MW / Home / Articles / INTERVIEWS - CLINT SLATE (29 DECEMBER 2020)




Clint Slate is an artist who loves sound research but not only. For his new album, he uses the "cut-up" technique. On this occasion, Music Waves met again the reptilian artist.
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This is not Clint Slate's first interview for Music Waves. Anxious not to get locked into one style, the composer has found a new way to approach music writing. He tells us more on the occasion of the release of "Dragons".

Dragons is your third album under the name of Clint Slate which follows " Woodn Bones " whose originality was to have been recorded in one take with a choir. "Dragons" seems to follow this conceptual aspect with the "cut-up" invented by Brion Gysin where the original text is cut into random fragments which are then rearranged to produce a new text, a kind of exquisite corpse. Do you only conceive music in conceptualization?

I think so. I need to create and have ideas all the time and I also need to go beyond my limits, to learn new things... And above all to have fun, because it's a lot of fun to look for ways to get out of a cage you've created for yourself, to find out how far you can push the walls. The concept allows me to channel myself, I guess, to make the most of a situation where I have to be imaginative and curious to get out of it.

You seem to follow a very British approach in this, not only conceptual but also perpetually evolving, a bit like Steven Wilson or David Bowie, why do artists in France seem so reluctant to try this kind of thing?

First, I think it's a very personal approach. I know how to compose songs simply by taking my guitar and that’s ok at times but I also need more, just as I need to change my style and not perpetually reproduce the same patterns. My influences are indeed Anglo-Saxon and David Bowie represents the archetype of the mad scientist, always in search of something new, for better or worse. He's the one who opened me up to cut-up, which I discovered on the album Earthling. I also grew up listening to Queen, U2 or The Police, bands capable of changing style from one album to another, even from one song to another, and experimenting. Surrealism comes from France initially but the mood is rather "fast paced" now, the intros have to be less than ten seconds long, the music has to be easy to ingest and digest. And that's a shame.

What was the hardest challenge in recording and writing "Dragons"?

Everything! The concept was based on intuition, spontaneity and chance, an "exquisite musical corpse": If I found a melody on the guitar, I would record it immediately, give it a code name and send it to the rhythm section (Francesco Arzani on bass, who was already there for "Woodn Bones", and Louison Collet on drums) so that they could record as quickly as possible a maximum of three takes, without knowing what the other was going to do. Once the tracks were received, I would edit them in Cubase and turn the editing into composition, moving beats, adding organ or distorting guitars. The code names were entered into an online random generator where I collected words or sentences that called up images and themes and thus lyrics. From the first to the last song, I never knew where I was going and it was extremely liberating. Especially in these anxious times. ‘Dark Is Wire' is the first piece to appear, emerging from a crystalline arpeggio glued on three drum tracks set off by chance and flown over by a bass that leans towards jazz. I hadn't premeditated any of this and the challenge was not to distort the ideas that were coming but to tame them in order to transform them into songs. Recording, writing, production, improvisation, everything was linked.

This album leaves the feeling of a gloomy climate, did it come as a reaction to the current context?

Unconsciously, probably. To be honest, I tend to compose in minor, finding that melancholy and spleen are way more interesting than blissful positivism, even if that’s obviously an exaggeration. I've wanted to try the cut-up and the exquisite corpse for a long time but I never had the time. Then the Covid forced me to stop everything and I had to find other activities. So I did one acoustic cover a day during the lockdown and then, as the situation wasn't getting any better, I started working on what was to become "Dragons". A bleak time, confinement, confusion, paranoia, my riffs became effectively darker and the lyrics, as surrealist as they are, still depict this palpable anxiety-provoking climate.

If one could expect a typically rock record, you inject a lot more things like electro ('Ghost America') à la Craig Armstrong or Goldfrapp, the choral aspect and vocal harmonies ('Dark is Wire') à la 'Rattle And Hum', a hint of reggae ('The Sixth Trip Plan'), is it important for you to keep this freedom of style and can you only find it by being independent?

It's even essential! In the same day I could listen to Frank Sinatra, Deftones, A-Ha, the Lord Of The Rings soundtrack, Erik Satie, Björk, Yes, De La Soul, Vicente Amigo and anything that comes my way because I love music in the broadest sense. I don't believe in genres and other labels that people try to put on it, it only reduces the pleasure. So, when I compose, I want to be as free as possible and try everything. And then I tend to think that the song dictates its own laws: if it asks for an electro beat when it's an acoustic ballad, you have to do it. The same goes for a cappella harmonies, harmonized guitars or six different drum parts at the same time. The songs you are quoting were written thanks to the arrangements, the studio having become an instrument like any other. Independence is therefore essential because I spend a lot of time alone with my tracks, instruments and computer to design "sound canvases". This gives me a creative freedom that would probably be difficult to achieve otherwise. But I’d be willing to give it a ty.

Your approach is a little closer to U2 who worked a lot on these experiments in the 90's from "Achtung Baby" to "Pop" through "Zooropa", you're part of a band Tribute to U2, what does this band represent for you in your way of writing ?

'Achtung Baby' slapped me in the face when it came out and it's still one of my favourite albums thirty years later. It's a brave move, a declaration of independence and a pop dictionary at the same time. Their writing comes from improvisations in the studio put into shape and they allow themselves a form of freedom that others refuse, that makes them unique. When I composed " Ghost America ", I deliberately chose to keep the same loop and see how far I could take it by varying the density, like U2 did with " With Or Without You " for example. My singing part can also be linked to Bono on Pop's " Wake Up Dead Man ". I also saw a documentary on the recording of "The Unforgettable Fire" where Bono can be seen improvising his vocal lines and lyrics from scratch on "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" and telling the sound engineers not to forget to record because he had no idea what he was doing. It's very liberating because the intellect doesn't control everything then and that's where the surprises come in. Including for oneself, which is great. I see "Dragons" as an echo to "Zooropa": an unplanned album, improvised but also adventurous and sincere, spontaneous music for fun. As far as the U2 Tribute is concerned, it's a challenge because I have to sing for more than two hours songs which are extremely complicated and above all require a lot of involvement: the audience expects a certain performance and the songs don't work if you don't invest yourself in them, it's a very intense boxing match but it’s also very formative. And above all it’s a lot of fun.

Is alternating very melodic songs with less accessible titles ('Systems And Batteries') a way of getting the listener into your musical universe, which is more complex than it seems?

I like roughness and I see the albums as journeys or roads. You never really know where it's going to take you, but that's what's exciting. From a gentle and rather classic-rock atmosphere to an industrial explosion summoning Trent Reznor and then to an alt-rock riff with a guitar tapping solo, it's a way of travelling virtually and exploring the voices in my head. And I can guarantee you there's a whole bunch of them!

On this album the guitars are highlighted and their sound very worked, is the arrangement work also the fundamental point of the album?

Yes, as I told you, over time recording has become an instrument. And then the guitar is my main instrument, my permanent companion, and it's always there, everywhere, even if it's transformed to the point of being unrecognisable. On "Dead Noise" I've tampered with it so much that it looks like a strange keyboard, whereas the supposedly organic strings are Midi. Also, I am a multi-instrumentalist and I see music as a global universe so I can't limit myself to the guitar and the vocals, I need to create the rest, shape it or let it shape me. The arrangement also generates the song, like on "Systems And Batteries" where the rhythm part was downloaded from a site that generates random rhythmic loops with every click. I took the first one that came up, distorted a bass part that Francesco had sent for another piece, cut it out mathematically and arbitrarily and that's how the basis of the song was born in a few minutes. Conversely, "Obstacles" comes from an improvised melody recorded without any structure in mind in a single take. I then decided to build the song around this take and the arrangements helped me find the drama, the theme and to free my singing.

The album is called "Dragons", why such a title when no song is called that?

I've always preferred album titles that refer to an overall concept or to the lyrics of a song rather than those that just use the title of one of them. So when I re-read the lyrics, I realised that the word "Dragon" was used in two songs, "Dark Is Wire" and "Smash", the latter even closing the record with the phrase "Contact the Dragon". Knowing that a dragon is a mythical and mystical creature with no definite existence and some kind of chimera, I thought it represented well these nine songs that came out of nowhere.

On the cover you appear half man half reptile, is it a tribute to the V series or do you symbolize the reptilian theory ?

I loved V when I was a kid and now I can say it: I am a reptilian ambassador. Musicians, especially those with strange ideas, come from another planet and seek to communicate with humans. But since I told you, I'm going to have to kill you. Or let you choose between listening to all the songs I've composed since I was fourteen years old, which is probably not far from 500 cassette and MiniDisc quality or a single Milli Vanilli song 500 times a day for fourteen years. Or both. You can be reptilian and have a certain sense of humour.

While music (like any other cultural aspect) has been considered "Non Essential" for part of this year when, on the contrary, in our opinion and like many people, it is a refuge and food for the mind and emotions, how did you experience this label stuck on artists?

It's difficult because art is a way of escaping from everyday life and we are in a period where there is an overwhelming need for escape, whatever it may be. People have never consumed so many films, series, music or books, but they don't recognise the role of culture, that’s a huge paradox. A confinement in 1990 with only television and radio would have been very different and much more difficult to live. Making music helped me to overcome this period but listening to it also helped me a lot. Cultural actors are obviously less essential than those working in the food or health sectors, but they are an important part of our lives. If anyone who reads me doubts, there is a simple test to try: Turn off the smartphone, TV and radio, close the newspaper and books, and realise how culture is inseparable from our existence and well-being.

You seem to be very attached to the notion of an album whereas today the tendency is to multiply EPs at short notice. Are you aware that you're a bit against this evolution?

I’ve always followed my instincts rather than fashions, with a certain penchant for explorers. The project could have led me to one or more EPs as I came up with 15 demos but when I finished the 9 that formed "Dragons", I felt that they represented a finished entity and that I risked repeating myself if I continued. Also, an EP didn't allow me to take my time like on an album. Then I also chose to transform each song into a video, made like the recording, and to broadcast them on Youtube every other Friday in a different order from the album. This gives the songs another vision since each film was created specifically each time. I had thought of creating an EP for each single, with remixes or alternative versions, but the workload was too big. Maybe later on. I would love to do a remixed version of the album, like Massive Attack or Linkin Park did back then.

he year 2021 is approaching with its share of uncertainties, how do you view this new year, with optimism or pessimism?

I want to be optimistic even if I'm the kind of person who prepares for the worst so as not to be disappointed. I miss the stage because it's my primary activity and I've never been away from it for so long. In one year, I've only been able to do one show with Four Ever One, the U2 Tribute, and another one with Les Franglaises. That's not much. That’s even much too little. So I compose, I create, I experiment. But the adrenaline is different and I really hope to get back to the audience soon. The current crisis will most certainly have unexpected repercussions, let's just hope that they will be more positive than negative, that popular culture will endure and that its actors will not be forced to reorient themselves because the sector will be too affected.

Finally we leave you the last word for our readers.

Thank you for taking the time to read me and I hope that you will enjoy travelling with me along these experiments which have no other purpose than to entertain. Thank you to Music Waves for allowing musicians to share their visions and present their universe so that someone somewhere resonates. Contact the Dragon!

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