Excursions into strange lands often prove for the most romantic inspirations for musicians… and Berlin would seem to have a subcategory of its own, as far as that sentiment goes. Brooklyn’s organically eccentric indie poppers, Clare and the Reasons – known for their cleverly quirky use of things such as kazoos, saws, and recorders – can add their names to that list. The band, led by Clare and Oliver Manchon, have been at it for more than half a decade now, with their first official LP, The Movie, dropping in 2007. The band has toured extensively with the likes of My Brightest Diamond and Nouvelle Vague, in addition to collaborating with Sufjan Stevens and Van Dyke Parks. In 2011 the band spent eight months in Berlin, navigating the city on a 1968 Schwalbe moped, model KR-51, and writing and recording their third album… KR-51. The result is something that plays as timeless and placeless… and I mean that in the best possible way. The songs range from whimsically morbid musings of a classical chanteuse to epically and postmodernly peppy lounge exercises to ten-ton-trucks of anti-fairy tale balladry. It is something that is surely appreciated by fans of Nico, those delighted by the most playfully introspective contemporary singer/songstresses, and those who enjoy the past decade’s most popularly accessible indie acts. The album dropped this past July, but the band is about to hit the road for a short string of dates, including a September 12th stop at World Café Live. I recently got a chance to chat with Clare about the process behind their latest effort, their most appreciated recent accomplishments… and Francois Truffaut.
Izzy Cihak: So you’re Brooklyn-based, but you relocated to Berlin for the writing and recording process of your latest album, KR-51. What was the experience like? I’m assuming it was quite a bit different from the first two albums.
Clare Manchon: Utterly different. We had the luxury of transplanting ourselves in the middle of a place we didn’t really know very well and finding our way around. Being lost is a great way to find music. We felt immediately, all at once, totally akin to the city, and like strangers in a strange land. It was so easy to be puzzled and intrigued each day. We know we didn’t want to make another New York album, not because we don’t like New York but, because we felt we would fall into musical footprints from our former steps here. In order to trip the mind, one often needs to have a different world surrounding it. We had long months of writing music in our east Berlin apt. — going for little sojourns daily, meeting characters and trying to understand bits and shreds of what had happened before us.
IC: How do you feel like your sound has evolved since your last release, Arrow?
CM: I think a lot of darkness that was trapped inside was able to come out. We had a bigger orchestra than ever, but it’s a less orchestral record. It’s completely rhythm-section-driven. It’s a record that gives Bob [Hart] more of a chance to rip on guitar. There are no apologies on this record, we meant everything that happened and take nothing back. We believe in this album, more than any. We also were able to create a sonic landscape easier than Arrow -because Arrow was pieced together and this album was recorded in one room for 18 days straight. No break, sonically fluid.
IC: For those who may have not heard the album yet, is there a particular song that they should check out, which you feel best captures the current state of the band?
CM: Many, many, many people have not heard this record! I would say people are drawn to “The Lake” the most, or “Make Them Laugh.” “Westward” is a musical adventure, if ever there was one on this album. “Magpie” means a great deal to me. Love “PS”… I guess the answer to your question is, I don’t have one song I can pull out. They all answer each other. Let’s be old fashioned and sit down and listen to the whole thing.
IC: What have been the most noteworthy responses to the album thus far, or your highlights of the year?
CM: I guess John Pareles giving it a rave was pretty exciting. I read the New York Times, have my whole life, so something like that is more special for me. I also read Interview Magazine, so that was nice to have a feature. I don’t know… I think when non-journalists love it, it means the most really.
IC: I love that the album is named after a moped (especially considering that my good friend just bought one). Would you care to characterize your love of mopeds, or is it really more of an “intense like of mopeds?”
CM: I do not like mopeds, except for Schwalbes. We have one, still in Berlin. It’s from 1968. It’s different from all other mopeds, perfectly designed to last forever. Visually, it is beautiful too. Our moped became a character for us in Berlin, spent so much time on her.
IC: Do you have any other major non-musical influences, or things that you’re passionately into, outside of the realm of the music world?
CM: Well, I like many kinds of visual art. Sol LeWitt, Ed Ruscha, Vermeer, Man Ray, Mark Bradford, Lartigue… This list could go on for ages. Film, such as Truffaut’s body of work, is deeply inspiring. A child’s simple honesty always gets me too.