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Preparation Is Key: Clean Cut Kid's Building Blocks

Thursday, 12 November 2015 Written by Laura Johnson

Clean Cut Kid played their first gig only eight months ago. Yet here they are, hours removed from a set at Cardiff’s Undertone as part of Sŵn Festival, with headline slots at Reading and Leeds’ BBC Introducing Stage and a buzz-heavy breakthrough single, Vitamin C, already under their collective belt.

Precise details on their debut LP, though, remain shrouded in secrecy. A number of questions must be asked: Who exactly are Clean Cut Kid? Where did they come from? And what’s going on with that album? We spoke with Mike, Evelyn, Saul and Ross to find out.

So, let’s start at the beginning. How did Clean Cut Kid come together?

Mike: I met Evelyn three years ago. Evelyn was an artist in her own right and I was kinda putting the sound together and recording the stuff. We just started working together on it.

It was kind of electric, we were always trying to work the mad fuzz sound. That sound was there from the start even though there was only two of us. And I’d met Saul six years earlier when I was playing with another project and recording in a studio and I think you [Saul] were living in the rehearsal room below. When me and Ev were looking to pick up another person I was like: 'I met this guy, he’s really cool. I don’t know anything about him, or where he could be, but we should track him down.'

This sounds like bullshit, but it’s true. We were just out one night getting food and we just saw him stood at two o’clock in the morning busking in the centre of Liverpool. We walked up to him and said: 'Are you up for jamming and playing some stuff together?' He was like: 'Yeah, shall we do four in the morning?' I was like: 'No, let’s do a normal time tomorrow.' The next day we went to his rehearsal room and started jamming stuff out, and I think we’d only been playing together for a couple of weeks when we recorded Vitamin C and Runaway. That was almost exactly two years ago.

We weren’t really gigging, we were trying to work a way of getting the live thing together and Ross was the missing piece. I had been working with Ross doing workshop teaching. We’d been getting a train journey together and realised, no matter how obscure, we were into the same music. Loads of small bands like Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Red House Painters, Waxahatchee and loads of Seattle bands. Then I just came down to loads of your [Ross’] gigs didn’t I? I was just sat in the corner of the gigs watching him play with other bands.

Ross: Scaring the shit out of me with his massive beard.

Mike: Ross was with us for six months and again, we didn’t touch socials, didn’t do anything. We were just rehearsing, we didn’t do anything until the day it was ready, and then I went and found a manager. We booked one gig in London, a tiny little gig, we didn’t even list it under Clean Cut Kid, we did everything as secretly as we could so we didn’t pop up on any industry radars. We invited six little, choice, industry people that we wanted to share it with at the start.

Why was that? To test the waters?

Evelyn: Pretty much, yeah. We hadn’t done any gigs, so we were just like: ‘Oh my god. How is this even gonna go down?’

Mike: And we’d all played in hundreds of projects and kind of didn’t want to make any mistakes on it. Because I’d been working for years, I had like over 100 tunes written. We’d already arranged them, played them, recorded them. A load of stuff was recorded in the studio. We’re like: ‘This is ready, we just need the live thing to be ready.’ Otherwise, it’s not going to have the impact we need it to have.

Does it bother you that some people see the band’s progress as a rise out of nowhere?

Evelyn: Not really. I guess in terms of us being a public thing, where people actually know about us, that’s been a really quick journey. Obviously the first gig was March this year, and that was the first thing where we were like: ‘We’re a band!’ Even though we did all that stuff before, I guess for me it didn’t feel like it all began until we did that first gig and we were out there.

Ross, I saw a video of you in Topshop being pleasantly surprised at Vitamin C being played. Do things like this still happen?

Ross: Yeah, you are still pinching yourself.

Mike: It’s just a weird thing that you can’t take out how it’s spreading. When you go to festivals and you’ve got full fields worth of people singing the words back to you, it’s mad. Leeds and Reading were our 11th and 12th gigs. We were headlining those two stages. It’s just been such a big jump.

Is it true that you find it hard to recreate what you’ve done in the studio in the live show?

Mike: The recorded thing and the live thing are two different things. The recorded thing is virtually all me. I produced it, I played drums on Vitamin C and Runaway, and I played all the guitars and most of the key parts. The album will be 75% played by me in the studio. When you try and do that live it’s a completely different product because you’ve taken one person’s interpretation of how to do everything - from the groove, to the layering up of arrangements, to trying [to] get inflections from the way you play guitar into the way you play everything else.

Ross: It becomes an interpretation of all Mike’s layers and my own kind of thing, and that’s why it takes a different shape.

Is this how the band will always work? With Mike steering the creative ship?

Mike: It’s how it’s definitely going to be on the first record. I can’t really see the formula of it changing too much. On the next record, I see me demoing three quarters of the record and not even going into the studio and then these guys just coming in and Rich, and the guy who co-produced it with me, coming in at the end of the second record and just kind of studioing it up. I see the second record virtually being demos that are made into studio recordings. So I can completely get around it.

So, what’s the progress with the debut album at the moment?

Mike: We’re 14 tracks in. We think we’ll probably record 22. That’ll be the double vinyl. There’ll be 16 altogether probably, which will be on the deluxe version, the normal version will probably have about 11 tracks.

Were they all recorded by Mike?

Saul: We’ve recorded our own parts on ones that we might have jammed out on first. But others Mike has literally dreamt out every single detail of how the song goes, like 10 different deep guitar parts. So when he goes in, obviously because he can play play bass, drums, guitar, keyboard, he’s just got to get it down. He ends up recording the songs in like a day, because he hasn’t got to spend a day telling me how to play it.

Mike, do you find songwriting easy?

Evelyn: He does find it easy.

Mike: Sometimes. It’s just whether the right songs are coming out. I think the thing with Clean Cut Kid is people will realise the more they get to know the band that the line between making a specialist record and making a pop monster is so fine that sometimes it’s literally turning something up 2db. Everyone goes: 'What? This is just a pop tune!' Then you pull it down and they’re like: 'No, no, this is like a specialist tune.' It’s so fine you wouldn’t believe. We have things bounce back and forth so much, where people just tweak one tiny thing and all of a sudden nobody gets the band. It’s really really tough.

Also, I naturally write pop songs and then I arrange them in this kind of messed up way, so it’s kind of like getting the right amount of messed up. If we make a full album of really well written pop now, even if we make it in our form, people are gonna look at us and go: 'What is this? What are these beards? We have to go in the specialist route and Vitamin C is the perfect thing for that, because nobody gets it when they hear it and by the fourth listen everyone’s totally having it.

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