"They're a bit weird, phones, I think," says Ade Blackburn, frontman for the band Clinic.
Speaking from his home in Liverpool, England, Blackburn's odd opening statement is not surprising. But his polite, rather flat speaking voice is: He sounds more like an everyday English bloke than the guy whose affecting, high-pitched yelp emanates from Clinic's two full-length albums, Internal Wrangler (2000) and Walking with Thee (2002).
He likes the idea of a misdirected persona. Ever since the quartet's late '90s emergence, an air of mystery has surrounded the band, which also features bassist Brian Campbell, guitarist Hartley and drummer Carl Turney. Clinic has no official Web site. The four are never photographed without surgeon's masks disguising their faces. Interviews are relatively sparse, and when done, little is revealed about the band's origins.
Then there's the music. Clinic is the perfect sound for our times.
Delivering an art-damaged mix of moody keyboard atmospherics, clanging guitars, driving beats and Blackburn's aforementioned voice, one can imagine Clinic playing when the world comes to an end. It's no surprise Thom Yorke plucked them from obscurity to open for Radiohead's 2000 world tour.
CityBeat: Why do you guys go to such an effort to shroud the band in mystery?
Ade Blackburn: For me, music should be something special. If it's reduced to a mundane, ordinary level, then what's the point? If you know too much about someone, they cease to have any sort intrigue, any mystery to them. It can take away from the overall experience. Not that any of us have anything to hide. But I don't think it's really relevant to what we are doing now.
CB: One of your signature traits is the distinct rhythmic pulse of each song.
AB: Yeah, if you can have a strong rhythm to a song, it allows you to not stick to the conventions of the verse/chorus song structure. You can take liberties with things, perhaps do something that's a bit more challenging. I sort of feel that when you watch a lot of modern bands there's hardly any attention given to the rhythm of the song — it's quite flat, stunted 4/4. Things are very stagnant.
CB: What's the thought behind the masks?
AB: When you're playing on stage in front of an audience, you can't escape the traditional aspect of it. But what we do feel very strongly about is, by wearing the surgeon's outfits, it keeps it from being the usual, 'Here's the lead singer,' and the other people are just playing back-up roles. No one is greater than anyone else.
CB: Your lyrics are pretty ambiguous, and I don't recall you guys ever making any sort of grand statements outside of the music. Intentional?
AB: With things like any kind of political or social comment within lyrics, I feel that the majority of things that aim for that come off looking a bit naïve or simplified. I really liked the Specials, I think they got it right. But it's a dodgy kind of area to get into. The lyrics actually have scenes to them, and connections within them. It's just that it's jumping from different topics to the next, which I feel is kind of like our everyday existence anyway.
CB: You guys seem like the perfect band for our times — there's a sense of foreboding and paranoia in what you do.
AB: That's something where I only kind of realized myself more recently, perhaps even without meaning to. But, yeah, that's the way the music comes out — it has sort of a frenetic or, as you say, paranoid or psychotic side to it. It does kind of reflect what life is like now.
CB: So what can we expect of the new record (Winchester Cathedral has an August release date)?
AB: More raw sounding, got more of an earthier sound to it. It's got some upright piano on it, a lot of percussion, more kind of ridiculous instruments. We've been described as a mood-based band but, while we haven't abandoned mood within the songs, this one's a bit more fun sounding.
CLINIC performs at the Southgate House on Thursday with Ratatat and Mallory.