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CLUE TO KALO


Australia is usually more associated with greasy heavy rock or light pop than with delicate electornica. The arrival of Mark Mitchell, aka Clue To Kalo, proves that there is more to the country than Kangaroos, Kylie Minogue and mindless soaps. His first album as Clue To Kalo, Come Here When You Sleepwalk, was snapped by Mush Records, with Leaf licensing it for Europe, with Boom Bip recently including it in his albums of the year list for last year. We decided to get the man talking about his music, and he also gives us a good insight on the state of the music scene down under. He also reveals that if he uses electronic devices to produce his compositions, he mostly relies on live instrumentation.

Hi Mark, what are you up to at the moment?
I’ve just finished moving house! We didn’t move too far away though. About five minutes drive. I’ve just set up my computer and I’m excited about writing some new songs. I’ve got all these ideas that I’m looking forward to trying.

Come Here When You Sleepwalk is your first album as Clue To Kalo, but it is not your first album. How did you come to music?
I used to make tapes when I was little. I’d write out some lyrics, make up a simple melody to go with it, and then sing into the tape recorder. I’d do the guitar and drums with my mouth as well. Kind of like a five-year old Michael Winslow. I’ve never learned to play an instrument, and I don’t know anything about musical theory, so everything I’ve learned to produce recorded music has been to replace my mouth instruments with real ones.

How is Clue To Kalo different from your other project, Super Science?
I’m not doing Super Science anymore. When I first started making music, I chose the name to release a couple of CD-Rs that eventually became the Super Science album. That stuff was a bit more overtly electronic, and a little more of a mess-around. It’s strange for me now that some of that stuff is out there, as mp3 or on the album, because they feel like rough drafts. I see a lot of those songs as me teaching myself how to write.

Can you tell us more about Come Here…? What is the inspiration behind it?
I was having a difficult time with relationships and not feeling very good about things, and writing those songs was how I made myself feel better. I have a tendency to tie myself up in knots in times of personal crises, think about things too much. Writing songs clears my head. The energy I get from it reminds me that there are a lot of wonderful things around that I can do, like make music, and that I don’t need to dwell on the bullshit. It puts things into perspective. The lyrics of the record are very simple and straightforward. They might be seen as trite but they were how I was feeling at the time, and I didn’t feel like dressing it all up in tricky language. If you’re heartbroken or in love it’s funny how many of the clichés ring true. You’re in those situations and they’re confusing, so often you can find yourself thinking of it in terms of what you’ve seen on TV or heard in pop music, because you don’t know what else to do. Instead of fighting against that I went with it.

There are comparisons made between this album and Dntel’s Life Is Full Of Possibilities. How do you think these two records are similar in some ways?
They both blend guitars, vocals and lyrics about lovers with electronic sounds. I can see why people are drawing comparisons between them, and I don’t mind at all.

How do you feel about your music being compared to other records around?
It’s okay with me. It gives people a context. It means that someone who liked the Dntel album might go out and listen to my record, and maybe enjoy it. Selling records relies on the association of music with other music. It leads you to chase up similar artists, your favourite band’s favourite band, all the artists on a certain record label …

Although the album is not released until now, Boom Bip put it in his list of the best albums of last year. How did you feel about such recognition?
Really good actually. As you might expect. Boom Bip’s great. I hadn’t even realised he’d heard the record. I just got up one day, checked my email, and found a link to his list. Of course you always have doubts about what you do, so such pats on the back can be really encouraging. I should write to him and say thanks!

You seem to mix electronic and acoustic instrumentation on this album. Do you actually play any instrument on it?
No. I wish I could play an instrument, but I just don’t have the co-ordination or the patience to learn. All of the instruments are played by friends of mine. The bass guitar and drums were played by Simon and Morgan. I went round to their house with my mini-disc recorder and asked them to improvise for awhile. They were nice enough to do it even though they were pretty hung-over. I loaded that stuff on to my computer and cut it up, constructed new melodies and rhythms from what they’d given me. The other friend that helped me out, Cybele, sang the instructions (in German) from the back of a CD-R. It was 12 seconds long but it sounded good and I wrote four songs with it. You can hear her on the second-till-last track of the record.

You also sing on this album, which remains a relatively rare occurrence for electronic artists. Have you always mixed songs and instrumentals in your work?
No, for a while I didn’t think of it. In mid-high school my two favourite bands were Joy Division and Swans. I also listened to some generic goth music. I became interested in electronic music in year 10 because my brother’s friend had Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 2. It sounded like darkwave ambient to a 15-year old youth all dressed in black. I still sort of think it does, actually. My brother’s friend was older than me and I looked up to him, so I ended up listening to it a lot.
I was excited about it because it sounded different but at the same time like something I could conceivably make. I’d given up on music a few years earlier because I thought you had to know how to play an instrument to write it. Electronica sounded like it could be produced by anybody with a computer and a keyboard. I started making it myself but I certainly felt that distinction between electronic sounds and ‘real’ instruments. It just felt like you were expected to use either one or the other. As I became less interested in electronica and more in ‘band’ music, I wanted to try and blend them together. I sang on a track, got some nice feedback, and so kept singing. Then I recorded live instruments and started using them too.

What do you think it brings to the compositions?
I’m not sure. It’s completely a matter of taste. The majority of stuff I listen to now is music played with traditional instruments. The electronic music I enjoy usually has some kind of acoustic or organic element to it. I just like the sound of real instruments. I think that as my taste in music has changed, so has the kind of music I want to make. Ultimately I try to write songs that I’d listen to and enjoy if they were written by somebody else, and because I usually listen to records that use those kinds of sounds, they make their way into my songs.

What inspires you to write? Is the process different when you write an instrumental track than when you write a song?
No. I usually add the vocals last. At some point in the writing process it usually occurs to me that the song would sound better with vocals than without them. I wait till I’ve finished the music, then write some lyrics that fit a melody line I’ve come up with (I usually write the lyrics quickly). As far as what inspires me to write … I guess that there are some things you have to do to make yourself happier than you would otherwise be. I write music because when I don’t I get unhappy.

What made you originally want to play music? Is there anyone in particular who has had an influence on your work?
Not really. There’s not one artist who has inspired my particularly. I tend to discover artists every now and then who give me butterflies, and make me want to reassess my own approach to music. I’m listening a lot to Forever Changes by Love at the moment. I know there are a lot of reasons why I could never make a record quite like that … like the fact that it’s no longer 1967, for a start. But those magical records are the ones that make me want to keep striving.

There seem to be very few Australians involved in electronic music. Is it really the case?
No, although I can understand why you might think that. There are great things going on in Australia, but because there’s a lack of a cohesive scene, they often happen below the surface. Even Adelaide, which is known as being a bit of a hole and kind of scary, has had some great things going on. Three friends of mine – Cornel who does Qua, and Jason and Cailan who are Pretty Boy Crossover – are all originally from Adelaide and produce fantastic music. Unfortunately, there’s just not a lot of visibility for that kind of stuff in Australia. I think the music they produce is as good as the music coming out of Europe and the US, and I really believe that if their music was heard outside of Australia people would love it.

Where are the hotspots of electronic music in Australia?
I guess Melbourne and Sydney, because those are the largest cities. Melbourne is the city that most people from Adelaide move to when they get too depressed to live here any longer. So the three friends I just mentioned have all made the exodus from Adelaide to Melbourne. I’ll probably do it at some point. I’ve realised that if all my friends are going, there’s not a lot except sentimentality and anxiety keeping me here.

One of the tracks on your first CD-R was called Tortoise Are Overrated. Was that a reference to the band, and is it your feeling about them? Why?
Yeah, that’s a reference to the band. That song title is an in-joke, pretty much. When I was a snotty teen, and was afraid of being no good at music, all the indie kids in Adelaide were into Stereolab and Tortoise. And so a girl that I liked didn’t like my music, but thought that Tortoise were the bee’s knees, and so I told her and any indie hipster I came across that Tortoise were overrated. Of course, later when I stopped being bitter I realised how ridiculous it all was, and thought it would make for an amusing song title. I just thought the idea of arbitrarily singling out someone and dissing them in a song name was funny. Actually, I think Tortoise are pretty good.

Your first album as Super Science was released on Australian label Surgery, and despite getting good reviews, it was only released in Australia. How did you get to work with Mush Records in the US and Leaf in the UK?

I met some members of Anticon at the 2001 Sound Summit Festival in Newcastle. Doseone, Sole and Jel were there performing. Seb Chan, who organises Sound Summit, recommended my music to them. They asked for a CD and said they liked it, which was enough of a thrill at the time. Then Doseone took a CD-R of some of my new songs back to Mush, and Mush asked me to sign with them. Mush licensed the record to Leaf in Europe. And that’s the story of my ‘big break’. It’s been an amazing time. Mush and Leaf are both great labels, and I’d love to continue working with them.

Clue To Kalo live is you plus two other musicians. Does this mean that the next incarnation of the project on record will feature more people?
This record had a few friends helping out with sounds, and I’d like to expand this on the next record. I’d love to write some songs specifically for the three-piece, record us performing, and then take those songs and rework them on the computer. There are lots of different approaches that I want to try. I enjoy working with my friends, so I’m sure I’ll recruit more of them as I go along. I’ve just written a couple of songs with some sounds from my friends Col and Vic. They have a record out as Vic Conrad & The First Third on Woronzow that you should check out.

How would you describe Clue To Kalo live?
It’s a bit more of a rock show. As well as the vocals and laptop sounds, there are drums, guitar, harmonica, turntables. We want to bring as many sounds into our performances as we can. Curtis wants to use an accordion. I want Alan to play the glasses. In Adelaide you can find yourself performing with bands that are quite different to you stylistically. When I started doing solo shows here I rarely played with other electronic-based artists, because there are just not many around. Some of our friends are involved with the hardcore scene here, and we’ve played a few shows with those bands. I really like to find us in the middle of that situation. I find the attitude of those friends pretty inspiring. Last week we played with my friend Tom’s band that kind of sounds like Godspeed and My Bloody Valentine. Watching that stuff has made me aware that I want to make our performances have a real energy. After playing as a band, it’s difficult to go back to just the laptop and a microphone.

Are you planning to tour Europe and the US after the album is released?
Nothing’s been finalised yet, but it’s being talked about and we’d definitely love to. I’ve never been out of Australia, so it’s an exciting prospect.

What are you listening to at the moment?
While moving house I found Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One. I lost it about a year and a half ago. I’d always suspected it was behind the TV, but it wasn’t until the removal people came in and took everything away that my suspicions were confirmed. So I’m rediscovering that. It’s like buying it all over again!

The electronic scene is constantly changing at the moment, with new genres and artists coming out all the time. Who do you think will make a mark in the next few years?
It’s hard to say. I’d love to see more Australian artists get recognised overseas. It sometimes feels like you’re at the arse-end of everything over here, that the rest of the world is out of reach. Melbourne is the closest big city to Adelaide and that’s over a thousand kilometres away. But there are exciting things going on here that people should know about. Hrvatski was in Australia a couple of years ago and he said it felt like Seattle before grunge broke. So it’s exciting to think that maybe things will blow up at some point and we’ll all dress up in flannel shirts and crowd surf.

What’s next for you?
Well, right now I’m going to go and eat the ‘cookies and cream’ ice-cream I bought myself today. Then we’re playing a show tomorrow night, which should be fun. This coming year I want to make a good record, some short films, work some more on my book and my thesis, put out a literature zine of some kind. As much as I can do, really.

Email interview February 2003
Thank you to Mark

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Reviews
02'03
Come Here When You Sleepwalk

THE SURFER'S GUIDE TO CLUE TO KALO
Clue To Kalo
The Leaf Label
Mush Records / Dirty Loop
Surgery Records
Anticon

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