John Bridges talks about the new Street Clones album
By Brian Tucker
“We’re not interested in innovation, some bands are, and that’s perfectly alright for them,” says Street Clones singer John Bridges. “It goes back to passion and power, and what we want to represent is just rock and roll energy.”
The punk rock and roll band performs from new EP Strange But True Sunday at The Dubliner with R&B/Rock/Electronic act D&D Sluggers, Bridges’ favorite local music act
“Tim makes great music. I think he’s the most amazing musician in town. I think he’s the most amazing musician in town. D&D is my favorite in Wilmington. We wanted to do a show together and The Dubliner kind enough to put that on.”
The EP is a shotgun blast, flowing with that passion, and energy that hits the ground running. Talking with Bridges you hear the humility and awareness of what the band aims to be. Featuring great cover art by Jamie Vayda, they again recorded the material DIY with Jon Bowman along with new bass player Chris Spencer. Bowman, co-founded N.C. label Mystery School Records with Bridges in 2010, recorded in the band their practice space.
“We could put out a record or go record an album, but we can’t do both. The DIY thing is not out of punk pride, if someone paid for us to do a studio album we would do it,” Bridges says with a laugh. But it begs the question of whether eschewing the DIY approach would lessen the band’s sound, or persona?
“I think so, but then, if it’s ‘we’re the Street Clones, we can’t make a record in the studio,’ then we’re playing a part, saying, we’re too punk for that. Honestly, if we could go full Brian Wilson on the next record, I’m not saying we’d do all that, but I would love to have organ and do a little more actually playing around and experimenting, if we had time to do that. Rich rock and roll band studio stuff, that would be awesome. But if it’s just a matter of cutting tracks, we don’t need to go into the studio; we don’t have anything to be gained there. We’ve gotten kind of good at the home DIY situation, we’re not married to it but it makes the most sense for us.”
The lack of pretension is a facet of a band that doles out omniscient punk rock songs (see the manic, fun “Cloning”) whose foundation is gnarly-groove heavy guitar work by Wes Holder, Anthony Stroud’s punchy drumming, and Bridges’ carnival barker-meets-tent preacher vocal delivery. The openness to ideas will keep them creatively engaged, and though not on the surface, there’s rock and roll music history at play, whether guitar echoes (from Black Sabbath to The Vapors), Bridges’ influence of country music in his writing (“Strange but True”), or crafting a straight-up punk tune (“Get Ripped”). They’re a punk band and a rock and roll band, but with each album comes its own subtle voices.
“We listen to punk albums, but that’s not what we’re necessarily all about. We listen to The Stylistics, Hall & Oates. Everybody in the band loves old classic country. I think it comes through a little bit in a weird way sometimes.”
Weird is good. They write about extinction (“Extinction a-Go-Go”), Christian rockers, selfish people, whiskey, working overtime, or the trap of pre-manufactured music. Maintaining a self-awareness of playing tried and true punk rock, filtered through their experiences, Strange but True ultimately sounds like a fresh Street Clones. Still, they never lose sight that we’re all human, something inherent in the song “Cloning.”
“It’s about when fashion and style trump art and integrity. We’re all absolutely all guilty of it. When bands are trying hard to be a specific genre, instead of playing music they want to make like no one else gives a damn. If you follow a trend you can cash in. The chance of cashing in doing your own original thing is kind of slim, because no one knows they have permission to like it. But people that do want different, you know it when you see it, and you’re hungry for it. You’re like, this is something I didn’t know existed and can’t live without it.”
Additional Q and A
Jamie Vayda did the artwork for your new album Strange but True?
He made the characters for the album. The thing with the cars and stuff, it’s all thematic from the song “Open Road” from the album, a driving song. That’s the giant convertible idea from that song. The characters in the car, the lobster boy is from a conversation we had, but the characters are from the last verse of “Strange But True” – “Wolf boy cries in the nighttime, Dolphin girl strokes his fur, Fortune teller has been drinking, All the freaks of the world.” There is something from every song that was to go on the cover but it grew more complicated so we didn’t include all the background stuff.
We didn’t write Strange but True as a record, it was material we were already working on. Most of those songs, they existed at the time we recorded the first album Cloned for your Pleasure in 2015. Most of them were still around when we did other sessions, material that ended up on 7-inches in the last two years. They’re new songs, ones we finally got around to finishing and arranging and came together as a good cohesive collection. It was sort of an accident, as we changed our sound a little bit. I feel like this record sounds different from our other stuff. Its got a little more groove or something going on, a little heavier, slower, and songs are longer for the most part. That’s what we were feeling at the time.
Its twenty mutes long which I feel is a good attention span. We recorded what was completely ready at the time and also what time allowed. We did all the basic tracks – bottom tracks (bass and drums) in one day, then did guitar overdubs and vocals the next day. We did the whole thing in one weekend in January. That was really about as much as we could do in one session. I thought, this is pretty good, let’s put it out.
The album hits the ground running, you don’t have time to breathe on this one.
I appreciate that. Some things are happy accidents I suppose, but we definitely did say let’s let this be a statement. We’ve regrouped and this is our first recording with our new bass player Chris Spencer. We have a bit of a different aggressive approach right now so some of the things we did contemplate consciously, like keep the tracks close together. Where one ends abruptly the next track just kind of begins. I like what you said about not having room to breathe, that get-in-get-out approach. Its only six songs, we’re gonna make it count. The last song “Get Ripped” is the newest song on that album and that one was, we’re still Street Clones, we’re still a punk rock band, let’s write a punk rock song.
“Heaven Knows” exhibits the band and different guitar sounds.
We actually recorded together as a full band with vocals going into everybody’s headphones, but that was a scratch vocal and guitar track. We might do multiple takes but it was a live recording together with the whole band performing at once. The next day we did a second guitar track. All the songs have two guitars even though we only have one guitar player. For the most part it’s double the leads, but they’re not the same, which is why it sounds crazy.
It’s like if you’re listening to someone performing “Free Bird” and someone’s trying to play the solo. Good luck, its three guitar players, you’re not going to be able to play all those notes. Not to compare the two specifically, impossible guitar leads, because it’s the same lead doubled but different. That’s was kind of specific, Wes had the recording to hear and then he knew what had played and then tried to play something similar but complimentary.
The leads are double but it’s fairly true to his guitar sound. Every recording we’ve done has been done with a little bit of a different guitar rig. He had some mean sounding crunch sound on this one. All in all I feel this (new album) is maybe not necessarily our best, but my favorite, what we’re about.
Looking back to your debut to now. What do you see?
I think we are more focused in our purpose, the intent, which we kind of started out saying we’re gonna be that band we want to hear. We’re gonna be a straight up punk rock and rock and roll band, damn the torpedoes kind of band, where precision is not as important as passion and energy. I guess if we were worried about precision they would get a singer that was a better singer. I think we get the point across. If not a good singer, I can certainly be emotive and get across what I’m trying to do. I think it’s more just honing in on being the band we want to be.
With us it’s that basics approach is more important. For instance, “Strange but True,” that’s a very simple, clean guitar tone. “Whiskey” on our first album is the other clean tone guitar song. “Strange but True” is only the second clean tone song, it has that almost western sound, surf sound to it. It is different from the other songs, we wrote that specifically.
Wes came over to my house and I said let’s do another clean tone song. It was amazing how easy it came together. We don’t write a bunch of songs, but when we do write songs it kind of clicks from the start. When you’re not trying to stick to the confines of a genre you’re able to draw from everything you like from the last 70 years of rock and roll it frees you up to make better music.
The guitar playing is front and center on the new album.
I think so, it’s more powerful. We didn’t double guitars the first time, kept it straight and simple. I think that’s something we wished had done then. So let’s not make the same mistake, not be in such a rush to make an album that we don’t do it the way we want to.
Is that part of what you learned from first album?
We’ve been recording with our friend John Bowman (co-founder with Bridges of Mystery School Records) he has a long history of NC bands – has been in AntiSEEN and is now in Warboys. He’s a very active musician and has been since I’ve known him. He’s done all of the Street Clones recordings and we’ve done it all on the cheap, all at our practice space, home DIY recording. It’s what’s available.
He has grown with us, this is the third session he’s done for us. He said every time its easier for him, has come to know what to expect – the next time we record that band, I’ll do this. We’ve learned from literal mistakes, things that were weaker in the recording.
As a vocalist – don’t sell yourself short.
Well, I appreciate that, I think it totally works for what we’re doing. That’s why I like that “punk” umbrella because real punk is whatever you want to be. As far as a singer, hell, I would rather be a legit R&B singer or a country singer and try and to write country songs if I had the vocal ability to do so. I feel like I want to be a singer but because of my limitations I kind of make the only kind of music I know how to. If I thought it was a problem for the band for real, I tell them all the time, you guys would be an awesome band if you had a good singer. They say, oh, whatever.
But if I legitimately felt that way I would fire myself and find them a good singer. The thing I admire about Neil Young, that I strive for in terms of him as a singer he knows the effect of his voice, he says he can’t hit the perfect tone or pitch but knows how to make his voice make a sound that expresses exactly what needs to be said. That’s what I’m trying to learn to do, exploit the weird, shitty, range of my voice.
Mystery School Records?
It has always been in North Carolina. We started it in 2010 to release our own music projects we had going on at that time in Shelby, a town between Charlotte and Asheville, out in no man’s land. It was partly because there were so many bands that we were into locally that just were under the radar of cool.
Bands that we thought were some of the best bands around that weren’t necessarily accepted into the cool music scene. We were like, that’s the kind of stuff we like anyway, dirty ugly punk rock and weirdo outsider hillbilly rock and roll. Let’s do that, champion the things we like. The other thing, they don’t need us, because they’re doing fine on their own.
Talk about the song “Cloning”
That’s like our song “Street Clones” part two. Its in the whole concept of the street clone, that everyone that’s into music and is cool, this includes the band, we’re not saying we’re better than anyone, the songs “Street Clone” and “Cloning” are basically, “Cloning” specifically, is about the pre-manufactured trend in so-called underground music. When fashion and style trump art and integrity, that’s a high-faluttin way of saying it, and we’re all absolutely all guilty of it. When you cant tell one band form the next band, and when other bands are really trying hard to toe the line and be a specific genre.
What old B-grade horror film would you write songs/score for?
Oh, that’s tough, because all the best one is can think of one of the things that make them great is the soundtrack. I’m not sure what kind of old movie I’d want to screw up that way. I don’t know, it’s not a B-grade horror movie, but Vanishing Point. “Open Road” was a little bit inspired by that movie, but I would love to write something for that type of movie, not even a really a horror movie.
One of those 70s gritty, crazy action exploitation movies, write a soundtrack or score for something like that. Then you can incorporate other stuff I’m interested in like weird, ambient noise and somehow bring grating punk rock and disturbing noise together.