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April 14, 2006
C-Clamp is one of several bands that I discovered not through musical connections but through artistic ones. Andy Mueller, the primary artist behind the Ohio Girl design company, also releases albums through his Ohio Gold imprint, which has been the home of C-Clamp. It was Mueller's beautiful design work - his ability to create both gritty, organic images and expansive, clinical images is perhaps unmatched - that first drew me to C-Clamp's debut album, Meander + Return. The artwork, which was a slightly trippy pattern of darkened cascades and wave-like forms rendered by, as Mueller explained it, mixing ink into a fish tank, served as a fitting visual description of the music contained within. Through a series of smartly designed 7-inch singles, compilation appearances and even a single-sided, hand-etched LP, the Chicago outfit has developed a small but substantial following with cross-platform fans of both Tortoise and HUM. C-Clamp are currently working on their second album, Longer Waves, which will also be released by Ohio Girl whenever the band gets around to finishing it.

Such remarkably un-prolific output from such a superbly skilled group of musicians can be somewhat frustrating, and when it came to my attention that I was not the only person wondering where C-Clamp had been and what they had been up to (read: when is the new album coming out?, I tracked down guitarist Tom Fitzgerald and bassist Nick Macri in hopes of prying some news from them.

---

LAS: Alrighty. So, C-CLAMP has been off the scene for a long time. Way too long. But now there is a new record, out of the blue after all of these years. Where have you guys been hiding out?

Fitzgerald: C-Clamp has been out of the loop for a while. We have many, many lame excuses. The obvious ones include injured drummers, broken vans and day jobs. We also had a lot of trouble deciding when to record, with whom and for what label. All of these mundane pitfalls really didn't help our creative momentum either. We would write new parts or get the feel of a song just right and then we wouldn't play for three months and have to start all over. It felt a little like the Odyssey or something. We'd almost have our shit together and then Frantz would shoot a nail through his hand or we'd have to cancel shows or recording dates due to money or what ever. Recording this new album became a huge relief. I thought something else would go wrong at the last minute and we'd have to reschedule for another 6 months down the road. The gods were conspiring against us for a while, but we finally appeased the right ones and got it done.

Not to give you a big head or anything, but I find C-CLAMP to be one of the most amazing bands ever. Although what you guys do can be *compared* to other bands, I honestly don't think there is anyone else out there doing what C-CLAMP does. I'm interested in the process that goes into the writing of a C-CLAMP song. The songs seem to be on an instrumental level, but there are vocals with most of the songs. Where does the C-CLAMP sound come from? The reason I find you guys so unique is that although the music has an instrumental feel to it, it isn't plagued by the hollow, string popping, noodle sound that most instrumental bands are. Nor is there the overly funk/jazz sound of bands like 5ive Style. I think it is safe to say that C-CLAMP comes from the same level as some of those bands, but what sets you apart is your ability to rock out. So many of your songs have an almost HUM-like aire of distortion and texture, yet you retain the feel of a traditional instrumental outfit. I think "Passing" from the LP is a perfect example.

Fitzgerald: Writing songs can be a very weird process. Sometimes you get to the answer by the most round about way. Some songs just fall together and others are like pounding square pegs through round holes. I don't know which way makes the best songs. It's just how it works out. I find myself coming up with bits and pieces fairly easily, but molding those pieces into a cohesive whole is often what is difficult. Many of our songs aren't very vocally driven in terms of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, but I still like the idea of that sort of thing. It's cool to take that sort of formula and use it in different ways by repeating a rhythmic or melodic theme in a different way, but still with that connection. Lately I have been in to some more traditional poppy sort of stuff. You just have to find other ways of messing with the formula to make it interesting. For me, distortion is just a flourish. It's weak as the meat, but it makes a great sauce. I'm not sure about the whole rock thing. I suppose we got a little rock but that's not how I see us. I like lushness and texture and interesting rhythms, and if the rock comes out then so be it. But that is not necessarily our goal.

Every musician has influences, but is there any group influences for C-CLAMP, anyone who could be seen as having an effect on your music? It is a pretty tired question; but then again most bands have a much more standard and/or obvious sound than you guys do.

Fitzgerald: Influences are hard to site. There are so many if you stop and think about it. Everyone we've ever heard I guess. You can definitely be influenced not to sound like someone as much as the other way around too. If I had to pick a couple right now I guess I'd pick Ry Cooder and Leo Kottke. That only scratches the surface though.

Which is cooler, the General Lee or BA's van on the A-Team?

Fitzgerald: Lets put B.A. in the General Lee. That wouldn't go over well in Hazard County, would it?

In addition to your lengthy hiatus, I don't remember seeing C-CLAMP on that many show bills in the past. I can only remember two occasions that I knew you guys were playing a show near me, both of which I went to. Despite being the invisible band in the Midwest you guys were still always very much a part of the scene. I don't know how many times I would see C-CLAMP mentioned in the liner notes of a record by someone like Shiner or Castor. How is it that you were such an integral part of the scene while being out of action for so long?

Fitzgerald: Playing live has always been difficult. We haven't been able to do any proper tours yet. We also always wanted to avoid playing the same set in Chicago over and over, if only for our friend's and family's peace of mind. Theoretically, a show should be exciting or new or different in some way. I fear boring people with the same old stuff every time, what's the point. Hopefully as we get cooking again that won't be a problem because we'll have new songs all the time. I have no idea why people still remember us. I guess a lot of them are just our friends, which is really nice.

This might just be me, but C-CLAMP has a very visual feel for me. The cover for Meander seems to fit the mood of your music perfectly. My favorite C-CLAMP song is "Fox and the Hound" and every time I listen to it I can almost see the fabled chase - the opening feels like leaping over and under fences and hedges, then the chase slows a bit before bolting off again in a brief weaving pattern. Mid way things break down into slow motion, like the hound is closing in on the tired fox, but sure enough it picks up again, briefly, before dying down for good. What are some of the ideas behind such dynamic songs? Is there any imagery that you yourselves associate with a song?

Fitzgerald: Imagery is usually part of the song idea, whether lyrically or musically. Sometimes the music suggests certain images which inspire lyrics. Sometimes it's the other way around. I like to see those kinds of connections between thought and sound and image and weave them together. They're all connected anyway. Andy Mueller really seems to understand that and I think his art and design have reciprocally inspired us all over again.

I know that Frantz just left the band and I'm wondering if you have anyone to replace him?

Fitzgerald: We're working on it. Although a duo is sort of romantic, like Simon and Garfunkel. No, I'm sure we'll get a band going for playing out at least.

Are there any plans for the near future, after Longer Waves comes out? Any extensive touring?

Fitzgerald: Our plan now is to record again by the end of the summer. We have several songs on their way. We're crossing our fingers.

Do you have any ideas if C-CLAMP is going to be a life long in-and-out project for you guys or if it will ever become full time or die off completely?

Fitzgerald: What's full time? We would definitely starve if c-clamp were our source of income. Sad but true. Sometimes I think the desire to create music is a curse. Life would be so much easier without it, but I think we're both pretty consumed by it. I can't imagine quitting anytime soon. Even during these past three years where very little has happened the idea of music and the quest to make it have claimed the majority of my brain.

Just to keep ribbing you about it - what's up with that empty ass web page of yours?

Fitzgerald: Web page? We have a web page?

Macri: Well, smart guy. I have not learned HTML yet, and my friend Andy who helps us do Ohio Gold doesn't have time, seeing as that he is a hotshot designer and all. So, we have enlisted Jason from Dianogah to design it for us. But, as with everything else having to do with Ohio Gold, it will be ready when we are finished with it (my guess is by June). Don't mark my words.

What is the connection between C-CLAMP and Ohio Gold? Is OG ever going to resurface?

Fitzgerald: Nick will be able to field the OG question much better, but it has to do with being really, really indie.

Macri: Ohio Gold will resurface with the new C-Clamp record, "Longer Waves" in May. OG never went away, there was just nothing being released. The connection between C-Clamp and OG is that OG is "run" by me, with tons and tons of help from everyone on the label; the Dianogah boys, Tom Fitzgerald, Andy Mueller, and other assorted friends.

It seems like "back in the day" there was a lot more unconditional comradery between bands than there is now, and definitely a lot more of a positive relationship between the fans and the bands. As someone who's been in the scene for a while, what do you make of all the scenesters and criticisms about so-and-so selling out or so-and-so is only in it for the money?

Fitzgerald: This question's hard.

That's right - LAS poses the tough questions, gets to the nitty-gritty.

Fitzgerald: I don't know really. We'll leave this one for Nick too.

Macri: No comment.

Is the Chicago music mafia really going to take over the world? What is with all of the bands up there - is there something in the water?

Fitzgerald: Chicago is a pretty great place I think. It's big enough and has some good clubs and all that. I feel a little too close to it to make any conclusions though. Nick and I are both first generation suburbanites - transplants from the south side. We were both in bands in high school. It just always seemed possible guess. There were always bands around on some level. It's not like you have to catch a big break or something to get gigs. People just set them up, whether at the VFW hall or whatever. There's probably all sorts of stuff in the water.

You've probably seen the toothpaste commercial: Baking Soda or Whitening?

Fitzgerald: I like baking soda. I think whitening irritates my mouth, or maybe that's tartar control.

Give me a funny tour story or anecdote.

Fitzgerald: I'm guessing Nick's going to mention that time we were in Kalamazoo with HUM and got a free pizza from the club. It had shrimp and ham and pineapple on it or something like that. None of us really wanted to eat much before the show so we waited 'till we were done and dug in while watching HUM. It was great pizza. Nick was the first one to notice though that it was crawling with ants. It was kind of dark in the club. We all had a shot or two of Jagermeister and called it a night.

There was also this one time I was driving us home from Detroit after a show and got so tired that I started hallucinating. I saw a polar bear lumber across the highway. We pulled over after that and slept at a gas station.

Who would win in a tag-team wrestling match, HUM or Shiner? Why?

Fitzgerald: I think Jay Ryan of Dianogah would probably beat everyone, even the guys in his own band.

SEE ALSO: www.ohiogirl.com

--
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.

See other articles by Eric J Herboth.

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