Any attempt to genre-ize Cleric would be futile. Please note: it’s not Philadelphia’s Cleric, and it’s not, grindcore newcomers, Cleric. It is simply Cleric. Their musical ability alienates them from any genre, scene or art form.
A decade ago the band would have ran the risk of being pushed off the edge of the earth by a music industry that had no use for them. But today’s world of artistic survival-of-the-fittest sustains them, and the Internet gives Cleric it’s lynchpin; it connects them with other the crazies out there. It allows them to live in their own world, an agreed upon reality where nothing is at it seems. To some it’s just noise, to others, it’s the band they’ve been waiting for, and for me it’s a bunch of the most skilled musicians that I know doing something that I cannot define nor even hardly describe, and therefore makes them well worth writing about.
When people ask you what kind of a band you’re in, what do you tell them?
Larry: It’s kind of different every time. We just throw it off the top of our heads, like now.
James: I don’t. I usually say that we’re a "psychedelic doom metal band," because that kind of sums it up. Even though I know that psychedelic music these days is looked at as acoustic guitars strumming along and keyboards. Bands like Brian Jonestown and stuff like that are considered modern psychedelia. There’s a drug use connation to it, not that any of us are actively taking psychedelic drugs at this point in our lives. But, yes psychedelic doom metal. Psychedelic in the sense of reality being distorted, doom as in a sense that the world is ending, and metal because we use distortion pedals.
Matt: I like throwing new words together like, psychedelic grindcore.
James: Ambient grindcore I think works.
Nick: I usually like to preface it with, "Its hard to explain." We were talking to someone outside Larry’s house today, and had to gauge the audience to determine what kind of band we wanted to tell them we were. We said we were very heavy rock with jazz influences. She’s like, "So it’s jazzy rock?" I was like, "Sure, kind of."
But, metal is an important facet? That’s always in there?
James: Usually I throw that in there so that people understand that were going to be yelling and there’s going to be distorted guitars. If people are open to hearing metal then they’re open to hearing Cleric. I like to put that out there because it’s kind of like, "Do you wanna fuck this or don’t you?" Some people are going to be like, "I don’t like anything involving someone screaming."
Larry: I think there would be some people that wouldn’t normally like metal or hardcore that would be open to Cleric, because there might be a musical side to Cleric that they’d like, either classical arrangements or jazzy rhythms. I usually tell older people that it’s a mix between Pink Floyd and Metallica. Because I know that they know Pink Floyd is spacey and Metllica is heavy. I think we are way heavier than Metallica and way more out there than Pink Floyd. If it was a more metal person, I’d say it’s a mix between Meshugah and Mr. Bungle, so they’d understand that it’s weird an versatile but also brutal and pounding.
Do you think metal is an interesting genre still?
James: If you consider Meshugah a metal band then, yes. They’re actually, in any genre, one of the few bands that raise the bar with every release. Other bands always peak at some point. These guys have a good handful of albums and have continued to progress forward and be really outward as far as saying what their musical ideals are. In terms of metal in general, I think there’s a lot of convoluted ideas as far people playing throwback metal and these new bands that want to do speed-metal, old-school, whatever.
You said most bands peak at some point. The bands that you’ve liked, that you feel have peaked, why do you think they’ve peaked?
Matt: Sometimes it’s just conflicting expectations. A band starts with integrity and then their expectations change, and the music changes because they start calculating.
James: I think you can look at it in two groups as far as the bands go. Either a band is going to reach a certain level of success and dilute their ideals, or you have a band that really is a form of expression despite whether they take advantage of the opportunities they are given as a result of their success. I think it comes down to what’s going to outweigh, that person’s need to express themselves through their music, or a person who’s musically talented and can use that to express something, but really has more traditional ideals at play. Whether they are going to shift their talent to do something to fit their changing ideals. Or whether they are truly driven to make something.
Matt: Yeah it’s a matter of what you’re driven by. Whether you’re driven by your craft, or driven by what you want from your craft.
Nick: Well, I don’t think you can generalize it that much. But you could be dedicated to something for ten or fifteen years and then have an experience, and suddenly everything you felt before doesn’t hold the same weight.
James: We’re all going to sell out the first chance we get. Individually and as a group, it doesn’t make a difference.
Larry: There’s certain bands that are never going to be satisfied by what their doing, so they’re always trying to up the ante. Like Meshugah has become like that, you always know that there next album is going to be crazy, because they’re not going to be satisfied with doing what they’re doing. They are always going to push their boundaries.
Matt: Secret Chiefs are like that.
Larry: Radiohead has been like that. Cursive is like that I think. Other people get old and become content.
Nick: Also, sometime bands just get stuck in shitty record deals.
Matt: True sincerity doesn’t come from a place of expectation. I want the bands I like to be themselves. I want to be a voyeur, not a consumer. I don’t want to affect an artist’s decisions.
James: Like the guy last night who told us we need more treble in our songs. Tell me what we need brother! What else do we need? Do we need you?
I’m not trying to bolster anyone’s ego, but at your specific instruments, some of you are the most skilled musicians I’ve ever met. I wonder whether that makes songwriting difficult, do you all have a tendency to try and take the lead?
Larry: We’re almost always all in the lead, so it balances out, always. We might be the only band with a lead drummer, a lead bassist, a lead guitarist and a lead vocalist.
Nick: It’s different for me because my contribution comes alongside or after the instrumentals. I quit playing drums when I met Larry, because I knew I’d never get anywhere near that good. Now I think of ideas through Larry, or bass through James. I think we all write stuff with eachother’s sensibilities in mind. The vocals have an element that might put them in the forefront, but most of the vocals are generated from rhythmic patterns in the drums. I feel like we end up splitting one lead part into four instruments.
Matt: All of our sense of time is different but complimentary. It’s basically trying to get four counterpart things to become one big sound that doesn’t sound like one instrument ever could.
James: I think a big part of it is that we all believe that the other players in the band are inhumanely good. So we often will come up with ideas that are truly challenging. So when we talk about deferring to eachother’s sensibilities. A lot of times our ideas are somewhat crazy, but we are constantly challenging…or really just always expecting more out of each other. "Like hey I never thought of trying to make my bass sound like a whale having sex, but now that you’ve brought it up, I want to rise to the challenge."
Larry: It’s always interesting when you have someone coming from another place. If a drummer is writing a melody it might be one that a melodic player would never think of or they might think of a drum part that I would never think of playing because it’s unnatural or different, but ill still love the idea and try to do it.
James: You will tell me the craziest bass ideas.
Larry: I’ll be like, "Go pshhhhh bedelebup, pppssshhhh," you can do it
James: Just do kind of a like an explosion into cartoon elements…
Larry: "Picture the biggest wall of sound crashing down into the ground." Here’s an example, one concept for a new part I’ve been noodling with, is based on a LOST concept, the idea of pushing a button to keep the electromagnetism at bay. So I came up with a part that’s kind of like, "wwaaahhhh booosshhh, waahhhh booooshhh, Put it back down!" So Nick will have a keyboard part that sounds like electromagnetism rising up and the rest of us will have to push it back down. And he’ll get it, whether he’s seen Lost or not.
Matt: And it will be awesome, even if we don’t succeeded, it will still be crazy.
Larry: Because it comes from such an abstract place.
Matt: I’d think writing a TV show or something would be the same, and I like to look at writing music like writing a movie or a story, I try to think about sounds as narratives.
James: All of our music ideas start with a story line or a scene or an idea, "Where are we right now? This is the atmosphere, the scene, the context and this is what it sounds like." But all of our ideas, we set up in a way where we lay out the ideas for each other so we can attack it from four angles. That’s the other thing we are always open to eachother’s ideas. If someone brings an idea to the table and no one else is into it, the idea will stand if the persons really into it. Even if we’re not that into the idea, we know it will turn into something in the long run. We’re really pretentious. "So and so wouldn’t have this idea if it weren’t better than everything else out there."
Matt: I seek depth, if I don’t get that really quickly, if I don’t get depth, I get bored and claustrophobic and then I want to stop listening. It’s the same way with writing, "Is this piece fulfilling enough to know that this is why I’m being broke and constantly confused. Is this part worth all that pain?" It has to be, it has to be worth it.
Larry: We try to look at it from the perspective of it already being done. "How will I have already done this."
Do you guys ever worry about being accessible?
Matt: I actually think it is accessible…to people who are like me. What’s not accessible to me is what’s accessible, things with no depth or soul. That’s like a marketing term that the corporate white man used to seize the art from the native.
James: For example, my mother honestly loves Cleric. But she wouldn’t have come to Cleric if it weren’t for that fact that I’m her son and she’s supportive of what I do artistically. But she saw us live and heard the album and said after a few listens that it was symphonic and orchestral and began to speak about it the way that we do. Really this is for anyone who enjoys music beyond the idea of listening to music at work. Like you work at Baskin Robbins and listen to the top forty station and you say, "Yeah I listen to music all day." No you don’t, you listen to the top forty station at your shitty job.
Larry: Or when you ask someone what kind of music they listen to and they say, "all kinds," which means none.
James: I bet you don’t, I bet you don’t have any Willie Nelson albums. So whatever I was talking about… accessibility, yeah. Some people if there’s screaming, if it’s loud distorted and fast, they don’t want anything to do with it and won’t be into it.
Matt: Those people are totally irrelevant to me.
Nick: But you have to think of it like this, most bands that are just loud screamy bands, suck. There’s a lot of really terrible, offensively bad, metal and punk and hardcore, all of that shit develops a following and there’s a scene for it.
James: We like country music, we like rap, classical. We own the albums and listen to them and are honestly really into it. That’s not anything towards Cleric. It’s just about us as people and how we listen to music. We are open to it, there is no wrong answer, and that’s how it works as far as ideas in the band. Primarily, we call ourselves a Philadelphia band, even though Larry lives in Queens, but we are not at all involved in the Philly music scene, or really any of the bands in Philly. I think bands in cities with scenes, if you’re trying to appeal to the masses that’s one thing, but if your involved with musicians in your area and people you see from day-to-day, like Minneapolis is a great example of this. Everyone is musicians or artists or whatnot and they think there so open to different styles and supportive, but the fact that you see everyone at the cofee shop at 10 in the morning and you see everyone at the bar at night all these same people you’re going out to support and making music for. It factors in and it closes your musical world. Whether you’re trying to appeal to the masses or not, I think even being part of a community and making music for these certain people that you see at lunch everyday and not wanting people to be like, "Hey that was some weird shit man."
I think we’ve sort of isolated, and that it’s helped us. It’s not like, "Hey I saw Joe at lunch today and he comes to all of our shows and we drink together and he might hate us if we do this really weird chromatic riff that goes for 18 beats and gives you a headache."
So it’s hard to find a scene for you guys?
James: The bands we can communicate with, as people and as bands, that get us and we get them as people and as musicians, bands like Krallice, Dysrythmia, Lord Mantis from Chicago, Child Abuse are a great fucking band here in town.
As far as having a scene, we just don’t bother. We play with a lot of shitty bands, a lot of shitty metal bands. A lot of metal is fucking shitty man, it’s so bad.
Larry: I think by staying away from being part of scene we’ve broadened our horizons. I used to only tell certain people about Cleric. Certain cousins or uncles I’d be like, "They’re not going to like it," but since we’ve added more orchestral or classical parts, I now tell everyone about Cleric. I kind of think that by trying not become accessible, we’ve become accessible.
James: We will prove both sides of every argument in our favor. We are totally accessible to really everyone, but we are not. Accessibility doesn’t factor in our writing, but our knowledge of accessibility and the fact that we try to exclude it from our writing, is instrumental in our process. Really it’s all true at the same, time, really it’s all one moment.
Larry: Cleric is every possible answer to every possible question.
I’m not sure I can transcribe this interview. Anyway, music being the way that is now with the Internet and all, how do you think it works for you?
James: I think the internet, file sharing, iTunes, MySpace, and all of this, I think it did something before now, to set the stage for bands today and show that there’s another way. People online are more open to music, whether they know it commercially or not. The idea of finding music on the Internet is a very viable idea, people are confident in themselves to find music. If you take he time to follow every friend request from bands on MySpace, you’ll find something that’s good and you’ll want to know more about. So I think that set the stage for all bands right now, if you’re actually making good music but for some reason don’t have the big push that usually defines what gets big and what doesn’t, you can still ride on your music and put your faith in that. People hitting you up for battle of the bands and those comps that you can pay to get on, they may seem like good marketing techniques, but really it’s just treading water in a lot of ways. We’ve just tried to focus on making the music as good as we can so we could just say, "This is us."
Nick: When we started with MySpace we had fans from Australia and no local fans.
Do you now is a better time for your band to be than it would have been ten years ago?
Larry: I think we would have been like a little known punk band.
Nick: If we were our age then, the band would have been completely different. We all got our roots in late nineties nu-metal. We were all like, "Fuck yeah, I’m pissed and this sounds like how pissed I am!" I think we take solace in the fact that we can get our music everywhere. We approach the music in Cleric with these massive ideas. We’ve talked about wanting Cleric’s sound to be the scariest music possible and wanting it to sound like the end of the world. I think if we didn’t have the Internet at our disposal and were stuck playing the same two shitty bars, it would have crushed those massive ideas.
James: Reality would have beaten us down a long time ago. By the way, everyone at Revolver and Web of Mimicry deserves a big high five from us. They heard the music and went for it. They heard it and really got behind us. They’d never met us, we could have been crack heads.
Nick: We have an album out with National distribution, and you can’t get it in most record stores in Philly. It’s in Israel!
James: The fact that you can record yourself on a digital recorder that you can buy affordably at guitar center, and put it on MySpace and have people download it and listen to it on their iPods, that should give any band hope. That’s a huge thing. It’s gave us the knowledge that we could have this thing, record it, and someone would listen to it. At least it will be out there. At least people have the option to hear it.
Larry: In growing up throughout the 90’s, I think we all had the idea that we had to get signed and get a record. But the reality changed, and we realized we could do it ourselves. That being the case, we’d rather have five people really love us than have a million people kind of like us.
Tell me about the ARG you guys did.
James: We did this game and basically put up 7 websites that, on the surface, pertained to this weird doomsday theory that was going to come to a head on our album release date. So we structured all this stuff about the world ending due to harmonic vibrations. It kind of dipped into reality and then back into our own little pseudoscience. Then behind all the websites and incorporated through them was this crazy labyrinth game that started with a few postings on our site and few message boards that was a challenge to find our lyrics online. So, the way to begin was to Google, "How will I have already done this?" Once you Googled the phrase online, one thing came up and it would start you on this sort of labyrinth. So you Googled this phrase and went to this page, you had to find this whole sort coded, hidden thing that started you on this trip through thousands of pages that took about 45 hours to get through.
Me: How long did it take to make it?
James: I think we made it in like a month and change, being on the computer all day. I did the initial doomsday stuff. So once I had that little world built, Nick and I went in on the game behind it and it took a little longer than a month.
Nick: We put this doomsday stuff on Message boards and people would start calling balderdash and trying to prove it was a hoax.
James: A lot of people were convinced that it was part of marketing from JJ Abrams for the movie Cloverfield 2. So it just sort of ballooned into this whole half doomsday-conspiracy-people-thing and half-Cloverfield thing.
Larry: Which is funny because LOST’s ARG was part of the inspiration
James: We tracked people’s progress through IP addresses and a fuck load of people played. A bunch of people would get up to about phase two or three of ten. Three people ended up winning and finally getting through the whole thing. Three people won but only through being really dedicated and putting a lot of time into it.
Nick: The label loved it too.
How do you find new audiences usually react to Cleric at shows?
Larry: They stand and stare.
James: They leave, even our friends. I’ve had friends text me and say, "Sorry I couldn’t take it." Even friends that actually like the music, it can be hard to take. Undeniable comes with overwhelming. Some things, whether you like them or not, you have to admit that they’re something. People will be like, "I’m going to check out the album" and I say, "Well, it’s fucking long."
Nick: People laugh a lot. I notice this because more than anyone else I kind of stare out at the crowd and people laugh a lot at parts that are kind of ridiculous, the parts that we would usually laugh at.
James: We’re not trying to get across in the lyrics that we’re tough or anything like that, like. Sometimes there’s a third person kind of horror story going on. We try to overwhelm. If something is too ridiculous, like a smooth jazzy chord into some insane thrash doom music, that’s pretty hilarious. We love jazz. Larry and I met playing in a jazz band.
Larry: I told my mom that it’s like scary over-the-top movies where you see thousands of people dying on screen, and you have to laugh. It’s not like the director is so angry and says, "I want to kill a thousand people on screen." Its’ just a crazy thing to see I used to go see Infidel Castro and there was this one part they’d do that made me laugh like a mad scientist, and I couldn’t stop. The part was like so overwhelming that you have to laugh or it’s going to break you down mentally. The choice is either laugh or go cry in a corner. If you get it, you can laugh at it.
Larry and Matt, you guys are both Jewish right? Were you Bar Mitzvah’d?
Larry and Matt: Yes
Me: Did you have mezuzah on doorways.
Larry: Yeah. I still do.
Matt: I don’t have a mezuzah on my door.
Larry: What? You don’t have a mezuzah? You’re out of the band. My aunt has a mezuzah on her car. There’s car mezuzahs now. That’s the future baby.
Do you think your Jewish-ness affects your music in any way?
Larry: For me, the Jewish influence usually comes after the fact. I’ll notice themes that I’ve learned through Judaism, whether they be about myself or Jewish culture. At the end of the day I can find things in Cleric that speak out to me as Jewish ideas. I went to Israel recently and learned that there’s a Jewish yin-yang. I never knew that, I thought that because it was religion it would be all about the positive. I wouldn’t think they they’d acknowledge the negative, or the darkness. Then I learned that a big part of Judaism and Kabalah is the balance of the light and dark. That’s something I’m kind of into anyway. Lost deals with that a lot. We try to this in Cleric as well, balance the beautiful with the ugly, the high and lows, loud and soft. Something I noticed recently that sort of parallels with Judaism is this sort of brutality that’s hard to get through but at the end, it will make you laugh. For us, it’s really hard to get through, hard to play, but at the end we feel amazing, we get so happy, it’s like this high. In Israel I learned that a lot of the Jewish history is this horrible misery and suffering and then celebrating and just singing and dancing. When I came back from Israel I realized that a lot of my life is like this. The end of our record is just this soft piano solo that’s supposed to be a breath, a discernable melody.
What do you think of the recent Flotilla controversy and the bands that are canceling their Israel dates? Would you guys play Israel right now?
Larry: I would.
James: If someone booked us in Israel right now, we’d go. The way I feel about it, I’d play in Arizona right now too. I’d do that because I’ve been there and know some really great people who enjoy and appreciate music. It’s really unfortunate that their state is doing the things they’re doing. But in boycotting that state in general, you aren’t thinking about the people there. Musicians who are friends of mine told me, "We’re skipping Arizona, that’s the way it is." I’m just like, "Well, that’s kind of a bummer man. I’ve been on tour with you in Arizona and you’ve got a lot of great fans there and people you connect with every time you go." So in terms of Israel or Arizona or any place, I don’t think Cleric will make a topical reality-based point or stance with our music in terms of where we’ll play or won’t play. I think the extent we’ll do that is we’ll eat at Pat’s and not Geno’s.
Larry: Racist Bastards.