Interview: Clean Cut Kid

Clean Cut Kid

Words by Gary Lambert

Photos by Gary Lambert

Clean Cut Kid are a band who we have been with from the very start, so it was apt that we were able to catch up with them shortly after they had finished their afternoon headliner slot at Liverpool Sound City. With their grown-up pop songs written from the heart with wit and charm, they are Popped Music in musical form. And unlike many acts, the affable outfit you see on stage is exactly what you get to meet whenever you bump in to them. If you don’t like being hugged, don’t get involved with Clean Cut Kid. Fortunately, I’m probably the best hugger in the world, so it suits me down to the ground – and gets me very competitive.

We sat down in the wonderful surrounds of Love Lane Brewery in the Baltic Triangle and tried to find out what they thought of their headline slot. Typically for a band who had watched so many different acts during the weekend, I thought they were writing for Popped Music the first thing they wanted to talk about was how good a time they have had over the event. “I want to lay it out there now and say this is the best Sound City I’ve ever been to. It feels really like South By South West as it feels like we’ve taken over our own area. There has been loads of things going on all the time too. Instead of having one or two big bands playing, there have been lots of great bands playing all the time. I’m really pleased for how well it has gone. You want Sound City to be held up as the pinnacle of the Liverpool music scene. It feels more of a showcase festival like The Great Escape again.”

“There are two main models for festivals. Either you have a few headliners that everybody wants to watch but then nobody wants to watch any of the other acts. Or you have loads of medium level acts who are excited to play and buzz around watching the other bands as there’s always something quality happening. That was our big mistake yesterday and why we are hungover today. We really tried to watch as many bands as we could, but ended up having a beer watching most of them instead of going home and spending Saturday night with a Chinese takeaway.”

One of the subjects that has intrigued me with Clean Cut Kid is the way they started their career off by working in the studio a lot until they had a relatively complete product before taking it out to the gigging world. In fact, their first gig was in London followed by a gig in the basement of The Shipping Forecast in their hometown. It has made me wonder about how this will have affected them considering that almost every band nowadays start on the principle of hammering out live dates, developing a fanbase, and then start to look at working in the studio more.

“I’ve found more than ever that the markets the bands have been in have really been levelled out this year for the festival. Someone from a Liverpool band came up to me yesterday and told me about how much they loved our band. Usually people are a bit cagey with us as we’ve attempted to do the national scene rather than focus on trying to become an epic Liverpool band, but I think with the efforts of the likes of Red Rum Club, it’s becoming more acceptable to be trying to be a national band. There are a lot of people right on the edge of kicking off on a national level. They’re not there yet, but they might be very soon.”

“It was interesting listening to Andy McCluskey do an interview in here yesterday and he said that he views the stuff he did with Atomic Kitten as just as valid as the stuff he did with OMD. Because you can’t build a 360 career if you don’t test yourself and try different angles. Because we did a lot of work outside Liverpool, we felt that people weren’t as warm or connected with us as they could have been if we had been here all the time. Today’s performance seemed from the stage looking out to be an opportunity for people to watch Clean Cut Kid and see what we could come up with.”

At one stage, their tour manager was needed to come on stage in order to MacGuyver a solution to block out the sun as Ev was struggling to use her keyboard because of the direct sunlight. I honestly thought she wasn’t feeling well when she played a song with her eyes about four inches away from the keys.

“Yeah, our tour manager had to come on to build a contraption for me as I couldn’t see the screen. I was trying to go through the options but I couldn’t see anything no matter what I tried. There was one point during We Used To Be In Love when I flicked the system over to what I thought was right and when I played it blasted out trombone sounds so I’d got it totally wrong. Unlike at The Cavern when Mike said that I’d played a track in the wrong key. When we got off stage I went up to him to tell him I’d played it right, but he just started laughing telling me it was just banter. I should know not to believe anything on stage said by Mike”.

Probably apart from the being married and in love with Ev stuff I’d guess.

I asked if they had ever heard of a festival before putting on Afternoon Headliners as I hadn’t and it turned out that I gave Ev the opportunity to talk about one of her favourite subjects.

“It’s very much like SXSW. They have acts of different sizes staggered through the day. We saw John Legend playing at one o’clock in the day. After we did South By, I think I mentioned that very set in every single interview we did when we were asked about Austin. I just kept talking about it. Every time I did I could see everybody looking at me thinking ‘why are you bringing that up Ev?’. But it was the only thing I could think of to explain how big the event is.”

Mike then took over “when they first mentioned afternoon headliners, I couldn’t really get my head around it. Headlining but then there’s someone playing after you. But they explained that the festival was structured so that there was nobody comparable playing in that time slot so you have a captive audience. It made sense perfectly.”

I always like to get an idea of who bands like to watch so that I can make sure I add them to my list of bands to see. Quite sweetly when I asked Clean Cut Kid, all of them referred to the same gig from the day before. And as it was one that I missed I was really pleased to get a thumbs up from the band.

“Pillow Queens on the Modern Sky stage yesterday. They’re from Dublin and they were unbelievable. They sounded like an Irish, female version of Pinegrove. It’s kind of quite emotional with great harmonies and rhythm section. At this festival too, Childcare were brilliant. Amazing writing, amazing players, incredible performance, faultless. We saw Vistas too who were great and Hangar 34 was filled right to the very back.”

Despite having released an album earlier this year, I get the feeling that there is something else on the horizon for Clean Cut Kid possibly. It is a real standard interview question to ask what they have planned for the rest of the year and at this point the band started looking at each other like I had asked them where they were when JFK was assassinated and they didn’t have an answer. I wasn’t trying to give them a grilling. It’s Popped Music not Frost/Nikon, so I asked them to focus on the things that they have had announced.

“We’ve got about ten festivals announced. Oh and we are going to Minsk to do the British Embassy Festival out there. We had an email from the promoter saying ‘the whole of Belarus is waiting for Clean Cut Kid’ so that’s got us looking forward to it. We were even talking to someone from Minsk at the festival yesterday who told us about a great craft beer bar to go to.”

There was one question I needed to ask my namesake, Clean Cut Gary, and as our interview was winding down I hadn’t been able to find a way to drop it into the conversation. So I stopped Mike talking about his tactics to combat germs, and asked Gary “I know Ev is used to it, but how does it feel to be playing a song live that was written about you?”. For those who don’t know, debut album track Brother of Mine was written and recorded before Gary joined Clean Cut Kid about Mike and Gary’s friendship when they were in a previous band.

“It’s actually cool, really cool. When we were on the first tour after I joined the band when we started playing it, Mike would tell the story of what it was about and he would then get quite emotional over it so he stopped doing that. I heard the song as a fan before I joined the band so I was actually quite touched over it. It is though a very weird full circle moment though to be playing it on stage”.

Mike then took over “the first time he heard it was when we played it at live on the Huw Stephens show at Maida Vale and I messaged Gaz to say ‘this song is about you’ and we’re going to play it.” Gary though said that Mike just mentioned it as they were about to start playing. I think Gary’s version is better, so they should stick to that. “The guys also came to my wedding and played it on an acoustic guitar. That was quite emotional too. No, that was heavy, that was really heavy.”

For those fans of Clean Cut Kid’s drummer Ross, don’t worry there is a track written about him too. Unfortunately for Ross it is called Stay Awake. They haven’t played it live yet but I’m hoping to guilt them in to it. They’ve promised it’ll be in a setlist by the end of the year.

Clean Cut Kid are just such wonderful people and I love the bones of them. Even though from the parts of the interview that was not suitable for writing up (as those bits would be dull to read not controversial I hasten to add), I don’t think there is a band we agree on. Apart from Clean Cut Kid.

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    Popped Music has been going since Feb 2010.

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