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Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012
A Weekender with Clock Opera
By CRAIG EXTON
Special to The Japan Times
"A lot of the songs are about memory and how the brain works, how you remember, how you forget, and why you need to forget," singer Guy Connelly explains to The Japan Times about Clock Opera's new album, "Ways To Forget."
The title for the London band's debut album was inspired by an online lecture by Jill Bolte Taylor. "She was a neuroscientist who had a stroke and she kind of analyzed her own brain whilst it was falling to bits, and the story is her recovering and what she discovered from within," says Connelly. "It was just really, really powerful. She combined this scientific knowledge with great appreciation for life, and if you watch that, it's quite difficult not to be overcome. It's one of those things you watch and it makes you feel really connected to being alive, and it was all tied up in memory and how the brain works, so when we came around to thinking of an album title, those themes had been floating around a lot. That was the obvious one really," he says.
Connelly sings about these themes in his earnest operatic voice, often in falsetto. Behind this, twinkling keyboards and guitars crescendo theatrically, bringing in anthemic choruses. Connelly is joined by three other members, giving Clock Opera's largely electro-pop sound a rock edge with live drums, crunchy bass and synth parts. The songs are constructed on a base of manipulated samples that Connelly collects from odd sources such as cash-register beeps and squeaking shoes. It's then all very carefully assembled by the band.
"We're quite control-freaky really, and like to retain a lot of control and direction. We basically did the whole thing ourselves," says Connelly, who wrote most of the songs and produced the album himself.
Clock Opera has been gaining prominence since 2009 due to Connelly's remixes of songs by artists such as Feist, Charlotte Gainsbourg and The Drums. He says he approaches remixes in a similar way to creating Clock Opera songs.
"There are definitely a lot of the same techniques that I use," he says. "I'm a songwriter as much as I am a producer, so I'm always keen to construct a new song, which is part of the fun for me really. There's a lot of kind of cross-pollination that goes on. An idea I might discover writing a song might go in a remix and vice versa."
Connelly sees it as important for musicians to have various creative pursuits. "I'm a strong believer that nobody in a band should just be in a band. There are so many other things you could be doing with your abilities and your equipment, I guess, and your imagination. I think everybody who's in a band is able to write music for film, or is able to do a remix, or, I don't know, write songs for somebody else. It's quite good to keep testing the limits of your imagination, and when you go back to being in the band, it's still fresh, you know, you might bring something else you didn't know you had within you."
The first few music videos for Clock Opera's singles were directed by bass and guitar player Andy West, but as the band has become busier it has enlisted the help of other directors. The video for the album's opening track, "Once and for All," is an uplifting but sad love story about missed opportunity. "I think the 'Once and for All' idea tied in with the emotion the song gives. That story wasn't what the song was about for me, but that's the idea that sprung in the head of the director. It's surprising actually, the number of people we meet who shed a tear at that video. It's quite powerful," Connelly says.
The videos for "Lesson No. 7" and new single "The Lost Buoys" also contain moving emotional narratives.
"We've ended up having these little short-story videos all the way through," he says. "I don't know how that happened. It became a bit of a trademark, I guess. Perhaps we'll slip away from that next time. I think they work nicely as a little series."
The band is looking forward to bringing their emotional and intense live show to Japan for the first time. "It's the place I've wanted to go the most for a quite a long time I think," Connelly says. They will only play one date in Japan, at the Hostess Club Weekender festival in Tokyo. "We've got a total of 36 hours in Japan. We're basically gonna just forget about sleeping and just do and see as much as we possibly can, and soak it up. And then just, you know, fall to bits on the plane home," the singer says.
The band hopes to be able to return to Japan for a tour in the near future. For now, Connelly thinks playing at Weekender will be a good opportunity for Clock Opera. "We'll hopefully be able to play to a lot more people than we would if we just came and did our own gigs for the first time. There are a lot of fans to be stolen!"
"Hopefully, we'll walk off the airplane to tens of thousands of screaming people. That's what happens to everyone, right?" he jokes. Maybe not, but the band hopes it will still be an unforgettable experience.
Clock Opera plays on the second day of Hostess Club Weekender at Zepp DiverCity in Koto-ku, Tokyo, on Nov. 3 (2 p.m. start) and Nov. 4 (1 p.m. start). Two-day tickets cost ¥13,900 and one-day tickets cost ¥7,900. For more information, visit www.hostess.co.jp.