The 3 Clubmen is a band/project comprised of Jen Olive, Stu Rowe (Future Sounds of London) and Andy Partridge (XTC). Their self-titled EP is released on 30th June and the single ‘Aviatrix’ is already out and there is now a video which you can see after the interview (Paul F Cook’s review of it is here).
The songs on the EP are the first to see the light of day from recordings that started a decade ago and have been painstakingly put together from a mixture of recordings made in-person and remotely and, for me, it’s one of the most exciting releases of the year. The songs are sparkling, inventive, brain-twistingly unconventional and yet completely accessible. It’s an impressive feat of musical tightrope walking and a tonic for the soul.
All three members of The 3 Clubmen were kind enough to answer Joyzine’s questions about the project, so prepare to hear tales of their “accidental discoveries” and “inventive barnacles“, the fun of “creating something new“, where the name came from and why the timing of the EP was “pretty spot on right now” .
Joyzine (JZ): It may have been 10 years in the making and assembling but the EP sounds fresh and alive. What’s the secret?
Andy: Probably not all living in one beach house and sleeping together in a big brass bed, Ha! Seriously, it’s probably about the editing process, the power of knowing what to throw out and what to keep. Crazy kids do the creating, then the grown-up editors kick in later and sort the mountain of stuff out.
Jen: I love how Andy pretends the beach house never happened… whatever, man. Joking! If anything, the beach house was a murder mystery weekend gone terribly wrong. I think we’d all agree. But to your question… freshness… it might have to do with not being mired in trends but at the same time appreciating the changes that do happen. And timing. It seems like the timing is pretty spot on right now.
Stu: Well even though it’s been a long time from start to finish there was a huge gap in the middle where nothing really happened – we were all doing other projects – but there was a really good energy around the music when we started this, lots of laughter, which I think comes through. To me it sounds like a British 70s sitcom (maybe set in the beach house!) In reality it was just about getting back in the headspace we were in originally, but with modern sonic toys to finish it. We spent a lot of time trying to make it sound both old and new at the same time and also odd and straight.
JZ: How did the name of the band come about?
Andy: I’m a big history buff and was reading some books about the English civil war. I loved the fact that during this time, there were armed groups who banded together and who would have no truck with either side. They were called Clubmen. They would rule themselves. Wiltshire, (Swindon) was a home of some Clubmen. Of course, they were in other counties too. I liked their independent streak going on. I felt akin to it.
Jen: That was Andy’s idea and it made sense right away. He mentioned it at the pub one night and it was settled.
Stu; yes Andy’s idea – agreed over a pint in The Roaring Donkey and it seemed to fit exactly what we were doing. In the middle of a few different genres and just doing our own thing.
JZ: You have all worked together on other projects, but at what point did you think, or realise, that The 3 Clubmen was more than a collection of fragments on a hard drive and that it could be a fully-fledged project with music you could release?
Andy– I’d go and hang out at Stu’s bunker, because it’s better than ‘playing with yourself’, arf arf, no, I think of him as a brother and love being down at his place. He’d say things like, “Andy, listen to what I found, that I think we’ve forgotten, it’s really good” or things like “I sent this idea to Jen and she zapped this great vocal suggestion back.” It kind of accrued like inventive barnacles, or fungus, really organically. But again, lots get thrown out. That’s the nature of improv. It’s heavy on the reject %. Miles Davis and Can knew that.
Jen: When we did a song called “My Dream Sea” for Stu’s Lighterthief project, it seemed pretty clear that there was something really interesting that could happen. It was going to boil down to time, interest and sheer will. But the potential was there from the start.
Stu: Yes – Andy and I were just having a great time experimenting with new production and musical ideas. I initially put some out under the name Lighterthief which is basically me and anyone foolhardy enough to venture into my studio. When I met Andy it just felt like I’d met someone who would take these ideas much further. Jen came into the picture and ‘My Dream Sea’, and also ‘Up on Hi’, showed the way forward. Our three musical sensibilities seemed to fit together very easily. Jen and Andy’s voices blend really well- we can all handle a little dissonance and odd time signatures – and we were all really open to any possibilities. But there was no plan to do anything other than to have fun creating something new. Eventually we all moved on to other projects, but occasionally I’d dig out the files – play them to people and they’d look at me like I was insane for not finishing it!
JZ: You’re all artists who seem to thrive in the studio, but what’s your favourite part of the writing/recording process?
Andy: Well, because we’re dealing with an improv currency, it’s that moment where you stub your toe. “Ow! that’s great, where did that come from? Is this worth keeping?” That bit. THEN, if the ideas can be corralled together?…That’s Stu’s real strength. Personally, I’ve really got in to the mix process in the last few years. That’s a thrill for me. The black arts come into view.
Jen: Yes… the accidental discoveries are the best. I also really enjoy getting a piece of music that sounds like chaos and making sense of it somehow. That was real fun for me. Hearing something that by all rights should not be a “verse”- and saying “yep, this will be the verse” It becomes a game. Makes me giddy. But this setting created a lot of moments that I wouldn’t have on my own. There are a lot of favorite parts in that way.
Stu: I love recording improvisations and then going through them- finding the very best bits and then using those to construct something new. I try to record everything. It means a lot of listening /editing but there’s gold in them there hills. Its often the mistakes- the unintended clash- that’s the bit that gets used as the opening riff. Someone will then add something new to that and you’re away.- into completely fresh territory. It’s not from the mind of one person.
JZ: Digital recording and communication have shrunk the world, but did you have any issues working between Swindon (Stu and Andy) and Albuquerque (Jen)?
Andy No, it was a thrill if Stu would call or email, to say she’d sent a suggestion over or “come and hear what she’s sent this week“. Some things were genuinely thrilling, like her big band swing harmonies for ‘LOOK AT THOSE STARS’. That blew my head off. 100% unexpected and 100% just SO right.
Jen: It was actually really fun to do it this way. There was an element of surprise and anticipation that was great… it only added to it for me. Doing a whole part without interference or suggestion and then waiting for the feedback and the new additions gave it an “every day is Christmas” kinda feel… What has Santa sent to the inbox today? Like a perpetual gift exchange.
Stu– It was like a sonic pass the parcel. The first thing Jen ever sent back was 35 vocal parts for “Up on Hi”. It was a one-woman Disney chorus. It was very easy really. The technology for sharing files and working remotely is so good now. Of course, there’s something to be said for sitting in the same room but this is more thrilling as you get a big chunk of stuff at once – and the tracks can go off in very different directions, and I also called on some great other Swindon musicians to add their strange Wiltshire funk to it.
JZ: If the EP does well is there an appetite to send Stu back into The 3 Clubmen coal mine to excavate more releases?
Andy – For me personally, yes, very much so. I’ve an inkling there’s more nuggets down there, that just need a little polishing. There’s also a bunch of recordings from the same sort of sessions, that slipped out online, under Stu’s label name LIGHTERTHIEF. I think a little editing and polishing there, could really benefit those unknown or ignored gems.
Jen: Oh, that’s a yes from me as well. I’ve listened recently to some of the “vault” recordings and I think there are some very cool bits that we could expand on. I’m game.
Stu– I ! . It seems crazy not to try some more. As well as the 3 Clubmen, there’s over 20 years of musical experiments sat on hard drives in the bunker waiting to be extended and sorted out. However, my filing system is not know for its organisation so there may be some real delights hidden in there. I shall venture back in there this summer.
JZ: What projects of your own are you currently working on?
Andy : Something… and nothing. A part of me just wants to be left alone to continue my career as a bitter old alcoholic…and part of me has some interesting visual and aural irons in the fire, sober and strong. Ooh!, I’m being a tease.
Jen: Arghh! Well… I’ve got some things brewing. I’ve had these songs sitting around for a while unfinished. I just bought a bunch of gear and an electric/classical guitar… nylon strings are changing my life as we speak. It sounds the way I imagine it is being in a float tank and honestly, it’s hard to believe I haven’t done this already. It’s also an occasion to rise to, so I think that’s part of the remedy of completion.
Stu– not sure what to do next.. I’ve stopped everything else while I finished the 3 Clubmen EP. Was just bugging me that it hadn’t been done – not sure what’s next but there’s the start of a collection of musical ideas called The Apothecary’s House. Just sketches tho’.
JZ: What music are you currently listening to? Anything you would recommend to the Joyzine readers?
Andy– You may well hate it, but I’ve been back into Walton and Sitwell’s FACADE lately. Magical, almost rap like poetry, over “end of the pier” mini classic, bite sized music. Stunning stuff. Caused a ruckus in 1923. Erica usually plays BEATLES stuff when she cooks, so I’ve got back into their early catalogue again lately. Concise, no spare flesh, pure melody. Careful though, nostalgia is a quicksand trap. Oh, and Ornette Coleman.
Jen: Ah well… My current obsession is really just this one song right now… I’ve been following an artist for a few years and she’s really just a phenom. Her voice. Her facility. It’s nuts. Her name is Yebba and it’s this song she did with James Francies on his album Flight. I actually heard it 4 or 5 years ago and it was so devastating, I had to run away and not hear it again until maybe a few weeks ago. You think I’m kidding. The song is “My Day Will Come” – look it up on YouTube… James Francies and Yebba – and if it doesn’t ruin you for the better, you should really re-evaluate your life choices. Then if you’re so inclined, check out Yebba – “My Mind”, “Evergreen” and her tiny desk concert is phenomenal.
Stu: I’m veering wildly between Glen Gould playing Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata Number 1, – makes 12 tone serialism seem really emotional, then Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau – “The Old Shade Tree”- just brilliant playing.. and some really modern pop music like Dua Lipa’s – “Good in Bed”- there’s a really great microtonal run she does in the chorus and the production is all shiny and new.
Huge thanks to Stu, Andy and Jen for such great insight into the Clubmen project and to the amazing Shauna McLarnon at Shameless PR, for helping make this happen.
The 3 Clubmen EP is available on all good streaming services and you can buy the CD from Burning Shed Records
Here is the video to ‘Aviatrix’:
Main photo courtesy of Stu Rowe.
Introduction and questions by Paul F Cook