It’s impossible to talk about New Zealand’s musical history without mentioning the venerable stable of Flying Nun Records, and it’s impossible to mention Flying Nun without referencing one of the label’s most revered outfits, The Clean. Over thirty years on from debut single ‘Tally-Ho’, the unkempt pop genius of The Clean resonates stronger than ever, with the band settling into a touring formation of Kilgour brothers David and Hamish alongside bassist Robert Scott in the past five years, enjoying a residual and long- overdue groundswell of newfound fandom. Speaking ahead of the band’s return to Australia, founding member David Kilgour looks back to rationalise The Clean’s staying power and resurgence.
You’re returning to Australia early next year for a run of dates. Is there much foresight beyond each tour?
Yeah it’s always one tour at a time. Sometimes we might go without keyboards, sometimes we might go with keyboards. Sometimes we might do a tour and say let’s experiment, and do more unknown tracks from the catalogue. It’s different every time. I just wonder how long we can go. I’m a typical artist, in a stage of becoming. The Clean’s a different thing. My main motivation is the solo stuff I do with The [Heavy] Eights, where The Clean only go on tour when we’re asked to, for a festival, then we’ll book a few little gigs around that, like in the US. But that’s how we’ve been operating the past few years.
Is it difficult for the three of you to align motivation?
The three of us love playing together. Before we get on the road it can be a case of “Here we go again”, but as soon as we get on stage, we just really love it. That’s what it’s based on, and we’re just really lucky people still want to see us play.
There has seemed to be a resurgence in your popularity in the past ten years or so. Can you put that down to the accessibility of the internet?
I think the internet’s definitely helped. With America, you can go right back to [1990 album] Vehicle. That was a later LP, really, we reformed to make Vehicle. That got across to a lot of people in America. There’s always been the interest since then. I think when Merge [Records] put out the anthology in America and Europe on CD, about ten years ago now, that definitely started to change things. But it’s weird, it’s still growing. Every time we go back to America we play slightly bigger crowds and slightly bigger clubs with slightly better offers. It’s an incremental development, getting bigger every year. Last American tour, some of the shows were just playing to kids. Well, when I say kids I mean people in their early 20s. And they’ve only just discovered The Clean, and they’re fanatics, they know all about Flying Nun. I ask them when they discovered us and they say, “Oh, a few months ago”. It’s still going on, it’s really endearing.
Though The Clean haven’t had widespread popularity, there has been that tangible influence on a lot of bands in the past few decades.
There’s still a wee bit of that, which is good. In America – which is our biggest fanbase, if you’ll call it that – Yo La Tengo had a lot to do with that, they would drop our names. The whole thing with America, especially with my solo stuff, is to do with Yo La Tengo. There are other connections. It’s pretty mind blowing, if you’ll put it that way, that people want to see The Clean play, and we get flown to the other side of the world in Spain. It just blows my mind. But at the same time, it’s been a slow build up [laughs].
Will that translate into new recorded material in the future?
We’ll never say no. There are no plans, and there haven’t been any plans for a while. We just take every year as it comes.
There was the tragic loss of Peter Gutteridge [Snapper, The Clean] in September this year. Back in February, he joined The Clean on stage for your Wellington show.
That’s right, and he joined us for a couple of shows in Dunedin before that. Peter’s always been a good mate, and we’d always been in touch. He was a dear old friend, he really was. It’s just a reminder of how fickle life can be.
And around that time of those shows you played Camp A Low Hum during a torrential downpour, with a huge stage invasion at the end.
Oh wow, you saw that show? That was crazy. That was such a cool gig, one of the most fun gigs we’ve done.
It was crazy as a fan onstage, what was it like as a performer?
Ha, well what do you think? I’m a middle aged man, then all of a sudden all these young fans are on stage. Fuck, that’s one of the best gigs we’ve ever done as The Clean. We just loved that show, it was magic. Just a joyous celebration, that’s what we want The Clean to be. Just go nuts if you want to.
Are you in touch with current underground Kiwi music?
There’s some great stuff happening here. It’s tough to keep in touch with what’s happening. Camp A Low Hum is a great example, I really wanted to see all the bands, but it was such a shitty day in terms of weather. But there is so much happening, especially with underground and DIY music. With what [A Low Hum founder] Blink has done, he’s just a fucking asset to this country. And good on him for doing it.