Before I begin this interview, let’s care of some journalistic housekeeping.
Brent Johnson, lead singer of The Clydes, is one of my best friends. We’ve worked together for years, we co-founded Pop Break together (he has not actively written since 2012), he did a reading at my wedding, he was a pall bearer at my father’s funeral, he was one of the people at the hospital when my daughter was born, and I was there when he proposed to his girlfriend. Also, I’ve worked with The Clydes over the years — I shot and designed the cover for their album Generator, I’ve done show posters for them, I’ve helped them get booked (and have booked them regularly on Pop Break shows), and I’ve been their unofficial MC for six years. And for these reasons, Brent and I decided years ago that we wouldn’t cover the band on the site. However, due to both our involvement in Hub City Sound’s ROCK New Brunswick festival, we’ve been brought together to do this interview.
And it makes perfect sense for The Clydes to be a part of this weekend long celebration of music, art, and culture in New Brunswick. (That was an awesome transition). The Clydes were born in New Brunswick. In April of 2011, Brent along with his brother Brian, and bassist Andrew “Lord Chandler” Orlando (the current Clydes) performed their first show to a capacity crowd at The Court Tavern. All three were Rutgers alumni, and the Johnson brothers had done well for themselves in Hub City with their previous band, Rest Assured, when they were in college.
Since that fateful April night, the band put in the work to go from that band plays on the occasion to a four-piece (with the addition of drummer “Madmardigan” in 2013) to a band that’s pumped out two full-length records, have headlined shows up and down New Jersey, drew the attention of popular Jersey indie label Mint 400 Records, and have drew acclaim from numerous music publications not named Pop Break.
I caught up with the Johnson boys to talk about the band’s trajectory, ROCK New Brunswick, and more.
Confirm or deny — the band is named after legendary New York Knicks guard Walt “Clyde” Frazier.
BRIAN: We struggled thinking of a name for a long time. Then, we were watching a Knicks game with Andrew, our bassist, in the dead of winter at our house and Walt “Clyde” Frazier walks on the screen — wearing an all-cow print suit. We knew instantly that it was going to be our name.
If so have you guys made overtures to perform at his restaurant in New York City?
BRENT: We have not. But now we are stealing that idea.
You recently released your latest EP, Lucid Garden. Is this EP a continuation of what you guys set out to do on your last EP, Comeback Charlie, or is this a fresh new concept (either lyrically or sonically) for you guys?
BRIAN: We originally wanted it to be two singles. But the older we’re getting, the more we realize that people’s attention spans usually last two to three songs max. So the EP is kind of a combination of two styles. The first two tracks are like something off an early ‘80s album by The Cure and the next two tracks are funk-based rock with driving energy.
What was the decision to do another EP, as opposed to doing another full length record, it has been two years since the release of Hiding for Summer.
BRENT: We like the idea of doing EPs. We write a ton, and putting out EPs allows us to get our music out quicker. But we just finished recording a full-length CD — 10 songs — for our label, Mint 400 Records. That’s coming out Oct. 20.
You’re currently are on Mint 400 Records — what has being on this labeled afforded you, and do you think that they’ve aided in the necessary steps you wanted to take with the band?
BRENT: Mint 400 is great. The label owner, Neil Sabatino — the leader of veteran Jersey band Fairmont — is very hands on. He’s not afraid to shoot down songs he doesn’t like and suggest unusual arrangements that we wouldn’t otherwise do. That pushes you as an artist.
The Clydes have been performing as a unit for nearly seven years. How do you believe the band has evolved since those early days?
BRIAN: Playing has become more like breathing, where you don’t have to think — you just play. I think the best musicians have that ability.
The band tends to perform in the Central Jersey/Jersey Shore region with the occasional NYC date. Any plans on touring the band? Or, have there been steps taken to get your music out to larger audiences outside of the greater Garden State area?
BRENT: We’re actually playing our first show in Baltimore next weekend — Sept. 16. We’re playing on a record release show for Underlined Passages, a Baltimore band on Mint 400. They have a good new album coming out, and they’re good guys.
The Clydes will perform as a part of ROCK New Brunswick — doing the after show at The Scarlet Pub on Sunday night. How integral has New Brunswick been in the band’s career?
BRENT: All of us grew up in central Jersey. And we all went to Rutgers. So we love the area. It’s our adopted city. It’s an underrated city. Good food. Good music.
How important is the New Brunswick scene to the music today? Do you feel it still has the same punch it did during the 80s, 90s, and early 00s? If not, do you see this scene as one on the comeback trail?
BRENT: New Brunswick is overshadowed these days by the scene and bands coming out of Asbury Park. But it’s always been a city that cares about original music and a city that has a wide array of artists who live there. And both of those things are rare. It just seems there’s not as much live original music in New Brunswick open to the public as a whole as there used to be. There’s still a vibrant basement scene. But you need to know who and where and when those shows are happening. It’s harder for the public to simply head out to a venue and hear original bands. The Melody Bar is gone and The Court Tavern has opened and closed and opened and closed a bunch of times over the last decade.
Still, it’s really great to be on the lineup at Rock New Brunswick. It’s nice to have a festival celebrating the city’s tradition of embracing music. And Bob Makin, the event’s organizer, is crucial because he writes about the music that goes on here. And he does it with passion.
What is craziest thing to ever happen at a Clydes show?
BRENT: For me, that’s gotta be a three-way tie. And all of them happened at the Court. Once, the beer tap upstairs broke and started leaking beer through the ceiling of the basement. It was literally raining beer downstairs. Another time, Andrew, our bassist, played an entire show wearing just a robe, a gold medallion, and a mustache. He looked like Mark Spitz. And another time, Andrew proposed to his lovely wife Peri on the Court stage. We’re sure it’s the only time anyone has ever gotten engaged in that place.
BRIAN: Once, there was a burlesque show where a dancer did a split and her underwear came off because they stuck to the grime on the Court Tavern floor. She didn’t seem to mind.