Record Overplayed
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Clarkesville interview | Middlesbrough Empire | July 2003

Tennessee... Georgia... the West Midlands?

Interview and Photos by Dawn

Playlisted by everyone from XFM to Virgin, adored and shamelessly championed by Radio 2 and awarded the prestigious support slot on the much-acclaimed Rooney’s recent tour… is there no stopping bright new British hopes Clarkesville? In the week that saw the release of stunning debut album The Half Chapter, Dawn had the pleasure of talking to mainman Michael Clarke before the band’s set at the Middlesbrough Empire.

First things first, then: Is ‘Clarkesville’ a collective name, or simply Michael’s solo project? Confusion has arisen since the handful of tours thus far have seen different musicians accompany Michael onstage, and tonight’s line-up of Steve, Nikolaj and Richie didn’t actually play on most of the album. Over to Michael:

‘It’s still a bit ambiguous as to what it is right now!’ he laughs. ‘I didn’t make the album with these guys; I made it, found a producer that I wanted to produce it and then basically pulled in a load of favours, I suppose. At that point I didn’t really know where it was gonna go. It could’ve been an acoustic thing with a bit of production on it, but it turned out that it sounded quite band-y in the end, so I had to go and find some people to play with. I guess it’s going to become more of a full-time band as we go on; it’s not just me.’

To introduce the band properly, then, singer/songwriter Michael plays guitar and piano, with brother Steve on bass-playing duty. ‘And there’s Richie on drums and our Danish guitar player, Nikolaj,’ explains Michael, who is hopeful of maintaining the current line-up for the foreseeable future. ‘I think right now it’s in limbo, but hopefully I’ll make the next album with these guys. That’s the plan. I’m glad to be in a band with Steve now,’ he says sincerely. ‘As we’ve been growing up, we were always into music and we always used to play together. We were in a band together in Amsterdam when we lived there, so I’m really glad now that Steve’s a full-time part of it. It’s great being on the road with him.’

Walsall-born Michael was only 14 when his family returned to live in the West Midlands, but even at that age he was writing songs inspired by his time in Amsterdam: ‘It definitely influenced me back then, and I’m sure it’ll influence me again in the future. Songwriting’s a funny thing. Things come out years later that you thought you’d forgotten about and they’re still there, lingering in your head somewhere.’

It’s difficult to classify Clarkesville’s music; The Half Chapter comprises numerous different styles which Michael puts down to his willingness to experiment in the studio: ‘I like so many different types of things, and it was the same for everyone I worked with. We had quite broad tastes so we didn’t try and bend any songs into a different shape. We just tried to stay really fresh and approach each song as a separate thing. I do think there are quite a lot of different ideas going on; I think everyone who made it brought something to it. There were three of us,’ he explains, ‘Me, Martin the producer and Andreas, who’s Martin’s sidekick!’ he laughs. ‘I think the three of us really shaped what it was gonna sound like, but obviously everyone that was involved brought something along as well.’

The album title is based on the Julian Barnes novel A History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters: ‘You know when a book really inspires you?’ asks Michael enthusiastically, expressing his love of language and poetic lyrics. ‘I didn’t base the album around it or anything, but the book’s really poetic too – it’s really well-written and just inspired me at the time.’ Trying to identify his musical influences and inspirations, however, proves a little more tricky. ‘I grew up on bands like U2, but I think from a songwriting point of view I’m quite into things like Neil Finn, the Flaming Lips – things that you wouldn’t necessarily hear in my music. It’s difficult to pin myself down. I hate it when people ask about influences!’ he says with a good-natured grin. ‘It’s like, “I’ll just show you my CD collection!”’

The first single to be taken from the album will be Secret File, one of the poppier moments on The Half Chapter: ‘I think it’s a good opening song for the whole thing and I’m glad that it’s the first thing most people are gonna hear of us,’ says Michael. ‘I think it’s a really exciting, uplifting song and I think that’s always good, especially with the summer being here. Obviously extremely passionate about his music, he remains refreshingly unassuming and down to earth about what he does: ‘It’d be great if people liked what we do. That would help!’ he laughs modestly. ‘The plan is to let it build up slowly, so anyone that gets into us at the moment I get really chuffed about.’

Many thanks to the lovely Michael and to the equally charming Steve, and to Mark, James and the rest of the Clarkesville clan. The Half Chapter is out now. Visit www.Clarkesville.net for more details.

 

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