By Ryan De Freitas
When we started Track 7, the idea of running track premieres isn’t something we were particularly keen on. As far as we were concerned, the idea of sharing a song ‘first’ is total nonsense since every other music site just rips the embed link and posts it as their own within 20 minutes anyway. And yet here we are, just two weeks in, with our first track premiere.
In fairness, it’s not that we’re hypocrites who’ll sell out our ideals at the first given opportunity (or at least, it’s not just that). It just so happens that we were approached with something brilliant that made saying ‘no’ feel counter-productive for a site that wants to champion great new music.
So here it is: ‘Flow’ by Glaswegian shoegazers American Clay. We also had a chat to vocalist Martin Johnston, which you can find below.
Though you’d never know it from the sheer energy that permeates the layered intricacies of ‘Flow’, American Clay started out as a one-man bedroom project that no one was ever supposed to know about. A drummer by trade and reputation, Johnston – or he puts it, the one with “the big daft hair” in the photo above – never had any intention of putting himself, or American Clay, in the spotlight.
“A couple of years ago, you couldn’t have paid me enough to sing in front of people,” he says. “Even the thought of singing in front of my mum or gran just now makes me feel quite sick.”
“American Clay started because I got a MacBook for Christmas in 2011. I’d just discovered Bombay Bicycle Club and their songwriting – along with my sound knowledge of the B-sides of a Mr. David Grohl – inspired me to give the whole one-man-band thing a go and record some demos into my new computer.”
So with an electric drum kit, a guitar he’d once nearly sold, and vocals recorded quietly and only when his parents were out of the house, the project started to take primitive shape.
The band existed in that form for about three years, with Johnston only occasionally trying to get people together to jam out the music he’d pored over.
“I always felt like I was sucking any fun out of it by being a musical dictator who wasn’t so comfortable with this newly developed ‘hypersensitive to anything played wrong’ side,” he admits. “I also wasn’t confident in my songwriting at that point. And singing? Ha!”
Eventually, that confidence grew and Johnston turned to three of his best mates – Ross Stewart (guitar, vocals), William Clapperton (bass), and Chris McKeown (drums) – to help flesh his ideas out.
“I was much more comfortable telling William, my best pal of ten years, that the bass had to be played a certain way or I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. Or explaining to Chris why it had to be a particular pattern between his hands and feet or else I’d feel ill. They were my best pals and they didn’t mind my ridiculous tendencies.”
The result of Johnston’s precision – and a counterbalance attitude of “chill the fuck out and just have a jam,” from his bandmates – is a band that manages to explore the ethereal without ever losing their momentum or themselves. Wiry guitar lines pierce through the dreamy soundscapes and a keen sense of when to inject a turn of pace keeps things moving along purposefully. American Clay have found their groove.
The Glasgow scene in which the band are plying their trade is a close-knit one: the city’s venues and pubs where the local bands perform and hang out are all contained within a radius of about a mile. This makes for, as Johnston jokingly puts it, “an incestuous rabble.”
“There’s one notably great rehearsal space, and a particularly disgusting lock up that pretty much every band I know has had to do their time in. It reeks of shit and weed. Proper inspiring stuff. Subsequently you see each other at the same things, start bands together, bitch about each other and then insincerely hug each other when you meet and say, ‘Haaaeeeey man, so0o0ooo0o gutted I missed your show last week!’
“Although that may be in jest, it’s much like life, generally we’re all pretty good with each other, and pretty rarely you’ll meet someone who’s notably shit. Fair play when you do. Keeps it interesting doesn’t it?”
Those shitty rarities aside, Johnston speaks passionately and with sincere love for his hometown scene. “Codist, SHREDD, and Martha Ffion can do no wrong, but if I started talking about the Glasgow bands I love, I wouldn’t stop.”
He reckons there’s a good reason for the city’s perpetually strong musical output.
“The scene is that way it is because it’s always been like that. We’ve all learned from the people we used to go see growing up. My favourite band when I was 16 is a band called Take a Worm For a Walk Week; good guys that played some properly impressive and technical music. Some of the musicians involved in that are now in bands like The Kills and The Twilight Sad.
“Glasgow’s just too small a place to act like a dick and get away with it. The people who end up in bands that are doing well are generally pretty sound and level headed people- people who are fun to hang out and work with. The individuals I’ve always had respect for in bands from a young age, were the folk who were happy to talk to me and answer whatever questions I had. They didn’t have a complex about how I was a spotty wee guy and how they had a flightcase for their pedalboard with a couple of AAA passes stuck on.
“Some of these people you hang out with and see playing in a wee pub end up in hugely successful bands. That’s obviously absolutely brilliant. However, it doesn’t mean you get into an exclusive Famous People Only Club. You bump into them in the same places and gigs you go to and that they’ve been going to for years.”
And it’s clearly not an ambition of Johnston’s to break that tradition. No matter how far American Clay goes – these are incredibly early days, but the potential is there – you won’t catch Johnston or his bandmates seeking out any of those Famous People Only Clubs.
“I’d like to just keep on doing American Clay with my pals; writing and playing the best music I can to people who are into it. There isn’t much of a scene in the UK for bands that sound like American Clay I don’t think, but we’ll still be doing it even if no one’s interested.”
American Clay’s new EP Sky Hooks is out late March on Glasgow label, LP Records. Keep an eye out for pre-orders in the new few weeks.