bill bodkin interviews brian johnson, lead guitarist of alt-rockers The Clydes, who’ll perform at pop-break’s Shipwrecked At The Shore Showcase tonight, Feb. 16, at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, N.J. …
In the spring of 2011, we interviewed The Clydes on the eve of their first show. I sat with the Brothers Johnson — lead guitarist Brian Johnson and Pop-Break’s own managing editor and Lost Songsmith Brent Johnson — at the Seville Diner in their hometown of East Brunswick, N.J. In between french fries, pop-culture rants and declarations of their love for the Knicks, the two were full of nervous energy. It was the first time they’d perform live together since their college days in the acclaimed band Rest Assured.
The show drew a packed house. Wall-to-wall fans from all walks of life came to see The Clydes jam at the famed Court Tavern in New Brunswick, N.J. — the same stage where The Smithereens and The Gaslight Anthem got their start. Soon, the Johnson brothers, bassist Andrew Lord Chandler and drummer Vinnie Quaglieri were playing a monthly residence at the iconic club (which has sadly since closed).
They also took their show on the road, playing clubs along the Jersey Shore and rocking stages in North Jersey. And The Clydes have grown with each gig, converting random bar-goers into lifelong fans and learning how to keep their loyal fanbase excited by bringing in new songs at almost every show. For a group that this time last year didn’t even exist to become what they’ve become — a tireless and exciting live band that packs every house they play — is saying something.
I spoke with The Clydes‘ Brian Johnson in advance of their gig tonight at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, N.J., as a part of Pop-Break’s Shipwrecked At The Shore Showcase.
Pop-Break: When we first talked with you, The Clydes were about to play their first show at The Court Tavern in New Brunswick. So here’s a loaded question: How have The Clydes evolved musically since that fateful day in May?
Brian Johnson: Besides becoming a tighter band, I feel we have a whole new catalogue since that first show. Brent and I are constantly writing news tunes — and experimenting more with our writing. Different styles, news ways of writing lyrics. We obviously have a few go-to songs, but our setlists are much different from when we debuted at the Court. And we’re only getting better live with each show.
PB: That first night at The Court was a packed house. Talk about how you felt seeing a jammed room on your first night on stage in years?
BJ: There were so many things going through my head that night, but I never imagined we’d pack the house on the first night. All I remember is waiting there with Lord Chandler — waiting to see who would show up. And as people started piling in, Lord Chandler pointed out that Prince’s ‘Dirty Mind’ was playing as the house music. I think that set the tone.
PB: What’s been your favorite show you’ve performed since then?
BJ: We went on at 1 a.m. at a Court Tavern show around Halloween, and we slammed pretty hard. We also had great energy on my birthday [Dec. 26] at The Saint in Asbury Park, but my amp blew out. Some dude drew a painting of us as we were playing. I didn’t really know what was going on at times.
PB: What’s been the new song you’re most proud of? And what’s one that your crowds have reacted the best to?
BJ: Brent and I wrote a track called ‘Nerve Damage’ recently, which seems to be a fan favorite. I wrote the music when I couldn’t feel my arm one day after playing volleyball, and I could barely pick up a guitar. So I cringed with pain as I tried to play it while laying on the floor. I fell asleep for a little bit, woke up, and sent the instrumental track to Brent. He made it all come together.
PB: You have a few demos out there. But are there any plans to record a new, full-length album?
BJ: Yes, we need to record. We have a trove of songs. We’re all dying to get in the studio.
PB: The Court Tavern became your home base. You guys actually had a monthly residency there. Can you talk about how you feel about the closing of this famed New Brunswick venue?
BJ: The Court Tavern didn’t just give us a place to play. It gave bands like us a great home venue and a place to build a fan base. We can’t say enough about the opportunity that Andy [promoter Andy “Diamond” De Nicolo] gave us. There’s very few places for original artists to play around Central Jersey now. It’s sad.
PB: Tonight, you’ll play the famed Wonder Bar in Asbury Park. Talk about performing in a city with such a storied musical history.
BJ: Asbury Park is one of those towns where music just feels right. It’s ingrained into the city’s fabric. It feels like a living Springsteen song. And it’s our first time playing Wonder Bar, so we’re excited. I’ve only been there when there has been about 100 roller derby girls inside. If that’s the case again, we’ll hope to turn them into Clydettes.
PB: What do The Clydes have planned for 2012?