the clear is the musical project of award winning Los Angeles poet (no, that is not a contradiction in terms) Matthew Niblock and his compatriots: Orange County guitar hero (neither is that) Mark Smith & harmony sluts Jennifer Hardaway & Steve Kruse. The band has happened, as opposed to being formed, over the last decade with front man Niblock flowing from one musical configuration to the next, always adding and subtracting musicians and back up singers with the vision of a chemist looking to cure something that has yet to be diagnosed. Musically comparable to REM and CSNY, the clear finds its inspiration in other artists who are dedicated to the craft such as Joan Armatrading, Paul Simon and Stephen Stills. the clear has an almost cult following of rabid fans, many artists and musicians themselves, which can be almost wholly attributed to Niblock’s charisma and talent. I spoke to Niblock via DSL recently and here’s what he had to say for himself.
CA: You have a long history in the music business. Tell me a little bit about that.
MN: Oh really…? Well I certainly have a long history in the independent music business. And independence is a good place to be, unless of course you crave fame, fortune and endorsement deals as much as I do. So I suppose you could say that I have a long history of striving to be in the bidness. Oh yeah, and I did sing on some records when I was a kid, but that is its own long tale, replete with conversion experiences, codeine cough syrup and redemption so let’s skip it…
CA: You recently had to change your band name from simply Clear, to The Clear, what’s up with that?
MN: Some evil, horrible, awful bastards already had the name. Did I mention evil, horrible and awful? (hey—can you be sued for libel for internet content? Hmmmmm. Intrigue.)
CA: And while we’re on the subject, aren’t you afraid with that name you might be associated with the Scientologists?
MN: Yeah, yeah, fuck them.
CA: the Clear is comprised of an amazing collection of extremely talented musicians. How did you come to collect them?
MN: I have serious dirt on all of them and I just keep threatening to go to the tabloids with it. Seems to be working so far. Um… the real answer is I don’t know exactly. They are all pretty fucking good, huh? Mark Smith and I started the band as an acoustic project lo these many years ago and it has steadily mutated since then. Everybody knows how much I respect them musically, and I think they feel the same way about me (except during rehearsals when I forget the words to songs and sing “la la la” instead). Plus what with that mutation thing I mentioned, we are all now involved with the sound and the songwriting; it’s not just me and Mark and a bunch of backing players, it’s, um, one of them…. band things.
CA: Why have you chosen to go the band route musically rather than the singer-songwriter route?
MN: Collaboration is an essential part of this art form for me. I ain’t as good on my own. I need help, help and more help. Besides, doesn’t everybody want to be in a band?
CA: Who writes the lyrics & music for the band?
MN: I write most of the lyrics although I have occasionally been known to collaborate (most recently with Steve Kruse, on “Lightning” and “Ghosts” from the new record). Usually I’m most comfortable working on lyrics myself, because the process is really very personal, but there is always the happy exception. The music is collaborative, written in a mind-numbing variety of ways by an ever -changing variety of band members, and the occasional outside ringer. Lately we are moving more towards writing collectively, but most often someone will bring in a chord change or two, and it will get adapted by whoever else happens to be at that writing session, you know, blah blah blah. Again, always exceptions: Steve Kruse brought in “Faith” complete, I just melodicized & lyricized; a song like “Lightning,” was begun years ago by me & my former brother-in-law (yep), Bay Area songwriter guy Peter Ford, and then given a new verse melody by Steve, and then given new verse lyrics after Steve said something to me about “paper, scissors, rock,” and all this in progress before, during and after the tracking. When we did lead vocals for that one, we had just finished that lyric that day, and I had to be walked through the verse line by line because I didn’t know the new melody yet…
CA: Your lyrics contain a lot of Christian religious references, but the music itself is not in any way Christian music. It seems like you have an uneasy yet ever present relationship with religion in your music and life…
CA: You are also a well-known poet in Los Angeles and beyond, but music seems to be your major artistic outlet. Why is that?
MN: Well, actually, I’ve been writing again, so we’ll see if that continues to be true. The simple truth, though, is that there’s a LOT MORE MONEY in pop music then there is in poetry, even pop poetry, as it were, and we are in it for the bucks, dontcha know?… as if we were ACTUALLY acquainted with any of that alleged loot yet, yeah, yeah, yeah. OR, alternate answer: Different media, different mood. Or even: Different mood. Different media.
CA: What’s going on with the band? You just had a limited release CD, and from what I understand that is selling out, you’ve got an MP3 site & have been featured around town…
MN: We’re on the verge BABY. Our new record, done with funds from our hotshit production deal (oooh) and produced by Eagles drummer Scott Crago, is done and being shopped to the people-with-ponytails even as we speak. We’re selling a limited pressing at shows and on the web. We’ve had some success and exposure on the Internet. We’ll be playing a buncha East Coast dates in July on Club Mp3.com’s 50-city tour. We got lotsa gigs in LA, acoustic here, electric there (we like to mix it up). You know, all the regular stuff. And, while we wait for the ponytails to do their thing, we’re writing, playing, rehearsing, recording all the time.
CA: What’s your goal as a band? Fame? Immortality?
MN: Immortality would be tough. I mean, you don’t usually encounter, say, happy vampires in literature, but fame, yeah, fame would be cool.
CA: What’s next for the Clear?