Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #133. Subscribe to our print edition here!
With a new lineup, their own label, a signature hot sauce and their most stunning album yet, Clowns are ready to take over the world.
Words by Matt Doria. Live photo by Kyle Goon.
Without sacrificing a gram of their staunch DIY ethics, dazzling artistry or rabid fiendishness for a good mosh, the Melbourne punks in Clowns have officially rebranded themselves as the most serious band in the scene. They have their own label for local releases – Damaged Records, where they’ll soon host a full roster of up-and-coming greats – a partnership with the iconic Fat Wreck Chords for the rest of the world, a new guitarist in the ridiculously talented Will Robinson, and... Their own hot sauce?
No, seriously, Clowns actually released their own concoction of pepper-based poignancy to tie in with their latest LP, Nature/Nurture – it’s a Tabasco-style drop labelled May I Be Extinguished? (a riff on the Nature/Nurture cut “May I Be Exhumed?”), and not only is it bloody delicious, it’s a legitimate award winner. Because f*** an ARIA when you’ve got a Mr Chili Hot Sauce Award, right?
As for the music itself, how does LP4 represent the start of a new chapter for Clowns?
We’ve always discussed, with writing new material, that we never want to release the same album twice. Bad Blood is probably the most popular Clowns record so far, and we could easily just go, “Hey, let’s write another Bad Blood,” but then it wouldn’t feel authentic. We went down a bit of a psychedelic, experimental sort of route with Lucid Again, and with this album, I guess it’s almost like a combination of the first three records – there’s little bits and pieces that sound familiar in there, but we also experimented a lot. There’s a keyboard in there, and we played around with some pretty wacky sounds – Stevie [Williams, vocals] had a load of fun doing that.
One thing that’s always drawn me to Clowns is the way the albums are structured – they’re not just a collection of errant songs, but a full-scale journey through these different peaks and valleys of sounds and styles.
Especially with this record, we spent so much time getting the order right, and trying to make it feel like a full-on experience. With the second track on the album, “Soul For Sale”, we’d written a few different riffs and had a few ideas for songs, and we were like, “We need a really good track two.” There was a gap of about six months where we just couldn’t find the right song, and when we finally got it, we were like, “Yep, that’s going to sit perfectly as track two.” It’s so important for us to have an album that flows nicely. Even in the mastering process, getting the sequencing right – with some songs on the album, as one ends, it goes straight into the next one. It’s not an overly lengthy one, but I think it’s probably the most dynamic Clowns record thus far.
So does that come after the fact, once all the songs are there and they just need to be organised, or does the album itself come together around that structure?
I guess it’s a bit of both. We’d recorded two of the songs months before we went in and did the rest of them – “Freezing In The Sun” and “I Shaved My Legs For You” – and we’d already released those when we were writing the rest of the album. So we sort of used those as structures to build the album around – we were always going, “Alright, I reckon this one sounds like a good track three,” and, “This could totally work as the first track on side two.” And once we’d demoed the songs as well, it helped a lot being able to listen to them in order and piece the tracklist together before the actual recording process was finished – we could really start to get a feel for what the album was going to be.
Your guitar playing is way more dynamic and meticulous than it’s given credit for. How do you approach the instrument with the tonal characteristics that you’re going for in Clowns?
Joining the band, it was a big shock for me how much work I had to do on my right hand to get those downpicks up to scratch. If you’ve seen us play live before, you’d notice that Will and I – and even Hanny [J, bass] as well – we’re pretty much downpicking the whole time, just because, y’know, you can go down- up, but there’s something unique about the sound of straight downpicking; it almost gives the track a sense of urgency when you’re really hammering the strings. I was quite a light player before I joined, but with some guidance from Stevie and Jake [Laderman, drums], I really sort of got that right hand playing. We like to have a lot of dynamics in our songs, and now that we’ve got a second guitar player as well, we’re able to play some more complex parts, experiment with weird chords and stuff like that.
So you worked with a metric f***tonne of guitars on this album. What were your go-tos?
We recorded the album at Hot House in St. Kilda, and everyone that records there, the first thing they say when you talk to them is, “Holy shit, there are so many good guitars there!” It’s like a kid-in-a-candy-shop sort of scenario – they open the doors and go, “What’d’ya wanna use?” So there were some songs where I used four guitars for one part [laughs]. The 1965 Gibson Trini Lopez was awesome, I loved that guitar. I really liked the Les Paul Deluxe as well – it was a 1980 Goldtop, and I recorded a few of the solos with that one. It was great for some of the really fat, chuggy sort of riffs as well. And then we used some weird shit, like the Fender VI, just for those really heavy parts in the songs where we wanted to have that extra bit of filth.
Friday June 21st - Crown & Anchor, Adelaide SA
Saturday June 22nd - Max Watt’s, Melbourne VIC
Friday 28th June - Mojo’s Bar, Fremantle WA
Saturday June 29th - Prince Of Wales, Bunbury WA