Imagine your luck. You're a little-known quartet from Liverpool, formed in the throb of Britpop's hangover and without much of a scene to call your own. After a few years struggling, your vibrant debut, 2001's Internal Wrangler, somehow lands in Thom Yorke's lap, whose band, the glob-trotting Radiohead, you promptly tour with, and whose adoration blends with that of critics and fans to send you into the stratospheres of indie glory. All the tongue-lapping garners you a Grammy nomination the following year for your sophomore effort, Walking With Thee, and much of the record-buying public can suddenly imagine four grown men in medical scrubs and surgical masks playing guitars on stage just as easily as they can picture them operating on their grandmothers. Such has been Clinic's serendipitous rise, and though the craze surrounding the band's debut has passed, their third LP, this year's Winchester Cathedral, reminds listeners what critics wouldn't shut up about four years ago -- a singular blend of early-60s British psychadelia, post-punk and psychosis. Ade Blackburn, the band's lead vocalist and keyboard player, sat down with us for a pre-show chat at Philadelphia's Theater of the Living Arts on the eve of their latest North American tour.
Prefix Magazine: Let's start at the beginning. How did the four of you meet in Liverpool and what were the circumstances surrounding that?
Clinic: The thing in Liverpool -- the music scene is sort of close-knit. There's only a few key venues or clubs really, and so we kind of met through mutual friends, knowing that our tastes were completely different from what was going on around us at the time -- the tail-end of the Britpop stuff, Oasis and all those bands. So I think it was inevitable that we were going to meet up and do something musical, just because our views on music were so different from what was going on.
PM: You guys got together around '97, right?
Clinic: Yeah, that's when we did our first single. PM: Off the top of my head, I can't think of anybody on either side of the Atlantic who sounds similar to you guys. When you guys were forming, were there any bands with a comparable sound? Was there any scene you felt akin to?
Clinic: The only band I could say that about as a whole -- 'cause we'd be taking bits [and] influences from different things -- wasn't so much an influence, but [used a similar method], would be Jonathan Fire*Eater, because they used slightly more discordant keyboards and the rhythms that don't really go [together]. PM: What do you think of the Walkmen these days?
Clinic: I preferred the vocalist in Jonathan Fire*Eater, but musically [the Walkmen] are the same kind of tack, so I think it's pretty clever the way its put together. PM: What are some bands now that are exciting for you guys to play with or listen to?
Clinic: I like Animal Collective and Oneida, because there's something more to it -- the rhythms in it, whether it be the drums or vocals. I think both sound different than standard indie rock -- it's more inventive than that. And from the song point-of-view, I like Devendra Banhart. PM: You've described your new album as being less reliant on computers and drum machines, and that it has more of an organic feel to it compared to Walking with Thee. What tracks do you think bring that out? How do you see that playing out on the album?
Clinic: I think it's got a sort of harder, rougher sound. We played it live, you know, as opposed to Walking with Thee, [which has] a more studio sound. It's cleaner, more polished. If you take the lead-off song, "Country Mile," it's just quite primitive sounding. It's just thumping -- floor-tom, bass drum. So there's more of a straight down to the basic side -- quite tribal and primitive. PM: What was the reason for this shift? Was this natural or did you really think about this consciously?
Clinic: Probably a bit of both. Whenever we've done a batch of recording, if we'd given it too much thought before hand, it wouldn't really work. It would be too sterile. But have we this sort of vague idea, but there's never any great concept behind it, it just turns out how it turns out.