"Coming somewhere you had never been before, especially in our position, that's quite strange to begin with," recounts Clinic singer Ade Blackburn, with trepidation toward the subject still quite audible in his voice. "And with something that grand, it was hard to make any sense of it. The gigs were canceled, the airports were closed, and we spent all of our time watching developments on the news with a really eerie feeling about where we were. It wasn't until we got back home again that it sunk in, what actually happened and how close we were to it."
Blackburn says this with all the reservation of one who has no desire to make sweeping proclamations, one who'd rather take a second look at a subject or a second listen to a sound before forming an opinion. His reluctance to get caught up in things is refreshing -- especially considering that the notoriously over-eager English music press has fingered his band as being at the forefront of a new musical endeavor that few of Clinic's countrymen are participating in. While many British rock imports making the rounds Stateside are playing third-generation Radiohead anthems, daft takes on Americana, or outward-bound explorations of electronics that many traditionalists think are too odd, Clinic's music resembles none of today's U.K. trends.
Instead, guitarists/keyboardists Blackburn and Hartley (one name), bassist Brian Campbell, and drummer Carl Turney make music that has the immediacy and drive of garage punk, the sonic cleanliness of arty new wave, and the melodic subtlety of well-crafted power pop. You can tell Clinic has listened to more records than is probably healthy ("When we're not doing music, we're talking about music and constantly looking around record shops"), as they echo Johnny Cash's twang, ? & the Mysterians' organ licks, Wire's angular riffs, and Augustus Pablo's melodica doodles -- without ripping any of them off. Clinic's strength -- its way with rhythm and originally placed sounds -- is built from slowly digesting what the members know, then perfecting it in the studio.
"We record all the time, 'cause for us, that's the side of [being in the band] that is the most exciting and the most satisfying, the actual creating. So that seems the logical area to put the most thought into," Blackburn says. "All the time we're not playing live, we're at home putting ideas together for songs or demoing new songs."
The quartet's members met as active participants in Liverpool's music scene in '96 and '97. They chose the indie way from the beginning, eschewing major labels and pop fashions for a more personal model. In 1998, they released three singles on their own Aladdin's Cave of Golf label (lauded by influential BBC DJ John Peel), began making public appearances wearing surgeon's masks ("It wakes people up or can be thought of as thought-provoking," admits Blackburn), and slew the crowd at the Glastonbury Festival. The hype went into full overload when Thom Yorke's group became a de facto Clinic publicist last year.
The band's latest, the recently released Walking With Thee, has been met with an avalanche of praise by everyone from the corporate-rock sympathizers at Rolling Stone to the indie elitists at Pitchfork Media. And none of it has been falsely achieved or undeserved: Clinic's music contains a rare emotional depth, helping the band to resonate on multiple levels.
"I think, having spent a lot of time listening to music and spent some time thinking about it, you would naturally want to do something different," Blackburn says. "Experience allows you to have more things to draw on. So on one hand, we make sort of party music that you could dance to; on the other, it can be introspective, covering numerous moods, but always bringing a certain urgency to them."