- 01 Apr 22
Galway post-punk outfit The Clockworks chat with Hot Press from their new base in London about their debut EP, the streaming generation's creative freedom, Radiohead, and more.
The Clockworks are in the midst of a meteoric rise. Since 2019, the Galway natives have packed up, relocated to London, been signed by Alan McGee (based off of a single rehearsal, no less) released several lauded singles, stunned audiences in festival appearances across Europe, and toured extensively with heavyweights Kings of Leon and the Pixies. Not to mention that they did it all before releasing their first album. Now, they're back to do just that.
Their debut EP, eponymously named The Clockworks, is as self-effacing as it is conscious. The rockers deliver their unique wit, pounding bass lines and driving guitars across the four songs, establishing their space in the post-punk sphere.
Lead vocalist James McGregor and guitarist Sean Connelly sat down with Hot Press to discuss the new EP, leaving the Galway bubble, the streaming generation, their influences and career trajectory.
The outfit's debut consists of two previously released tracks and two brand new offerings. Coming together as more an happenstance than a contextualised endeavour, each track spawns from a different era of the band's short but booming career.
"The four songs were created separately," McGregor begins. "The first single 'Endgame' is probably one of our oldest songs that we still play. In some ways, the fundamental parts of the EP we've had since the very early days of the band, they just never fully went away. Also on the EP is one of our newest songs 'Money'. We recorded the two of them together, just out of happenstance. They were just two songs we wanted to record and they felt like they fit nicely together."
Released last month, 'Endgame' is a character driven offering whose grungy instrumentals and biting lyricism are loosely drawn from the Samuel Beckett play of the same name. In it, they grapple with the crushing weight of time and the paranoia of losing one's edge. It is at the same time an outward commentary and a sobering look in the mirror.
"What was kind of fun about writing 'Endgame' was the fact that it's all a character – in the same way that Frodo Baggins isn't Tolkien. Because of that I felt I was able to write a character I didn't like in a lot of ways – who did things that I didn't like," McGregor said.
"I find it sort of impossible to not write stuff that means something at the time. Because if it doesn't mean anything, you wouldn't be bothered to write it down. It takes too much effort. If it's not something that seems to matter to me at the time, I won't write it. That kind of made its way into the song. It was sort of liberating to be writing as a first person character, as opposed to writing as James McGregor."
Having more space to play with different tastes and escaping the singles-based culture was also a draw for releasing the EP.
"The single culture doesn't give you a lot of options, unless you do a B-side. You don't really always have the choice of widening the palette. You're often confined to the two minute, upbeat rock song for the radio. That can be great, and it has served us well, but we have so many other songs coming that we are excited to share."
The perceived absence of a definitive music scene in Galway provided a sense of sonic freedom that allowed The Clockworks to develop independently of industry demands. Did the move to London and the stewardship of McGee tighten the reins at all?
"I would think we still feel pretty free. Part of that I would say is informed by starting out in a little bubble of our own in Galway but, it's also the fact that London has such diverse tastes. If you were here in 2003, you'd have a lot of people that probably would have felt pressure to be The Libertines or The Strokes. But now, I wouldn't even be sure who to try and sound like in London, these bands are all so different," McGregor added. "I guess there's overlapping ideas or influences but, it seems like a pretty free time, musically."
A lower barrier of entry present within the streaming generation seems to also add to that mindset.
"Streaming culture means it's not how it was in the past. where only punks listened to punk music. There was a sense of tribalism or factionalism. Whereas I think now I can I listen to a new pop Billie Eilish song, then go home and listen to Kendrick Lamar and then cry listening to David Gray. You feel how different styles of music can affect you," McGregor said.
In a time where punk flavours seem to be a flourish added throughout popular music, the bandmates say that the frustration felt throughout the past few pandemic ruled years turned the volume down on the angst and added a dash of introspection.
"Funnily enough, I'd say our music has probably veered away from punk a little bit in the last year," Connelly said. "I suppose with lockdown it could have gone one of two ways: you could have gotten all this pent up anxiety and aggression that you needed to let out or it became a time for introspection. In that way, we're less punk now and more ballad-y."
Though the outfit it still on the rise, they have big ambitions for the type of career they would aspire to – one that sees them constantly evolving. Whose career would they steal if they could?
"Radiohead's a good one," both McGregor and Connelly agree. "They were one of those bands that could constantly create and innovate and they were always relevant. The Bends was a great album but then so was OK Computer and Kid A and Hail to the Thief."
"I think that's the key, anyone who can change their sound but also have that linear repertoire. They have courage and creativity and fearlessness."
Despite moving to the London, they still consider Ireland's artistic tradition a guiding force in their music.
"The population is so small but for some reason we have some of the best artists that also succeed on the world stage. I went to a Francis Bacon exhibition yesterday, he was an amazing painter. Then you have Damien Rice, an amazing Irish songwriter and all the novelists. You can just go on and on," McGregor said.
"Poetry is just probably in Irish people's blood through years of oppression. We haven't experienced it in our lifetime but our ancestors have. I could imagine why it's so strong. When people did Cèilidh in private when it was illegal, they found a new way of expressing themselves," Connelly added. "I suppose that probably bred creativity into their children and their children's children."
The Clockworks are due to play a stint of European dates before heading back to Ireland this summer for The Road to the Great Escape showcase that sees them bringing their high-powered punk to venues across Dublin. They will also feature as performers in Brighton's Great Escape festival on May 11. See their full tour dates, here.
The Clockwork's self-titled EP is out now. Listen to it below.
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