Highly adaptable, the always sinister and slyly joyful Liverpool quartet have progressed into their next state of being Clinic with their sixth studio album. Bubblegum, a journey into the band’s softer pop side, may not be what fans would at first expect, but it isn’t a grand transmogrification or a simple tossing of one style for another. In their latest songs, Clinic have gone back to their childhood to dig up melodies and memories from things past, weaving their discoveries into a new work that still retains the essence of the band’s unique psychedelic, experimental surf and vintage, folk-tinged stamp. In some ways, Bubblegum is both the most mature and playful Clinic album to date. It has a thematic flow that sounds as if the songs were given room to breathe and mellow, yet in certain parts, also as if recorded during that happy haze of time just as the sedative is starting to wear off. A couple of months before its release, we sat down with singer/guitarist Ade Blackburn to hear more details as to how the album evolved.
The title, Bubblegum, may sound straightforwardly sweet but the songs aren’t. It may be a bit softer, but it’s still very “Clinic”. What were you delving into?
We were delving into something that was, a bit more, easy listening. We tried to incorporate that to see how we could be playful with it. For it to seem right to us, it still had to have some kind of oddness or a twist to it. It was a new area to mess about with. It wasn’t totally planned, but a couple of things worked, and then it just seemed to expand. We thought it was good to keep a consistent, sort of musical theme running through it. In the past, our albums had more switches between tracks and more drastic changes in the style.
Did you have a set idea of inspirations for the the album that helped get things started?
It all came together quite quickly. As far as melodies, we dug up things we had grown up with, like Glen Campbell, that kind of style. I was digging back to early memories of records. My mom always liked things like Perry Como, which I don’t think we quite captured or created a Perry Como revival [laughs] but… My voice isn’t really anywhere near a crooner type, but the songs are a bit more “sung” in a conventional way this time around, as opposed to a rhythmical kind of thing.
You had mentioned you wrote songs like “Un Astronauta En Cielo” or “Forever (Demis’ Blues)” as faux soundtracks for films that might have been?
Yeah, I like that idea. There’s always been hints of that, but now it’s a different take on that, because it’s a bit more laid-back version of our sound.
You’ve written some odes to women such as Linda and Evelyn on the album as well, and the lyrics on these are almost love songs, in a way.
The lyrics are less surreal, and a bit more relationship-based, yeah. The names we used, at least back in England, are those that were a bit older, from our parents’ generation, Evelyn or Linda are names you don’t hear so much now. The way I see it, is that it’s a bit nostalgic. I can remember some of those names while growing up from some of my parents’ friends.
Nostalgia seems to play a big part in Bubblegum overall.
There’s always that to it, isn’t there? I always think that with anything creative you do, some ideas hearken back to your first childhood, when you first started to take things in. It’s always quite nice to have hints of that.
Did you demo all the songs before going into the studio?
Yes, [for this album] it sort of differed a bit. Previously, things were more based around the rhythms or the drums. Rather than being based around a groove, this was done in more of a singer/songwriter sort of way, based around chords and then flushed out. It was a bit more like directing traffic this way, since all the songs were a bit more simple. The guitar isn’t doing a great deal and it’s just kind of works sympathetically to the rest of the song.
And when you had the melody, you colored songs with piano and other organic instrumentation?
Yeah. John Congleton [producer] found the string players in Texas, and halfway through the recording, we decided to give that a go, so he took the recordings back to Texas and added them in. We were open to seeing how it went. It’s not like we wanted strings on every song, it’s good not to overdo that. It’s a bit more subtle.
The Pete Fowler video for “I’m Aware” is sweet and twisted at the same time, it brought a tear to my eye [laughs].
We liked his idea of kids’ cartoons that you might stumble across on the telly. It’s just a bit too weird around the edges, making you ask, is this really a kid’s cartoon? I liked the colorful aspect as well. I think he really got what we wanted to bring out and it’s got some funny things in there: the sun vomiting colors and stuff. There are definitely some weird turns in it.
You’ve used projections in the past on stage. Do you plan to do any video backdrops during/before shows on this tour?
A few years back, during Visitations, we did some projections with different themes for each song. It’s something we keep dipping into. We are looking to do some sort of film before the set. It blurs things a bit, makes the whole night not strictly about the band and drinking. We’re always talking about ways to make the night more of an event and more entertaining.
You’re still masked, but how might your stage attire evolve for this tour?
We have different combinations each time. The last time was slightly Hawaiian, and this time it’s more colorful, less dark. We’ve got Guatemalan tops, which is quite fun. When it’s colorful, and combined with the music, it’s a good mixture. I like when you’ve got combinations of things that don’t quite fit, all working off of and against each other.
Given that the new album is more mellow, how will the live set for this tour change?
The set’s a bit slower this time around. I wasn’t sure at first how people would take it but it seems they’re ready for something a bit outside of what’s expected. People are willing to forgo some of the noise to hear songs that are a different take on our sound. We want to make it a bit different again, not revert back to our older shows, but keep it a bit more laid-back.
How did “Radiostory”, the “erotic” spoken word piece, come about and whose voice is it?
It’s Jason Evans, who’s done some of our photographs from the beginning and some videos for Visitations. He has quite a dark sense of humor and a strong, old school English accent. It seemed a nice idea to use it. We worked it out before and he was up for it. Again, it was quite a good mixture for the album and gives it a kind of warmth. You know those BBC shows where you have an actor with a proper English accent reading stories? It’s sort of like that, but with an undercurrent of darkness to it. We wrote the story between us, and also, our bassist Brian’s wife has a friend who did a part of it. We tried to have more input into it. Sometimes you try that and it’s surprising. The slightest change can make quite a difference.
Like an “exquisite corpse” style drawing.
Yeah, it’s just like that, isn’t it? You can’t totally imagine what the end’s going to be like at the beginning, rather than if you’re just doing it yourself.
Does writing and recording go more quickly with each new album?
Before we started Bubblegum, we took a break. During that time, I was just writing things on guitar. From doing that to recording, we were able to go quickly. It took two weeks in total to record Bubblegum, so it was the quickest album we’ve ever recorded. If you’ve got the rhythms and stuff already, you can go in a million different directions. But this time, because it was quite clear what the character of it all was, it was quite an easy thing to do. It kind of feels, in that “less is more” kind of way, that you’re doing the right thing.–Madeline Virbasius