When the "leftovers" of a project become something new and great
An icy wind is howling through the streets of South Tottenham today. Inside, Bagel, New River Studios’ resident house cat, is curled up amongst the sofa cushions and doing his level best to sleep. Unfortunately, four humans have recently invaded his sanctum and appear dead set on ruining it for him, with their clinking bottles and constant coos of adoration. He opens up an eye and tries to get them to shut up by fluttering his ears. It doesn’t work – it’s time for the nuclear option. Standing up, he arches his back, stretching every muscle before flopping off the couch to strut off across the bar, looking for somewhere with less annoying people. “Come back!” Tara Clerkin calls after him, feigning outrage. “We’re almost done.”
The bus that has brought her and her bandmates – brothers Sunny-Joe Paradiso and Patrick Benjamin – might have left Bristol early this morning, but none look all that worse for wear for it. The trio is warming up after their photoshoot by sinking beers and chatting excitedly. For some reason, our conversation has spontaneously focussed on ways to fill the long hours of hanging about while waiting for gigs to start. “Honestly, I don’t mind this bit,” says Clerkin when I ask how they deal with the waiting periods. “It’s the hour before that I really don’t like; that’s when I start to get nervous.”
Although the bar is quiet right now, in a few hours’ time New River Studios will be buzzing. There is a lot of excitement swirling around the Tara Clerkin Trio right now. With echoes of acid jazz, off-kilter psych-pop and ethereal electronica, the group’s sound sits nicely alongside experimental bands like Jockstrap.
They are a product of Bristol – specifically, Bristol circa 2010, and the weird and wonderful experimental scene that grew up around cassette/record label/live promoters Howling Owl, which began when Joe Hatt and Adrian Dutt (both of noise band Spectres) moved to the city in an attempt to find somewhere in the South West where their band wouldn’t be booed off the stage. Alongside record shop Stolen Recordings, this live music collective became a lightning rod for Bristol’s DIY noise musicians, creating a ready-made community of collaborators and fellow travellers.
“It was a really tight scene – everyone always went to everyone else’s gig,” explains Benjamin. Even though he was at uni down the road in Bath, he often travelled to Bristol, and together with his brother found himself right in the middle of things. “It was a whole bunch of people doing experimental stuff gathered together under one banner really. Coming from where we came from, we were only really exposed to dubstep, house and disco, so Howling Owl really opened us to whole range of different things.”
It was in this melting pot where Paradiso, Benjamin and Clerkin got started in music. In the decade since first meeting, the three have dabbled in a range of musical projects. Looking over it, the only thing that rivals the number of bands the three has been involved in is the variety of musical styles they’ve passed through. Here’s an extremely truncated run down of what the various projects the members have been in: Benjamin and Paradiso both play in a punk band called Luxury Dad; Paradiso plays Oh Sees-inspired space rock in a group called Taos Humm; Benjamin releases his electronica compositions on Bulb Records; and Clerkin has put out an album’s worth of Julia Holter-style folk, simply called Hello. It’s the Tara Clerkin Band that is probably the most pertinent to our story, though. This eight-member psych-folk troupe was the first time the three worked on Clerkin’s own compositions, and it’s the act that most readily sowed the seeds for what would become the Tara Clerkin Trio.
“You could say the Tara Clerkin Trio started mainly because everyone else un-joined the Tara Clerkin Band,” shrugs Clerkin while piecing together the transition from the big group to the small one. “A lot of the other members went travelling or had babies, so we’re basically the leftovers.”