Clap Clap Riot: New spin on the Riot act (+stream)

By Lydia Jenkin

Four years after their acclaimed EP, former Cantabrians Clap Clap Riot have finally finished their debut album. Listen to Counting Spins streaming here all of this week on nzherald.co.nz.

Auckland band Clap Clap Riot have finished their second album. Photo / Supplied
Auckland band Clap Clap Riot have finished their second album. Photo / Supplied

2008 was a big year for Clap Clap Riot. The four-piece, who were originally from Canterbury (and amusingly called Band Theft Auto in their early days), won the inaugural MTV Kickstart competition, moved to Auckland, and recorded their EP, TV Knows Better with ex-D4 member Jimmy Christmas.

They managed to straddle both mainstream radio and the bNets, found popularity with their ferocious, Britrock-influenced singles like Don't Want Your Baby and Thief, and toured New Zealand and Australia several times, playing small clubs and big festivals.

Four years on, the boys have expanded their sound, found a new drummer and raised the cash to finally release their scorching debut album, Counting Spins.

"It's been two years, or maybe even longer if we count writing time," lead singer Stephen Heard muses about how long the new album has been in production.

"I almost feel like I have to defend myself when I hear that," lead guitarist Dave Rowlands laughs, "because we have been working hard the whole time. It's funded independently, by us, so it took longer to raise the money."

This time around they chose to work with Auckland producer and engineer Andrew Buckton because of his work with more mainstream pop rock acts, but also because he's worked with bands like the D4 and Supergroove "who have a dirtier, more garage sound", Rowlands explains.

"For the first EP we wanted the sound to have that crazy live energy, but for this one we sort of made a bit of a wishlist and said things like, we want it to sound dirty, we like the drum sound on this Kills track, or here are some different guitar sound ideas. We didn't want to imitate things, but just take an aspect of it and combine it with our own ideas," Heard nods.

Given that they straddle the grey area between indie and mainstream rock here in New Zealand, there was a fair bit of balancing to be done when it came to working out the album's overall sound.

"It was a bit of a bartering point with us [and Buckton], because indie music is what we tend to listen to, we don't really listen to so much commercial rock music, but at the same time, that's what we wanted the produced outcome to work towards," Rowlands explains.

"So we'd want something really dirty and homemade-sounding, but we'd realise that maybe we needed something bigger.

"In the end, the direction we chose was that we wanted to sound big in a room, but not big in a stadium."

That didn't stop them from referencing some big international hits though.

"The only thing we specifically referenced I think was the drum sound from Englishman In New York by Sting," admits Rowlands, amidst much laughter.

"There's a drum break that's totally ridiculous," says Heard.

"And then the rest of the song is all jazz. And it's totally out of nowhere, but it's good."

A discussion ensues about who could possibly have been listening to Sting in the first place, and it seems Heard has to accept it may have been him.

Rowlands: "There's obviously at least a 'Best of Sting'-type album in Stephen's collection somewhere".

While their EP showcased a set of five blisteringly fast tracks the album spreads their pace a little wider.

"Slower songs were always part of our live set," Rowlands explains.

"You can't play an hour-long set of songs that fast. But when we were making the EP we thought, if we put any slower songs in then it'll feel weird, because we've got four really fast songs. Now we can showcase more material."

Counting Spins is a more mature offering than TV Knows Better, and though they've lost none of their youthful, wild energy, there's more pointed barbs and light social commentary than previously.

"A lot of our writing, lyric-wise at least, comes out quite bitter, quite sour," Rowlands laughs.

"There are songs that have a happy feel to them, but the lyrics are not. A song like Yoko Ono, for example, really has an upbeat, major feeling, but the actual lyrics have a really dark underbelly. If you read them written down they're quite spiteful."

Which seems a little odd, given that they all contribute to the songwriting, and yet as a band they've got a reputation as easy-going, well-balanced, jovial guys, who have happy relationships and love to perform.

"It's the hidden anger, that's how we let it out," Heard grins. "We're like a new-age emo band."

Who: Auckland-based four-piece Clap Clap Riot
What: Debut album Counting Spins
Where and when: Album release party at 4:20 bar on K Rd, Friday night

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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