Interview: Clean Cut Kid

Clean Cut Kid

Words: Gary Lambert

Photos: Gaz Jones

GiuXovA5mpovkMAYflEyrzdADgdtjfBNeXPvJho3Vk0Almost every band we speak with tells similar stories of going through the grind of touring and endlessly playing gigs in the hope of being spotted and maybe selling a few t-shirts and EPs to help pay for the petrol home from Inverness. Everybody dreams of the day that a record label says “we like the look of you four scoundrels, give up work and play rock n roll”. These days though it does not happen. Bands are left to deal with the business aspects of the musician’s life whilst working behind bars, singing cover versions and pushing trollies around Asda car park. However there is hope. There is Clean Cut Kid.


We met up with Clean Cut Kid on Halloween, a few hours before they were due to go on stage at Liverpool Music Week. As we at Popped like to do things differently, the band were presented with a seasonal pumpkin which the least artistic member of the gang had crudely carved CCK into it. For some reason, the band loved it and for one night only it became part of the band. A bit like when Jimmy Page and John Bonham joined Foo Fighters at Wembley – except bright orange and filled with candles.


After their pumpkin-related excitement had dampened down, we had the chance to talk with Mike (lead vocals and lead guitar), Evelyne (keyboards and vocals), Saul (bass and vocals) and Ross (drums) about the plans for Clean Cut Kid, their whirlwind career so far (they were only playing their 20th gig that night) and playing in a band with a husband and wife at the heart of it.

Our visit to the world of Clean Cut Kid though starts in March at a gig in legendary London venue Water Rats. From the moment Clean Cut Kid were asked to delay their set for an hour as there were managers from top record labels still stuck in the queue outside, things changed. And things changed quickly!

How did things get so big so quickly? “We signed with our manager about a month before the gigs and he started off a few whispers here and there and that started the build-up of the hype. By the time the first show came around, we had a few industry people there who our manager had tempted with his whispers. But by the time the second show came around the tight world of A&R knew all about us and there was label boss after label boss at the gig. And they started offering us deals. The word of Clean Cut Kid spread so fast and because we had spent so long secretly, obsessively rehearsing, we were able to live up to the hype. It was a few short weeks after that gig that we signed up with the label”.

Whilst there are many respected labels around the world, certain labels carry a bit more kudos than others. Polydor is one such label and as a result of signing on with them as part of the Universal Music Group, when Clean Cut Kid were in Popped Music’s office, it was shortly after a whirlwind trip to the USA where they travelled from Atlantic to Pacific coasts, played some gigs, met lots of people and signed with their US label.

“It was a complete mission. It was just so…*deep sigh*. I mean the schedule was for eight days, but we started with a fourteen hour flight to Orlando where we spent three hours in customs and then caught a flight up to New York. Then we drove from Brooklyn to Manhattan to get to the gig we were playing. That doesn’t tell the half of the journey there though as we had come off stage in Middlesbrough the night before at half ten and then jumped in the van to get home, grab our stuff and get to the airport. Then we ended up at this gig in New York and had to stand around waiting until our 2am set time which was about three hours after we turned up”.

hhICCJp11mUREqSw18Vdw3zvZzKamBRxMuwAH0f0O1oIt seems that when you’re signed on to a major record label they want you to work hard for your money as “even when we did the fourteen hour journey home, two hours after we had landed Mike was starting a thirteen hour studio session – and he did that for six days”. After that the band had had two days off work. They seem to be able to find the pleasure in their workload though “it is good busy and we wouldn’t want it any other way, but it’s fucking bonkers like”.

Anyway back to those eight days in America, “We were in New York for four days and as well as the first gig we played at the CMJ Festival which was cool. And we noticed too how much the crowd really seemed to take to what we have for them. Beforehand we didn’t know how the American audiences would take to Clean Cut Kid, but they were all into it. The legacy of The Beatles being a Liverpool band still rings through life and culture over there. It seemed from watching some of the other bands playing to seeing how it was for ourselves that the music fans just instinctively understood how we were on stage. They got the banter and the laughs straight away. It was like it was programmed straight into them”.

“After New York, we did four days in Los Angeles where we did another gig and some of the business stuff like deciding on our US booking agent and working on the plan for next year. When we signed our world deal with Polydor, we made sure it didn’t specify a US label so when we went over part of the purpose was to decide on our US label. So the eight days were dead productive. We played three gigs, sorted out our record label, did some sightseeing and got loads of taxis”.

After the A&R scramble in London trying to get Clean Cut Kid to sign, it was a different scene in America. Who did they choose to go with? “Although we were picking a US label business-wise it is a bit different because they know you have to sign for a Universal label so you don’t have them scrambling about trying to convince you to join them. Plus it’s not their money coming in. Instead they just need to convince you to sign with them and the money comes across from the British side of the deal. But they still are working their hardest to get you to go with them. Usually when you sign with Polydor, you would default to Interscope in the US, but we wanted to make sure they were right for us. In the end though, we did end up going with Interscope anyway which is just incredible”.

If you need to get a bit of context, Interscope’s roster currently includes such big hitters as Madonna, Dr Dre, Eminem, Lana Del Rey, Lady Gaga and U2. And The Rolling Stones. Now it includes Clean Cut Kid, after less than 20 gigs.

The trip to America also gave Clean Cut Kid a greater understanding too of the music business with its contrast to the British game. “Before we went to America the plans for there just seemed impossible. With the size of it and all these little radio stations everywhere it seemed like this untameable tiger of a country. But after sitting down with people and discussing their plans for you and their strategy for the tiger, it fills you with belief.”

“It was a major learning point as well how different the music game is over there. Especially in terms of radio. Over here the structure tends to be two build up singles and then your big one, The Beast, your best single that everything else pushes towards. Whereas over there as there is no national radio coverage and it is generally so hard to get on the radio, instead of using the early singles to put in the legwork they go with your biggest single first. It is a totally alien strategy compared to the discussions we have had with the label over here. It makes you realise that it is a whole different ball game. And it makes us so thankful that we have people working with us to help us as on our own we would not have had a clue how to do it”.

For all the sensible business talk, there is still the dreamer music fan in each member of Clean Cut Kid which was summed up by Ross “it was just kind of mad to be on the Hudson Ferry the night after our first gig and to look at the New York skyline and think ‘Yeah, Clean Cut Kid are here playing America”.

I had been looking forward to getting on to the subject of Mike and Evelyn from the start of the interview. It feels like a fairly rare situation to have a band formed by a husband and wife but then for that to build into an actual band rather than say “The Halls and Their Clean Cut Kids”. The comfort whole band have over Mike and Evelyn’s relationship was shown by the way the first person to respond to my question was not one of the couple themselves, but rather Saul who said “I think it’s nice you know. Instead of it being just four randomers who can play ending up in a band together, we have a different connection as a band because of them. It isn’t like we all go off after playing gigs to do separate things and then arrange to meet up again to play some more. Instead we have family days out as a gang”.

clean cut kid copyright gaz jonesOnce Saul had his quite sweet moment, the other three all put their tuppence worth in on the subject. “We are all into the same things so we do spend a lot of time together” with the exception seeming to be when Ross wants to watch football which he has to do in the darkness of his own room which usually on tour he shares with Saul so that they can still give Mike and Evelyn their time together.

“The band started off with the married couple making music together and then expanded so there is no other dynamic that has been known to Clean Cut Kid. It would be different if we were in the band and then two people got together. That would change the feel of any band.” But this way it feels like Mike and Evelyn are at the centre of the band and everybody treats them that way, whereas the team all felt that if a relationship came second then it would tear the heart out of any band.

It must be difficult though at times for the band. Artists are generally more emotional people than say accountants, so being together all the time must create a certain additional element to their relationship. “A lot of people would find working and living and basically spending every minute of each day together when they’re married to be hard or weird, but we have never known it any other way”. It is a sign of how good the band are together that neither Ross nor Saul express any discomfort when Evelyn admits that she is not the type of person who would just whisper to Mike “let’s talk about this later tonight” which her husband agreed on.

“We have never been a couple to gloss over things. If there is something we disagree on, we sit there and thrash things out which ends up that you argue a lot less because decisions are made by discussing things together. We have not argued much at all about band things, you could count those on one hand. It is hardest when it is the outside pressure getting to you, when everybody is tired and drained. But we know that those feelings have to come with this life we are lucky to have which just happens to include fifteen hour transatlantic journeys.”

It works for them. It also brings another aspect to the tale of Clean Cut Kid. “It sounds really cheesy but we all really are best mates. But being in a band with a married couple has its advantages too. People can identify with you more in this way rather than if you are four lads out on the road without a care in the world. Even the president of the record label who really likes us gets that connection to married life”.

The abiding memory of my meeting with Clean Cut Kid though came through Mike’s simple explanation of the way things are regarding their marriage. “If anything gets in the way of me and Ev, well we are married and that is ten times more important than any other situation that could happen. We’re not going to let them have it, so it’s cool y’know”.

For 2016, the plans are being finely tuned with a healthy amount of secrecy. they will be releasing another single, followed by the final lead up single to the album. During the promotion for that time they are also going to be dropping bits and pieces of the album, which is in the final stages of tweaking at the moment, as a teaser for us all. Then in June, Clean Cut Kid, the architects of some great singles, are aiming to release their album. I would guess everything is going to change at that point for this band. There is too much confidence, belief, structure, support and ideas helping them for it to not do so. And as much as they might have a musical giant backing them, it would not matter for one instant if they did not have the tunes to propel things forward. And the power of the tunes is something which is not in doubt at all.

Clean Cut Kid – ace people; great mates; lovers of pumpkins; friends of Popped Music; and the soundtrack to the next year of your life.


Watch the video of Clean Cut Kid performing Runaway for the Mahogany Sessions here:

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    Popped Music has been going since Feb 2010.

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