Music Features

New for 2012: Clock Opera

Recognition has been a long time coming for London’s Clock Opera. Picked out as a band to watch as early as 2009, it’s not until this year that they’ll finally release their debut album. That said, it’s looking like it’s coming at a perfect time, Clock Opera’s cut n’ paste approach to songwriting – feeding in bits of rock, synth-pop and modern classical – fits in comfortably in our brave new world of cross-genre pollination. Clock Opera are perfectly positioned to take 2012 by storm.

Craig Stevens caught up with Guy from the band to talk about the past twelve months, the new album and gigs in some more unusual parts of the world.

So, how was 2011 for Clock Opera?

Pretty amazing, really. We've had a couple of singles out, we've finished our album and we've played quite a few shows with some brilliant bands. We did a quick count up the other day actually – we've been to eight countries this year that we hadn't been to before. So all round, it's been pretty great.

And what's been your favourite moment of the year?

I guess it was probably one of the last shows we did, which was playing at the Paris Olympia with Metronomy. I think there were about 3,000 people – obviously, all their fans! But by the end, it felt like quite a few of them might be fans of ours too. It was a stunning venue. They put everybody's names up in lights outside the venue. So if you put your hands over Metronomy's name, you could imagine that it's all working out!

Is that one of the biggest crowds you've played to, other than at festivals?

Indoors, I think that's definitely the biggest one. And it was full – everyone had arrived in time to see us, so that was pretty amazing. Finishing our album too has got to be a highlight.

Have you just finished recording, or has the mixing been completed too?

It's totally in the bag. We're just finishing artwork, but the music's in a box and it's all done. We're very excited.

Have you got any festivals booked for 2012, or is it a bit early for that?

I think it's a bit early for that. We've got a couple of shows in London lined up and we're playing at this festival in January called Eurosonic in Holland, which I'm told is where lots of people who book festivals go and check bands out. So we're in training to put on a good show at that, and then hopefully, then we'll pop up at a load of European festivals.

What do you prefer?  Playing to a festival crowd, supporting an established band or headlining your own show in a smaller venue?

They're all totally different, really, because of the associated expectations. Our first interaction with Metronomy was across an 800m long field when we played with them at Wireless. They were on the main stage and we were on a smaller stage at the other end of the site. But from where I was standing I could see them. We started at the same time and we started playing our first song in time with their kick drum! So it's a totally different experience. But you never know whether anybody's going to come and see you at a festival. And we were really excited that people did.

When I saw you at Latitude last year, I was expecting much more of an electronic feel to your set given your interest in electronica, the style of the music that's been released to date and the remixes that you've done as well, but it had quite a “band” feel. Is that something you've worked on consciously, with a view to appealing to a wider audience, or has it just developed that way?

It's just developed that way – because we are a band, really. The remixes I do on my own, so that's going to feature less. I guess that they're for a different purpose, to explore different avenues. But we've grown and developed as a band quite a lot over the last year as well, particularly in the process of making our album. We spent more time together than we had done before, working stuff out. So I think that's a natural consequence of it, and one that really works. One that makes it come alive, especially when we're playing gigs. So was that a good surprise for you? What did it make you think?

It was just very different. Because I’m a huge fan of the remixes I did expect more of an electronic sound. But having said that, even though it wasn't what I was expecting, it was the performance that I enjoyed most at Latitude.

That's great, thanks. I love all those electronic tricks that come with a remix, and examining sounds under the microscope using a laptop. But I don't really like it when people stand there and press buttons and recoil their fingers and make some kind of show out of it. I always feel like that there's something missing where there's electronic music which doesn't really connect with you as a human being, except to make you dance or think “that sounds cool”. For me, there's got to be more of a human angle. And I guess for people like you who met us through the remixes, there's quite a fundamental shift in what we do live as a band, because it's all songs. You might just look at a remix and think what I've done with it is what we are, whereas I think what we are is more about combining those things with our own songs and what we've got to say ourselves.

On the subject of remixes, how happy are you to let other people remix your own songs? Are there a lot of remixes in the pipeline, now that the album's recorded, or is there a chance that you might end up doing remixes of your own songs?

The others have suggested that I do that, and I like my remixes too! But there are difficulties I have with that. Partly because of the amount of time I've spent with the songs already; writing and then producing them. So I don't come to it with the fresh excitement of loading up somebody else's properly-recorded mixed stems and then get hacking. But also, the way that I write and make the music that goes into the songs or starts things off in the samples might use some of the same processes. So it would feel a bit like remixing a remix! We're just trying all different things, chucking them out and seeing how people respond. I don't think anybody really likes just one type of music any more. I hope there won't be a problem with people who like the remixes now not liking what the band does. But that's what's been happening anyway – people get to meet us through one avenue and get to see the other side. So from wherever you come, there's a different thing to see, which I think is quite good.

Clearly, the band is multi-faceted and we know that you have lots of different interests and capabilities and that we might see something different from you in future, which is really exciting. So what can we expect from the album, what sort of sound have you gone for?

Some of the tracks that we've released will be on there; they show some of the range. The difference between Belongings and Lesson No. 7 is fairly wide. And, I guess, a wider range of lyrical exploration within that as well. We're just really excited to be able to put together all the different sides of our sound into the same place and see what people make of them altogether. That's what we're looking forward to most.

And aside from the album release, what else are you hoping for from 2012? Is a headline tour on the cards?

I'm sure we're going to be doing a tour around our album, at the very least. It's pretty much down to how much people like it. You can make your stuff and put it out there. And if people want to hear it, then we'll come and play for them wherever they are, be that Madagascar or Vanuatu. I think that's probably one of our biggest hopes – that we get some strange request from some nation that we’d otherwise never go to!

No Ripcord is an international website, so maybe we can make that happen!

That's great. How's your traffic in Vanuatu?! [Editor’s note: not particularly amazing]

You obviously enjoy listening to music as well as creating and remixing music. What was your favourite album of 2011?

The record I keep going back to after first hearing it around the Mercury's is the King Creosote and Jon Hopkins one [Diamond Mine]. You know how sometimes albums just suck you in, and it's one whole piece that exists in its own little world? And you have to keep going back to listen to it to be part of that world. I really love albums that do that, and that was an album that just got you straight in there. And I just thought that there was a brilliant connection between his voice and his songs and the environmental sounds and the electronic sounds; that was that mesh done to a brilliant level. But I think there are loads of contenders for best album of 2011. Everybody reckons PJ Harvey's Let England Shake is the best of the year, by the look of it, and that was another big one. But King Creosote and Jon Hopkins would be my slightly different favourite one.

Who are you tipping for the top in 2012? Have you got any artists that you would ideally like to support you on your tour?

I don't know – we haven't really got that far yet! The one we've been saying a lot since we played with them in Newcastle is a band called Mammal Club who I don't think anybody much knows about yet. But I think they should, I think they're amazing. They're a really exciting live band, really amazing musicians – really intricate and the kind of musicians you watch and think “I'm not quite sure how you do that!”

What kind of music do they make?

There's a slight connection to the stuff that we sometimes bang on about – Steve Reich, Philip Glass and some of their sounds, but perhaps crossed with something more like Everything Everything. The intricacy of a maths band but with an attention to pop melodies.

Clock Opera’s debut album, Ways To Forget, is released on 9th April through Island.