It is a sweltering Saturday afternoon in London. I’m talking gas mark 4 kind of heat. You could cover yourself in egg wash and call yourself an omelette after 20 minutes in the sun. But within the cool shade of Hoxton Bar and Kitchen where Clean Cut Kid are preparing for their set for the ‘Midway Sessions’, there is an oasis of cold Goose Island Beer and incredible music just waiting to be dipped into.
‘Midway Sessions’ is inspired by the American brewer Goose Island and their new Session IPA beer, Goose Midway. The evening of live music and beer is the grand finale in Goose Island’s annual Migration Week tour from 12th – 17th June.
Clean Cut Kid are one of the most exciting pop outfits to come out of Liverpool in years. At a time when the market has become saturated with a cheap, knock-off songwriting mentality, Clean Cut Kid are striving to engage their listeners with earnest lyrical content as well as addictive melodic immediacy. As soon as soundcheck is done and dusted, I am greeted by Guitarist, Vocalist and Songwriter Mike Halls, and Bassist Saul Godman. Hands are shaken, and we settle down for a chat.
How do Southern crowds compare to those in Northern cities like Liverpool, Leeds, and Manchester, and who are the most fun to play for?
Mike: “We always thought there was a distinct North / South Divide, but really it’s more of city thing. If you go somewhere like Bristol for example, Bristol is a rock city, so they have rock crowds who will react more to a raucous set. I think if you’re Northern and you’re playing in London or the South and you can wear that on your sleeve and be outwardly Northern, then it’s deemed as kinda cool. But I think if you play that down then nobody will react to it. It’s the same in America. You kind of have to be a caricature of an English person, and then everyone’s like “Ahhh these guys are like the Beatles!”
Saul: “There is a reputation for London crowds to just sit there judging, but I don’t think we’ve had that.”
Mike: “The fact is though, that most of the music industry is based in London, so when bands play here 95% of the crowd is made up of industry people, who watch 5 gigs a night, so it’s not like they’re there to go mental. We definitely have our favourite cities though. We love Glasgow and actually one of the top crowds we’ve played for was in London. We played a show in Scala not too long ago and that was mad.”
What made you both decide to pick up an instrument and start playing music?
Mike: “Well I don’t know about myself, but I can tell you why Saul did. I think it was ‘Back to the Future’ for you wasn’t it?”
Saul: “Oh yeah that was the first thing that made me want to play guitar. I wanted to play the Saxophone, but they told me that I had to learn the clarinet first. I remember my teacher telling me: “Why don’t you play the guitar instead of watching EastEnders. It’s a good alternative.” And I remember thinking “I fucking hate EastEnders. I hate my life. I hate everything,” So I picked up the guitar, strummed one chord and was like “Oh wow, I love this”.
Mike: “I’ve been obsessed with music for as long as I can remember. My parents told me that when I was in my baby stroller and a theme tune or whatever would come on the TV, I’d run through and pin my head to it. But as I got older, they realised that if they just put headphones on me and played some music, then it would hypnotise me. Later on, my dad bought me a Walkman and I had The Beatles ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’ albums, as well as Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’. Between 5 and 8 o’clock, I listened to those records over and over again until I wore them out.”
What is your creative process when writing new material, and when do you know when a song is ready to be recorded?
Mike: “I have a weird thing. This sounds so much like Indian Mysticism or something, but I find the goose bumps you get when you’re writing are like a spray of fertiliser on your brain. So if I’m writing and that happens, I’ll lock onto it and everything usually falls into place from there. I run with a moment of inspiration until the songs done, so if I’m writing a chord sequence or a vocal melody and nothing comes out that gives me that feeling, I’ll either not write it, or it’ll be crap when I come back to it anyway.
“But the magic of the band also comes from constant reaction. For example when we made ‘Vitamin C’, I think Saul played bass, but the drums, the keys, all of the parts were just me. Nobody knew the song, what it was supposed to be, and what the band was even supposed to sound like. So it was a case of: ‘Everybody wait while I get these parts down and at the end of it, you’ll know what the song is.’ But that system only works for a certain amount of time and I think after a year of going through that process I realised that I wasn’t reacting to what the songs were saying to me. I think your ego often makes you think that the parts you can hear in your head are the right parts, but when you lay it all out and record the song and something new is screaming at you, if your ego stops you from hearing that then you’re fucking yourself over really. What I’ve realised is that my favourite thing about the band, is that everybody’s pockets (a musicians natural way of playing) clash. It’s the same thing you hear when you listen to The Police or The Beatles. They don’t play in time, they play in their own pockets, but it works together. I spent a while trying to redo Saul’s basslines, trying to make them fit into my feel, but I now I recognise that the band needs all of us.”
What do you think you’d be doing if you couldn’t play music, say if you had no arms?
Mike: “I’d learn to wank with my feet first.”
Saul: “My favourite thing to do is to sing actually. But I picked up the guitar because I’m not a very good singer, and then picked up the bass ’cause I’m not a very good guitarist.”
Mike: “I was nearly a scientist. I did the first year of a quantum physics degree, but I had epilepsy at the time because someone had punched me in the head at school. Because of that I was on a mad concoction of prescribed drugs, but the shit they gave you for epilepsy back then pretty much rewired your brain. So, I was doing this really intense quantum physics course and it was just killing me every day. But I’m still really into science, so probably that.”
Who are some of your favourite bands/artists on the scene right now?
Saul: “Its not so much bands, but songs for us.”
Mike: “Yeah, we all appreciate a good pop tune. We’ve played with some really great artists recently actually. We played with Michael Kiwanuka. He’s an amazing singer and has an amazing backing band who play full blown organs and percussion and stuff. Their part of a dying breed of really well trained, professional musicians who are incredibly talented, but play in a quite understated way.
“I’m really into indie, but I’m also massively into Americana. Pinegrove are a new band I love, and Big Thief as well. It’s difficult though because I don’t love any bands in our lane. There’s a couple of tunes and elements I love, but for me I feel like there isn’t really anybody in the UK making music that I’d buy.”
Why do you think that is?
Mike: “Well when we got signed, we were told that we were going to be in a lane with lots of other bands, but that our songwriting was some of the best and would stand up as still being really good. But what’s happened is that none of those bands are making pop music. Lots of them have actually become very idiosyncratic where they could be described as anything. We’re very much out on our own at the moment. Like, who at the moment is making pop music in a band? Also, in modern pop there’s a lot of concept writing. The lyrics don’t matter, just the concept of the song itself.”
As a band, do you strive against that?
Mike: “I think we’re trying to make lyrics something again. We’ve toured with a load of bands were the crowd will hear the first song and jump around until the set’s over. That’s great, but I’d take Michael Kiwanuka’s crowd every time, a crowd that will just stand there smiling, a crowd were you can sing a poignant lyric and see them react to it. Maybe we’ll strive for that to the extent that we lose our listenership, but I think it’s important.
“If you’re in a UK band that has chart success, how do you retain any relevancy past the first album? It’s very different in the US. The War on Drugs, for example – It was their 8th album that granted them commercial success and that was because up until eight albums, people in America still packed out venues to see them. Whereas in the UK, there isn’t that nurturing element. For a band in the UK at the moment, you have one option: you either break Radio 1 or you fail.”
Before we part ways, what advice would you give to musicians trying to make it big in the current climate?
Mike: “We’ve all played in so many bands that didn’t have management or a label and would just leak material constantly. My big one is: Wait until the product is ready because if you’ve had five gigs and a song on Soundcloud and the industry hasn’t jumped on it, it’s just over and you have to delete yourself. If you’re Lana Del Rey, you delete yourself and get a face lift.”
Clean Cut Kid begin their nationwide tour on June 29th at Barn on The Farm Festival and will wrap things up with a show at The Leadmill, Sheffield on October 29th. Check out the full dates below. P.S. Thank you for the Watermelon, Saul.
Clean Cut Tour Dates:
JUN 29 – JUL 2 | BARN ON THE FARM FESTIVAL, GLOUCESTER
JUN 30 | STRINGS BAR & VENUE, NEWPORT, ISLE OF WIGHT
JUL 1 | COMMUNITY FESTIVAL, LONDON
JUL 14 | READIPOP FESTIVAL, READING
JULY 27 – 30 | Y NOT FESTIVAL, DERBYSHIRE
JULY 28 – 30 | LEOPALLOOZA, EXETER
AUG 3 – 6 | FIELDVIEW FESTIVAL, WILTSHIRE
AUG 5 | 110 ABOVE FESTIVAL, LEICESTERSHIRE
AUG 6 | HOPE AND GLORY FESTIVAL, LIVERPOOL
AUG 25 – 27 | CAMPER CALLING, WARWICKSHIRE
SEPT 7 – 10 | BESTIVAL, DORSET
OCT 16 | CLWB IFOR BACH, CARDIFF
OCT 17 | BULLINGDON, OXFORD
OCT 18 | SUB89, READING
OCT 19 | THE SUGARMILL, STOKE-ON-TRENT
OCT 21 | THE LOFT, SOUTHAMPTON
OCT 22 | NEWHAMPTON ARTS CENTRE, WOLVERHAMPTON
OCT 23 | RESCUE ROOMS, NOTTINGHAM
OCT 25 | BRUDENDELL SOCIAL CLUB, LEEDS
OCT 26 | DRYDEN STREET SOCIAL, LEICESTER
OCT 27 | THE LEADMILL, SHEFFIELD
For updates on Clean Cut Kid, visit the Website.