Here come the young men. An interview with The Clockworks
Updated: Nov 15, 2022
Ahead of the last date on the Irish leg of their tour, James, Tom and Sean from the band fill us in on what's happened since they last played their hometown. And what's next for this Galway gang of four.
December 6 2019. The last time The Clockworks played in their hometown of Galway (although Tom is from Limerick originally). And what a three years since then. As another Clockwork related writer put it "to devastate is easier and more spectacular than to create."
And so it seems as we lurch from crisis to crisis. And yet there is always hope. You find it where you can and you could do worse than put your faith in the pounding, angular observations of four young men who take their music very seriously.
I sat down in the Róisín Dubh green room with The Clockworks' bass player Tom, guitarist Sean and frontman James and started by asking then how the previous night's gig had gone in Listowel's now legendary Mike The Pies.
A brilliant night is the consensus with Tom asserting "it was the best fun I've had all tour, smallest stage, smallest venue, packed in like sardines, people knocking over pedals and I've missed that." Let's not forget they have supported Pixies in the US recently - Mike The Pies has a capacity of 100.
This leads me to ask how they get along together given that they moved to London and lived, wrote, recorded and toured together. Sean relates "well we now live as two twos, but even when we moved, we followed each other from one part of London to another." I note that one of the things I love about the band is their gang mentality, with their 'we're all in this together mentality'. Sean again "we always loved that, the bands we loved always felt like they were gangs. We were friends first, we've never had an argument in all the years we've known each other. We are all quite relaxed."
As gig time approaches in the Róisín, I ask how the venue seemed to them when they were teenagers in Galway. "It was the place to play" confirms Sean - "and the place we couldn't get into" quips James. He continues "Scroobius Pip played and I got a friend tickets for his 18th birthday. I was not 18 and desperately trying to get in to my first gig in the Róisín as I would have had no chance until then. I got in eventually"
Sean then reveals that he played in a battle of the bands contest there when he was 13 - on drums. The name of the band? Vengeance. We'll draw a veil over his metal days.
And so they circle. Tom moves to university in Galway, the centrifuge of music draws them into the same orbit, their atoms collide and The Clockworks spring to life. And now they gig, gig and gig. I ask about their seemingly relentless schedule and Sean jumps in. "It's pretty much relentless everything - every aspect. If it's not gigging it's recording, if it's not recording it's writing. Everything you can imagine - interviews!" Tom concurs "it's the most gigs and the most rehearsals we have ever done this year - 70 something gigs by December."
We talk about the things they notice changing as they have grown and become better known. Crowds wearing old Clockworks t-shirts, knowing all the words and for James "I love that feeling when you start a note and people know what's coming." The ultimate though is the set list battle. "People used to ask for the set lists quite politely. We noticed on this tour once the last song starts to play, the hands are going in and taking them off (stage). They don't even ask anymore."
And so from gigs to recording. They have produced a blistering run of singles and I ask if this is a conscious decision, rather than releasing an album. Yes is the unanimous answer and Sean continues "we always thought there's no point putting out an album if we haven't done the groundwork, the gigs, to engage the people that are going to buy it. We didn't want to put out an album until we knew there were enough people who wanted to hear it and until we were ready. For years people have been asking 'when's the album' and we always just said next year."
It sounds like album is going to be well worth waiting for, as Tom throws us a teaser. "An album can be, if you want it to be, more than 14 songs, it can be greater than the sum of its parts." James adds "in a World where commercially albums aren't what they were, you are more liberated to do something that transcends 12 or 13 individual songs." Sounds promising. There will also be songs you've never heard before as they tell me there is a track with a place on the album which has been 5-6 years in the making as James just couldn't finish the lyrics.
I also mention how their sound is developing, particularly with reference to latest single Advertise Me which has a more widescape, epic feel to it. Tom asks me straight back do I know why and I hazard a guess at the producer. "It's the studio - Abbey Road studio 3. I didn't use my usual equipment for example - I used theirs." Sean continues "even though it's the smallest room, it's 5 times bigger than any studio we have used before and the drum sound is so good." Same producer, different room. What a joy to hear the difference the legendary Abbey Road makes. They have two other tracks recorded in the same session which we haven't heard yet. They are treating us.
Although the band work up the tracks together, albeit in different ways, the lyrics are currently exclusively written by James. Does he permit himself a pat on the back when he comes up with a standout line? "Probably, maybe, well yes! We are not going to write music we don't like and equally I am not going to write words I don't enjoy myself. The lines you are referring to, I call them punchlines."
I often wonder about the dynamics in a group when one person is solely responsible for one aspect of the songs. Sean puts my mind at ease "we hear the songs before any one else and we get that same joy of hearing a nice little quip, cos he's had it for 6 months and he's finally ready to give it to us and he plays the song and we're like..." he pulls a happy face. "Yep a nice feeling" agrees James "always great playing for the first time for the boys and see what the reaction is." How sound is this band?
Very it turns out as the discussion moves onto the beauty of vinyl as a tangible piece of art which should be treated as such, both by artist and listener. "It's the tactility" asserts James. "As we evolve digitally we have kept a love for it - maybe nostalgically..." The others disagree on the nostalgia element, citing their love for cinema as superior to the streaming experience. And also the scarcity part of not having every song ever in your collection, and the time and effort involved in playing it. It's the experience.
As soundcheck looms, I drop in a big question about their experience of being Irish living in London. This is prompted by an interview Fontaines DC frontman Grian Chatten gave to Steve Lamacq in which he highlighted unsavoury, if not outright racist, experiences they had had since moving to England. Sean: "I heard that interview and I was quite surprised as I for one hadn't experienced any of that but I might be slightly less social than them. Any experiences I have had have been all positive - except maybe for some ignorance towards Irish history. Yeah more ignorance than badness." (As someone brought up in the UK, this may be explained by the total lack of any teaching around the nuances and dynamics of the English occupation and subjugation of Ireland. And the rest of the 'empire'. No excuse not to educate yourself though.) Tom chimes in "I thought in America we had more jokes about the Irish" and then tells us one that is so pitifully weak it hardly qualifies as an insult. Still, not nice to hear though.
We finish on a more upbeat note as I reflect on their ability to hold up a mirror to the absurdities and oddities of everyday, modern life - and I mention England specifically. James tells me "yes and no... we used to try and make the songs feel like they could be anywhere." However he then hesitates before continuing "in our minds, we do have them all set in specific, different locations." As I ask if that is a conscious part of the songwriting process Tom hints that I am getting very close to uncovering a Clockworks secret.
Some things are best left unknown and as I ask what's coming next, we close the interview with a return to the album. "Well it's coming next year" laughs Sean before we learn that the songwriting is done, there's no more to add to it, it's a matter of finishing off the recording. Tom's take is "I can't wait to finish it, and to find out the answer to your question - what's going to come after that? When it comes out it will make us feel a certain way and that will influence the next one." They all agree that they too are intrigued about what's to come.
What a pleasure to spend time in their company. It strikes me later how ironic their name is. Anything clockwork needs to be wound up and set in motion. This most hard working of bands are constantly in motion and know exactly where they are going. I highly recommend joining them for the journey.
You can listen to our podcast with James here
Big thanks to Julia Mason for setting up the interview
Upcoming tour dates
NOV 16 WED Fifty Lab @ 7:00pm Bruxelles, Belgium
NOV 17 THU Paradiso @ 7:00pm Amsterdam, Netherlands
DEC 7 WED Club Manufaktur @ 7:00pm Schorndorf, Germany
DEC 8 THU Bumann & SOHN @ 7:00pm Köln, Germany
DEC 9 FRI Molotow @ 7:00pm Hamburg, Germany
DEC 10 SAT Badehaus Berlin @ 7:00pm Berlin, Germany
DEC 12 MON Café V lese @ 7:00pm Praha, Czech Republic
DEC 13 TUE Beatpol @ 7:00pm Dresden, Germany
DEC 14 WED TheaterBar Heppel & Ettlich @ 12:00pm Munich, Germany
DEC 15 THU 806qm @ 7:00pm Darmstadt, Germany
DEC 16 FRI Cafe Glocksee @ 7:00pm Hanover, Germany
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