Interview: The Clean

Unwound Records' James Kane interviews Dave Kilgour from The Clean.

A few weeks ago I had the chance to interview The Clean, a band that I’ve loved for a few years now. It came about when the interviewer (Simone) had to reschedule and couldn’t make the date and I was asked to step in. I’m not a writer, journalist or interviewer but just a fan with a few questions.

J: Hey, Dave. How are ya?
D: I’m well, pretty mild, overcast day here in Dunedin. It’s alright though.

J: Good to see you’re coming back to Australia, when was the first time you visited?
D: I think it was the early 90’s, or ’89. We reformed and did Australia, then did the east coast of America, then toured Europe for about a month. We did that for 2 or 3 years. But yeah, the first time I even visited Australia was ’89. We were back 5 years ago and that was the first time in about 20 years. We only really tour when we get asked to play somewhere, then we book more shows around that date.

J: Touring Europe for the first time would have been a trip, I’m about to leave for my first time playing overseas. Whose idea was it to start the band?
D: Great! Definitely a must. Well, Peter Gutteridge and I went out one night and jammed and wrote two songs straight away. I only really just met Peter because my girlfriend was living with him and on the spot we were like “Well, let’s just start a band”, and it was pretty easy. When I got home I told Hamish he should play drums and we’ll form a band, and we did! Later we kicked Peter out of the band and found Robert.

J: With huge bands sorta dominating at the time you began, did starting a band seem like it was a far-fetched venture?
D: It seemed on edge, but it all depended on how good we were at a particular instrument. I thought guitar seemed like a really difficult instrument to learn. I tried to teach myself a couple of times before, then punk came along and we all saw how obtainable it was. Up until that point though it seemed pretty unobtainable. Like, we all loved music, but it felt like a pipe dream because we couldn’t really play or write at all until punk came along. It was a good time to be young to be be hit with punk. Great timing.

J: Young and bored always makes for good things, especially punk. How long were you guys a band before you decided to record?
D: Well by the time we met Robert, within roughly 18 months we did Tally Ho.

J: Did you guys just figure you had enough songs and it was time to give it a go?
D: We’d been recording ourselves before that with a two-track tape machine, so we were already doing it, and writing songs of course. But we met Roger Shepherd and he was just starting Flying Nun Records as a hobby really, so the two went together and he released [Tally Ho]. We did that at some guys house with an 8-track.

J: That 8-track seemed to get a pretty nice sound out of it, was there much of an idea of how you wanted that record to sound?
D: Haha, not really. Tally Ho was pretty garage-y sounding, that’s how it was live so that’s just how it was recorded.

J: There’s a lot of bands really going for that sound these days, the whole Flying Nun/Garage thing is having a pretty solid resurgence.
D: It’s pretty easy to get that sound – just track down some shit microphones, plug them into something not that good and get some people to play live in a room, haha.

J: Who did the keys in those first recordings?
D: That’s Martin Phillips playing that. Robert wrote that key line, he played a bit of piano at the time. Robert wrote it but didn’t play it on the record.

J: Real catchy riff, that is. 
D: Haha, yeah!

J: Did a lot of your mates play music at the time?
D: Some of them did. Later on, more and more of them started but not before I started playing, I didn’t really hang out with musicians until I became one.

J: So you’d just go to the shows and meet like-minded people through those?
D: Well, Dunedin is a pretty tiny place and back then it was even tinier really, maybe a little scene of like 20 people.

J: Did you have any allies in Dunedin? Bands you liked or played with mostly?
D: We’d often play with The Verlaines, The Chills, Sneaky Feelings. Mostly with The Verlaines.

J: That’s a solid crew. Because Dunedin is so small, when was the thought to get out and play in other cities and where was the first stop?
D: The first time we got out was ’79. We left for Auckland, then we’d go to the nearest city after that, Christchurch, and do a show but we’d just generally go to Auckland. It’s a pretty small country, so to branch out from that…I mean you can, but you really have to put the work in. In the ’70s and ’80s there was a pretty big pub circuit here, you could go to a town and play 4 nights at the same venue and people would come every night. Those days are long gone.

J: Was the pub scene a mix of different bands or was it more a punk-dominated scene at the time?
D: By the early ’80s, it was all across the board. There was punk bands, garage bands, new wave bands, bit of everything.

J: Did you have any local heroes?
D: Probably the La Di Da’s and Phil Judd. It was really inspiring to see those guys because they were just doing it and it was modern music at the time, but I could go on forever, haha.

J: When I look at a scene like the current punk scene in the US, it seems almost untouchable with the quantity of good bands putting stuff out frequently. Was there anywhere in the world you thought was great for music outside of NZ?
D: We were music freaks back before we picked up any instruments, so we were pretty clued up with the history of rock’n’roll in Europe and America. We just absorbed everything really. But by the time we were picking up instruments, the whole punk thing coming out of Europe, but also what was coming out of New York at the time too.

J: What bands are you into now?
D: The best thing I saw this year was a show by a band called Endless Boogie - that was a high point.

J: Cool, I’ll have to check that one out. I think that’s all I got but thanks heaps for your time, mate! Have a great time with the upcoming shows in Australia. 
D: Oh, no worries! Thank you and all the best in Europe!

The Clean‘s Australian tour kicks off tonight at Sydney Festival, before playing a few more shows around the country.

The Clean Australian Tour Dates

Tuesday January 20 – Sydney Festival, Sydney – tickets: Sydney Festival 
Thursday January 22 – Corner Hotel, Melbourne – tickets: Corner Hotel
Friday January 23 – Rosemount Hotel, Perth – tickets: Oztix
Sunday January 25 – The Brightside, Brisbane – tickets: Oztix

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