Catching Up With Hamish Kilgour of The Clean

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Best known as the propulsive drummer on recordings from New Zealand’s The Clean, Hamish Kilgour’s been playing music in bursts and spurts since the late 1970s. All those years back, The Clean—Hamish, his brother David on guitar and bassist Robert Scott, who took over for the late Peter Gutteridge—ratcheted up a racket and somehow hit the pop charts with its anthemic, if not simplistic, “Tally Ho.” The band’s back again, recently completing a U.S. tour, despite there not being a new recording since 2009’s Mister Pop.

Punk simplicity informed Kilgour’s discs with The Clean, but his 25 years as a New York City resident have seen the multi-instrumentalist embrace a range of rock and improvisational ideas amid his flurry of one-off musical endeavors and as a part of Mad Scene. His first solo record, All of It and Nothing, arrives as a stripped-down, 1960s psych-folk affair, replete with poetic intentions and slight instrumentation. Taking to the guitar, Kilgour skirts a penchant for overwhelming musical sentiment, but douses the whole thing with sometimes difficult-to-penetrate lyrics.

Now as then, Kilgour’s concerned mostly with composite parts, as opposed to individual triumphs. And even if this new disc is credited only to him, the veteran songwriter made certain to invite along his NYC compatriots to lend a hand. Recording All of It or Nothing at Gary Olson’s Marlborough Farms in Brooklyn, Kilgour was able to drop by on his bike and cycle home after completing what he’d deemed to be enough for one day. Imagining him riding home, devising a plan for the next session makes sense and might contribute to the laconic—and relaxed—nature of this newest album.

Paste: You and your brother recently issued new albums, but is it hard to have people fawn over the work you’ve done in the past as The Clean instead of focusing on new stuff?
Hamish Kilgour: Not necessarily. Your life’s sort of a continuum of what you’ve done, so they each have a relevance to the present. I don’t find it frustrating. I find it possibly interesting, because you reinterpret yourself over time.

Paste: If it’s all a continuation, how is All of It and Nothing related to your earlier work?
Kilgour: My record’s got acoustic guitar and vocals as the foundation. Then it’s filled in with percussion and other instrumentation…When my brother first heard it, he said it sounded like the Great Unwashed [another band counting the two Kilgours in its ranks]. So, it has a little feel like that.

Paste: Are you and David competitive in any way or is it a coincidence that you’ve both released solo material in such close proximity to one another?
Kilgour: Not necessarily. It just happened by chance, so there’s really no competition in it…I think we tend to be more a support. That doesn’t mean we’re not necessarily critical of some things, but it’s not a competition.

Paste: Most of your work has included some sort of collaboration with a family member, whether it’s been your wife, Lisa Siegel, in Mad Scene or David in The Clean. There aren’t any of your relatives on All of It and Nothing, though.
Kilgour: My record’s about conflict…But I’m not quite sure what I expressed with the record. I tend to work obtusely, lyrically. Things often reveal themselves after a period of time. I was quite excited while I was making it, but it’s sort of like I’m already over it and thinking of what I might do next.

Paste: Have you gone back and listened to the album since you’ve finished? What revealed itself?
Kilgour: I’m not quite sure I can answer that. I’ll probably have to sit down and listen to it again in a different situation and figure out what it means to me. I feel good about having done it—I’ve thought about making a solo record for a long time, and I’ve pretty much always worked in collaboration with people. I don’t know if I can get to the pure essence of the record, but I plan to do a second one and get to a more base state.

Paste: You’ve had more time to reflect on The Clean and earlier works. Do you perceive those things differently now than in the past?
Kilgour: I do. Just recently I went up and did a little tour with Theo Angel [ex-Jackie O Motherfucker]—we did a record called Cloudcraft…We did a little 6-day tour in British Columbia and Alberta. It was kind of a magical trip…driving and traveling and making music. Maybe it was a flowering of a lot of aesthetics, musically, on this trip—sort of like a transformation. All the things I’d been involved with came into play, but also we kept pushing out, getting to more out-there aesthetics, trying to make what I do more radical—more challenging for myself and for people.

Paste: Since you mentioned experimental music, I saw that you toured with Sun Araw. Have you been embraced by the States’ experimental musicians?
Kilgour: We played a gig and did this spontaneous set. It was really great…Theo, myself and Sun Araw, we played throughout our set. We’d done a few dates with him [beforehand] and then actually played with him. But in New York over the last 25 years, I’ve gravitated quite a bit to the experimental aspect of what people are up to in music. I guess I was labeled and branded as a “NZ person.”

People are familiar with these recorded documents of The Clean, but we’re always, even back in the day, a very experimental band. Especially live. So, it’s not really a great leap from making pop songs to more experimental music. I always find the confluence of two aesthetics kind of interesting—the so-called accessible or commercialist or mainstream aesthetics and the experimental.

Paste: Was The Clean best represented in a live setting, where you were doing more experimental stuff?
Kilgour: Possibly. There’re problems with recording. It’s sort of interesting, because in the avant-garde or experimental music of the ’60s, a lot of it wasn’t documented—it’s in the ether. Sometimes it’s quite satisfying, because you can’t preserve what you’ve done and you can keep it within you—sort of holding on to it as documentation.

Paste: It’s like that Eric Dolphy quote: “When you hear music, after it’s over, it’s gone, in the air. You can never capture it again.”
Kilgour: Yeah, but it’s also not gone, too, because it, at a cellular level, is within you.