Buzzcocks, Television, Replacements. There was a time when rock and roll records were demanding, confrontational, and maybe not necessarily easy the first time or two if you took the time to pay attention. But, yes, they certainly rocked. If you can remember that feeling when you first heard Patti Smith sing, Jesus Christ died for our sins but not mine, and the little minefield she lay in our path, but also how turned on you were, then maybe you will know how to begin to fall into Stephen Clair’s new record, Strange Perfume (out October 11th), in an era where most media has a certain easy sheen about, where rough edges, attitudes and perceptions are made to be easily digested with a first lesson, while you’re probably in the middle of doing six other things. Because we are living in age where everything must come easy, look, smell and sound good in a single tweet. Strange Perfume is here to remind us, in part, what rock and roll is even for.
As it came time to build the record that would become Strange Perfume, Clair went looking for a producer who would help him make the record he wanted to make. He had this great working band and the songs were ready. Clair knew the right producer could help keep things focused, and hopefully nudge Clair and company to give their best performances in the studio. And suddenly there was Malcolm Burn, hanging out just an hour’s drive upriver from Clair’s Beacon, NY home. ‘Well, here’s the guy,’ Clair thought. Burn’s producer resume is about as hard to pin down as Clair’s song catalog. It was also Burn’s producer credits (Emmylou Harris, Christ Whitley, Bob Dylan, even Iggy Pop and Patti Smith), that made Clair scratch his head, turn out his pockets, and ask himself, how the hell am I gonna make this work?
But in fairytale rockandroll fashion, Burn dug the songs and they figured it out. And so they went and did it. ‘I also have great people playing with me whom I’m not only grateful for, but I adore. And the band all showed up and just played their hearts out. Combine the band’s skills with Malcolm’s amazing old microphone collection, his basement studio setup, his funky kickass gear, and then the ideas couldn’t help but bloom and rage like a house on fire. We couldn’t even contain the ideas. It was as if we’d pulled the sword from the stone and the Pandora from the box.
This album is darkly joyous. Clair’s songwriting has always possessed a wry humor. Rave-up rockers veer into stormy seas and back again, while dystopian concerns, brought to life by gnarly guitar hooks and a thunderous rock band, leave a vapor trail that passes through the more tender and touching songs, poking and taunting the way an emotion might. All hail! The steam and throttle of electric guitars is alive and well here. Clair is a rocker with a strong pop sensibility, but a a writer with a knack for wanting to shine a light on the uncomfortable stuffs and not afraid to set the tone with the sound of his able band.
Today Glide is excited to premiere the new video for “What Got In Your Head”, one of the standout tunes on Strange Perfume. Blending the kind of jaggedly cool guitar and piano that put Spoon on the map with a deadpan, almost spoken-word vocal delivery, the song quickly evolves into a righteous bar band anthem that feels as much linked to acts like the Hold Steady as it does to Wilco. The wonky stop motion of the visuals works well with the dark yet triumphant rock and roll being dished out. The scene that unfolds is wonderfully indicative of “what got in your head”.
Clair describes the inspiration behind the song and the video:
“I can see how this video might make a viewer a bit dizzy. The day we shot this, we blasted the song on repeat for hours and just went bananas, while camera whiz Tom Moore circled around us shooting a bazillion consecutive stills. That’s why the video bumps along like some insane flip-it book.
Meanwhile this song came in the aftermath of an unexpected visit. Someone from my deep dark past decided to show up on my doorstep unannounced—not necessarily welcome either. I tried to play it cool for a few days while they hung around. It was only after they left that it hit me that no, I hadn’t been cool with it at all, and so this question echoed in my brain ‘What got in your head’ I mean, what were they thinking? I repeated the phrase, pounding along on the piano for days. It was so matter of fact, I decided if there were going to be verses, the lines would need to be clipped, just a few syllables per line.”
Strange Perfume is set to be released by Rock City Records on October 11th.
Photo Credit: John Moore