Clinic is nothing if not unconventional. They specialize in three-minute pop songs, but what other so-called pop songwriters would look to the grimy textures of The Velvet Underground and obscure jazz artists for inspiration? And their path to success has been almost as unlikely as their approach to music-making. After a few poorly-received EPs, Clinic was invited to accompany Radiohead on their European tour in 2000. Since then, they’ve managed to capitalize on the goodwill, releasing the much-lauded Internal Wrangler album and following that up with a successful tour of America. Now, after a short respite, they’re set to do it all over again. Their latest album, Walking With Thee, hit shelves this past week and their second tour of the States is due to commence next month. Clinic’s drummer, Carl Turney, took some time out this past weekend to discuss the band’s rapid ascent and explain why they keep wearing those goofy surgeon outfits.
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PopMatters: Why the rush to get Walking With Thee out?
Carl Turney: There wasn’t necessarily a rush to get it out. We just wanted [the American release date] to coincide with the date everywhere else. It’s coming out in England, America, and Europe at the same time. And I think in Japan as well. So it’s just a coincidence that it’s coming out a lot quicker in America.
PM: So when you reentered the studio how much time had elapsed since you recorded the songs for Internal Wrangler?
CT: We recorded the new album last year—in April. And we recorded Internal Wrangler late last millennium, like 1999.
PM: So it just feels especially quick in America because it took so long to get Internal Wrangler released.
CT: Well, the reason for that is because we couldn’t get a deal in America. But finally, Domino (their U.K. label) set up an office in New York at the end of last year [and put it out].
PM: Was it that you couldn’t get a deal or were you just waiting on Domino?
CT: We were waiting for the right deal, and a good one didn’t come about. Eventually, Lawrence at Domino just said, “Let’s set up an office.”
PM: How did these songs come about? Were they kicking around for a while, like leftovers from the Internal Wrangler sessions, or are they all new?
CT: I think it’s a mixture of the two. Some have been in existence for a while in various forms.
PM: I know a lot of these songs had several different titles.
CT: Yeah, working titles. Sometimes you go through two or three before you decide on the right one. But basically, we had to incorporate new ideas into older ones in order to bring the songs up to a standard where everyone in the band was happy with them.
PM: So maybe some of these songs were unfinished around the time of Internal Wrangler and deemed not good enough to record yet?
CT: Not really unfinished. I think just more—you see, Ade is sort of the main guy with the lyrics and melodies and stuff like that and he seems to have an endless bag of ideas. So, the basic framework [for a song] could be years and years old or he could have come up with it last week. It’s hard to tell.
PM: Ade comes up with most of the arrangements?
CT: Yeah, well, him and Hartley have got a lot of the musical influence on it as far as the melodies. And Ade usually handles the lyrics. Then the four of us will all hone the song into a finished idea.
PM: A big deal has been made of the theatrical component of your shows. In the past, you’ve worn surgeon masks onstage. But I understand that you’re not going to be wearing them on this upcoming tour of America. What was the reason? Did you feel like it was becoming a bit of a gimmick?
CT: We are actually using the masks this time.
PM: Really? I read in a couple of places that you weren’t.
CT: I’ve read things like that before as well. Maybe it’s because they got stolen a while ago (laughs). The reason we wear the gear is to make a bit more of an event instead of like four . . .
PM: Well, it kind of works conceptually too.
CT: Yeah, you know, it’s a bit boring having four guys coming onstage, especially when they look like us. I think the surgeon’s gear creates a bit more of an expectation for the people who’ve come to see us. It’s really surreal I think when you see four surgeons onstage playing this music.
PM: Yeah, it’s out of context.
CT: Exactly. It makes it all the more powerful.
PM: Both you and Sigur Ros toured Europe with Radiohead following the release of Kid A. And since then you’ve enjoyed a lot of attention. Do you ever think about how different things would be for Clinic if you hadn’t toured with Radiohead?
CT: Well, we’ve definitely gotten a lot more positive press [since then], especially in Britain because of the Radiohead tour.
PM: Were you getting negative press before or just no press?
CT: I’d say a mixture of the two. A little good press but [that tour] certainly broadened it because of the Radiohead connection. I think it reached a wider audience.
PM: Would you say you owe a bit of your success to Radiohead then?
CT: Definitely the exposure—being exposed to a larger audience. And also, Radiohead is a credible band and a band known for its willingness to experiment. To be associated with that was a positive thing for us because we were completely coming from the same angle: trying to push the boundaries a bit.
PM: I heard “The Second Line” used in a commercial not too long ago. I think it was a Gap ad?
CT: It was a Levi’s advert.
PM: Oh yeah, and I also heard it used as background music during an MTV2 promo clip. What’s your position on giving out the rights to your songs? Are there limits? Do you have discussions in the band about these sorts of issues?
CT: With the Levi’s advert, it came up one afternoon while we were at Ade’s house working on some stuff. There was a call and we were given ten minutes to decide whether we wanted to do it.
PM: 10 minutes?
CT: Well, we talked about it. I don’t actually have any problem at all about having music used in an advert. I mean, we didn’t promote “The Second Line” as the “jeans song” or “the song in the Levi’s advert.” I think a lot of people [watching TV] didn’t even know who the band was. As long as it’s not for a terrifically bad cause . . .
PM: So what are those limits?
CT: I wouldn’t want to be associated with political things. It would be a bit ridiculous.
PM: But companies, in general, are okay?
CT: I personally don’t have a problem with them. It’s just music put to images. We’re not saying we believe in this or that. Actually, in the end, we didn’t make a penny from Levi’s. Half of the money went to the record company, the other half to the publishing company. We just kept everyone happy so we could continue to do what we do.
PM: How was the making of Walking With Thee different from Internal Wrangler? Did you feel the weight of expectations at all during the recording process?
CT: We didn’t feel any pressure really because unlike Internal Wrangler, this album was finished by the time we entered the studio. It was a very quick recording. The mixing process lasted about four weeks. Internal Wrangler took about a year of redoing things, remixing and reworking. So this was a refreshing approach. It was a lot more relaxed I think because we knew that the songs were there in their entirety. We didn’t have to change anything.
PM: So you never had time to think about the larger audience that was awaiting the final product. I guess if it’s four weeks, you don’t have time to worry about anything. It’s a one shot deal and then you’re done.
CT: Exactly. You’re in and you’re out. Then you just let the record company do their thing.
PM: Speaking of your record company, Domino Records has really taken off since Clinic has been associated with it. They just opened an office an America last year and, in general, it seems to be doing very well. How involved has Clinic been in that process?
CT: Well, I think it’s just a coincidence that Domino has done well since we signed. The label has been credible in Britain for a while and it’s been a gradual build. I think we were very lucky to sign with them when we did. In England, they had Pavement licensed too and a number of big independent bands. So they were doing pretty at that point already.
PM: And Internal Wrangler‘s sales figures couldn’t have hurt.
CT: (laughs) Oh yeah, definitely. But in general, I think Domino has earned its reputation over time. A lot of people will go out and buy a Domino release just because it’s on Domino.
PM: I think Clinic is about as far removed from rock ‘n’ roll as you can get without creating a new category. So I’m kind of curious as to what you all listen to. Do you listen to a lot of rock?
CT: Everyone’s got very unusual taste. If you can name a band from the last 30 years that’s contributed in some way to forming contemporary music, chances are we’ve probably been listening to it. There’s so many diverse influences that you wouldn’t normally associate with pop music. But what we’re trying to do at the end of the day is create pop music. It’s got lots of hooks and great melodies—at least I think so anyway. It’s catchy. You only need to listen to it a few times for it to draw you in.
PM: Yeah, they’re pop songs, cleverly disguised, I’d say.
CT: And then, you know, we’ll use an instrument that you wouldn’t normally associate with pop songs, like the melodica. It’s stuff like that that creates the unusual dynamic I think.
PM: It’s obviously working because you don’t sound like anyone else. Appreciate your time, Carl. Oh, and my girlfriend wants me to tell you that she thinks you’re in the greatest band ever.
CT: (laughs) Thanks a lot. I think so too.