INTERVIEW

The experimental poster boys for why downloading music is no bad thing.

clout

Like most British towns smaller than London (so all of them), Southend-on-Sea, Essex, is defined by its stereotypes. We know this because it’s Loud And Quiet’s hometown. It’s where boob-tubed girls and protein shake addicts go to clubs called things like TOTS (which means Talk Of The South) and throw their manicures up to DJ Luck & MC Neat (still), where cars rule and boot-cut jeans sell. That’s what most people presume, and most people are right. For the optimistic few, a more flattering, five-year-old typecast is what springs to mind when Southend is mentioned, made up of The Horrors and These New Puritans listening to rare garage records and The Fall. Not even a TV show like The Only Way Is Essex can change some people’s minds – Southend has a burgeoning, subversive music scene, and it’s very cool.

Fuel on that particular fire comes from experimental five-piece CLOUT! – a group of instrument-swapping childhood friends familiar with the perils of TOTS and its magpie culture. “I worked in Debenham’s for a year and everyone there was exactly like the people from The Only Way Is Essex,” confirms Chris, the band’s programmer, guitarist, drummer, synth player and bassist, just like CLOUT!’s quietest member, Jordan, their saxophonist (Chris) Schubert and the more chatty Grant and Bradley.    

“We’re not really the kind of band that has a moody bass player and a drummer with his shirt off,” says Grant.

“No,” agrees Bradley, “and because I’ll play guitar when writing one song and someone else will on another song, it’s a completely different approach and you get a different type of song by doing that.”

Bradley reasons that “people with similar interests will always find each other”, but there’s little denying that CLOUT! have been lucky in coming together. Their approach to making music is not normal. They don’t jam or practise like most young bands are keen to – they assemble their songs by using the Internet as a kind of virtual conveyor belt.

“I’ll like meet up with Schubert and have this record I’ve found or sample I’ve found, or intro, or break,” explains Bradley, “and I’ll give it to him thinking he’ll use it in one way and he’ll use it in a completely different way. He’ll then email it over to Grant who’ll muck about with it and he might email it over to Chris, who’ll clean it up a bit and muck about with it, and it might then go back to Grant and so on, and then someone will eventually have the guts to do a vocal take on it, and that’ll completely change it. And then we’ll come together to record and mix it and someone will turn up late and be like, ‘What the fuck are you doing!?’ And that’ll change it all again. It’s a very gradual process.”

“Of course we get pissed off sometimes when we think a track should go one way and we pass it on and it goes another,” says Grant, “but we’re all totally open about that. It’s totally fine because we’re all friends.”

“I’d rather people say that the vocals make you sound like a wanker,” says Bradley. “I’d rather that than go out there and not know. The point of passing the song on is so that we’re not too precious of it. It’s not my song, it’s our song and we can all criticise it openly.”

Grant: “If you’re too precious over it it’ll sound too considered and lose the sense of spontaneity…”

Bradley: “And even if I made an initial demo, for me it would be a privilege for someone else to feel like they had as much ownership over it as I do. It’s far more gratifying.”

Describing how CLOUT! sound (or rather attempting to) is a similarly convoluted affair, only without the pleasing end result. Tracks like ‘Maxwell’s O’ and ‘Maybe Another Day’ make for cold-wave-ish neighbours that share a similar dark and dreamy likeness, but then ‘The Pre Party’ is a ghostly jazz interlude and the lyric-less ‘Blossomshoes (For You and For Me)’ (free to download via the band’s Myspace page now) more blatantly highlights the band’s fascination with hip-hop.

“I was thinking about how we’re a generation who’ve been able to download music for ten years so we’re not necessarily leading on from the previous thing,” explains Bradley. “We’ve had the availability to listen to any type of music from the last forty or fifty years, so consequently, when we’ve come to be writing songs, we’re not going to be referencing one particular thing. And I think especially in the last five or six year there’s been a lot of bands who haven’t honed in on one particular thing from the past and recreated it. Fundamentally, hip-hop can be made from anything, and I see it as a documentation of music made up to the point of that hip-hop song being made. So we take hip-hop as a main source of inspiration.”

It’s a neat antidote to the usual doom-and-gloom line of how free downloads have killed the music industry. There’s still an argument for that that will rage on way past the fall of Sony, EMI and every other label in the world, but as CLOUT! see it, all of this free music can act as inspiration and be recycled into more inventive music than ever before. You don’t have to be a goth or a raver anymore – you can be both. “It’s hard to explain what type of band we are because some of the songs we make are built up around samples,” says Bradley, “and we’re willing to use any type of sample that we find, and that means that we can build up any type of song that we like. One song will come from one area, one song will come from another.

“What links them all together is that, and pardon the poor expression, they’re all grooves. The percussion is quite similar. There might be a late snare or it might be slightly out of time but the tracks all simmer along in a similar way.”

In CLOUT!’s lawless world, it’s perhaps the only recurring theme. Even the vocals (shared between Bradley, Grant and Jordan) veer from ‘extra sonic element’ to ‘driving force’, and that’s when they’re featured at all (“there is no feeling of responsibility that any of our songs need vocals,” they say).

“[When we do include lyrics] we want to simplify it, though,” explains Bradley. “We want to make verses feel like choruses. I know that sounds poor,” he says as his band snigger, “but what I mean is we don’t want to over intellectualise it.”

“We don’t want to write lyrics that make us sound smarter than we are,” adds Grant. “We want to write songs that people can understand and feel something from.”

Bradley: “I listen to a lot of soul and for me the vocals on old soul records are incredible. Like, ‘How did she sing that?!’ They’re like perfect pop songs and everywhere feels like the chorus.” Bradley giggles, visibly excited by the thought of Aretha belting out ‘Chain of Fools’. And then Schubert turns up just as we’re done. “It’s okay,” he says, “I wouldn’t have said anything, just shut the fuck up. Or I might have told you how small all of these guy’s dicks are. They’ve all got tiny dicks.” The rest of CLOUT!, who’ve spent their first interview articulating the inner workings and ideologies of their fascinating name-less, experimental music, fall about laughing, all the way through our snowy photo shoot. Like Bradley says, someone will turn up late and everything will change again.

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