The idea? Every day in May, to mark NZ Music Month and 38 years of his own rancid opining and reportage, Gary Steel will present something from his considerable behind. Personal archive, that is. To mark the publication of Roger Shepherd’s book about his Flying Nun experience, here’s one of the first features ever published about a band on the label, which David Maclennan wrote for the December ’81 issue of Wellington indie music magazine In Touch.
KEEPING IT CLEAN
FROM OUT OF nowhere, the Clean have swept northwards to national underground acclaim – all in the space of a few months. They are tipped as the best thing since the demise of late lamented fellow Dunediners Toy Love.
I can still remember Chris Knox at one of Toy Love’s first Wellington gigs in 1979 prefacing a song with: “This is respectfully dedicated to the Clean who are worth waiting for”. He was right.
The Clean’s catchy if rough debut single ‘Tally Ho’ is currently helping spread the word along with forays beyond their native Dunedin. Really, it’s impossible not to like the band. Their music is absurdly simple, their songs are tuneful and catchy. And a casual approach to playing live makes a refreshing change.
Drummer Hamish Kilgour describes their music as “taking up where a lot of bands left off in ’67, ’68 with psychedelic music. That sort of crossover point between straight pop and psychedelia – an area that was never completely explored.”
Bassist Robert Scott goes further. “The music is entirely original, trying to develop itself while staying within the sphere of rock – pushing it to its outer limits. We use harmonies, strong arrangements and sound as an overall, powerful, tuneful noise. And being a 3-piece expands all the instruments we use – especially David’s guitar.”
David Kilgour adds: “We’re not in it for the money or the fame. We just want to be able to play music whenever we feel we want to play it.”
Recently the Clean played one night at the Terminus in Wellington. The hotel was packed out (almost unheard of for a midweek night) and after a shaky start, the gig turned into a rage. This more than made up for the band’s aborted Thistle Hall performance across town some months before.
David – Having a holiday and playing at the Empire in Dunedin. It’s very small and is Dunedin’s “underground” pub. It’s been going a couple of months now. Before it was pretty dead in Dunedin.
IT – Are you pleased with the recently released Boodle, Boodle, Boodle EP?
David – Yes, much more than the first one. I don’t know where we’ll do our planned future recording. But we’ll work with Doug (ie, Doug Hood, soundman/producer for the Techtones, Tall Dwarfs, and Androidss) and find some neat location, an old hall or something. Boodle was just done in an old hall.
IT – It’s better than going into one of those 24-track things?
Robert – Yeah, most of the bands that go in there just get the same sound. You just get laden with that sound and that’s it.
IT – When did it all start, then?
Hamish – In one form or another, off and on since 1978. Quite a few people have passed through in that time, including Jessica Walker, later of Shoes This High.
IT – Do you consider that there is such a thing as a distinctive ‘New Zealand sound’?
David – No, but I think there’s a Dunedin sound. You get to Auckland and what the bands are trying to do seems to be manufactured. I haven’t seen any recently that have really inspired me.
Robert – It’s a good raw sound influenced by what you heard on the radio as you grew up – the stuff from the ’60s and ’70s.
IT – How do you find the opportunities here for a band like yourselves? Do you see it as a long-term thing?
David – Well, personally, I see it at the moment as a really long-term thing but on a pretty casual basis. I want to be really committed to the band, but at the same time leave other doors open if we crapped out or something.
Robert – There’s only a certain amount you can do in this country. After you’ve played all the places you can get into a rut.
David – Like, we could go and live in Auckland. But we’d probably burn out.
Robert – As you get bigger you starting using a bigger PA, playing bigger gigs and all that, but what we’ve done is taken a step back from that and said, ‘Look, you don’t really need to do that’. Bands just get sucked into that, you know? Big PA’s, light systems and all that.
David – Countless people come up to us in Auckland and say, ‘Oh, what a shit PA, where’s your light system’, and all that. It’s really very easy to say, ‘Oh, we’d better start building up the PA, we’d better get some more lights’, etc.
Hamish – It’s the music that counts. I don’t think we’ll ever got to Australia and all that.
Robert – No, never! They’d probably want us to jazz it up with a synthesiser or something!
IT – You spoke earlier of a ‘Dunedin sound’. Who else is worth hearing down there?
David – The main ones would be The Verlaines, The Chills, Sneaky Feelings and The Stones. The Chills haven’t played for ages, but they’ve got some new members in the band now. The Stones hardly play at all, but The Verlaines play at the Empire a lot. Sneaky Feelings are sort of ’60s-ish, but The Chills are psychedelic, really good keyboards.
IT – How do you get that unique guitar sound, which someone described as doing with one guitar what Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison did with two?
David – Just full treble. I don’t have any bass on it at all, and just reverb, that’s all it is. I’m trying to get away from using the reverb too much. The amp’s got JBL speakers and they’re very trebly, which helps.
David – It took me a while to realise it, but it seemed that a lot of people came out just dying to have a good time, and this was being destroyed. The audience was good, I liked it.
IT – Finally, where to from here?
David – We’re going to Auckland for two weeks, then back to Dunedin. After Christmas we just want to have a break for a couple of months, just stop playing.
So it looks like it will be a good few months before The Clean again grace a Wellington stage. When they do they’ll have new songs, and maybe a new record. Meantime, I suggest you make tracks to your local record boodletique and grab a copy (or even two!) of their EP.
Notes: One of the few flaws of Roger Shepherd’s book, In Love With These Times, is his forgetting to acknowledge the incredible work local underground media did to support Flying Nun during its seminal years. Wellington’s In Touch and its successor, TOM, relentlessly rallied around Flying Nun bands, but doesn’t so much as get a mention in the book. David Maclennan wrote the singles column in the magazine, and was one of its best resources. Every scene needs a ‘David Maclennan’. He was so well known through his writing for IT that at one point, graffiti appeared claiming ‘David Maclennan wears pyjamas!’ We all had a good chuckle about that at the time, but I believe what it really meant was that David was the ultimate documenter. While everyone else was just experiencing what was going on, he had a mind like a steel trap, and was aware of all the relevant information and its context. And he was always the first one to pick up on a new band or new scene. So, bravo David Maclennan, and I look forward to his long-promised book on the Wellington post-punk era.