singing. So we opted for the classic. [laughs]
QRO: How & when do you decide what the uniform is going to be?
AB: Well we decide more as we’ve just kind of put the finish on the album, and that’s when, I suppose, the whole ‘character’ or the ‘flavor’ is fresh in your mind; that’s the point when we start thinking about photographs, or videos or stuff, when we think about ways of adapting our outfits or masks and stuff, what suits it.
QRO: Is this the first time where you’ve toured wearing something different than what you did for promo shots?
AB: Yeah, I think it probably is, ‘cause normally we will do that. We kind of dived in with it, with the alien head idea, without really thinking about what was gonna happen while on tour.
QRO: I think of The Residents (QRO live review), with their giant eyeball heads – how do they perform?
QRO: How did making Free Reign compare with making previous records?
AB: It was quite an easy record to make, I’d say. The easiest one, out of all of them, was (2008’s) Do It! (QRO review) – that only took a year-and-a-half to do, before it was released. But definitely Free Reign, I’d say was the easiest one after that, just to put together.
I think because it was using the drum machine as the starting point. It seemed to kind of quite quickly take on its own sound or character to it. With the drum machines, the effects, and keyboards – quite early on we knew that it had it’s own sound, the album.
QRO: You had previously said (QRO interview) to QRO that Do It! was the easiest album to do…
AB: Yeah, it was. We almost surprised ourselves with that.
But that’s always a good sign – I think the easier it comes to you, then the whole thing is just so much more confidence around it. Whereas things, I think, we feel you have to chip away at, you get something that’s really good, but it’s still…
Clinic playing “Shopping Bag” from Do It! at Bell House in Brooklyn, NY on August 16th, 2010:
QRO: Have there been any specific albums that were difficult to make?
AB: The hardest one was (2004’s) Winchester Cathedral. I think, probably, ‘cause it seemed like there was quite a bit pressure on us at the time, to do something that had quite a bit of impact. I think that just affected everything: how long it took recording it, how long it took to put songs together. I like quite a bit of things now about it, but it took my ages to be able to go back and listen to it.
QRO: Is it easier, now, to make an album – not just experience, but expectations?
AB: The only way you can keep going and doing it, and get something out of it, is really just if you still enjoy making music. ‘Cause you’ve seen all the other kind of stuff around the edges, that kind of lifestyle of being a band. So the only reason we’ve been able to keep doing it is because we still really just enjoy putting the songs together.
The expectations are different; the people around you, the expectations of it are different. I think, for us, it’s kind of found it’s own level in really a good way. Still kind of feel like you can keep doing something where it’s fresh, but without putting all that pressure on it, and taking it too seriously.
QRO: With so many signature aspects, from surgical masks to vintage organs, that don’t change, is it hard to change while having some things always the same? Is it hard to ask, ‘What are we going to do differently?’
AB: I’d say, in a way, that that’s been a bit easier with the last two albums, as far as doing something different. Because we did it in a slightly more extreme way for both of them, where (2010’s) Bubblegum (QRO review) was something with the acoustic, mellow sound to it. That had more of an overall character to the album, whereas I think with this, being slightly more electronic, or older drum machine sound.
I think that’s something that we’re more of aware of now, as well. We’re gonna have an album, so it’s gonna have its overall sound. Whereas the first few albums, it’s more just wanting to do another.
QRO: I especially noticed that with the last two – more significant change…
Clinic playing “Freemason Waltz” from Bubblegum at Bell House in Brooklyn, NY on August 16th, 2010:
See also them playing “Children of Kellogg”
QRO: How are you all able to release a new album every even year since 2000, like clockwork?
AB: [laughs] It normally doesn’t take us that long to put the songs together, but there’s always another year added on, gearing up for the promo stuff, before it all gets properly released. So it always happened that it’s out the even year.
QRO: How much have things changed since you started?
AB: The main thing is just the difference with the record sales, how that is, and then the knock-on effect with how labels are so, everything’s quite cut to the bone. ‘Cause you just have to find different ways of adjusting to it.
But, basically, it’s still how it’s always gonna be. You’re always gonna get different sounds or scenes coming on.
QRO: Your band has stayed the same – same label, same line-up. I’ve always found that impressive…
AB: That’s more of a rarity now than ever, isn’t it? I think ‘cause you enjoy doing it, that it doesn’t seem that long to us. I really appreciate that we’ve been able to do it for that length of time. You know, you sort of take it for granted.
I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for bands starting off now, to know what route to take as far as something that’s gonna have some longevity, or even survive past the first year. ‘Cause it’s not like you can… even signing to a record label – it’s not what it was.
QRO: With you guys, it’s not like your sound was specific to any ‘wave’ of sound. Think of The Strokes, or Blur – I think of them from a certain time. With you guys, it almost doesn’t seem like you’ve been around as long, just because it’s not like, when I hear your old songs, I’m not like, ‘Oh, that’s so 2000…’
AB: That’s what it has, doesn’t it, that type of thing? Where if it becomes quite big in one particular year, then it really takes you back to that year, isn’t it? That’s usually the album that defines the band, whatever they do afterwards…
QRO: Do you feel that it’s almost made it easier for you, that you haven’t had the one ‘huge’ album?
AB: In one way, I would have really liked to have something that was like a ‘bigger’ album, but I always sort of knew, back of my mind, and it would always be more by chance, say if we had a single that got to the charts in Britain, then it would have probably driven us mad, to follow things up. Because you don’t just do it to order, or, ‘We’ve written one song like that, so we can do another one to copy it.’ We’ve never really done it that type of way, so it would have been quite erratic if we’d been aiming more at the charts.
Clinic playing “The Return of Evil Bill” live at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York, NY on April 20th, 2013:
QRO: Are there any older songs that you feel like you have to put them on the set list, that the audience will demand?
AB: We’re probably quite lucky, because a lot of those earlier songs, they all kind of work quite well live, the energy off them. There seems to be enough of them where we can rotate them.
QRO: Every time you come out with an album, your live sets can’t get much longer, so do you just have to say, ‘There are some songs that we’re gonna have to drop’ from the live set? Probably from the record before the newest one?
AB: Yeah, because you’ve gone through a whole process writing it, recording it, and then you play the bulk of that live, to try and promote it. By then, you’re so sick of them – ‘Give me anything but that…’
With the new songs that we’re doing, they fitted in quite well because they’re longer – say our average sort of song is about three minutes, but these are more towards six minutes sort of length. So it makes the shape of the set a bit differently. We’re not doing sixteen three-minute songs – it kind of allows a bit more space in it.
QRO: How did Free Reign II come together?
AB: When we put Free Reign I together, we used seven of our own mixes, and two of Daniel Lopatin’s mixes, although he did mixes for all the songs. I kind of felt that Daniel’s mixes were more like remixes, rather than just mixes. I think some of the extremes he took it to was quite far away from the original idea, but I thought it was really good. And I thought that it worked as a whole, so the two mixes that we used on Free Reign I, I thought really added to those.
The whole thing, putting the order back-to-front, I thought it seemed like a kind of valid release – it didn’t seem like it was a bit of a cash-in or something.
QRO: Was that kind of something new you could do, a remix record? It is a remix record, but it wasn’t intentionally a remix record…
AB: They weren’t set out for that mix. Sometimes, using ten different people…
QRO: Yeah – sometimes those can feel like a cash-in. And, especially when it’s different people, there’s not a flow through it, whereas with one person, it’s more of regular release.
AB: Yeah, ‘cause Daniel’s totally got his own sound.
QRO: What songs from Free Reign do you particularly like playing live?
AB: I really like “Miss You”, “See Saw”, “King Kong”, “You”, “Seamless Boogie Woogie” – we’ve worked through different ones, and they’re the ones that seem most robust out of those. It’s a good sign, as the more we’ve played, the more they stand up to it.
Clinic playing “See Saw” live at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York, NY on April 20th, 2013:
Especially something like “Miss You” – that’s got quite a long instrumental section; sort of something new. It’s got a lot of mad synth stuff all over it. It’s a bit more out there than some of the stuff we’ve done.
QRO: What about older songs that you particularly like playing live?
AB: I really like – although we’ve only done it the last couple of years – I really like playing “TK” off of Internal Wrangler. It’s just a really simple sort of song, but the rhythm of it’s just quite infectious, an easy song to play.
I always like playing the sort of more punk types, like “Tusk”. I think some of the keyboard ones, like “Walking With Thee”, sort of a bit more done like that, like “Tusk”.
Clinic playing “Tusk” live at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York, NY on April 20th, 2013:
See also them playing “Children of Kellogg”
QRO: Do you guys argue about set lists before the show?
AB: We don’t argue about it, but we do think about it a fair bit, so we’ll have a few, ‘Let’s try this,’ and then, if that doesn’t work…
I think the set list, the way it’s gone for what we’re doing now, its got a few different things in it. It’s quite a change from what the tour before for Bubblegum. It seems to work alright.
QRO: Are there songs that you just don’t remember how to play anymore?
AB: Out of a few of the earlier things that we did, especially some of the songs off Walking With Thee, we only ever played them at the time; some we didn’t play at all. Quite a few of them, say, for instance, “The Vulture” or something, “For the Wars” off Walking With Thee, it would take a few days, listening to it…
QRO: At least in America, you generally do one tour per record. Does that make it easier with the set list, since you know each time it’s going to be different, because you’re touring a different album?
AB: And a longer gap.
QRO: Yeah, a longer gap as well…
AB: Around the time of the Winchester Cathedral album, we did do two tours in one year then, and they were quite full tours. I just thought that was an overkill with it – I think it’s much better to leave people wanting more, and not overdo it. It does make it much better for it to seem like it’s something fresh, because you’ve got that gap.
QRO: Do you feel any more pressure these days with tours in terms of moneymaking, because of record sales going down, like you said?
AB: I think you just put more pressure on it yourself, when you have to try and get the most that you can, when you do a tour, whether it be from merchandise, or how you travel ‘round. You’ve gotta be much more sort of ‘money-minded’ than you had to be in the past.
QRO: Does it ever affect what you decide to wear? I guess your uniforms don’t cost much…
AB: It’s alright as far as that goes, but it definitely restricts what you can do in terms of props, or maybe some other different instruments as well. Not just buying the instrument, but also the cost of travelling around with it, as well.
QRO: Yeah – and you have some vintage instruments. Is it hard to travel with them, especially coming over to America?
AB: We used to bring our old keyboard. It’s a Philips, mid-sixties one. It just got so battered that we just now sample what we need. Just ‘cause if we kept travelling with it, it would have stopped working altogether.
Clinic playing “Monkey On My Back” at Bell House in Brooklyn, NY on August 16th, 2010: