INTERVIEW: Clipping.

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By Hollister Dixon

This week, Los Angeles experimental hip-hop group Clipping. will be embarking on their North American tour in support of their new album, Splendor & Misery (out now on Sub Pop). I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to ask William Hutson, one of the band’s producers, about the inner working of the band, their creative processes, and how Splendor & Misery came to be. 

You can find all of the band’s upcoming dates – including their upcoming Portland performance at Holocene – right here.

Where did the idea for Splendor & Misery come from? Was it something that came together slowly over time, or was it a story you set out to tell?

Jonathan had been pushing to do a sci-fi themed album for awhile. We make so much of our music on modular synthesizers but actively avoid outer-spacey sounds, so he really wanted an opportunity for us to indulge in that. We knew we wanted it to be one cohesive narrative, like a concept album, so William wrote the story and Daveed [Diggs] wrote all the lyrics based on that.

Shifting from telling present-day stories to those set in the distant future seems like a pretty substantial shift. Were there conscious choices made about the way this album was written, compared to CLPPNG or Midcity?

The difference was in writing multiple songs in the same storytelling universe, rather than as self-contained stories. CLPPNG used a lot of the same techniques, but they weren’t sustained for longer than one song at a time. Honestly, writing like this came quite naturally to us.

What influenced this album the most – musically and otherwise?I think our interest in sf literature was particularly influential. Writers like Samuel Delany, Ursula LeGuin, China Mieville, Thomas Ligotti, M. John Harrison, Joanna Russ, and N.K. Jemesin. Also the movie Event Horizon was a constant reminder of what we wanted the tone to feel like—cosmic dread.

Live, you’ve incorporated a harpist to perform songs like “Long Way Away.” Do you have any plans to try new variations of your songs live, or was that more of a compromise in order to be able to play that and songs like it live?Because “Story Five” and “Long Way Away” were written to be a folk ballad and work song, respectively, we wanted to give the impression that there are no definitive recordings or performances of them—like, say, “John Henry.” They’re meant to give the impression of a passed-down musical tradition, not one that is written down or recorded. So any performance of those songs is equally authentic.

Clipping, as a whole, is a very story-driven band. How do you collaborate on stories that sometimes span songs (like all of Splendor and Misery) or even across albums (“Story“, “Story 2“, “Story 5”)?

All the lyrics are Daveed’s, but we collaborate on the plots and how they connect. We have had to draw charts to keep narrative strands straight.

What does the process of song creation look like? Which comes first: the sounds or the lyrics, or are they in lockstep with each other?

Lyrics are usually written after a beat exists, but not always. The most common process is that once a skeleton of the beat exists (sometimes just a structure, a drum pattern, some melodic elements) Daveed starts writing while the other two fill in the rest of the sounds.

How collaborative is the process of writing these stories? Do the three of you tend to agree with each other on each story you tell? If not, how do you work through not seeing eye-to-eye?

We’ve known each other for a very long time. We don’t really have conflicts regarding the initial concepts or their execution. Usually we all agree or we don’t go forward with an idea. We’re very rarely on different pages with this stuff.

What artists would you most like to collaborate with? Are there any future collaborations with other artists in the works right now?

There’re no specific collaborations in the works right now. One good thing about the small amount of recognition we’ve received recently is that some of our more ambitious ideas are starting to feel more like actual possibilities. So we’d rather not give any of those away. That said, we will always collaborate with the friends we’ve made in this music—people like Open Mike Eagle, Cakes Da Killa, SICKNESS, etc. We intend to work with those connections for as long as they can stand dealing with us.

What artists (rappers/lyricists/musicians/any field, really) inspire each of you the most, on a day-to-day basis?

I think the most important thing for each of us is to keep listening to new stuff. Each of us probably listens to something new every day. We don’t really understand the appeal of replaying the same records you already know and cutting yourself off to everything that’s happening moment-to-moment. Most of our inspiration comes from our almost-junkie-like desperation for chasing the next new sound that gives us our hit.

Across every recording so far, you’ve incorporated rap, noise, and spirituals into your incredibly experimental music, much of which is made with field recordings. Do you have a different mentality for each genre when deciding on how you use these sounds?
Perhaps it helps that we have no (or very little) formal training in any specific tradition. We have nothing to fall back on so I think we’re pretty fearless about bumbling into whatever style interests us for a project. That said, we are very serious about our research and don’t want to disrespect any genre we come into contact with. We are rabid fans of music and wouldn’t think to attempt anything without knowing its history inside and out.

What was your experience like working on the soundtrack for Room 237? Now that the movie has been out for a couple of years, how do you feel about it in general?

Room 237 was a score made with extreme time and budget constraints, and in that sense, it taught us a lot about workflow and turning in a finished product. Also, it eventually kick-started Jonathan’s career in film music, so for that we’re all very thankful. And we’re still proud of the music—some of it is quite good (and sounds even better post-Stranger Things).

Your songs typically appear to be about anonymous people, but a few actual names have come up – Amy Clark, Grace, Randy, Mike Winfield. Who are these characters? Do they exist in a shared universe?

No comment.

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