By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Liverpool quartet Clinic continues to make eclectic, challenging music after the four members first donned their masks 16 years ago.
The band, www.clinicvoot.org, is currently touring in support of its seventh full-length album, "Free Reign." An alternate version of "Free Reign," entitled "Free Reign II," is also available digitally and features a set of alternate mixes of the original album by producer Daniel Lopatin.
Clinic will perform April 24 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. No Joy also is on the bill.
The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $15, available at www.lincolnhallchicago.com.
I had the chance to talk to Clinic frontman Ade Blackburn and bassist Brian Campbell about the band's latest activities.
Q - Great being able to talk to you. "Free Reign II" was recently released. What was it about Daniel Lopatin's mixes of the original songs that made you want to release a second album? How do you think they compare with the original songs?
Ade - Our label Domino introduced us to Daniel's work, which we'd heard good things about so we were keen to see his take on the songs. It was interesting to hear new complexities come through in his mixes, and it was new for us to be able to present the audience with two versions of the LP, which is something we've never been able to do before.
Brian - We felt that what Daniel brought to the mixes was a fresh approach and he helped open the songs out to give them a "je ne sais quoi" magical feel. Obviously working with somebody with Daniels talent allows you to go to places you'd never thought of, and that is what has been inspiring and exciting.
Q - "Free Reign" has more of an electronic sound to it than your past efforts. What made you want to go in that direction? Are you a fan of electronic music?
Ade - Yes, I've always loved Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra and the rest of the band like electronic music too, so it felt like it was about time we took things in that direction and started to experiment more with synthesizers and samples, etc.
Brian - I think we have always flirted with electronic music on our past records. We have also been fans of acts such as Suicide and Silver Apples along with more recent discoveries like the reissue of Gary Sloane and Clone's "Harmonitalk" and Suzanne Ciani, so it kind of felt like a natural progression to delve further.
Q - Clinic has been together for 16 years this month. How do you think the band's music has evolved in that time?
Ade - In the beginning we started out with a more garage/psychedelic sound and as time has gone on we've been able to play around with different styles, and incorporate jazz, folk and now electronica.
Brian - I think it's evolved at our own pace and nobody else's. And that's important. We've stuck to our guns and avoided being a part of 'scenes' in order to remain unique and never changed for 'the sake of it,' but only when we felt comfortable to make those changes.
Q - The band received a lot of attention with its sophomore album, "Walking With Thee." You guys sold out most of your shows in the United States after touring here for the first time. Why do you think that album resonated so much with people?
Ade - There was a lot of anticipation for our second record in the U.S. following the positive response to "Internal Wrangler," so that definitely helps to get people's attention from the get go. Beyond that I'm not really sure, but looking back "Walking With Thee" was very rhythmical and had a spacial quality to it.
Brian - I think after the debut album "Internal Wrangler" was so well received by critics, there was a real sense of anticipation about what the band would release next. The U.S. profile of the band was lifted further by an appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman" playing "Walking With Thee".
Q - How do you think American audiences compare to the rest of the world? Did you ever feel pressure to move from Liverpool in order to gain a bigger audience?
Ade - We've never really felt the need to move away from Crosby and Liverpool, and wherever we get to play around the world, we're just appreciative that people keep welcoming us back and want to hear us play.
Brian - American audiences ‘get’ what we are about and what we are trying to convey musically. They are definitely more in tune and have a great taste in music.
I think generally their musical knowledge and acceptance is far superior to that of other places around the world. Whilst traveling around Europe and The States, you only have to turn on the radio to hear this.
To hear challenging and interesting songs on the radio in Europe is somewhat of a rarity. However, we love the eclectic and varied stations you have here.
We have never felt pressure to move away from Liverpool (apart from the bad radio stations.) I think being comfortable geographically is a good starting point to being creative.
Q - Do you think it would have been harder to get people's attention if you didn't wear the masks? What is the reason for the masks in the first place?
Ade - The masks were probably quite helpful to get people's attention in the beginning. We wore the masks to remove that sense of expectation you get with a typical band format but also in homage to bands like DEVO, Crime, and The Residents.
Brian - We wanted people to focus directly on the music rather than the individuals that made up the band. Some people join bands to seek attention.
We joined the band solely to create music, so seeing your face in a music magazine wasn't the goal, having the music written about - was. It was also a great way to stand out from all the other bands at the time, and it also gave journalists something else to talk about too.
I think people in America quite liked the "British eccentricity - Monty Pythonesque" element that it has and they also saw the funny side of it.
Q - The music business has changed dramatically since the band formed. Do you think it is easier or harder for a band to make music these days? What advice would you give to an up-and-coming band?
Ade - Things have changed a lot and it's got harder for us to make music and to try and make a living out of it. My advice would be to keep realistic expectations and just work really hard at it.
Brian - I think it's much easier to make music today as it's very easy to literally have Abbey Road in your bedroom with whatever instruments or amps you desire to create new music on a fairly cheap laptop and some plug ins. When we started out, we'd save up for months so we could afford a day in a studio to quickly thrash out six to eight songs.
Time was of the essence as studio time wasn’t cheap. Today in comparison, the recording process is relatively inexpensive and without those time constraints, it's easier to experiment and hone your craft in the luxury of your own home.
But it is definitely more difficult to make a living out of music today. The business model has altered drastically and it is still changing.
The way the music is made and compiled and the way it is ‘acquired’ by the listener has changed dramatically. Less money is coming into the industry so less risks are being taken by labels.
Less bands are being signed and therefore new challenging music will have to find different ways to reach us. Cottage industry is and will play a big part in getting new and exciting music out there.
The advice I would give to an up-and-coming band is to stick to your instincts. Don't let people change your opinions. If you think something sounds good, then..... IT DOES!
Q - What's in the band's future? Do you think Clinic will be around for another 16 years? Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?
Ade - All I know is that I've got a lot more music in me, and endless ideas about what to try next. We'll keep going until someone politely asks us to stop.
Brian - Hopefully Clinic will still be around in another 16 years. We've past the seven-year itch a couple of times now, so it would be clichéd to split up due to "musical differences."
I guess we'll keep doing what we’ve always done. Just making music that we enjoy and hope that others do too.