Saturday, May 10, 2014

Music Weird interviews Colin Clary, part 1

Colin Clary is a household name in twee-pop households like mine. He has contributed to a huge discography of indiepop recordings as a solo artist, as a member of the Smittens and Let's Whisper, and as the sole proprietor of the Sudden Shame label, just to name a few. 

He also doesn't shy away from the word "twee." His forthcoming solo album, in fact, is called Twee Blues Vol. 1. It will be one of the final three releases on the beloved WeePOP! label, which is closing up shop after seven years of being one of the world's foremost sources of cool twee and indiepop records. It will be released on May 13. 

Camila at WeePOP! was kind enough to let me preview Twee Blues Vol. 1, and it's really nice. The songs are classic Colin, and the music is well recorded with a lot of mid-tempo acoustic-guitar strumming and even a little banjo and mandolin. It's an album that I can easily imagine being profiled on NPR. My favorite track is probably the album's closer, "Half a Cookie," which you can hear on the WeePOP! website. 

Music Weird talked to Colin Clary the first week of May, and the interview is so long that I'm splitting it into two parts. Here's the first part, in which he talks about the new album, the word "twee," and the latest news from his many bands:

You have a new solo album coming out soon. What can you tell us about it? 

Well, Twee Blues Vol. 1 comes out on May 13th via WeePOP! Records and it has a few titles, though—to keep it simple—we have taken to referring to it as Twee Blues Vol. 1. So there will probably be a volume 2 at some point, but this installment goes by We Are Cool Just Rolling and also An Awesome Weekend and a Sunday Morning in Gary’s Basement with Brad and Brad and Gary and Bill. I don’t know why it ended up with so many titles, other than that is how I liked it. 

Where did you get all of these titles? 

I took the "we are cool just rolling" part from a William Burroughs book that I was trying to read (Nova Express) on Smittens tour a couple weeks after the first session for the record. It just seemed to fit with our process of making the album. We had a couple rehearsals before we headed into Marlborough Farms to record with Gary Olson [of Ladybug Transistor], and we did most of the basic tracks on Saturday afternoon and the last three the next morning. 

The other title is more fun for me. I find it amusing that there are two Brads on the record— (Brad Searles [Essex Green] on drums and Brad San Martin [One Happy Island] on bass and a few other things—and I liked the idea of putting everybody’s names on the cover. “Twee Blues” is taken from an old thread on the IndiePages board. It was, like, the thread that went on forever and wouldn’t die.

This is going to be one of WeePOP!'s last releases? 

Before we made the record, I had gotten word from Camila that WeePOP! was winding down but that she was still up for putting out another release from me before she was all done. She pretty much said she would put out anything I wanted her to, and I told her I wanted to do a full-length album on vinyl. So we pretty much just went for it.

Camila is one of the most supportive label folks ever, and I wanted to make her proud and give her the awesomest record I could make. I hope people love it as much as I do, but I’m not too worried about it. 

What was your vision for the record?

The general rule of thumb I had in terms of decision making for the whole project was that I wanted to make whatever record I wanted to make and that I was the only person who had to like it. By reminding myself of this plan, I found I was able to stay away from second guessing what other people would like and really went with whatever I wanted to hear. 

The Brads agreed to support me in this plan, and we worked together to make the songs sound good, and they really helped me carry out my vision and were super easy to work with. They were open to trying whatever I asked them to and are, in general, both easygoing and super talented, and we did everything in one or two takes.

What are the songs like? 

The songs themselves are near and dear to my heart and don’t strike me as particularly “twee,” and none of them sound like blues songs, either. 

For the most part they do have fairly simple chord structures, and I played slide guitar on some of the songs, even though I was just learning how to play slide. So it still has a bit of the energy and excitement that you can get when you are trying to do something that you are still learning to do and when people record songs before they know them too well.

It pretty much sounds like a Colin Clary record. And we should all feel lucky that it wasn’t called Crazy Uncle Colin Fun Time.

You're one of the few people, like me, who seems to like the word "twee." What does twee mean to you? 

Beat Happening, Cub, Six Cents and Natalie, the Softies. That is the wavelength I’m most on in my heart when I think of when I first heard the term. 

So, my first encounter that word was totally positive. I thought it just meant small-scale bands that were awesome and who made personal songs that made you feel like it was something so accessible. And undeniably good songs. And like something you, too, could do. 

The thing I hate about "twee" is having to explain it, because—kinda like religion—everyone has a different take on what it means or what it refers to. It can be a pretty big umbrella. It’s not worth it to me to get too worked up about, because I don’t see it as an insult when I say it and I don’t even know what it means either. I certainly don’t think "twee" means trying to be cute. I don’t actually like intentionally cute music. I wouldn’t call Belle & Sebastian twee, either. Watching people or listening to people try to be cute can be painful.

It makes me think of bands with good songs that sound easy to make up and play.

I suppose with being called "twee," wrongly tagged or not, you at least find yourself in a smaller corner of the indiepop neighborhood where folks who might like what you do can find you.

It’s not a word I use very often. As I mentioned, "Twee Blues" was one of the longest threads on the IndiePages board back in the day. I always wanted to do something with that phrase, and then one day I realized it suited what I was doing. I was a little hesitant to use it at first, but then I decided to not worry about what other people might think.

Why do you think the word elicits such strong negative reactions? 

There are a lot of ways to be dismissive of things you don’t like, and I think that the folks who would write off something as "twee" or for being called "twee" are not necessarily part of my target audience anyhow. To use it as a pejorative is just a shortcut, using what I feel can be too broad of a term. When I hear people use it negatively, I generally take it to mean that they think something is overly cute or forced cute or playing at childishness or annoyingly limp or poorly played. I find all of those things to be not that awesome, as well. I like to think of the twee spirit that I do like as something optimistic in the face of overwhelming odds, or imbued with radical gentleness. That’s more where I’m at.

In addition to your solo recordings, you're in a ton of other bands. What's the latest news with all of these groups that you're in? 

This year we’ve all been working on making new recordings, and there will be new things out from the Smittens and Let’s Whisper in the not-too-distant future. Let’s Whisper has a 10-inch titled As Close As We Are coming out on WeePOP! next month on June 24th, and we’ve lately been rehearsing for some live shows, including a release party show that will have us hosting Heathers, Sleepyhead, and the Spook School. Our drummer, Brad Searles, masterminded that lineup and we are looking forward to it. Ours will be the last release ever from WeePOP! It will help to close out the label on a sweet note.

The Smittens have also been doing a lot of recording lately. We currently don’t all live in the same town, so at some point we decided that we would be more effective just putting live shows on hold until we could get some new material recorded. We kept setting up recording weekends and then trying to squeeze in shows, which then also required rehearsals, and it really slowed down the recording process. So now we are coming to the end of that phase.

We’ve only got a few songs left to get recorded for our next album, and we are releasing a 10-inch six-song record as the single for the album. We are finalizing the mixes right now, and the plan is for that to be released in time for our summer touring plans. And then we should have the full album out some time after that. Fika Recordings is putting that stuff out, and Tom at Fika is great to work with. As far as touring goes, we are still sorting out the details of where we are going.

(Go to part 2.)

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