For years Clone Quartet have flown under the radar, biding their time. But Clone Quartet’s time is now. These sonic stealth fighters are about to make their perfectionist presence felt, unleashing madness, obsession and merry hell with debut album, Well-Oiled Machine.
The release of the debut album is not quite the Holy Grail event it once was. Recording and distributing of music has moved on apace in recent years (a good thing) but it has inevitably led some bands to drop their first born at an indecently young age. Not so Clone Quartet. These electro-rock teasers have honed and finessed their sound for years, refusing to remove their knickers for any old Tom, Harry, or Dick. However, in Smalltown America and Tigertrap they’ve found their perfect suitors and are ready to pop their long-player cherry.
‘This is a moment of culmination for Clone Quartet,’ confirms Andy Henry, Clone Quartet Commander-in-Chief. ‘We had been together as a band for so long before reaching this point so it really means something. Initially the album started life as an EP, but our label convinced us to do a full-length record.
'From playing live we knew we had a core of songs that really worked, it was then a matter of rejigging those tracks to make them as interesting as possible on record. It’s taken nearly two years on and off to complete, so we’re really happy to have realised that debut album ambition. But now we’ve ticked that box. We’re looking forward to doing the next record and to do it better.’
According to Henry he could have the material for that next album recorded in double-quick time. Which does beg the question, why the prolonged wait for the debut?
‘We’re perfectionists, the process by which we work can be quite time-consuming. Over the years we’ve lost interest in some of our material. But these songs are worthy of Clone Quartet. I think we’ve really grasped the opportunity, ideas have crystallised and we’ve made a really good record. Also, you have to remember the band is just one part of our lives, we all try to make time for our music, but sometimes it’s a battle. No matter what there was always going to be an album, the only question was what level we would take it to.’
The battle to prioritise and make time for the band has already claimed one casualty. Clone Quartet’s tour to promote Well-Oiled Machine will see them soldier on without guitarist Gavin Reid. But as much as the input of the others plays a part in shaping the sound and identity of Clone Quartet, it is Henry who is the master craftsman.
‘With this record I’ve given the most but Clone Quartet as a unit, pushing and challenging each other to come up with better material and ideas makes it a much stronger proposition. I’m the songwriter, but it’s very much a band project. Sometimes the finished track is similar to what I’ve demoed, but in other cases the guys will drastically rework it. Every step of the way they bring something to Clone Quartet.’
United under Henry’s vision, Clone Quartet merge wonderful robotic rhythms, synthetic melodies and raw rock power to create an intoxicating whole. It’s a winning combination, instantly gratifying and also rewarding to those prepared to delve deeper.
‘Our songs can be great pop songs, but there is also a level of experimentation that with repeated listens people will discover and be rewarded more by Clone Quartet’s music. Certain songs would make you dance, others will make you think.
'We want to get a reaction from people, but the type of reaction we’re trying to elicit varies from song to song. It’s taken us a while to realise and define what we’re about - electronica, live power, and stimulating people to think or to dance - as you go along you become better at hitting those criteria.’
Of course Clone Quartet are not the first, or only band, attempting to bring dance and rock into close proximity. Why, right now there is a much lambasted movement called nu rave.
‘Nu rave is all one big fashion badge,’ snorts Henry. ‘It started with DFA and The Rapture. Without them bands like Klaxons wouldn’t exist. Simian Mobile Disco, Vitalic, Justice, those are the acts I’m listening to - rock ‘n’ roll colliding with dance in a really abrasive way. I’d be disgusted for Clone Quartet to be grouped alongside the likes of Klaxons.’
Bristling at the mere implication of complicity between his band and the methods of the nu rave contingent, Henry decides to spell out the Clone Quartet manifesto.
‘We’re making electronic music alongside the act of being a live rock band. A lot of other musicians have tried to bring electronic music to the live arena, using laptops and backing tracks. Unlike them we try and keep things as live as possible, it’s more fun and people can relate more. Backing tracks are too static. Instead we think of ourselves, the band members as the well-oiled machine of the album title, a machine generating this electronic music.’
Clone Quartet have reached a crucial juncture. Their distinct take on electro-rock may have tapped into the zeitgeist, its timeliness and sheer quality propelling the band to ever-greater heights. On the other hand they may plateau, unable to break beyond the loving embrace of a select few. Those are the futures facing Henry and company. No wonder he vacillates between self-doubt and confidence.
‘There is always self-doubt but having the label backing us has dispelled quite a bit of that. I believe Clone Quartet are every bit as good as, if not better than, the majority of our contemporaries. You go to festivals and performances, see bands, and think, ‘they’re on the bill?!? We could have done better than that’.
'There are around 40,000 bands in the UK, that’s a lot. So if opportunities come around you’ve got to be ready to grab them, we’re confident we’ll make the most of whatever comes our way. We’re happy with what we’re doing. We’ve got a good sound and given the right exposure, people will really get into Clone Quartet.’
Of course getting the right exposure means dealing with press. Although not completely opposed to the glad-handing that is part and parcel of being in a band, Henry nonetheless voices some concern that he may be misrepresented, or that he’ll say something that damages the perception of his outfit.
‘We’re confident we’ve made a great album. I hope that doesn’t come across as arrogant, but I think it’s too easy to appear negative or to sell yourself short. We’ve made the music and now I want people to hear it, to get that message across, and the media is one way of doing that. Now is the time to see what we’re capable of.’
The very fact of having reached that first album milestone seems to have invigorated Clone Quartet, instilling a newfound confidence, forcing its members to reappraise what they want from the band and what they are prepared to give to achieve it. Nonetheless all those years on the sidelines, observing the machinations of the music industry mean that Henry remains a stubborn realist.
‘Going on tour is fun but it’s hard work and you’re lucky if you can break even financially. But if that’s what it takes that’s what we’ll do to get our music heard. Clone Quartet will always be, the only variable is the level at which it’s happening. So far we’ve been playing to a niche crowd but wherever this needs to go, we’re prepared to take it there.’
Whether Clone Quartet can smash through that glass ceiling remains to be seen. One thing Henry can confirm is that they deserve to.
‘We don’t sound like any other band. Our mixture of punk-rock, confidence and grand ideas can’t be found elsewhere. The perfectionism makes sure that those elements come together to create something really good. Other bands wouldn’t even attempt to pull together such varied ideas.
'We played a recent gig in London and the other band were like ‘wow, that was really unexpected, every time you were onto something you changed or did something better’. People either get it or they don’t. People should like us, but if they don’t then we don’t care. If you can’t get your head around Clone Quartet then go and listen to something more obvious.’
Success or failure, whichever future unfurls for Clone Quartet is in one sense irrelevant, for nothing can deflect Andy Henry from making the music he makes, it is hardwired into his very being.
‘It’s hard to explain, but music is a compulsion. I got a four-track when I was sixteen and became completely obsessed with it. I still have a box with loads of tapes I made back then. Since then music has completely taken hold. I obsess about melody, before I fall asleep these melodies will just pop into my head. I remember I used to think I had to harness each and every one, terrified they would go to waste. Now I’m not quite so preoccupied. But yes, it’s a kind of madness.’
Yes, just the kind of madness we like, long may the lunacy continue.
This feature originally appeared in AU Magazine #38. The latest issue of AU magazine is available online and in all good newsagents now.
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