INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
Clay Lake are a three-piece from Stoke-on-Trent, who, in recent years, have established themselves on the city’s music scene, playing a blend of emo, punk and math.
Before their weekly Thursday evening practice session at the Riff Factory, a recording studio which plays an important role in putting together a lot of the contemporary sounds coming out of the Potteries, I caught up with them and we had a real in-depth chat.
In the first of a two-part interview, the band, comprising of vocalist/guitarist Alex Bettany, bassist Elliot Sheerin, and drummer/vocalist Tom Flemming, spoke to me about their origins, sound, songwriting approach and lyrical inspirations.
How did the band form?
ALEX BETTANY (vocals/guitar): Me and Elliot were in a pop-punk band before this called Billy Zero, which was basically me, him and another drummer. We had a gig one night, and the drummer couldn’t do it, so Tom filled in.
After that, we carried on practicing, but we weren’t doing the same kind of stuff as before, so then Billy Zero finished, and all three of us decided to form this.
TOM FLEMMING (drums/vocals): I knew you guys through the local music scene, and I had gone to college with Elliot.
ELLIOT SHEERIN (bass): I’d filled in for your old band, the same as you did for Alex and me.
TOM: So it was a story told twice, really. I happened more than once, and this is just how it stuck.
Where did the name Clay Lake come from?
TOM: Basically, it came from the most significant eight years of my life up to now. I lived for that time on a street called Hillswood Drive, which was completely parallel to another street called Clay Lake, so I spent a lot of my time walking up and down it.
Loads of stuff personal to me happened during those years, and so, it became a really significant road to me. There are so many memories and stuff I could write about, but Clay Lake, not only does it just sort of have that back meaning, I dunno, it just has the right sound for a band name, doesn’t it?
For anyone who has yet to listen to your music, how would you describe it to them?
TOM: To the pensioners in the shop, I would say we are rock. (Alex and Elliot laugh)
ALEX: I think it’s kind of interesting, really. We started out as this dirty emo punk band, playing Gnarwolves and Modern Baseball covers, but over time, it has sort of evolved into Midwest emo. I suppose now it’s that sound, if you know what I mean.
Along the way, we have also picked up a Tiny Moving Parts sound, a bit more technical…
ALEX: Yeah, math.
TOM: We would describe our sound now as math and punk mixed together.
ALEX: I don’t think there’s anyone else who does that at the moment on the Stoke music scene.
TOM: Yeah, I would agree.
What would you say was your approach to songwriting?
ALEX: A lot of the time, I’ll play a little riff, and Tom will go, “I like the sound of that.”
TOM: I think the best way to describe our approach would be improvisation. Alex will play a little riff, I play along with him whilst repeating it and looping it, whilst also shouting at Elliot, saying, “Fucking record it!”
And as he’s recording it, we’ll play it through again and revise it in our own time, pick out all of the little bits, coming together with three different ideas, and then merging them into one. That’s the honest truth, we improvise.
ALEX: Musically, anyway. Lyrically, I don’t think we even have a songwriting process.
TOM: We either improvise it and it works straight away, or we’ll take time to think about it.
ALEX: Yeah, definitely. I think with ‘Stitches’, that was a song that just stuck straight away, but with our other songs, we’ll probably play a riff, a little picky bit, and then we’ll play it, and it’ll be like a five-minute repetition of that. We’ll probably play different beats behind it.
TOM: The bassist is always last, yeah?
TOM: We write the bass last for a particular reason, because the backing is all these little technical bits, and the bass on top of that is more of an instrument alone, rather than just in the background.
I hate how bassists are never, like, deemed as a part of the band, for that reason, but that’s the truth, though.
What inspires the band lyrically?
TOM: Alex writes his lyrics, and I write my lyrics.
ELLIOT: I don’t write any lyrics, because I’m the only non-vocalist in the band.
ALEX: There’s a couple of songs where I’ve written the words and done everything in that sense, but if me and Tom are writing together, generally what will happen is Tom will probably say a couple of lines, like, we’ve got a song called ‘I Quit My Day Job, Now It’s Time For Fun And Beer’, which I think is a cool track title, but Tom did the first verse for that, he wrote the lyrics, then I wrote something myself, which was along the same lines, you know what I mean?
However, I wouldn’t say we collaborated on it massively.
TOM: No. I always thought my approach to lyric writing, it’s a big way of looking at it, but in life, you always think about all of the shit times you’ve had, and all of the shit times I’ve ever had, I’ve only ever been anxious, so the way I see it, when I’m having a bad time, with all this stuff going on, I remember everything that’s happened, because it’s right in your face, you know, and as I’m speaking to myself, I’m saying things that are lyrically correct, and I’ll always remember those little bits, which I’ll put to the back of my mind for future reference, but all of my lyrics come from that side of my life with this band, for sure.
I mean, I can’t get pissed off at the lyrics, but I can really mean it, you know?
CHECK OUT PART 2 OF OUR INTERVIEW WITH CLAY LAKE HERE.