CLAPS released their first full-length album, Wreck, last year – We put it on our top ten list. They will be playing at Hymie’s on Sunday along with Brief Candles, a band from Milwaukee. This week they spent an hour sitting in the shop so we could talk about their music.
(“Across the Floor”)
Dave: The first thing I wanted to ask you about is that people get details wrong but people also get the bigger picture wrong, and that there’s not an accurate description of what CLAPS is. And so to get it out of the way, here’s your opportunity to say what CLAPS is.
Jed: It’s hard to say when you’re in it exactly where it is and also it’s hard to say that without sounding pretentious, but I can definitely say where it started and where it’s gone
I can say that when CLAPS started and we decided to form the band that we liked a lot of straight up synth pop stuff – like John Fox is kind of as weird as it got in a lot of ways.
John Fox, OMD, Depeche Mode, Gary Numan. That’s a lot of what I was listening to at the time. I was also starting to listen to a lot of weirder stuff, more of like the minimal synth stuff, the more rare kind of music. And so I didn’t really want to start doing that right off the bat. I was more interested in doing something more kind of poppy, if you will. And so what I think CLAPS is in short is that we’re doing a minimal synth set-up but we’re doing our own sound that leans more towards pop.
And I think a lot of it leans on the fact that Pat is the kind of singer that he is. We didn’t just decide to drench everything in tons of reverb, and have everything be dark. I like the idea of having lots of melody and droning less.
Patrick: I think the two takes that we most often hear is that we’re new wave revival, or post new wave revival, or that we’re a minimal synth band, but strangely enough we’re not really either of those. At the same time we’re very into both of them.
Jed: We’re fans of both of them.
Patrick: Yeah, we like the music in both but we’ve never fit into a mold.
[Regular customer Jimez comes into the shop at this point.]
Dave: So really rare synth pop, where are you finding this?
Jed: There were a few different places where I found it, but that term gets thrown around a lot …
For me, a lot of that came from and I grew up listening to a lot of synth pop like Depeche Mode and stuff like that. Pat, when we were about nineteen got me into Fat Gadget and
Patrick: When we were in college we lived in St. Paul and we’d go to the Cheapo warehouse where they have the dollar records. I could read a bunch of blogs and compile lists of records that I wanted to hear – then I’d have my list of a hundred records and cross them off each time I found them. And I’d go to the dollar thing and get five and cross them off.
Jed: We had a thing we would do – this was before we were into minimalist snyth, and we were just looking for new wave stuff – was my litmus test. We’d go through the dollar bins and there were three tests: if the cover looked cool, if was before 1983, and if it had no saxophone. Then it was bought. That usually said it was going to be kind of weird.
Patrick: Or at least have something weird on it.
Jed: You’d see something weird like theremin or you see a list of snyths on it.
Dave: So that’s what you would buy.
Jed: Yeah, if it had no saxophone, it was before 1983, and the album art looked like that was … and they had a name like Nine Ways to Win.
Although I think they had a saxophone.
Patrick: Yeah, they had a saxophone. But they were one of my favorite bands. They had one record and a video that we could never find.
Jed: I found it years later though -
Patrick: Yeah, and we were obsessed with it. For one whole month it was the only record we listened to.
Jed: Which was weird.
Patrick: Both sides were just so-
Dave: Do you still have this record?
Patrick: Oh, absolutely! I love it!
Dave: Well now I have to hear it.
Patrick: We digitized it and my friend put it online, and strangely enough I weirdly found our version in another place, which was awesome. That’s my crappy, crappy dub bing of that record!
There was stuff like that that we’d find and say ‘This is awesome!’
Or ‘This is terrible!’
Jed: Yeah, there’s some real bad records. That did not always work out well.
Patrick: It was a mix. That was where we started to say we should do a snyth band. Let’s get analog synthesizers.
Jed: I didn’t live in 1980 or 1981, so I didn’t realize there were pop stars who were doing that sort of snyth sound on a much smaller scale. There were bands that didn’t make it because they sang in French, or they sang in Spanish. This was the first time I realized this might be a bigger genre and there might be a lot of bands I’ve never heard of before.
[Jimez – remember Jimez? – leaves a couple dollars on the counter while we’re talking and tells me he bought a record. I encourage him to come and see CLAPS on Sunday.]
Dave: That reminds me of one of the other things I wanted to talk about. You have played and done really well on the east coast. And something you’ve said is that it was a great experience to play on a bill of bands that were like yourselves, instead of with a bunch of rock bands like Brief Candles.
So the question is who are some of these bands that you played with that you enjoyed. Who would people who loved Wreck like to hear next?
Sara: In New York we played with Xeno & Oaklander, who we were fans of before playing with them. That was an amazing show and we lucked out. And then, who was the other band?
Jed: Led Er Est.
Sara: We played with them in New York and they were bigger bands that we heard of already, and we were in love with them. We were like, ‘how are we playing with them? This is amazing!’
And then we’ve played with a few smaller bands like Branes and Os Ovni. So there’s a few bands that are similar to us.
Jed: There’s a record label called Wierd Records and, there’s a few other bands on Captured Tracks. Those labels are putting out a lot of cold wave or minimal synth stuff.
[Dave helps a customer and CLAPS talks about good shows and bad ones. During this time somebody anonymous comes into the shop to ask Dave to buy her beer.]
Dave: I didn’t get to go to your New Year’s show because we coiuldn’t get a sitter, and I wanted to see you do a cover set of New Order songs. Why New Order?
Sara: The Turf actually asked us to play New Order.
Jed: Which makes sense. I think people think of us as being like New Order, especially in our set up now where Sara plays bass.
People like New Order a lot, and I think when they hear us it reminds them of that.
Sara: They don’t always know what we’re trying to sound like, but they do know New Order so that’s what they go to.
Jed: That’s like any dark band. ‘Oh, it’s kind of Joy Division, Cure like’. Those are the bigger, dark electronic bands. I’m really happy that people aren’t like
Jed: Yeah, I’m glad that’s not what people hear when they hear us.
Patrick: That was our greatest fear.
Jed: The one thing we never wanted to do is sound like an EBM band.
So the Turf Club asked us, and we’re all New Order fans.
Sara: We had our friend Teddy [Borth] from Pat’s old band Austin Scarlett drum and then Ollie [Moltaji] from Gospel Gossip play guitar.
Dave: Now I’m even more disappointed I missed it. How did you pick the songs?
Patrick: We had to do “Blue Monday” and we had to do “Bizarre Love Triangle” – and those were the two.
Sara: We tried to stick to songs that were fun to play live and not have a lot of sequencing because that’s not so fun for people to watch.
And also my bass was a short scale so I couldn’t play some of Peter Hook’s parts.
Dave: You kind of had the hardest job, playing his parts.
Sara: “Bizarre Love Triangle” was so much fun to learn. And I felt like I had just improved my bass playing by ten times, just learning that song.
[Dave helps a customer again. CLAPS discusses how awesome Sara played Peter Hooks bass lines and then dogs and cats. They never discuss dogs vs. cats though. I’m sorry I didn’t ask.]
Jed: In our early years people would say ‘You’re playing analog snyths, and you like new wave stuff. You guys are totally retro revival’ They wanted us to do covers, and so we kept away for it from a while.
Dave: If you could do a cover set and get away with it, what would you do?
Jed: That’s tough.
Patrick: Yeah, that’s tough.
Sara: We have a few covers that we whip out once in a while. We do “Isolation” by Joy Division, and for our friend’s birthday party we did “Funeral Party” by the Cure. And then we did “Goodbye Horses”.
We always struggle with if we should do covers that people will know so they have fun, or if we should do what we know.
Dave: There are a couple of songs like “House” on Wreck that are melodically complex and that suggest more external influences. CLAPS seems to have a progression towards more melodic and complex songs. Are you going to keep going that way, and what’s driving that?
Sara: Jed’s brain.
Sara: Jed listens to a lot of classical music. That could be influencing you.
Jed: Yeah, but I don’t listen to that much. I do listen to some.
Sara: And Morricone.
Jed: Yeah, I listen to a lot of stuff. I rotate through my life. I grew up listening to a lot of punk rock stuff, and death rock – you know Batcave kind of goth 80s stuff – and I also like a lot of 60s film score stuff like Ennio Morricone. And I think that’s where I get some of that. I listen to a lot of – and I had to come to terms with calling it this when I was younger – new age music, like Tomita and Jean Michele Jarre. That’s synth stuff but it’s super melodic, and it’s got movements like classical.
(“Book of Love”)
Dave: The reason I ask is that when we do our monthly show at the Turf Club and we bring in a guest DJ, one thing that gets picked a lot is “Book of Love”. There’s something about “Book of Love” that I think comes down to the melody.
Patrick: I think that part of that is that we’re all fans of pop music in it’s many forms. We first wrote that song and it needed another part. There’s one motion and there’s something missing.
Jed: There was no bass at that point.
Patrick: And once we started writing the record we thought we should revisit that song. And it had been a year since we thought about it, and we played it once and thought it sounded great.
It took a lot for us to become comfortable in our songwriting to write a song that was not necessarily simple, but not complex.
Jed: I think that’s a lesson that we’re still learning. That song is one chord progression that repeats for the whole song. It’s very minimal. It’s maybe even more minimal than our other songs.
I think it’s easy to say ‘this riff is cool, what’s the B riff.’ But that’s not always the way.
Dave: Eric, our sound engineer here at Hymie’s was really excited that CLAPS was one of the next bands coming to the shop. I think there were two reasons – one is that it’s interesting and challenging, and I think the other is that he likes your album.
So I’m wondering whether you’ve had trouble with engineers, and with venues to get the sound you need to perform.
Patrick: I think it’s worth stressing that when we started this band we wanted it to be a live band. We wanted to write songs that we could play. So we had to find a way to play it live.
Jed: We were always thinking about how to approach sound engineers because we didn’t want to be a burden. But we were a burden at the beginning because we had more DI’s than normal, and a bunch of synths going in. And I was
Sara: On an analog snyth each tone has a different volume.
Jed: So for instance my Arp ax synth has no volume control, no knob if you will. You basically slide the sliders to change the sound but that also changes the output volume so you have to manage that with the sound you create.
It’s going to be difficult for sound guys. There’s some places where there’s going to be guys who just don’t get it.
Patrick: We’ve only had that once or twice.
Jed: We don’t have to deal with this much anymore. There’s occasionally a guy who’s not interested in what you’re doing and not interested how it sounds.
Dave: Do you think it requires more than a rock band like, say, Is/Is?
Jed: Now I use a mixer on stage for all my synths so they’re just getting one thing – That’s that guy’s snyths, and that’s her bass, and that’s his vocals. They don’t’ have to watch so much what I’m playing, because I’m doing a lot of my personal mixing on stage.
Patrick: We also live in a really electro-friendly town, just in general.
Dave: Do you think that you ask more of an audience, as a live band?
Patrick: To pay attention?
Dave: Yeah, if you’re minimalist are you asking the listener to bring something to the experience?
Jed: I think we’re accessible. It’s not like “Clapping Music” where the song is about how you play with rhythm. We’re not minimal in that sense. I don’t think it requires any sort of studious activity to enjoy our music.
Sara: We really like it when people dance.
Jed: It’s pretty danceable. Evidence of people dancing is proof that people can enjoy it.
Patrick: Also, for being minimalists most of our songs are pop standard 330. That’s the length of the song – you get the whole idea.
Sara: We actually just finished our tape for Moon Glyph just two days ago.
Dave: You guys are going to do a tape for Moon Glyph?! That’s more interesting than anything I had to ask about! Are you mixing it?
Sara: We’re going to mix it after our show, with Brief Candles maybe.
Jed: Ollie recorded it, and we all kind of helped.
Sara: He’s gonna master it, too.
Jed: So Ollie’s going to mix and master it and we’re going to get it to Moon Glyph. It could be out in the spring soon.
Sara: Steve [Rosborough, who runs Moon Glyph] is awesome to work with, too.
Jed: He’s super laid back, and positive and into it.
Sara: He has his hand on what’s going on and he knows his stuff.
Jed: And looking forward, like you were asking, we can talk about where we’re going. It’s a mix of things. There’s a song on the tape that’s kind of like “House” where there’s a pop melody going on, and songs that are more broken down down like “Across the Floor.”
Sara: And some more punker songs. Which are fun for us.
Jed: And a more post-punk sort of sound, angular I guess.
Sara: It was really fun to write.
Patrick: Steve asked us to do it so long ago, but we were like ‘We have to get the full length done first’ …
It’s sort of become a continuation of what we’re doing.
Jed: Steve knew when we first started that we wrote some weirder songs that didn’t end up on the album … that’s what the tape was going to be.
As that two years went by we kind of -
Sara: We got a hold of what we’re doing. What we wanted to do.
Jed: And with the addition of the bass, and that we liked that, we decided that was what we were going to do.
Patrick: Instead of Wreck, which is half and half.
Dave: So this is changing your live sets, too.
Jed: Yeah, but [the tape] didn’t end up a super avant garde version of what we do.
I’m excited to hear it. We wrote the songs and we’ve been playing them but I haven’t really got to listen to it.
CLAPS will play with Brief Candles here at Hymie’s on Sunday afternoon at about 3 pm. It will be their second performance here in the shop.