The Repository #16: Head Full of Cool – David Kilgour

Came across this piece recently that my dear friend, Lee Jackson, did for Foxy Digitalis in 2004. Since Lee’s passing in 2012, I’ve thought a lot about the work we did together and as Foxy Digitalis has come back into the fold, getting these pieces back into the world has been one of the many things I’ve wanted to get done. So, with that here’s a short interview he did with David Kilgour. – BR

David Kilgour is a legend. He’s been making music for 25 years, alone, and with his brother Hamish (on drums) and, in the early days, Peter Gutteridge (bass) as The Clean, a key band in defining the droned out jangle pop of Flying Nun Records. Anchored on driving, metronymic rhythms and David’s chugging fuzz guitar, Clean tracks like “Tally Ho!,” “Point That Thing Somewhere Else” and “Fish” are classic post punk standards that signal the way for entire genre developments, especially what’s become known as indiepop and noise pop. Much of The Clean’s material, from those early singles up to their underrated Unknown Country LP (Flying Nun), has been collected and issued recently as the 2CD Anthology for Merge Records, and in 2001 they released one of their finest records in years, Getaway (Merge). Needless to say, either would make an ideal stocking stuffer this Christmas. This interview also focuses on Kilgour’s solo work, which started in 1991 with “Here Come the Cars” (Flying Nun) and has developed into a remarkably potent period with his last two LP’s, Feather in the Engine and Frozen Orange, both on Merge. It is an honor and a privilege to give you the one, the only, David Kilgour.   

Frozen Orange is a pretty moody record. Is there any central theme?

For me there is a general theme running through FO, without getting too personal I think it’s kinda obvious that its very relationship based, ie. about my relationships with people in general. I’ve had a pretty nutty last few years and really had the need to express it out via the music, I have no idea why, perhaps music is just a way of self therapy for me. In these past few years I’ve certainly had some brand new experiences and feelings I never new existed. I tend to be motivated to create music by how I’m feeling, funnily enough. So yeah, I wanted this LP to have a moody vibe, not depressing, just moody.

What is the significance of the cover image? Are you the diver?

Perhaps I am the diver; sometimes I like to think so. Its all an oblique reference to the LP being somewhat of a time capsule, frozen in time, a time of searching the depths…. mmmm… as someone recently said there does seem to be some kind of synergy between the title and the image.

What singers/songwriters, back in the early days or now, are influences?

Oh boy, that’s a big question…. ahhh…. as a kid I loved the Stones and Dylan and a little later the Velvet Underground to name the obvious……

Could you briefly tell us about the formation of The Clean, and what Dunedin was like back then?

Hamish and I got together with Peter Gutteridge in 78 and made lotsa horrible noise till we learnt what chords were. Dunedin was really dull for a teenager in this time, the hotels closed at 10pm….I guess it was a party scene…..full of surfers,V8 boys ,disco kids and hippies…..

You played an early gig opening for The Enemy (Ed Note: The Enemy would evolve into Toy Love, and Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate would form Tall Dwarfs soon after)?

That was our first gig, Hamish on drums, Peter on bass and sort of singing… We didn’t know what chords were and I made up my own. We just made a horrible racket for about 20 minutes. Of course, The Enemy and our friends thought we were great and we never looked back. The Enemy was great right from the start, cool songs and a very important band in the scheme of things. I stole lots’a stuff from Alec Bathgate in the early days.

Was “Fish” more composed or did it evolve out of a jam?

I pretty much wrote that after tryin’ to work out how to play the Doors ‘The End’. So
I guess it was composed!

Do you remember recording “Tally Ho”?

Yeah, it was in a guy’s house who had an eight track, a heavy metal type and who had no idea what we were trying to do. We would’ve made a better job on our 2 track. We were pretty disappointed at the recording but went with it anyway.

So it wasn’t as much fun as it sounds?

Wasn’t really fun due to the metalhead, but we certainly felt it had ‘hit’ written all over it

What was it was like being on Flying Nun in the early 80s?

Loads of fun fun fun, and we made it ourselves.

I was surprised when I noticed a commercial for The Dallas Morning News features a Clean song, “Wipe Me, I’m Lucky” I think. Am I nuts?

Yes, you are correct, they approached us a year or so ago bout that, funny huh?

Yeah, it’s actually quite a lovely ad. A big part of what makes a David Kilgour song special is that kind of bittersweet familiarity. How do you make this moodiness so appealing?

I like to think it’s the chords and melodies.

I remember reading in Dream that you hold “Here Come the Cars” as your “soft rock album.” Are there records or artists that’ve informed that side of your music? Big Bread fan?

The main vibe was I didn’t want to sound like the Clean. And yes, I’m a Bread fan.

What is your perspective as a songwriter? Are you wounded, enlightened, as clueless as the rest of us…?


Is any of the Great Unwashed stuff in print currently?

There is a comp of that stuff. I think it may still be available, I know they (Flying Nun) released it a year or so ago.

Do you have a stronger fan base in NZ, or anywhere else, or is it more dispersed?

I would say it’s dispersed but enough to live off of.

Could you take us through a breakdown of your previous two records, …and The Heavy Eights” and Feather in the Engine?

Heavy 8’s LP: kind’ve dramatic, nice production. Feather was pretty much made and pasted together at home. I pretty much taught myself to engineer making this LP. An eclectic bunch of songs but somehow it holds together.

Are the Heavy Eights a revolving ensemble?

Yes, but the latest lineup looks to be a stayer. It’s been stable for a few years now.

Any opinion on cute girls in your audience wearing peach-colored earmuffs?

Can’t say I’ve noticed.

Is being a singer/songwriter your “career” or do you do something else too?

It’s my life. I do live in fear of having to get a “real job”.

Are you married?

Not technically….. I’ve been livin’ in sin for a long time.

I’m going to throw out a few names and maybe you can share a quick thought:

Barbara Manning…

Good friend, great songwriter.

Noel Ward…

One of my best buddy’s and a fuckin’ great musician with a great set of ears. Sadly he lives at the other end of the country, hence his absence from the Heavy 8’s

Mark Nevers

Again, a good buddy, great ears, great engineer/producer, good cook and probably as mad as myself. Keen fisherman.

Yo La Tengo…

Very good friends and sometimes I think they are solely responsible for keeping my name alive in the USA. Oh, they make great music too! I’ve had a lotta fun playing with YLT over the years.

Lou Reed…

Wrote a few good songs a long time ago.

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