bill bodkin speaks with alt-rockers The Clydes on the eve of their live debut …
The Clydes have taken a long, winding road to their live debut tomorrow night at The Court Tavern in New Brunswick, N.J. — and I have been there for the entire trip.
For the sake of journalistic honesty, The Clydes are fronted by Pop-Break co-founder Brent Jonson. You’ve probably come to know Brent as a pop-savvy writer with an affinity for vinyl, video stores and ’60s rock nuggets. But there’s something about Brent many people don’t know: The man can sing. I have seen him perform all over New Jersey and had the honor of introducing his last band, Rest Assured, at their first show. And no matter how great he is as a writer, when he gets on stage with his mad-scientist guitar virtuoso brother Brian, magic happens.
While in college, the brothers Johnson turned Rest Assured into one of the top bands at Rutgers University at the turn of the 21st century. They were the picture of ’90s-inspired khaki power-pop, releasing an album full of hooky songs about heartbreak called The Most Popular Girl In The Sea. They even graced the stage of the famed Stone Pony in Asbury Park — the mecca of New Jersey rock. But Rest Assured dissolved shortly after graduation.
In 2009, though, Johnson and Johnson formed The Clydes with bassist Andrew Lord Chandler and drummer Dan Temkin. They experimented more, delving into ’80s-styled post-punk and crunchy glam on their debut EP, The Cindy Bannon Sessions, delivering a sound that eschews the mainstream but has a pop sensibility that’s completely undeniable. And tomorrow night, Friday, April 29, The Clydes make their live debut at the venerable Court Tavern in New Brunswick at 10 p.m. (Vinnie Quaglieri, the drummer from Rest Assured, is filling in for Temkin.)
So while this Q&A may be a little biased or nepotistic, I want to take this time to re-introduce you to Brent and Brian Johnson, two guys you’ve become familiar with on Pop-Break, but also two guys you will discover are tremendous musicians. I recently caught up with the Johnsons at The Seville Diner in East Brunswick, N.J., a spot where Brent claims he has easily eaten at over 1,000 times. (Brent Johnson never exaggerates.)
Pop-Break: Let’s talk about the evolution of The Clydes. You guys were in Rest Assured, a pretty well-known college act, disappeared from music for a while and now you’ve re-emerged as this crazy-sounding pop outfit.
Brent Johnson: The Clydes are an off-shoot of Rest Assured. We spent four years at Rutgers, playing all over and culminating with our biggest show at The Stone Pony. We have a much different sound now. Then, it was classic mid-’90s/early-’00s guitar-laden college pop-rock, like Third Eye Blind or Weezer.
Brian Johnson: Rest Assured was the band I played in during my high school and college days, and I just kind of outgrew it. Brent moved to Virginia for a while [to pursue a career in sports journalism] and I just started recording all this instrumental solo surf rock. I really enjoyed it.
Brent: Rest Assured died out after I graduated college. We had put out a really good record — it was a catchy, guitar-driven album, a lot of relatable lyrics. But then I took a job in Virginia as a sportswriter. At the time, Brian was writing and recording all these crazy instrumental surf-rock songs, very Brian Eno-inspired, and e-mailing them to me. When I’d get home from work at 1 a.m., I’d be inspired to sit down in my kitchen with an acoustic guitar and write more stuff. This was before Garage Band was available, so I used to record my lyrics on cassette tapes and mail them back to Brian, and then he’d put them together.
Brian: Going back to the Rest Assured thing, I guess I just had a vendetta against the music. I didn’t want to do it anymore because I felt it was dishonest.
PB: How do you mean dishonest?
Brian: Well, look at pop artists today. The music they put out are either songs that are written and produced for them by other people or they do them to fit a certain scene. I wanted to leave Rest Assured behind and come up with a new sound, and that’s what we [The Clydes] are now.
PB: You mentioned the influences you had in Rest Assured. What bands and genres influenced the new sound you guys are putting out?
Brent: Elvis Costello. He’s regarded as one of the greatest lyricists of all-time, but he was also great at putting together pop songs with a catchy melody and without having them be cheesy — which is very difficult.
Brian: The person who changed me as a guitarist forever was Johnny Marr of The Smiths. When I was younger, I followed the ’90s formula of two verses, two choruses, solo. He changed all that for me. Also Prince, Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead, and Television.
Brent: A lot of Smiths and Roxy Music, they influence both of us. Roxy Music’s stuff is so whacked out, but it’s so listenable.
PB: Now, between the reformation of you two as a band and the upcoming show at The Court Tavern, you recorded a record. Tell me how that all came together and about adding the other piece to your band, bassist Andrew Lord Chandler.
Brent: We recorded new songs at our friend’s house, who just happened to have studio space in the basement. So we’d go into the studio, and our friend’s dad would just hang out and watch movies OnDemand upstairs while we played.
Brian: We needed a bassist, so we got Andrew, who I knew from my days playing high school volleyball. We were rivals but friends. He played for a different high school. We used to talk over AIM — you know, in the old Instant Messenger days — and we found out we had a lot of similar music tastes, liked a lot of the same Prince records.
Then we found a drummer, Dan Temkin, and he fit in perfectly. But he studies at the New England Conservatory of Music. He plays like Dave Grohl and he’s classically trained, but he lives in Boston and can’t commit to playing lives shows in Jersey because of school.
PB: Talk to me about the name of the record, The Cindy Bannon Sessions.
Brian: Well, Cindy Bannon’s husband, Kevin Bannon, was the former head coach of the Rutgers men’s basketball team. Andrew and I really liked him as a coach, so we created a Facebook page called Kevin Bannon Loyalists. One day we got a message from his wife, Cindy, who said … well … to keep it clean, that we weren’t very nice people. So when it came time to name the record, we decided to name it after Cindy Bannon and her wonderful husband.
PB: So why the delay to perform live? If memory serves correct, The Cindy Bannon Sessions came out in 2010.
Brent: Our drummer Dan lives in Boston, so it’s pretty much been we had a hard time finding a drummer. Brian and I did a few shows at house parties in the meantime. We eventually got our former Rest Assured, Vinnie Quaglieri, to step in. He has a very aggressive style, which we like. But we tried out a lot of drummers before him. And I work full-time at a newspaper, Brian as a teacher. Life happens, you know?
PB: Talk about the importance of performing at The Court Tavern, especially since your last band was all over the place in New Brunswick.
Brent: This is going to be the first of many shows we hope to play this summer. We knew some of the bands performing and we got on the bill. We love New Brunswick. It’s a city known for original music — it’s the cousin to Asbury Park in many ways. The Court Tavern is the symbol of original music in New Brunswick.
PB: So after The Court, what lies in the future for The Clydes?
Brent: We just want to make music. We’re in our late 20s. We want to get out there and make it happen. I mean, George Clooney didn’t break big til his mid-’30s, so we can do it. This is the first of many live shows, and we hope record a full-length album soon.
Brian: It feels good to make music, but we want more than just that. Some people are happy with making one record, and when they’re in their 50s, showing their kids or grandkids what they did. We want it to be more than that.