Interview: The Clean Come Back to Brooklyn!

08/21/2014 1:17 PM |

While the prolonged zombie state of some bands’ reunions can start to bum a guy out, no one with a heart and two ears could be unhappy to see The Clean again. This week, the legendary band, instigators of Dunedin, New Zealand’s wildly influential DIY rock scene of the 1980s, play two Brooklyn shows; one tonight at Rough Trade, one at Glasslands tomorrow. The key to The Clean’s lasting appeal is the low-key nature of the endeavor. Their music is shaggy, tuneful, and endlessly charming. It lacks any delusions of grandeur that might broadcast it as Important, with a capital I. They seem to make an album when they feel the need, and tour occasionally to smaller room crowds made up of those just discovering their records, or old fans continually rediscovering just how solid their songs are. “It’s kind of a funny gradual process,” said longtime bassist Robert Scott. “We’ve been doing this stuff for ages, and you have to remember some people are actually very new. It’s a weird concept when you’ve been doing it for over half your life.”


Scott joined brothers Hamish and David Kilgour in time to make the Clean’s first recording in 1981, and led his own fab rock band The Bats in between. They’re currently on the road to honor Merge Records’ lavish vinyl reissue of the compilation, Anthology, a desert island-grade collection of early singles, EPs, and LPs originally released on CD in 2003 and now draped across four separate records. He’s always been a physical media guy at heart. “It’s mainly because that’s what we grew up with and I love the idea of it and the physicality of it. I do listen to CDs a lot in my car, while I drive around. I don’t really like downloads and stuff. I don’t have a fancy phone that I listen to my music on,” said Scott. “I still find CDs good!”

Scott credits the intensely hip record culture of 70s Dunedin with the strange touches that bled into The Clean’s sound. A driving motorik beat became a very familiar element of indie rock of the 00s, but the Neu! worship of a song like 1981’s “Point That Thing Somewhere Else” was fairly radical for the time. (It invented Yo La Tengo, more or less.) “There was a lot of importing going on. The record shop owners in New Zealand were very clued up and very prescient about music. Bands would do a lot of record swapping,” said Scott, crediting his country for its exquisite taste. “Joy Division was top 5 here!”

The band’s last record was 2009’s solid, typically underrated, Mister Pop. They’ve toyed with the idea of a follow-up, but Hamish Kilgour’s status as an adopted New Yorker has kept things on hold. (Lucky for us, though, Hamish plays in Brooklyn-based garage rock project, Roya, with Rahil Jamlifard, also of Habibi.) “We are very much about the chemistry of the three of us being in the same room,” said Scott. “That needs to physically happen.”

With his perspective as a 4-track DIY recording saint, I asked Scott if he envied the ease and low-cost, unlimited possibility of modern laptop recorders. He wasn’t so sure. “I think it’s good to have more concrete limits, actually,” said Scott. “What it’s doing is making you judge. You’ve got four tracks, so everything you put down has got to be good. Whereas now, I think people can just throw things on a computer and say, “Ooh, that might turn into a song.” They could have any very average bit of guitar and then hope something magical is going to happen when they start overdubbing.”

Well, you know what they say…