Bill Cummings 27/07/2005
I enter the members' bar at Cardiff's Welsh club, slipping in between amps, practicing members of The Young Knives, journalists, and roadies chewing over their route away from Cardiff, and find Luke standing by the bar. Luke is the Gary Numan look-alike guitarist from Clor, and he's chatting to members of support band the Envelopes. Further back amongst the bodies, I find Barry Dobbin, lead singer and lyricist in the band Clor, sipping on a bottle of lager and entering into a discussion with his manager. If you haven't heard of Clor by now, where have you been? The quirky Brixton-based synth-indie-pop five-piece band look set to make their mark in the coming months with UK tours, appearances at the Reading and Leeds festivals and the release of their album “Clor” featuring the singles “Love + Pain” and “Outlines”, both of which have received massive rotation on MTV2, namely due to their visual brilliance, and as a great showcase for their truly unique music.
What's immediately clear as I shake his hand and begin to speak to him, is that Barry is a gregarious chap; his northern charm (he's originally from Rochdale) and scraggly hair could mislead the casual observer: this is a man with ideas, a sparkling imagination and musical talent.
I started out by asking how things were going for the band right now. “Very well really, enjoying the tour, we are playing with two of our favourite bands to play with during Clor's existence: The Young Knives and the Envelopes”. I wondered how the legendary Clor show had been going down with people at the gigs. “Really well, we've had pretty much a positive response everywhere, we're playing in places we've never played before but people are still coming along because they've seen the video for our single (Love + Pain). It's been insane, doing the dance and that sort of thing.” Indeed, a Clor show is something to behold. Later that night, Barry, Luke on guitars, Rob on keyboards, Max on bass and Harry on Drums will play in front of a large screen playing out the visually impressive videos (created by Barry's girlfriend Rachel Reupka, and Barry creates much of the band's darkly comic art work) that have made their name, surrounded by long thin strobe lights that wouldn't be out of place on the set of Star Wars, they burst through their set of quirky synth pop songs and convert a lot of Cardiff fans in the process, Barry tells me what people who see Clor live can expect. “Frenetic guitar playing, heavy beats and bass, electronic trickery from Rob on keyboards, I'm not sure to what degree we succeed in playing live, but we seem to enjoy playing. We haven't got a stencil to work from. The arrangements don't change but we play around with sounds, tempo, I like variety.” Indeed, it is the spice of life and Clor provide that eclecticism live.
I'd read Clor's journey towards being signed was swift, I wondered how true this was? “Yeah, getting signed was really fast. We formed and we played four or five gigs, we only sent out one demo, he really liked it and he started burning it off and saying to people, 'you've got to come and see this band'. By the fourth gig, lots of industry people started turning up and by our fifth gig we were offered an EP deal which was called “Welcome Music Lovers” and two days later EMI came and saw us play, their main man came up to us and said 'let's do an album together, we'll be in touch with you tomorrow'. It was really quick and really unexpected”.
This rapid rise if offset by the fact that the band met whilst putting on the club nights called “Bad Bunny”, which have since become just “Clor”. These nights seemed to inspire the formation of Clor as a band, according to Barry they: “Made music so that we had original music to play at the club. We used to play really eclectic DJ sets that ranged from really hard raga, through to reflex stuff, Aphex, right through to Northern soul, dub and indie and stuff.” I wondered if these sounds influenced the music they later went on to make? “Well inevitably, that's what we're all into. Matt's an ardent fan of '80s pop, people like Toto. It's all our enthusiasm stuck together and that's Clor” It dawned on me that because the inspirations for the Clor sound was forged upon such a varied range of music that it is therefore pretty pointless when people try to pigeonhole their sound and style.
Barry himself doesn't “know where it comes from. Well I don't know how it becomes what it becomes. All I know is we keep doing it and keep developing every track until we all like it.” Clor aren't calculated either, not for them weeks sat in a studio wondering how to sound like the new Bloc Party, Coldplay or whatever scene is in fashion this week. He admits they analyse their music but not in terms of how their music will fit within the current climate: “we just don't analyse it in terms of does this fit into a scene. We just analyse it in terms of is “this rocking for us right now?”
Linked to that, Clor's debut was recorded in the back bedroom of guitarist/keyboardist Luke's house in Kennington, London. I wondered if this was about maintaining a degree of control over the how the album would sound? “Absolutely, and its cheaper, and it's a learning process.” Barry was new to producing too: “I didn't have any experience before. Luke had just bought his logic set: I just came in new. And sort of learnt as we went along”
Clor don't seem to lyrically follow the traditional pattern of verse-chorus-verse or even tell stories within their lyrics, the words are often ambiguous and allow the listener to attach their own meanings onto the songs. I wondered how the lyrics come about: “They just come” reckons Barry. “I go with Brian Eno's philosophy that the “voice is just another instrument” I don't want to tell narrative tales, I want to keep the lyrics kind of ambiguous, and provocative, and the important thing is feeling the music and how they fit together. On the other side though, I do have notebooks where I write down observations and thoughts and feelings and phrases and I kind of put all those together so it kind of makes it meaningful but not didactic.” Following on from that, I wondered if “Love And Pain” came out a similar way. “Yeah, that's exactly how it evolved: you just push the music and the words together and the chorus just seemed to take off.” The melodies on Clor's debut seem of vital importance to understanding the band, whether it's the soaring synth pop power of “Love and Pain”, the fragility of “Gifted” or the Princey vibes of “Good Stuff”, melody seems to central part of the Clor sound. Barry agrees: “Definitely for me it's the most important. You're just trying to create a full package that works together, it's something that Bob Dylan's songs seem to have and it's something we are trying to do now.”
As well as melodies and traditional song structures, there's a playful quirkiness in the synth sounds that Clor produce. Not for them the obvious overproduction of the 80's retro sound that the likes of The Departure peddle but an experimentation with sounds and music. Barry explains how they get there: “There's lots of percussion on there: there's me and Luke bashing away at things in a room with whatever came to hand, there's lots of really unconventional ways of putting together lots of effects, using different guitar lines, it's a mash up of all the things we've ever wanted to do, and we try and craft them into songs, that are quite poppy songs, although that's just because we're quite poppy people.” Pop songs yes, but quirky pop songs? “Yeah of course we want to subvert pop, I mean all the best pop stuff is like that I mean Brian Eno. It's the kind of music that makes you think, 'why do I like that'?”