Stevie Williams of Melbourne’s Clowns talks album Number Three, Lucid Again

Melbourne five-piece Clowns have come a long way from their beginnings as Melbourne house-party punks, even inciting an international terror scare last year. Oh wait. Those were just clowns, not these guys. But having a chat to vocalist Stevie Williams ahead of the release for the band’s third LP, Lucid Again, it turns out that the band uses a little of those scare tactics for their live shows. I’d still pick Clowns (the band) though.

First, I should probably congratulate you, I’ve had more than a few listens to Lucid Again and it’s a fucking banger of an album.

Aw, thanks Margy.

And you’ve been receiving some high praise for it; I’ve seen quite a lot of great reviews around.

Yeah, we have. Pretty much all of the reviews that we’ve gotten back have been at least four stars, we’ve had a few four and a half stars. Which has been awesome. [For] our previous records we’ve received the odd four star but its normally three or three and a half [stars]. I’m not really quite sure what the magic key was to get us that extra star, but apparently people think this one’s better, so… it’s pretty exciting. [Laughs]

I’ve seen a few reviews calling it your best work to date, and a lot of them are saying that’s got to do with the real ‘yin and yang’ dynamic of the album.

I guess it is dynamic… Even though four and a half star reviews are quite flattering, I still always read them and just think, you know, its one person’s opinion. Regardless of if it gets two stars in whatever sort of magazine …. It doesn’t really phase me. It’s just kind of a little bit flattering when people give it such high praise.

Awww, that’s so cute. Maybe your egos will just get out of control.

It’s too late for that. [Laughs]

[Laughs] I shouldn’t say again that I think it’s a great album then… But it is. There’s definitely a psych-rock of edge to your tracks, much more interplay between sung and yelled vocals, and more dynamics in your song structure. Was it a conscious creative move to explore those sorts of sounds?

We didn’t do it by accident, that’s for sure. [Laughs] I think, generally, our first record was very sort of scrappy, adolescent kind of sounding punk. Which is what we were going for, and was totally indicative of a stage in our lives when we were scrappy adolescent punks. With Bad Blood, when we were writing [it], I guess we wanted to build on that sound, and kind of push that revivalist 80s punk sound to a higher level. But when we were writing [Lucid Again] … we didn’t really think that we could do that revivalist 80s sound better than what we did on Bad Blood, all we could really do was recreate it. Nothing aggravates me more than when bands continually recreate the same records. So we just kinda threw in a few curve balls, and apparently people have enjoyed that.

I guess you’ve had a bit of a line-up change in the band since you released Bad Blood. Do you think that’s influenced your song writing and creative processes, especially now that you’re a five piece?

I guess it influenced it creatively because we were able to use some more dual guitar bits. And it does free up the riffs and the guitar licks in the way that we can now experiment a little bit heaver. You know, on some of our previous records, on some of the songs that I wrote personally, I was always trying to write guitar bits that would sound good as just one guitar.

Now, in terms of the actual creative process, not overly. I mean, me and the drummer Jake have been the chief song writers of the band since its inception, and obviously we’re the only original members left. I think that would be why, even though there’s a few new elements here and there, it still sounds like Clowns, you know? It just sounds like we’ve tried to interpret a few different sounds. It’s not so different that I think people will listen to it and think ‘Oh, it’s a bit avant garde’, you know?

I don’t know if Clowns and avant garde are often thought of together… [Laughs]

Keep listening, because there’s definitely some influence in there. [Laughs]

When you were writing this album, apart from the obvious avant garde influence, were there any particular albums or artists that you listened to for inspiration?

That’s a good question. I don’t really know. We definitely listened to a lot of pysch … I guess. There’s not too many punk bands that we could think that infuse psychedelic rock with hardcore punk… I guess they were two flavours that we were trying to mix together, and see how they would work. I definitely drew a lot of influence from the Brian Jonestown Massacre, for a couple of those longer, pysch-ier jams, but I dunno. Just a lot of psych and maybe Eddy Current Suppression Ring, for those sort of garage-y elements. There’s a lot of sort of cleaner, twangier guitars which were a direct influence from them. But at the same time I still don’t think that the record sounds like Eddy Current or Brian Jonestown Massacre, we just sort of took a few things that we liked from those bands and tried to play hardcore punk music with it. [Laughs]

But it’s definitely worked. I mean, you’ve just been touring Europe, and I take it you’ve played some of those songs over there?

Yeah, we did.

What’s the reception been like?

It’s been ranging from, ‘Woah, that’s awesome, I didn’t realise you guys could do that,’ to ‘What the fuck are you guys doing, what happened to all the short, fast songs!?’. You know, even when we were writing this record we came to the realisation that the last record, it reached a lot of ears through all the touring that we did and all the success that we found overseas, and it was going to get to a point where if we did write a record that was reminiscent of our older stuff, people would criticise us for making music the sounds the same, or if we went in a new direction, that people would criticise it for being too different. We kind of got mixed reviews. The actual reviews that came to me were all quite positive. I guess it takes a lot of, you know, gusto, for someone to come up at the end of a show and say, ‘Hey yeah, that was really good but your new stuff’s so shit’. [Laughs] I assume most of the bad reviews would have stayed in the minds of the people at the gig and verbalised them in some sort of foreign language to their friends after the show.

Well maybe they were just intimidated, you guys do put on quite an intense live show, maybe you scared them off.

Yeah, hopefully!

Was that the plan all along, scare off the bad critics?

Well, it’s been the plan for this entire band, to see what we could do with making people scared of us and not wanting to come to our gigs. But apparently, that’s been one of our main features, so… cool.

Damn. When I’ve seen you play I’ve seen you get up to all sorts of outrageous things, like rolling around on the stage, hanging from the ceiling –  did you try out anything new and outrageous on your most recent European tour?

Let me think. Nah, not really, I just did my thing. I have been trying to do a little bit less of climbing or hanging off ceilings and just focusing on actually playing tight and being a good band. [Laughs] For a little bit there, and I guess this works quite symbiotically with being an 80s hardcore punk revivalist band, we definitely tried to push the anarchy at the shows, especially when there was less people at the shows – easier to get down and start pushing people around and be the band who has a sick mosh pit or whatever. But now that there’s actually people coming to the shows who already know the songs, it’s not… we just don’t need to do that, you know? They come to the shows with the idea already in their mind that they’re gonna get wild, and then they do. Which is great for me, because all I need to do then is make sure that I’m singing in key and being a good performer, and not be some wanker risking his life from the rafters of the ceiling. [Laughs]

Were there any other highlights from your tour that you’ve just been on?

Well the obvious highlight for us would have been Groezrock, which is such a fuckin rad festival. Have you been?

No, I wish.

If you get the chance to go, you definitely should. It’s just such an awesome festival, the lineups are always rad, the vibes are always good, people are always very attentive to the shows, and this year was our second year that we’ve played. I think we managed to make a lot of fans last year who returned, and we played a bigger stage, it was the biggest show that we did on the tour… But yeah, there was a lot of people rocking up to the shows. We had maybe five or six shows where there was over 100 payers, and then there was just other shows that went really well, you know. Smaller venues in smaller towns on weeknights which still really surprised us.

That’s pretty amazing. As a band, you’ve been quite voracious at touring. What are your essentials for surviving your tours?

Let me have a think about that. Well, just a lot of clean underwear, really. [Laughs] When I went overseas, I was showing one of my friends what I was packing for Europe, and she’s like ‘is that all you’re taking!?’. It was basically three quarters full of socks and jocks, one pair of jeans, and one t-shirt. Because you get t-shirts all the way through the tour, or I might see a band that’s sick, and I want to buy their t shirt. It’s stupid to bring four or five t-shirts, and they all stink like shit by the end of it anyway. Maybe multivitamins? Jumped on the multivitamin train because I’m a vegan, so you know, it’s good to get your daily dose of iron and whatever shit you need to not die or get some sort of disease later in life, especially when you’re driving through Czech Republic and the only option is some road stop that only sells cured meat. [Laughs]

Yeah, I’m vegan too, travelling can be rough.

Yeah, it’s a tough world out there, especially when you’re on tour in Eastern Europe as a vegan.

At least you had beer to survive off. [Laughs]

Yeah, that’s cool, I’m fine with that. It’s just all the shit that doesn’t need meat in it, you now, you’ll rock up and just grab a pack of chips and then there’s chunks of bacon in there and it’s like ‘why the fuck did you even put that in!?’. It’s just not necessary. [Laughs] It doesn’t even taste good, no one likes it, it’s gross, it’s bad for you….

They just do it to fuck with vegans.

Yeah, they’re just trying to fuck with us. [Laughs]

Bastards. It’s pretty great, how you’ve gone from being a Melbourne punk band, to a band that’s touring on a global scale. What do you think it was that got you from Melbourne to the world?

We’ve been a band for seven years and we’ve played so many gigs. Like even before we were a touring band, we would have played 200 – 300 gigs just in Melbourne. I don’t think we’re one of those bands that something happened and then BOOM – stardom. Not that I would consider us in the realm of stardom, but you know what I mean. I think just a lot of shows, meeting a lot of people.

Eventually we knew a lot of people and a lot of people started coming to our shows and then people that we didn’t know started coming to our shows, and it was a very slow and organic process. I hate it when bands say, ‘Oh, it was hard work.’ Because even though, you know, it’s been tough sometimes, I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. And I don’t want to complain about all the hard work that we’ve done – as if doing this band has been a pain in the arse. [Laughs]

What would you advise for smaller Australian bands that are hoping to maybe achieve something similar?

I would say, be part of your music community. Don’t just be part of one ‘clique’, you know? There seems to be a lot of cliques – especially in Melbourne – that surround particular record labels or particular bands, but be part of the broader music community, always have a couple of gigs lined up. When you don’t have gigs, always go to other people’s gigs. Good things come to people who wait and who put good out in the world. If you’re just a bunch of good people who play good music and have a lot of friends then people will come to your gigs.

I think in terms of once you actually start getting to the world stage, it doesn’t really work like that, you know, I didn’t know all 2000 people who we were playing to in Groezrock, but I think it happens organically. And a lot of people get caught up in ‘you need to do this to get fans’ or ‘you need to do this to become famous’, but I really think you just need to release good music, be good people, and be part of the broader music community. Eventually, if your stuff is of quality, then other people will start to like it. And if it’s not, then at least you will have made a lot of friends. [Laughs].

 It’s a win-win. [Laughs] That’s a great note to leave the interview on, unless there’s anything else you want to say?

Nah, that’s cool. Make sure to tell everyone that our album is the greatest album of all time, and that if they don’t listen to it, then they’ll have bad sex for seven years.

If they don’t go to your tour either, that’s guaranteed bad sex for seven years.

That’s exactly right. We had a shaman put a little curse on the record.

Lucid Again is out now, via Poison City Records. The raucous bunch will be heading off on a national tour, hitting up the below dates:

CLOWNS TOUR DATES

June 2nd | The Grand Hotel, Cairns
June 3rd | Railway Hotel, Darwin
June 4th | The Boston, Perth
June 8th | Miami Shark Bar, Gold Coast
June 9th | The Zoo, Brisbane
June 10th | The Small Ballroom, Newcastle
June 11th | Imperial Hotel, Sydney
June 15th | Enigma, Adelaide
June 16th | The Brisbane Hotel, Hobart
June 17th | The Corner, Melbourne