In the past 20 years I’ve come across two bands whose unique sound and style have made a significant, lasting impact on me. One of these bands is Morphine, and the other is Clinic. When you listen to Clinic’s music you hear the band’s influences, ranging from The Seeds to Velvet Underground, but make no mistake: Clinic does not sound like any band that you’ve ever heard before. Their sound – distinguished, idiosyncratic, and mysterious – comes from frontman Ade Blackburn’s twisted, haunting melodies, and from vintage organs (notably the Philips philicorda), which they often pick up at garage sales or flea markets. Adding to the band’s mystique, its members appear in costumes and surgical masks during their performances.
Clinic was formed in 1997 by Ade Blackburn and Jonathan Hartley after the two split from their previous band, Pure Morning. They self-released several singles, which caught the attention of legendary radio host John Peel and Domino Records. In 2000, Domino released Clinic’s debut album, Internal Wrangler. This garnered immediate and international critical praise; it also won Clinic an opening slot on Radiohead’s Kid A tour. In 2002, Clinic released Walking With Thee, a brilliant album that earned the band a Grammy nomination. Since then they’ve released three more albums: Winchester Cathedral (2004), Visitations (2006), and Do It! (2008), each of which was more imaginative than the last.
Last month I caught up with Ade by phone to discuss a range of topics including their upcoming album, Spotify, and the band’s experience of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.
R&G: How are things going for you and the band?
Ade: Things are really good for us at the moment. We just got into recording a new album and it’s good to get into music again.
R&G: Is there a certain sound that band is aiming for on this record?
Ade: We’ve found something that is far more melodic and pop-based than what we’ve done previously. There are hints of this sound on Do It!, our last album, but I think the sound is accidental: it came about with some of the songs, and then seemed to kind of take on a bit of a life of its own. The sound has become less abrasive, less garage or punk sounding. I suppose it’s just a lot more based around the melody too. We wanted a bit more space and room to breathe in the music so that it was less dense-sounding. We’re also using more acoustic guitars than we’ve used on previous albums, which contributes to the sound.
R&G: Are you guys using your own studio, and are you producing the record yourself?
Ade: This time around, we’re co-producing with John Congleton, who did the last Smog album. We’re recording part of it in a commercial studio in Liverpool, and the rest of it in our own studio. We’re branching out, slightly, but we can always go back in to put on the finishing touches in our own room, where time’s not an issue and we’ve got the freedom to do what we want.
R&G: Why did you decide to bring in a producer after self-producing Do It!?
Ade: We’re taking a new approach to some of the songs, trying to not be typically Clinic. I think that getting someone else involved in it who might make suggestions or have ideas for different instrumentation would give a fresh slant to the album, but we still have a large say in what’s happening, as a band.
R&G: Have you set a release date for the album?
Ade: We’ll finish the album in April, so I think it will be out by early summer.
R&G: What are your thoughts on ISP’s monitoring its customers as an anti-piracy measure?
Ade: Speaking in terms of Britain, I think they’ve been very slow with it. I think the latest legislation that they’ve been talking about is something that’s not going to have any real effect at all. They’re talking about, in a few years’ time, perhaps tightening the system up a bit further, by which time so many bands’ catalogues will have been pirated that the new regulations will be just beside the point. Many of these catalogues have already been rendered redundant in a sense now, anyway.
R&G: It seems like you guys embrace the positive aspects of P2P with your fans. You offered a free download “Free Not Free” off of Do It!.
Ade: It’s something we wanted to do for our fans. That was the second time we did a free download. We did one for the Visitations album as well. I liked it because you could give something away on the website and it was your choice to give it away. We did it so it was a full single. It had a B-side and we gave away the artwork with it as well. I’m glad that we did it, because I’m sure that a lot of people who downloaded it were people who were genuinely interested in the band.
R&G: What are your thoughts on Spotify?
Ade: I’m really not sure about Spotify. I don’t quite follow what the reasoning is behind it. If something is there handily and you can listen to every album that a band’s done and it hardly requires any effort to do that, then I just don’t see what the incentive is at all to buy music, if that’s the way it’s going to go. From what I’ve read, I don’t know how successful it’s been as far as generating revenue and how much goes to majors and how much goes to indies, but I know that we certainly haven’t seen anything from Spotify.
R&G: You guys have been together 13 years and have been with the same label (Domino) for 10 years. Status quo seems to work well for the band.
Ade: Yeah, it can work in two ways, I think, when you know people for that length of time. We know what our strengths or weaknesses are. We’re all relatively easy-going people and still just enjoy making music. Because that’s the thing that should always come first, this attitude has allowed us to keep doing it. It’s not like any of us got into it for any more extravagant reasons. And it doesn’t hurt that we’re quite good friends.
R&G: What about your relationship with Domino?
Ade: What’s been really great with Domino is that as its progressed and grown as a label, they’ve had bigger bands come through like Arctic Monkeys; that’s meant that they’ve been able to keep more left-field things like us on the label, without there being that sort of pressure where you’re concerned about not being one of the main bands on the label. It’s meant that we’ve been able to continue to do things like record the albums ourselves and to do things without the pressure of having hits or a being a commercial band.
R&G: During your first American tour you were staying in New York during September 11th, 2001. Can you discuss your experience?
Ade: Yeah, we were staying in New York because we’d just flown into New York and then the following day we were playing at the Middle East in Boston. We stayed in New York the first night and drove up to Boston the next morning. Just as I think we were getting into Boston, we stopped at a café and saw the plane hitting on the news. We came back into New York and we were, however you describe it, lucky enough to get back into New York before the whole massive traffic jams. It was like being in a sort of war zone for about four days. We were staying on the Lower East Side – not that far from Ground Zero. We mainly had to stay in the room all the time, because whenever we were walking about, you’d have to show passport and ID to all the people from the police and army. Also, as we’re British, it was strange because we also felt detached from it in some way. We were at the epicenter of something that was having such a massive impact on America and on the surroundings. It was just tragic, the whole thing, and very unreal as well. It’s something that is vivid to me now. I don’t know whether in our lifetime there’ll be anything on that scale again – hopefully not.
R&G: Are there plans for a U.S. tour in 2010?
Ade: Yeah, we will tour. It’s a fair while since we’ve toured now. It’s good because it means there’s not a treadmill to it. We can make the gigs very different from the times we last played.
Clinic Catalogue (Amazon)