New Zealand's The Clean is so legendary that summing up their influence on indie rock in some pat intro paragraph seems almost a crime. So I'll mostly let David Kilgour, who called me last week from Los Angeles, do the talking. Just a bit more, first, though: his band, founded in the late '70s by Kilgour and brother Hamish, and rounded out by bassist Robert Scott, formed the foundation of the Dunedin Sound scene with releases like “Tally Ho!” and “Whatever I Do Is Right” on Flying Nun Records. The Clean has periodically reunited, made music and toured in the last three decades. Their latest release is the quadruple-LP Anthology, out on Merge now. They'll stop in Bloomington on Sunday.
On what sparks the occasional release and tour by The Clean:
“Just pure coincidence, usually sparks everything with The Clean these days. 'Oh, Hamish is in the country; oh, Robert is in the country! Let's get together and do a show, and why don't we write some more music.' And that's been the business plan ever since '77, really. It's interesting that we've carried on doing this, being so separate, because we don't see each other that often. Even Robert and I don't see each other that often; we don't need to. We might trade emails or phone calls. But that's one of the reasons it's kept it fresh, kept it part-time, an open book in some ways.”
On what he's listening to now:
“Last night, we were listening to Beachwood Sparks' last album while we were swimming in a desert river at one in the morning. That was very pleasing. On this tour, I've been listening to The War on Drugs for the first time; for a few years I've been pretty keen on Kurt Vile. I like the last Mazzy Star album.”
On what songs from Mister Pop they've got in their set:
“We've had difficulty playing some of that album, especially the synth-y, organ-y stuff. We never really pulled off any good versions of that stuff at all, wouldn't even try. I think we've only done about three songs off of that album live. Maybe Robert's one, “Asleep in the Tunnel." “In the Dreamlife U Need A Rubber Soul,” I really like playing that one. And even my Ray Davies-wannabe song, “Factory Man,” which is just a “write a song in five minutes David, because we need a new song,” song. Even that, I like it for its pure naiveté.
On the organ, (or lack thereof):
“We haven't got one yet! We might pick one up. We still have to buy some equipment for the tour. But we'll be looking out for a keyboard. I think we need to use it on tour. It's a good light and shade, doing the keyboard against the guitar stuff. So hopefully we'll have a keyboard by the time we see you.”
On their setlist:
“We still do a lot of the early stuff. We only do songs we still enjoy doing, but a lot of that is the early stuff. 'Getting Older,' 'Point that Thing,' 'Tally Ho!' sometimes. We do mix it up right across the board old and new, but the core of the set is that old stuff. We still love doing it.
On the legacy of Flying Nun Records:
"It probably peaked in 1982. And it peaked when it was still a cottage industry pretty much run by a bunch of friends up and down the country. It peaked pretty early for me, what it meant and what it did. But it was like a watering hole for musicians. Roger [LASTNAME] didn't really in those days go searching for acts. Musicians went to him, said, 'Hey, we're a band, and we want to put a record out' and that's how the label came to be, really."
On what he would do differently:
“It wouldn't be that different [if we started a band today]. Even when we started out, Hamish and I just thought we were goofing around. We didn't know how to play, we were just goofing around, really. And it came out of that. We still approach it the same day. I would be even less ambitious, perhaps. I would not expect any kind of return from it. But it would be something I would have to do, and I'd just go and do it.
On doing it themselves:
“We really wanted to let people know that you really could do it yourself. The whole post-punk philosophy. We bought our own van, we bought our own PA system, we booked our own tours. We did everything ourselves and it came out of that punk, do-it-yourself ethic. We really wanted to let people know that you really could. We didn't have a lot of shows. There was no rockstar bullshit. People, we're all equal.”